(in)Audible, (in)Audacious and (in)Affective: Neuroqueering the soundwalk

Year: 2019

Author: Shannon, David, Ben

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper considers how theories of affect bring a political dimension to soundwalking practices. To do so, I analyze a walking, sonic-composition project conducted with primary school students in northern England.


Soundwalks are mobile engagements that take note of soundscapes (the overall sounds of place), sound marks (intensities of particular sounds to mark a particular place), and keynotes (sounds that move into and out of focus). Soundwalks have been popular as artistic and research methods since the 1960s (Drever, 2009). Recent engagements with theories of affect (Henriques, 2011; Thompson, 2017a) and the material distribution of sonic agency (Goodman, 2010; Ceraso, 2018) have attended to the relationality of sound. Yet, some soundwalk scholarship—in ‘mining’ for strictly audible keynotes in the soundscape—fails to account for its own reliance on a white enabled body, that is sufficiently capacitated to walk and hear freely abroad (Sterne, 2015; Springgay and Truman, 2018), as well as the supposed neutrality of that subject’s audition (Chapman, 2015; Stoever, 2016; Thompson, 2017b).

Concomitantly, sound and walking are frequently deployed instrumentally as treatments to reduce the frequency or ‘severity’ of Autistic practices, such as echolalia and stimming (e.g.Whipple, 2004). These ‘curative’ uptakes prevent these noisy practices from being considered as valuable sonic contributions and continue to frame Autistic people as lacking agency (Yergeau, 2018).


In composing Walking in Leeds on a Windy Day,we walked through Harehills, a diverse but economically deprived inner-city borough of Leeds. Through a series of compositional episodes—including sampling, MIDI programming, and rhythmic and graphic scoring—we explored sonic questions of ‘absent-presences’ (Sykes, 2016) to consider the invisibility of intellectual disabilities: What is audible (i.e.heard)? What is affectively audible (i.e.heard beyond the ear)? Who is inaudible (i.e.the affective resonance of who is silenced)?


I draw from walking methodologies, affect, and queer and ‘neuroqueer’ theories, as well as fifteen years’ experience as an electro-acoustic composer, to consider how notions of (auditory) ‘competence’ (Kim, 2015) can be ‘neuroqueered’ by attending to the sticky, multi-modal passage of affective intensity. I consider how these ‘absent-presences’ are like ‘overtones’, supposedly inaudible vibrations that are constitutive of tone and timbre, questioning the value we place on the audibility of Autistic audaciousness.

This presentation will include excerpts from Walking in Leeds on a Windy Day:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/eqopcj73an4rnqw/AADdwLbMeGVtHZuQ0eq_2660a?dl=0 [https://www.dropbox.com/sh/eqopcj73an4rnqw/AADdwLbMeGVtHZuQ0eq_2660a?dl=0]