Impressions from the Islands / Tom Soloveitzik


[to] Kiki Keren-Huss

One can look at seeing:
one can’t hear hearing.[1]


While waiting at Kythira’s small airport’s car rental office, we received a black and white map of the island which was printed on an A4 sheet. On the other side of the paper, a landscape drawing from 1863 by Edward Lear caught my eye. Lear, the youngest of 21 children, was an artist, musician, painter, illustrator, writer and brilliant nonsense poet. The drawing was part of a landscape series that Lear created throughout his travels – he used to spend time in warm places due to his unstable health – and which was later published in a volume titled Views in the Seven Ionian Islands.

Edward Lear / Views in the Seven Ionian Islands

This is the only glimpse of Kythira that Lear has left us, a gaze from afar, harboring possibilities of scale and space. The gaze that looks at sight, following Duchamp, together with the space that opens up on the page, are an invitation to think about the way one can [nevertheless] listen to the listening of another. Much like Rilke’s childhood experience and his wonder at the recorded world, and like Brassens, who spoke of himself as ‘the pornographer of the phonograph’, I found myself over the years going out to the field[2] without doubting technology and the microphone – an omnivorous prosthesis – to materialize the world surrounding me. Slowly, however, my doubts regarding this field and the possibility to represent it grew, and instead, another emerged, titled ‘field,’[3] and in continual oscillation between the two I remained hopeless. In this essay I will trace the pendulum motion of the listener who goes out into the ‘field,’ and ‘empty-handed returns home.’[4]


On the first evening on the island, I placed my microphone under the foliage of a tree while the wind rustled through the leaves. “Sometimes wind seems to vanish completely for days on  end,”[7] writes British composer Cornelius Cardew in his textual piece The Tiger’s Mind. “But this is an illusion – he is ever present.” On that evening, which grew denser as darkness fell, the wind – “visible and audible only through the objects in its path”[8] – caressed the leaves. “The tree,” writes Cardew, “is supposedly insensate. But it does respond to the stimuli of wind and sun, and is also subject to sickness[9].” – At the entrance to the Ryoan-Ji Temple grounds, just before a large lake filled with water lilies and wondrous vegetation, which immediately stirred up my desire to excel in botany, I never excelled in botany, apart perhaps from one Tu-BiShvat celebration[10] at the David Yellin primary school, where I participated in a plant identification quiz, but it seems that even then I did not have the upper hand, and the oak and mastic tree and other plants of Mount Carmel all mixed together, as did the maple tree, unique to Japan, which I pointed at with confidence and said “maple,” or was it a cherry tree? Either way, it filled my heart with glee for the privilege to wander in its company. I heard a local guide explain to one lady that in this famous Zen garden, a prime example of dry Zen gardens which usually include only white gravel and rocks laid out in special arrangements, and sometimes fresh green moss that surrounds them, it is possible to perceive only 14 out of the 15 rocks placed on the ground from any given angle. In perfect juxtaposition to the feeling of stoicism and order that these stones and gravel evoke, added the guide, there is a wall, its three sides constituting the rectangle that frames the garden – a wall made of clay mixed with Rapeseed oil, which is also a prime example of the uncontrolled decay of matter and the Wabi principle. “What can all of this teach us?” The guide asked the lady who  stood patiently by his side as he finished his explanation. “Nothing,” she replied, “absolutely nothing.” The Tiger’s Mind was written by Cardew in 1967 after joining the British group AMM – one of the first free improvisation ensembles in Europe.The piece, written in prose, describes six protagonists: Amy, the tiger, the tree, the wind, the circle and the mind. These characters are staged in two situations – ‘day-piece’ and ‘night-piece’ – in which they meet and interact. Through the different interactions between these characters Cardew tries to study the possible relations at work in a collective practice of free improvisation. Thus, the emphasis is not on particular sounds that must be  produced, “but on the play of relationships within the activity of a group, or at least on the multitude of sounds that take place in the same setting.”[5] As such, we witness the listening relationship(s) between the members of  an improvising group. Beyond the listening process to the general sound, produced by the group, and by each participant individually, “the improviser is taken into what could be considered a ‘listening circle,’”[6] which he/she shares with the rest of the people in the room. It represents a common denominator of private listenings, in which the improviser does not only listen to the present situation – and to its different reactions and influences – but he/she also listens to the listening process of the other group members and the audience.


The cicadas
Each passing day
Their song fades[11]


One can assume that the soundscape in Kythira has changed as the years passed, though it seems that at least some of its keynote sounds remain the same[12]. Distant voices rise from the two bays at the center of the drawing, blending with the voices of the group standing in the front on the right-hand side; this landscape and these voices seem to foreshadow Luc Ferrari’s piece Presque Rien, ou, le Lever du Jour au Bord de la Mer, recorded approximately a century later (1967), in a small fishing village on the Dalmatic Sea. Much like the scene that emerges from Lear’s picture, Ferrari offers the listener a rich aural picture of the space, by using means which are at once simple yet groundbreaking for their time. Each morning, around sunrise, Ferrari placed a microphone on his windowsill, and recorded the first sounds of the morning – the fishermen at the port, the postman passing on his bicycle, women singing, crickets. A daily cycle, invented anew each day. These recorded sounds haven’t undergone any manipulation, other than editing, which lends the piece a narrative element and a cinematic-like experience. The sound in this piece – which spurred an independent genre that employs recordings as an artistic means of representation – serves as an organizing principle of the village’s social order, as well as a memory of a specific acoustic space which one can return to and explore its changes, similarly to the way we look at visual images from earlier moments and periods of time.


In a different acoustic space, inside a room – “everyone carries a room about inside him,” Franz Kafka wrote in his Blue Octavo Notebook,[13] “this fact can even be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one’s ears and listens, say in the night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall” – at the orthopedic unit at Bnai Zion Medical Center in Haifa, I heard a disembodied voice coming from behind the privacy curtain drawn between the beds. “I am a Druze from Yarka,” said the voice, giving a double political meaning to the words that had previously been said during a casual chat between bodiless voices floating in space, specifically here, in the orthopedic unit, separated by a curtain. The Druze from Yarka, the Jew from Mount Carmel and another Arab gentleman who wasn’t feeling well and whose name I cannot recall, like the beginning of a generic joke, were only the background to the sound signature – the sounds of quarrying in stone, nine floors below us, breaking way underground for a new emergency room – which was continuously present in the space, until it was almost no longer present (strangely, I experienced the digging sounds with increasing amplitude and wonder as I walked away, up Mount Carmel, and the following morning they returned at exactly seven in the morning).

In American composer Alvin Lucier’s (Hartford) Memory Space, we witness the process of documenting the kind of listening that moves between outside and inside. The composer gives the following directive:

Go to outside environments (urban, rural, hostile, benign) and record by any means (memory, written notations, tape recordings) the sound situations of those environments. Returning to an inside performance space at any later time, re-create, solely by means of your voices and instruments and with the aid of your memory devices (without additions, deletions, improvisation, interpretation) those outside sound situations.[14]

According to Lucier, the different methods of documentation that enable us to record and manifest the listening experience make us suspend old habits, taken for granted, and think of other ways in which we are present in space and with which we imprint (or shall we say “etch”[15]) it within ourselves. Summoning this memory-space isn’t necessarily technologically dependent, and we can certainly take part in creating it, in the different ways that Lucier suggests. To me, this breaking of the wall is perhaps the greatest gift that Lucier grants us with this piece.

In the introduction to his book In Place, Jason Kahn, an American musician and sound artist who lives in Zurich, describes how he  began to rethink his relationship with the presence and documentation of place:

For many years… I’d been making environmental sound recordings in cities, in nature, at home with my family. In short, anywhere I could take a microphone… But what increasingly occurred to me as I made these recordings was that something had eluded me… What was the inherent nature of these places, vestiges of which still lingered on in the recordings? I began to feel that I was placing a wall between myself and these places with my microphones [my emphasis, T.S.]… I’d thought that through recording I could get to the deeper meanings of a place… But in fact I failed to recognize all this while I was in the act of recording, concentrating not on the place but on the creative act of preserving a space of time as sound on my audio recorder.[16]


Sitting in a Victorian room in North-West London, I remembered an empty lot far away, across the sea. A few summers ago, on a hot and humid day in the city Bat-Yam,[17] I was preparing for a series of field recordings as part of a project that was about to take place in the area. Just before I began to record, I remembered something my friend A. had told me a few days before, when we met in Asia Minor amidst phallic columns and caves filled with dove nesting holes. A. told me about a recording technique that he had just learned from Francisco Lopez at his field recording workshop in the rainforests of Brazil. The technique is very direct: you choose a spot for your recording, spread out your equipment, press the ‘record’ button, and then leave, so that you do not disturb the environment with your presence. I decided to try this technique on that humid, hot day. I turned on my small recording device and placed it under one of the low bushes at the center of a vast and deserted industrial lot, covered with sand and completely surrounded by a wall. I left the lot, as I should have done, stepping out through one of the holes in the wall, and went to search for water. After a while, I returned to the lot, to grant it with my presence and to stop the recording. I went over to the bush where I had left my recording device, but did not find it there. Hopeless and discouraged, I decided to continue the search, scanning the dozens of bushes in the lot for a period of time that felt like hours.



( klange )

( sounds )[18]


Another step into the world, ‘with no attempt to push the sounds,’ following Feldman[20], is expressed in the work of composer Manfred Werder. His text scores are carefully crafted, with meticulously chosen words and spaces. At times, Werder chooses to use quotes from other works of philosophy and poetry in order to convey his intention (for example, a quote by French poet Francis Ponge, which he chose to translate: ‘Le pré, aussi, est une façon d’être’ / ‘The field, as well, is a way of being’[21]). Beyond that, Werder does not provide further instructions to the performers of his work. His attempt to become one with the world begins with the way he presents his work on the page, the spaces he leaves between the words and the emptiness that surrounds them. He makes an attempt to bypass the power structure imposed by language, and to open up a space where happenstance rules and where the subject is just another tiny part of the world, instead of its center. “I have always longed to be a part of the outward life, to be out there at the edge of things, to let the human taint wash away in emptiness and silence as the fox sloughs his smell into the cold unworldliness of water;”[19] J.A Baker, the author of The Peregrine, also attempts to approximate and adopt a falcon’s perspective.



Let us return to John Berger’s ‘field’:


This field affords me considerable pleasure. Why then do I not sometimes walk there – it is quite near my flat – instead of relying on being stopped there by the closed level crossing? It is a question of contingencies overlapping. The events which take place in the field – two birds chasing one another, a cloud crossing the sun and changing the colour of the green – acquire a special significance because they occur during the minute or two during which I am obliged to wait. It is as though these minutes fill a certain area of time which exactly fits the spatial area of the field. Time and space conjoin.[22]


It seems that Werder is no longer interested in representation as such – if representation were even possible[23] – but rather in “being in” [the world] with no need for an intervention of any kind. He often spends hours in the place he chose, alone or together with acquaintances and passers-by, on a riverbank in his hometown, or in generic public parks that provide a bit of quiet from their urban surroundings. In such places, the piece is experienced as a continual unfolding (Werder uses the term ‘actualization’), with the participant as part of it (as opposed to a performance or a realization of a piece).



It was a kind of a whisper to my own ear: careful, there is something unusual in front of you! Chaos, bedlam, charlatanism, fibs – so be it. But you are dealing with someone where you are the only one who can properly protect him![24]

Finally, we were able to meet. It was hard to find a suitable time. Life is hectic, and so on. H. found a parking spot near the primary school, on a parallel street, I think he had to go back to his car because he forgot his snare drum or his drumsticks (or did he first smoke something on the balcony, and then go back to his car?). Night had fallen and the city sounds rose up to the balcony where the three of us sat. Something in the configuration of the street, with its small park, and the relatively great distance between the buildings, made the sounds bounce, unfettered, between objects, and to spread loosely through the space. The weather outside is autumnal. H. and Y. are sharing a cigarette. We are chatting, I can no longer recall what about (perhaps about Adorno, in the context of H.s thesis? Y. thinks we spoke about astronomy). From the balcony, we moved into the rectangular room to play Views in the seven Ionian Islands: “Glimpses of rocks and water in the west and in the east,” as I found it described on the website of the festival where the piece was performed. I took out the entry ticket to the Ryoan-Ji Temple from the desk drawer and showed it to H.

Views in the seven Ionian lslands from tom soloveitzik on Vimeo.

Translated and edited by Dahlia Ginosar and Dina Yakerson.



[1] David Toop, Sinister Resonance, 2010, p. 69. Marcel Duchamp wrote this fragment in his notes, The 1914 Box, published in a small edition of three copies.

[2] The term ‘field recordings’ is used in the professional jargon to describe recordings made outside the studio. Here, I use the term field in a broader context, exploring its various meanings.

[3] John Berger, About Looking, p. 207. John Berger, a British writer, art critic and screenplay writer, devotes the last essay in his book ‘About Looking’ (1980) to the field, outlining its limits, while simultaneously choosing to blur them: “The experience which I am attempting to describe by one tentative approach after another is very precise and is immediately recognizable. But it exists at a level of perception and feeling which is probably preverbal – hence, very much, the difficulty of writing about it.”  Looking (and listening) exceeds aesthetic bounds and enters consciousness.

[4] Empty-handed I Returned Home – A selection from the Zenrin-Kushū. Translated into Hebrew by Eitan Bolokan and Dror Burstein, Afik & Helicon, 2015.

[5] Matthieu Saladin, Between Affects: Improvised Dialogism and Collective Production. In The Tiger’s Mind, Sternberg Press, 2012, p. 44.

[6] Saladin, p. 46.

 [7] Cornelius Cardew, Sextet – The Tiger’s Mind, 1967, in The Tiger’s Mind, Sternberg Press, 2012

 [8] Cardew, Ibid, Ibid.

 [9]Cardew, Ibid, Ibid.

 [10] A Jewish holiday also known as the ‘New Year of the Trees’. In contemporary Israel, the day is celebrated as an ecological awareness day, and trees are planted in celebration.

[11] Masaoka Shiki, Two Autumns, translated into Hebrew by Eitan Bolokan, 2019.

[12] See R. Murry Schaffer researches and the group Acoustic Ecology. For example, The Soundscape, 1977, p.9-10.

[13] Franz Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks, ed. Max Brod, Exact Change, 1991, p. 1.

[14] Alvin Lucier, (Hartford) Memory Space, 1970.

[15] The dictionary definition for the verb ‘record’ or ‘recording’ in Hebrew refers only to the sonorous aspect of the act itself: “imprinting voice into a record or a different device”. Avraham Even Shoshan’s Comprehensive Hebrew Dictionary. 1988.

[16] Jason Kahn, In Place, 2015, p. 3-4.

[17] A city located on Israel’s Mediterranean Sea coast, just south of Tel Aviv.

[18] Manfred Werder, 2005.

[19] J.A Baker, The Peregrine, 1967, p. 10.

[20] Morton Feldman: “Let the sounds alone, Karlheinz – don’t push them.”

Karlheinz Stockhausen: “Not even a little bit?” Feldman, Give My regards to Eighth Street, 2000, p. 33.

[21] Francis Ponge, in translation from: Writing the Field Recording, 2018, p. 49-50.

[22] John Berger, Field. From: About Looking. 1980

[23] See Caleb Kelly’s notes Thoughts on the Representations of Sound as well as the words of French Philosopher and Sociologist Henry Lefebvre, quoted in Khan’s book, p.5 (see cliff note number 16): “no ear, no piece of apparatus could grasp this whole, this flux of metallic and carnal bodies.”

[24] Yoram Bronowsky, Life and All Its Bad Charm, 2002, p.8. [My emphasis, T.S.].