August 28, 2013

Mia Pistorius – The violence of landscape: Spatial metaphors and the disembodiment of listening


The critical act of reading landscape into music is in itself an act of ‘landscaping’, and, as with any act of landscaping, can impose certain structures upon space. Those structures are immanent within the critic’s apparatus. They are structures of metaphor, governed by and rooted in linguistic systems. The ear of the landscaping author necessarily moves beyond any direct connection between sound and embodied experience – as soon as landscape is ‘heard’, the transition from participant to observer is inevitable. The mysterious relationship between sound and listening (the ‘essence’ of the lived experience of music) is arguably damaged or distorted by the act of hypostatisation – the turning of what is heard into a metaphorical landscape, an object. The extent of such damage or distortion emerges when the mapping of metaphors onto seemingly neutral works is evaluated as an exercise of cultural power. In speaking about landscape, the interaction between sound and embodied experience is infused with the assumptions and boundaries inherent in language. Accordingly, ‘landscaping’ becomes an act of structural violence.

How does this impact upon the relationship between sound and space? The direct experiential links between music as metaphorical representation of space (whether social, cultural or physical), on one hand, and space as a metaphorical source of sound, on the other, cannot be denied. Nor, however, can they be divorced entirely from language. What, then, is the responsibility of the listener who inflicts language upon the primary embodied experience? Is it possible to talk about music and landscape without committing violence?

This paper takes as a case study music created as a direct result of violent acts: Zim Ngqawana and Kyle Shepherd’s performance in Aryan Kaganof’s Exhibition of vandalizim (2010). The improvised performance within the broken space of Ngqawana’s vandalised studio not only signifies a representation of a space of violence, but also a response to it. By considering a landscape of violence both as a source of the music and as a consequence of interpreting it, a bi-directional process of mutual signification between violence and music arises.

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Mia Pistorius (Sheffield) received the MSt in performance with distinction from Magdalen College, University of Oxford in 2013. She will commence studies towards a PhD in piano performance at the University of Sheffield in October 2013. Her research engages with metaphor theory and the relationship between language and music, particularly in performance.

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