Good News, Bad Weather

Preface: Considering recent catastrophic weather in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Caribbean (as well as – at time of writing – category 5 Hurricane Irma just receding from the southern United States), I wish to reiterate that although this essay comes from the perspective of embodying and becoming close to ‘bad’ weather, in no way does it detract from the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change and the attendant increase in extreme and catastrophic weather conditions. In fact, I fully believe that the types of sensitivities and sensualities engendered by the approaches I suggest below are precisely what are required to augment our understanding of increasingly destructive weather patterns. The more sensitive we are to these specific phenomena, the more clearly with which we can see the changes of its rhythmic structures. The worldwide tempo increase of catastrophic weather stemming from anthropogenic climate change – and the fact that disadvantaged socio-economic communities and communities of color “[bear] the burden for environmental pollution, and also the impact of flooding and other kinds of natural and man-made disasters”1– are both structures with which we must not only familiarize ourselves with, but embody and engage with. In order to address the inequality of effects of climate change (especially in regards to the western populations that are the most responsible for its cause), as well as climate change broadly, we must learn to hear and feel at a distance. This is symbolic on one level, but quite literal on another.

The COP21 2C target, for instance, is a perfect example in its blatant erasure of communities for whom a 2°C increase above the pre-industrial global mean means 3°C or more (e.g. equatorial communities), which will most certainly suffer from agricultural failure, food scarcity, and conflict.2 It is a death sentence in no uncertain terms. It is the “slow violence”3 of white/western supremacy. It is a problem of hearing, feeling, and seeing at a distance. This ignorance of effects allows us to address climate change in the fashion of a ‘drunkard’s drive’4 home – a vague idea of where to go, but a dangerous uncertainty as to the path. What it requires (as a first step) is the ability to truly grasp the omissions in our definitions and policies that allow for these oversights in the first place, and to address them by hearing, feeling, seeing, and acting.

It is in this spirit that I suggest these sensitivities and sensualities with great urgency.


Good News, Bad Weather
(Place the palms of your hands firmly over your ears until a low rumble is audible. Move your fingers slightly, and you’ll feel the slow groan and crackle of your own body. Sit with this sound, eyes closed, for 30 seconds.)

‘Bad weather’ is always heading our way.

In Markus Matthias Krüger’s landscape paintings, bad weather has always just passed, or else creeps up on us in the background. It is a meeting point between landscape and human.  Though these oil paintings have a tainted perfection or symmetry that belie a ‘pristine natural,’ the encroaching or recently passed weather systems highlight these strange imperfections, unbalanced relationships, and entropic snapshots.

Markus Matthias Krüger, Solitäre, 2014, Acryl und Öl auf Leinwand, 40 x 30 cm

 

Krüger, Insel, 2012 Acryl und Öl auf Leinwand, 40 x 30 cm

 

Krüger, Bresche, 2013, Acryl und Öl auf Leinwand, 60 x 80 cm

 

And what results from these positions is a lack of distinction between ‘natural’ objects and human objects: airplanes, homes, and cars are drowned as easily as fields and trees, and so are they burnt. Trees and towers both experience loneliness.
And all are moving towards some middle-ground, together.

It is through this weathered decay of objects that we glimpse a different sort of sensual relationship to the earth – one of a constant unmaking, or a disappearing act. Fusing into ground, dissipating into atmosphere, taking on water. Our airplanes turn into ocean, our homes into trees.
We, of course, withdraw into dust.

 

In these paintings, we rarely see the storm that causes the fires, the flooding, and the barren, stripped husks of trees alone in fields. Instead we’re invited to imagine the storm, and therefore, our somatic relation to it. I’m not interested in ‘bad weather’ for the drama (let’s imagine it’s very dramatic), I instead see the position of this storm as a bridge, as outlining a path of greater sensual tethering between human and panorama.
                  So imagine we’re here in the field, on the verge of
_____________________the storm.

Fake, electric dusk.


“I can sense it
Something important
Is about to happen
It’s coming up”5

Alfred J. Bedard’s research on weather phenomena shows that gathering storm clouds, tornadoes, and lightning all emit infrasound6 – sound below the level of human hearing, commonly understood to be anything less than 20Hz. Shrinking and expanding pressure systems create these ultra-low frequency waves, and bounce them between the ground and the atmosphere. Infrasound is fascinating precisely because it articulates an expanded field of sensual relation between the human body and its surrounding environment: in its perception, it exists at the threshold between hearing and feeling, between conscious and unconscious affective relation. As with Krüger’s objects, we’re embedded, engulfed, and submerged within infrasonic energetics reflecting, swirling, and passing through our organs.

Catastrophic Sound
If it is possible for humans to come into a closer, consciously physical relationship with infrasound, it is possible for us as well to enhance our understanding of large-scale processes. For what infrasound truly articulates are the large, long, slow scales of geophysical and atmospheric process: being at “earth magnitude” in Douglas Kahn’s vocabulary.7 The scale of infrasonic relations is, in a way, a catalog of ‘catastrophic’ events: large weather systems, seismological events, volcanic activity, and the artificial weather systems produced by industry and war.

Studies of infrasound in relation to physical and cognitive performance show that the presence of infrasound (above a certain threshold) has a profoundly negative effect, even if it is not necessarily consciously perceived. For humans, it is not accurate to conceive of infrasonic affect as a catastrophic catalog, but in this same sense we can understand the catastrophic transmissions of infrasound as producing within us similarly disorienting and nauseating subjective states.

We are, however, embedded within the infrasonic propagation networks, not solely the receivers of them. Perhaps more of a conduit or intermediary force.

Douglas Kahn’s notion of Transperception identifies this same sort of ‘hearing at a distance’ that names the intermediary as meaningful, knowledge-producing material. In other words, large-scale events create sound, but also sound the material through which they pass. Hearing the thunderstorm in the distance is a sonic cataloguing of intervening forces and materials. It is common to count the seconds between the flash of lightning and the arrival of thunder as a crude measure of distance. Instead, we might think about the thunder as containing a map in-and-of-itself – the unfolding of a dark register – of atmospheric layers and human-made or geologic boundaries.

Of course we see the lightning now, but it’s not a storm until we hear the thunder.
I used to feel them in my gut, first. A pressurized quiver.

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Hillel Schwartz on Hegel

“… the ear [is a] pick-up for correspondences between inner tremblings of the soul and the vital trembling of all things embodied. The human capacity to appreciate the world and the self in their co-presence was grounded in those shared vibrations called sound. It was the shiver at the heart of being that revealed the heart of meaning – an invisible shiver felt most deeply in music, whose chief task “consists in making resound, not the objective world itself, but, on the contrary, the manner in which the inmost self is moved to the depths of its personality and conscious soul,’”8
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Incomplete list of “inner tremblings”

Hungry stomach
Digesting stomach
Nervous system
Cloudy thoughts
Formulating thoughts
Tinnitus
Relationship issues
Sleeping limbs
Caffeine
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Incomplete list of “vital tremblings”
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[[Large storm on the horizon _____ _______________________

_____“It is not only____ ___________________                 

_____ in the spiritual realm____ _______

____that vibration could be both____       __________________                                    

__[small trembling underfoot]___ ___________________

____threatening and liberating,______ _____________

________________ __ in its capacity for example____

_____to disturb sexual norms_______ ____________

___and the boundaries of the human body____ _______________________

______________________ __________but also__________

_________in the material world________

_________ of evidently__________ _____________

__________palpable________ ___________________________________________

_________sensations”9____________ ____________

______________________________

_______[softly in the background]____

_____________________ __________________

_________________________________]] ________
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Sympathy for the Daemon
Good news, bad weather brings sympathetic vibrations: oscillating or vibrating in resonance with another object with which harmonic qualities are shared. A sounding of material (intermediary or not) acts on our bodies as well as geologic and atmospheric bodies. Let’s not pretend that we’re not sounded as well – we’re always intermediary materials, at least as far as weather is concerned. When thunder shakes the windowpane and your ribcage simultaneously. At this point it’s not conceptual, it’s dance. Remind me of the difference again between my ribcage in a thunderstorm, and my ribcage at a club. Of the difference between the swaying high-rise and my 1-2-3-slow-dance-feeling-your-head-on-my-shoulders. For many, though, the process of hearing is a daemon, a background procedure which alleviates some of the ‘heavy lifting’ of being-in-the-world. Of course there are periods where this activity bubbles up to the foreground: attending a concert, for example, or waiting to hear your name called at the doctors office, or late at night when a truck idles outside your window (or is it an earthquake?). Perhaps, though, there is a way to peek into this process a bit more: to see how these sounds, large or small, bounce around our interior landscapes, what worlds they build inside of us, what worlds they express on the outside, and how we choose to interpret these mappings as cues for interacting. Shake ourselves loose, in other words.

“Come here/and share the rain/with me. You./Isn’t it wonderful to hear/the universe/ shudder. How old it all,/ everything,/ must be.”10

Being shaken is a catalyst for vibrating-with, or sounding-alongside. As Trower, Schwartz, Hegel, and Myles put it, sympathetic vibration – interior sounding/interior accounting – takes place at the site of co-presence: an unspoken understanding of mutual, unconscious, affect. Phenomenal distance is collapsed precisely when we recognize the interior legibility of these sensations: what parts of us vibrate alongside – or in harmony with –environmental and planetary resonances? The aim articulated above is to explore and examine connections between these various tremblings, not necessarily to discover ‘new’ aspects of the external world (‘objective’ in Hegel’s terminology), but to uncover sympathy towards, and sensuality with these tumultuous, oscillating environments.

Is it considered entrainment, for instance, if you remain upright during an earthquake?

Or if you find thunder arousing?

How much shaking will it take for us to realize the pressures we’re also exerting? How much time
spent trembling at the foot of flaring hurricanes, or grasping for tethers adrift in floods of
increasing

magnitude                                                        and

_____depth?11

Bell Époque/Nostalgia
It is no surprise then that we refer to small, sustained seismic activity with narrow frequency spectrums as Harmonic Tremors. Bernard Chouet – known for his research identifying harmonic tremors as preludes to volcanic activity – remarks that the spectrographic display of harmonic tremor waveforms resemble “a ringing bell.”12 It is Chouet’s assertion that “[large earthquakes] tell you about the mechanical properties of the edifice, while long-period events [harmonic tremors] tell you about flow processes in conduits… what the pressure perturbation is, how big it is, how it evolves with time, what the geometry of the conduit is, where it is…”13 Like Kahn’s transperception, these subterranean ‘bells’ ring through material in its path. Large earthquakes demonstrate motion, but harmonic tremors highlight trajectories, materialities, and sensitivities. It is geologic harmony articulated by interaction between material states. We can understand this as pertaining simultaneously to musical analysis.

USGS:http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Glossary/Seismicity/description_seismic_monitoring.html

Think of yourself as a conduit. How are you sounded? The next time you are moved by a sound, consider how it locates you. In this moment, how has this sounds reached you? And how are you reaching out?

We have only to look as far as composer Maryanne Amacher’s studies of otoacoustic emissions14 to understand the basic fact that our auditory environments are processes of co-creation. You are a conduit, yes, but you also re-sound, re-animate. You are not the source of the thunder, but you are its collaborator. By the time you’ve heard it, it is already (in a very physical sense) interior to you, but the development of the conscious realization of this fact is the important aspect. Amacher suggests that this also is a harmonic relationship with environment. Not so much that we are ‘in harmony with,’ but that we are in an intervallic relation to environments. And there is no harmony without interval.

When I re-examine Krüger’s paintings now, they feel intimate, nostalgic. At least, I find I can hear and feel through them. Henri Lefebvre claims in his treatise on Rhythmanalysis that the rhythmanalyst interposes in our routine “[without] claiming to change life, but by fully reinstating the sensible in consciousness and in thought, [they] would accomplish a tiny part of the revolutionary transformation of this world and this society in decline. Without any declared political position.”15 The impulse to reinstate sensibility is correct, but in fact it must change life. The return of the sensual opposes the apolitical position. The reason? Bad weather is political. And when we attune to it, we attune as well to its branches of political and ecological affect. To feel environmental sensuality is really, to listen. But listening to something that also shakes us to our core. And listening is touching  – an outbound flight – and impulse to touch.

When I stand in the field watching the storm approach, it feels so still. But the magnitude of this storm undermines my (seemingly) quiet position. There simply is no stillness in recognition of our rhythmic time as merely a perceptual reference point (a view that Lefebvre and I do share). I begin to imagine it is not a storm – it is a window. I begin to imagine this window beckoning me forward. An interior impulse to feel outward. There’s always a storm coming our way, of course. But often we don’t see it until it is too late.

Well, one is here now.

Nighttime/Star Child
(Return the palms of your hands tightly to your ears, or seat yourself on a vibrating surface)

Here the storm cloud is growing, growling. I have that particular sensation in my eyes of adjusting rapidly to the waning light; the artificial dusk has a stunning quality – I find myself blinded by the brilliant glare of oncoming darkness, a sudden shift in distance that makes me squint. As a child, I used to get a sudden sinking feeling and dull ache in my gut right before thunderstorms. Now, it’s back, but I know it a bit more, and I let it know me. I let it fill my stomach, my chest cavity, my pelvis. It drapes itself around the horizon.

Good news: bad weather.

It will be cloudy for the rest of the night, far beyond when nightfall takes over from the storm.

“You can see the North Star next year in the nighttime – ”

This is said by a small child sitting next to me in the airport a few weeks ago, talking to some toy horses on the floor.

“You can see the North Star next year in the nighttime. It’s time to go now.”

It’s time to go.

 

 

 

 

  1.  Dr. Robert Bullard, “Hurricane Harvey: Zip Code & Race Determine Who Will Bear Burden of Climate Change,” interview by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! August 29, 2017. Audio and transcript,
    https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/29/hurricane_harvey_zip_code_race_determine
  2.  Kate Ravilious, “Global warming: uneven changes across planet,” The Guardian, February 10, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/feb/10/weatherwatch-ravilious-global-warming-limit-climate-change-uneven-arctic-europe-us
  3.  Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.
  4.  Perhaps a Markov Chain with more serious consequences.
  5.  Björk, “Big Time Sensuality,” Debut, One Little India/Elektra Records, 1993.
  6.  See: Shiga, David, “Silent Roar,” Weatherwise, Jul/Aug 2005; 58, 4, p. 38 – 41; Bedard Jr. & T. M. Georges, “Atmospheric Infrasound,” Physics Today, 53(3), March 2000, p. 32 – 37, American Institute of Physics; Schecter, Nicholls, Bedard Jr., et. al., “Infrasound Emitted by Tornado-Like Vortices: Basic Theory and a Numerical Comparison to the Acoustic Radiation of a Single-Cell Thunderstorm,” American Meteorological Society, 2008. DOI: 10.1175/2007/JAS2384.1, accessed online September 1, 2017. http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2007JAS2384.1
  7.  Douglas Kahn, Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013.
  8.  Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang & Beyond, New York, NY: Zone Books, 2011. p. 222, quot. G.W.F. Hegel.
  9.  Shelley Trower, Senses of Vibration: A History of the Pleasure and Pain of Sound, New York, NY: Continuum Books, 2012.  p. 96 (‘Seismic emphasis’ mine)
  10.  Eileen Myles, “And then the weather arrives” in I Must be Living Twice, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2015. p. 97
  11.  Yvonne Rainer. “Tides.” Poems, Brooklyn, NY: Badlands Unlimited, 2011.  p. 69
  12.  Bernard Chouet, “Volcanoes: An Interview with Bernard Chouet,” interview by ESI Special Topics Staff, Essential Science Indicators, March 2005. Transcript, http://esi-topics.com/volcanoes/interviews/BernardChouet.html
  13.   Ibid.
  14.  The physiological action of sound produced by the ear simultaneous to reception of sound by the ear.
  15.  Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life, New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press, 2015. English translation Continuum 20014. p. 35


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