A Stone Sings in the Stream: Sounding Timbral Lines in Principaling

link to thesis


As I composed the text, or was composed by the text, a musical terrain of “soundings” emerged. This spacious timbral line welcomes drum beats, swells of saxophone, ocean waves, ocean drum, murmurs of wind and river. I use the term “soundings” rather than “soundscape” to emphasize the generative quality of the sounds which arose as the text came into presence. Soundings are musical gatherings, layer upon layer of sounds from an array of people, places and spaces, repurposed, remade, accidental, improvisatory. Soundings are gathered in the wild. Pulled from the past into the present. Remnants. Soundings reverberate with history, place, memory, and time, slowed and stilled. They pulse with joyful and hard-won drumming practices, performances on stages, festival grounds, or temples. All of this. Continually arriving.

Soundings highlight the flux of the world, hold ambiguities, suggest possibilities. They reflect the hermeneutic circle, offering musical understandings of my particular situatedness at this school on this day, as well as worldly sweeps and bends.

As you listen to the soundings you may hear breath travelling through bamboo, wood, or metal. Breathe warming the orange-pink smoothness of a conch shell. Japanese taiko and percussion such as the chappa[1] as well as Tibetan singing bowls offer unique timbres, awaken histories, and reflect my decades-long practice of taiko drumming. In Japan, the taiko has been used as an offering, following Shintō beliefs, to call, awaken or give thanks to the deities or spirits thought to be alive in all things. The taiko is played to “dispel evil spirits, ward off sickness, or give thanks for prosperity. In Buddhism, the taiko is considered the voice of the Buddha, along with the horagai, or conch shell.”[2]

The rattle of shakers, seed pods, chajchas,[3] the hum of insects, movements of forest and ocean release the soundings from the bounds of a particular genre or musical tradition. The soundings intentionally blur and meld conceptual boundaries of nature “out there” and all of us “in here.” Children’s voices reflect landscapes of schooling and add layers of practice and place.

A Different Way to Listen

Listening to the soundings outdoors with headphones offers a fluid, dynamic interplay of sonic textures as ambient sounds merge with recorded sounds. I invite you to find a place in nature, a forest trail, the water’s edge, or a walk in your neighbourhood, and listen deeply. Listening with intention through headphones paradoxically opens our ears to the ambient sounds around us – the crunch of gravel under our feet, wind angling across our ears, chatter from people nearby. As the sounds from the environment merge with the soundings, the experience of listening becomes amplified. The ma, or elements of space, serve as portals, openings for nature to enter and bloom in relation with the soundings.

Listening this way, the soundings become mutable even as you follow a familiar trail. When heavy nightly rainfall swells a creek, the tempo of moving water quickens the next morning. Every time you listen, you listen anew. Ichigo Ichie.[4]“In this moment, an opportunity.” This Japanese expression reminds us that each moment is unique, will not occur again, and that we must remain present to each moment.

The soundings open vast possibilities and reflect hermeneutic understandings of a world always arriving, a world in which we live “as historical beings.”[5] Gadamer teaches us that “hearing is an avenue to the whole, because it is able to listen to the logos . . . the hearer can listen to the legends, the myths, and the truth of the ancients.”[6] When we consider the nature of belonging, we find that belonging arises from German roots, gehören, or hören, to “listen to.”[7]

Listening to the soundings outdoors may help deepen your understandings of my research as you sense the world “worlding,” presencing.[8] Listening along the timbral lines we may share the joyfulness and burden of becoming enfolded into philosophical hermeneutics.

(Topo)graphic Images

(Topo)graphic images in the form of layered photographs, bits of graphic notation and textual fragments comprise this illustrative timbral line. Particularities of tone, texture, colour and line in the images are gathered from nature, from the ideas sounded in the study. Wrapping or bracketing the prefix “topo” or “topos” highlights the importance of the topic in hermeneutic research, which asks that we cultivate a “radical wakefulness”[9] as the topic draws near, presents itself or slips from view. Hermeneutic work requires a deep attunement to the topic, its trails and tracings.

As a scholar and practitioner, I summon the courage to keep the work in play, to live amidst the uncertainties, the missteps, the nascent openings and arrivals. Topos,[10]  rooted in place, region and space,recalls the topic’s home ground, habitat and living fields of relations. The suffix “graphy” or “graphic” derives from writing or drawing, to “represent by lines drawn," originally "to scrape, to scratch."[11] Together the(topo)graphic images reveal imperfections, cracks and fissures, the qualities of impermanence, the Japanese aesthetic sense of wabi-sabi,[12] of beauty in imperfection. These images provide a visual expression of my hermeneutic understandings of this study, contingent on the passing of time and all that is yet to come.

Each chapter contains a single (topo)graphic image, paired with a sounding. Linger with the images. Fall into the scrapes and scratches. Listen to the soundings as you contemplate the image. How might you discover something of yourself among the unfinished lines, shapes and curves, the deep shadows and verdant spaces?

[1]   Small brass Japanese hand held cymbals (TaikoProject, n.d., p. 6).

[2]   TaikoProject (n.d., p. 3).

[3]   “Chajchas” (n.d.).

[4]   Japanese expression that may be translated as, “Once, a meeting,” or “In this moment, an opportunity” (García & Miralles, 2019).

[5]  Gadamer (2013, p. 293).

[6]   Gadamer (2013, p. 478).

[7]   Gadamer (2013, p. xv).

[8]   Heidegger (2013, p. 177). Heidegger writes, “The world presences by worlding. That means: the world’s worlding cannot be explained by anything else nor can it be fathomed through anything else. This impossibility does not lie in the inability of our human thinking to explain and fathom in this way. Rather, the inexplicable and unfathomable character of the world’s worlding lies in this, that causes and grounds remain unsuitable for the world’s worlding. As soon as human cognition here calls for an explanation, it fails to transcend the world’s nature, and falls short of it.”

[9]  Heidegger (in Moules, 2015, p. 28).

[10]  “Topos” (n.d.).

[11]  “Graphy” (n.d.).

[12]  “Wabi-sabi” (n.d.).