Date: April 25, 2010 9:47:03 PM EDT
First, some facts.
I lent myself to the apparatus for a little over an hour. (Regrettably, I did not keep exact track of time; and though my frame of mind was such that it was very difficult to estimate based on internal time consciousness, I did inquire the clock time when I had recollected my wits to do so, and thus am able to offer the educated guess that the duration of my submission to the apparatus was about an hour and 15 minutes, of which 45 minutes were lent to a single set of parameters, and the remaining 30 spent in some variety of others. Perhaps some of these and subsequent details can be confirmed by instruments and the recollections of others; if so, I hope they will supply the appropriate confirmations, additions, and amendments.)
The apparatus, as you know, consisted of noise-cancelling headphones, augmented by microphones and speakers positioned above each ear, through which audio was picked up and proffered to my hearing in some clever alternative organization.
The parameters of this organization during the first 45 minutes included a) left-right reversal, so that a sound made my a body on my right would be heard on my left, and vice versa; and b) a short delay, so that all sounds made by foreign bodies and my own would reach my ears only after some interval. It is my impression that the interval was quite short—probably less than a second by about half.
Further variations were introduced in the last 30 minutes of the trial. One of these, I have been given to understand (for it was perceived at the time as relatively lacking in organization), consisted in audio from another participant’s (Andrew’s) microphones being voiced through my speakers. This was disorienting, but not in any particularly marvellous way. I perceived that Andrew was “here,” very close to me sound-wise, even when he was far away otherwise. But this was felt as a simple adjustment, and though faintly burdensome, failed to supply the thicker experiential qualities of confusion (e.g., wonder, marvel, bewilderment, uncanniness, etc). The arrangement did not, for instance, produce a felt quality of displacement, as one might expect. It was rather like a “crowding.” I did not experience myself to be where he was. His sound did not move me. Instead of being displaced to his sound position, the sounds made in and around him seemed to encroach upon my location. This was mildly obnoxious and confusing in a shallow, perceptually inefficacious manner. I felt that the interactive sound space I needed to make sense of the situation was being occupied. The sounds I was hearing ceased to respond to my own movements. My own perceptually efficacious presence as a hearing-audible body felt removed—not to another position in the soundscape, which would have allowed me to make audible sense of things in a different way; rather, removed to a more spectatorial position, more passive than active, and with my passivity estranged from my activity, and so no longer powerful as passivity. I shall say no more about this period.
Yet another variation introduced in the later 30 minute period featured a delay of what seemed considerably longer duration than the short delay that prevailed during the initial 45 minute period. This was less disorienting than the shorter delay. I found myself adjusting to the situation through manipulation and non-perceptual compensation: for instance, I was inclined to speak in short bursts so as to avoid being interrupted by the (delayed) sound of my own voice. When others spoke, the delay tended to effect an interruption of the sound situation rather than introducing a shift in its organization. Sound was experienced as disconnected from the situation rather than differently organized. In conversing with Andrew under these parameters, I say him laugh at his own remarks long before I heard them, and found the affective rhythm of the conversation suspended in the wait for the sound. In some degree, it was possible under these parameters to ignore the soundscape of the situation; and tempting to do so.
By far the tidiest experience of perceptual disorientation and incarnation of new perceptual level accompanied the left-right reversal arrangement. This was also, I think, the arrangement accompanied by perceptual shifts most directly linkable to place; and the arrangement that offers the most promising possibilities for generating situations in which we explore the connections of place with memory and identity. Shortly after donning the apparatus, Andrew, who I was peripherally aware of as at my right at the time, spoke to me. I immediately turned to my left to respond! (Having, of course, heard his address to my left.) Furthermore, in the readjustment period subsequent to removing the apparatus (so, then under usual, non-reversed perceptual parameters), precisely the same series of events occurred: a gentleman I was peripherally aware of as sitting to my right spoke, and I turned to my left in order to address my attention to him! Clearly, the left-right reversal was so successfully incorporated that a return to usual left-right parameters was experience as reversal. Motor orientation toward a sound came to mean turning to face it on the opposite side from whence it appeared. Sounds heard from front and behind had an echo-like quality, but I is not clear that they provided alternative motor motivations.
The left-right reversal parameters were not experienced as perceptually difficult. Neither burdensome, as hearing Andrew’s sounds had been; nor bewildering, as the short delay was (more on this soon). There were some experiences of surprise and perceptual mistake, as in the two events I recounted above of the motor meaning of sound being surprisingly reversed. But these were occasional rather than constantly discernible. They were confusions about my place with respect to the place of the sound, and so required a context of motor activity to become conspicuous. The sound itself was not very surprising or difficult. Though, as I have said, it produced a proliferation of echoes. This quieted after some time wearing the apparatus, and re-emerged upon removing it. Indeed, it was more marked during the period of readjustment to usual perceptual parameters. Upon leaving campus after the trial, as I walked my bike down St Catherine (a bit too disoriented to ride), I experienced phantom sounds: for instance, the conversation of a group of pedestrians passing on my right seemed to echo on my left. It was some time, perhaps an hour, before these phantoms disappeared.
Focus on the noise-making bodies seemed at first to take time. But no profound confusion was associated with locating sounds. I speculate that incorporation of left-right reversal was in fact facilitated by being combined with the short delay. One would often see (horizonally) the movements associated with noise-making before hearing them. The delay occluded the felt strangeness of reversal, as if I “had time” for it. Certainly the delay offered a slower, and thus thicker, sound-present. Perhaps this opened a thicker space—time, rather—of incorporation. The delay may have functioned as a mnemonic device for the left-right reversal, allowing one time for visual and motor attention to a noise-making motion before reminding one to listen for its sound on the reverse side. In any case, reversal was quietly and unceremoniously incarnated in a new perceptual level.
There was however a thick kinaesthetic confusion experience with each new set of parameters (in some cases before I knew the parameters had been varied), including the change introduced by removal of the apparatus. This confusion is particularly difficult to describe, but exceedingly conspicuous. The borders and depths of my body proper were oddly dissolute: both swollen upwards and outwards, and also attenuated in general, as if my body’s own visceral solidity was uncertain. This experienced quality was similar to that of weightlessness, as if I was buoyed up in a medium heavier than myself, and liable to migrate through no special effort of my own. This feeling of weightlessness was most acute in the period after removing the apparatus, to the extent that I felt mildly faint and queasy. Another experienced quality that followed the ebbs and flows of that of weightlessness was a feeling of depthlessness, of a shallowness of my own body. When, in the course of a habitual gesture, I touched my hair and brushed the skin of my face, these surfaces felt thin and papery: not surfaces only, as when one touches an arm that has “fallen asleep,” but surfaces with only shallow depths beneath. This feeling of my own body as shallow, it must be added, was also a tangible confusion of ownness and strangeness, a feeling of my own body as strange: in touching myself, I touched a stranger, a body only ambivalently my own. It is my impression that this weightlessness and shallowness of one’s own body are experiential qualities of perceptual confusion about place.
I have left description of the short delay to the last, perhaps because it is also difficult to speak about, and perhaps because under this arrangement few clear connections emerged to the issues of place that we have foregrounded in our study. Perhaps this is because the disorientation experienced in it was more cognitive than perceptual. Certainly speech (especially one’s own) and cognition were what were most dramatically affected by it. Upon speaking, I found myself interrupted by myself—that is, by the privately heard sound of myself speaking. The effects of this interruption, witnessed most clearly in listening to others’ attempts to speak under its influence, were striking: speech slowed, stuttered, and slurred. The quality of the perceptual difficulty that influenced these contortions was bewilderment: it was laborious to focus thought, and entertainingly difficult to converse—an activity I spent much of the trial time attempting. I found myself speaking at inordinate volume, apparently in a (vain, of course!) attempt to shout down my delayed and interrupting self/voice. It grew progressively easier to converse, and focus thought. By the end of the first 45 minutes, my delayed voice was experienced as quieter; still heard, but heard as a partially hidden side of speech rather than an interruption.
Though entertaining, this set of parameters did not directly affect my sense of place. They would, I think, be more likely to do so under different conditions; perhaps in a party, where the locations of speakers undergo a slower migration, and where these locations have more character in the context of the broader spatial situation (e.g., “to the right of the couch,” “standing next to so-and-so,” “in front of the window”). I suggest this largely because I suspect the delay parameters contributed to the experience of the phantom sounds that emerged most conspicuously post-trial, and I speculate that a more richly articulated spatial situation could motivate these phantoms to accrue to features of the place, and one’s own place with respect to them and it.