A silence full of noises: The aural environment in a miner’s life history
4’33” John Cage’s work can be read as an attempt to desacrate the mindful listening of classical music by the elimination of the “sound” in a place programmatically aimed at removing the “noise”. The setting of life histories is conceived like a “place of silence”, in which technical tools and ethnographer’s skills contribute to reduce the background noises. However, in ethnography, “silence” can be read not only as absence of communication – although that could also be assumed as significant (Basso 1970) –, but as an aural field to explore, with its soundscapes and corporeal signals. Starting from Michael Herzfeld’s challenge (2006), who suggests to re-think the sensory ethnography in order to «resensitize» anthropology as a whole, this article proposes a tranche de vie of Giovanni, an elderly miner from Sardinia. The ethnographic description focuses on the voice of Giovanni, and the aural spectrum of the place and the bodies involved, recording them by a videocamera. The «silence full of noise» (Cage 1977: 221) that emerges during the “deferred listening” of the video allows to extend the thick description of Giovanni’s remembrance.
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