In this note, I wish to address the gap between sight and sound—specifically, the gap in our perception of the visual and the auditory.
Considering our existence within an evolutionary timeline, it can be seen that our biological construction and the fitness of our survival as a species Homo sapiens are fundamentally based in our propensity for sight. Specifically for our species, the general vertebrate feature of mobile eyes has translated into our ability for intimate communication and development of relationships—our interactions with one another largely depend upon eye contact.
It so follows that our ability to see, and more importantly, what we see, is an overwhelmingly dominant force over all our other senses. After all, the value of presentation is to us of utmost importance, often dictating our social contacts, the food we eat, the places we go.
The central role that the act of seeing has in our lives is a double-edged sword: while it is a major component of our interactions with others, it simultaneously obstructs our interactions with others by denying them (the “other”) personal agency to a complete, individualistic identity.
This implicit contradiction can be clarified through making an important distinction: when we see individuals, we do not see individuals in and of themselves, but individual members of a group. This contradiction is the result of our unconscious tendency to view individuals in contexts and in relations—individual people can never escape their group identities, whether this be gender identity, sex category, or ethnic or cultural identity. As our interactions with others are guided by sight, physical behaviors and appearances remain at the forefront of our perception of others. Stereotyping and mutually exclusive categorizing present themselves at the core of our interactions, for they arise through the act of seeing.
The question, “What is this person’s identity?” unconsciously precedes the more important question, “What is this person saying?” Our unconscious, internal answering of the first question occurs in all situations: even when the question is irrelevant, we still make decisions on a person’s sex, gender, beliefs and personality. The second question is the more difficult one, because it can only be answered consciously.
It is easy to capture and become aware of the essence of the visual—we are, after all, guided by sight. It is, on the other hand, difficult to develop a sense of hearing in the absence of a visual. Yet, the importance of hearing must not be understated: listening to someone’s speech without being able to judge them based on presumptions and assumptions is what gives them that complete, individualistic identity which the act of seeing denies.
Sylvano Bussotti’s musical scores capture the essence of this difference between the visual and the auditory, and brings to our attention the absolute need to focus more on listening. On his scores, he draws lines to connect notes, creating a display of the melody that intertwines seemingly cacophonous notes together. The lines and artistic structures he creates in his scores allow us to visualize the music in a more coherent way.
But to listen to his pieces, no matter how careful the listener is, is an entirely different story. The melody line becomes lost in what seems like a sea of disparate notes. The incredible difficulty of following the melody line which is depicted visually is telling of the necessity for us to concentrate our energies on listening—on combating the biases created through seeing. We need to listen more, to hear individual voices in a society dominated and biased by the visual.
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