Daniel Gilfillan

While human-produced sounds are far from the only types of sound that exist in the Anthropocene, they do tend to drown out and draw attention away from the numerous other sounds produced by the remaining animals, plants, and other-than-human agents that also inhabit Earth’s complex network of interconnected spheres. As both a medium and a perceptual modality, sound transmits a whole range of possible knowledges. Spatial, ideational, affective, temporal, experiential, scientific, acoustic, and/or speculative threads (among many others) may reside inside, outside, or alongside any sound wave for variable parsing by the multiple possible recipients of that sound wave with the right biology or technology available for hearing it. The importance of sound to these complex networks can be understood through the lenses of human and non-human agency. Their relationship hinges on whether or not humans (as individuals, as cultures, as species) encounter these networks from a position of control and regulation benefitting a trifecta of future growth, production, and consumption; or from a position of enmeshed facilitation and attunement arising from a shared understanding of moral and ethical responsibility for the mutual benefit of all of the Earth’s actors—plant, animal, or otherwise. As complex adaptive systems, the Earth’s numerous ecosystems, ecotones, and biomes are created along grooves of felt/lived experience, an embodied perceptibility that enacts the rhythmic nuances that both sustain and envelope the communicative and biosemiotic vitality of their many inhabitants.

At the core of such complex systems’ sets of adaptive capacities is the multivalent process of resilience, which carries along with it an equally ephemeral notion of risk and its potential either to support or threaten flexibility within such systems. Resilience represents the capacity of a system to absorb and/or recover from a disturbance (natural storms, wildlife depletion, human population growth, economic development, etc.) without causing a threshold shift into a different stable state of existence. Forms of resilience thinking understand such systems as deeply interwoven sets of relationships attuned toward the energies, decisions, and disturbances (natural, human, or otherwise) that characterize them along multiple and often asymmetrical scales and nonlinear time frames. These concomitant processes of resilience and risk so crucial for adaptability often become more about optimizing toward an idea of an ideal or peak resilience and minimizing the importance of risk and precariousness so that humans may continue to thrive within the rapidly less sustainable ecosystem, and profit from that optimization. In veering away from the value of complexity needed for adaptability, we lose sight of (and sound of) other models of experience and attunement that should enhance and accompany our perception of our own model of experience. The sonic realm allows us to rethink the very limits of human resilience alongside the nonhuman. The delicate set of entanglements we share with plants, animals, geologies and atmospheres, and with other humans, necessitates that we also continually open our sonic imaginations to those entanglements within and beyond the human.


Dust and Shadow Reader Vol. 2. Previous: magic and machine. Next: spectres and stewards