On heterogeneity: sounds and conversation

In the entry for “deafness” from Keywords in Sound, scholar Mara Mills concludes that deafness “is thus a variety of hearing; alternately, it can be conceived as a precondition of hearing or as the resistance to hearing and audism.” I appreciated how Mills suggests that deafness affirms the multimodality of sound and the “heterogeneity of ear-listening.” Mills also highlights how historians view “disability as one of the ‘conditions of possibility.’” Reading Mills’s entry for deafness made me wonder about the following question: what sounds and instruments for hearing will be normative in the future?

Seth Kim-Cohen takes care to point out the non-cochlear is “most definitely not silence” in the introduction for In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art. According to Kim-Cohen, non-cochlear sonic arts both questions sound as material and also invites sound into broader conversation. Based on this provocation, I find myself with the following question: what are the sounds we are hearing today? What sounds do we need to amplify? What sounds do we need to respond to? How do we respond to these sounds?

I attended a presentation on Universal Design a couple of years ago. The presentation was a part of a salon series I co-organized to examine the intersection of technology and ethics and broaden ideas around who gets to participate in our technological futures. One takeaway that stays with me is the reality that when it comes to disability, the question is not if but when. We will all at some point become “disabled”--both temporarily and permanently--whether through accident, illness, or old age. Another takeaway was to move beyond functionality and utility toward desire and joy. The challenge was moving beyond “what do we need” to “what do we want” and allowing individuals to dictate the design.

With this in mind, I’m curious to know what sounds will be accessible to us in the future and what instruments we will need to hear the range of those sounds. I’m particularly interested in knowing how my own hearing will evolve and what new instruments might become available to me. I hope cultures of listening evolve to expand the heterogeneity of listening and the heterogeneity of conversation.