What can we learn about the world of the future when we turn on a microphone, put on headphones, listen and write down what's on our mind? Philosopher Lukáš Likavčan takes part in a sound expedition and invites us to read his field notes in which he shares momentary observations and thoughts encountered through sound and attentive listening in the places he explores. Opening his field notes provides an opportunity to follow the paths of thought that open through the confrontation with new perceptions.
Milovice (rewilding park)
Starting point: Once we retreat from all those farmlands, what to do with the land itself?
Question: Is a rewilding park artificial or natural? And what about what is happening inside? Is it controlled or spontaneous? Well, what matters is that we can distinguish different connotations of what is control: a) Power, oppression → That’s the connotation we do not seek, b) Steering → The connotation we seek. Derived from ancient Greek κυβερνήτης (kybernḗtēs = steersman, pilot).
Why is the previous note important? Because based on this conceptual distinction, one can imagine a different economic relationship to plants and non-humans.
E.g. privileging reproduction over simple (over-)production. → Rewilding may be an extremely important precedent and a future economic sector that promotes culture which above all values biodiversity. Biodiversity will be a key trait of future economic-ecological complexes, because it is a factor of ecosystem resilience.
The majesty of the animal body. → Accessing the animal in the human through experience of our vulnerability. [Link to domestication] → Exercise of power over the animal world that in turn domesticates us (James C. Scott’s position). Example: Horses → Did they domesticate us into a different species by changing human mobility and ways of transporting goods?
Interesting aspect of the area: Former military training site. → Link to history of military-environment relationships and militarization of environment → Nature is a Battlefield.
Big picture: What do we value and why? [Link to economic anthropology] → Is individual consumption as an exercise of economic freedom really more important than biodiversity as a collective economic goal? What are the timescales we are able to operate at? → The landscapes we visit are not just soundscapes, but also timescapes.
Sound then also works as a medium of detecting temporal rhythms and undulations. This is how two major topics interact: the question of value and the question of time. Sensitivity to temporal scales provides an ability to recognize larger fields of value, beyond the immediate exchange-value preferred in the capitalist economy.
On site observation: What I am very critical of is how our visual imagination of landscapes conditions how we listen to their sounds. Also this crazy golf course next to the fence and the second largest waste dump in Czech Republic on the horizon. → Exclusion zone narrative again: Who’s really behind the fence? Golf players or horses?
In general, this park is a bit of a disappointment: This is not what a solid rewilding park should look like. The territory is too small, and the institutional constraints and financial pressures are immense. → “Development” plans”: Extending the golf course, or turning the site into an airport. [That would be a tragedy.]
Tušimice (coal power plant)
General intro: What are infrastructures? The invisible technological background of everyday life. But also capillaries of power. Responsible for slow violence and unequal risk distribution.
Forms of systemic injustice are impersonal in their origin, but they affect specific people and communities (e.g. people living in panel houses next to a power plant). In the case of Tušimice, the social injustice is obfuscated by greenwashing efforts to present the site as a cutting-edge power plant adapting to a green future by using the heat for tomato cultivation and the energy for the datacenter. This greenwashing effort does not take into account that it is in fact the power plant that creates conditions for local impoverishment.
Once in place, the existence of infrastructures is almost non-negotiable. Usually, no one asks you whether you want to use the given infrastructure.
Infrastructures modulate distributions and affordances of the social-economic background. This background is what is not salient in everyday, cultural life. Infrastructures thus generate spaces of possibilities. [They are active forms, as Keller Easterling would say.] Hence: Infrastructures are enablers.
Another aspect: Infrastructures usually have strategic economic importance.
“Diagramming”: The structure of the place diagrams what processes happen there. Infrastructures diagram their processes, they are their physical illustrations/visualizations. It is easy then to detect the logic of the place’s architecture, since it is modeled after and as this diagram.
Press release of Hnutí Duha - Friends of the Earth Czech Republic from 2017: Počerady power plant = the largest emitter of CO2 in Czech Republic, Tušimice is the second.
Big question that arises from discussions with Sara: How much of our sonic experience is pre-conceptual, reflexive?
The physicality of sound. [The term later used also by Magnus]
Also what is very nice is when you have all of Sara’s mics on and you listen to this enhanced, hyperreal soundscape. It actually gives me a better sense of the place, makes me more aware. You can hear the emissions, their source, their creation. It is a crime, it should be a legally recognized crime, to emit CO2 in these brutal quantities, especially when technological alternatives are instantly available. The strategy of ČEZ is to delay mass distribution of zero-emission technologies, so they can earn more from these insanely primitive technologies. This is made possible by the malfunctioning, corrupted institutional context, that doesn’t really regulate what it should regulate.
Another important point by Sara: Sound doesn’t exist without relation to architecture.
Funny guys at the power plant: “We have no toxic emissions, only CO2”. What was also ridiculous was to hear them complain about the European Union trying to “politically” make coal less economic. The level of their narrow-mindedness was stunning. Because, well, one can really say that in the first place, if there were no “politics”, the power plant would not exist at all.
The point is that the very existence of the plant is thoroughly political. The plant is the eminent site where politics happen. The burning of coal is politics. So what we can hear is the sound of politics.
The previous rant reveals what I mean by the politics of infrastructures. Infrastructures are not “just” influenced by politics, they are thoroughly soaked in the political liquid. On top of that, they are the very medium through which and in which politics happens. They are where the power lives. Politics is encoded, hardwired into infrastructures. Or to put it differently:
Infrastructures are logistics of power.
At the condensation towers: These are the terraforming devices of the present, turning our planet into a less habitable place. We need different terraforming devices made by and with different agents, more accountable, less immersed in boomer narratives of “It is what it is” and how “This is the way it has always been”. → Central political task: To assess which alterations of the environment we really welcome and why. We’re not talking here about alteration of some pristine nature, such a thing does not exist → The planetary environment is already irrevocably modified. So the question is: What nature do we want to deliberately construct?
I’m also very surprised that CO2 emissions sound like a waterfall. Those artificial waterfalls in cooling towers. → Brings to the fore the 19th century romantic aesthetics of disaster. It’s so ominous, the giant chimney inside the cooling tower. A total disaster tool, an artificial volcano. → A transformative experience, to see it. Only the listening through the hydrophone truly unveils the artificiality of this waterfall, the regularity of streams and the machine humming in the water. Otherwise it sounds indistinguishable from a mountain waterfall (at least to an untrained human ear).
Stark contrast in working conditions: Folks in the control room sitting at computers, with their own bathroom and showers vs. an elevator operator on a 12-hour shift sitting in the cabin with a book + a bottle of water.
Reykjavík (Team briefing)
Three narratives to explore: 1) The status of the artificial → link between Carbfix and Fagradalsfjall volcano, 2) Landscapes of dispersal/decentralization → link to Death Stranding game, also to pandemic logistics and architecture, 3) Tempos of being → link to James C. Scott and his critique of agriculture.
Initial observation: Iceland’s renewable energy paradise is only one part of the story. → The other part is heavy industry and foreign capital that both parasitize these energetic resources.
Hypothesis: Active geology of Iceland makes the local population more attuned to the metabolic processes happening on the backdrop of everyday life. [Reaction to hearing Magnus talking about the volcanic eruption that caused the French Revolution. This is also exemplified in his attention to space weather.]
Búðarháls (hydroelectric power plant)
Búðarháls Hydroelectric Power Plant
First impression: Scale: One should think about the proper scaling of different projects. This is related to the centralization vs. decentralization issue. Large-scale projects today tend to have centralizing power, and this hydropower plant is a good example. Examples: Kárahnjúkar power plant = the largest in Iceland, which sits on the same river as Búðarháls, caused massive environmental damage (salmon + trout population collapse on the river Tungnaá, desertification of the region, groundwater depletion). → Búðarháls can be imagined as a strategic narrative shift, from large dams to smaller ones.
Connotations: War, invasion, territorial intrusion → a constant siege on nature. A renewable energy production through hydropower only sends the problem of “environmental externalities” one step down the process line.
The power plant is owned by the state-run energy company Landsvirkjun. → PR strategy = “we’re going to dam just one river in Iceland, but we do that bloody intensively”.
When it comes to these sources of energy (such as hydropower) that offer us a sort of ‘phase transition’ to a carbon neutral future, what really matters is whether and how they will be accompanied by a ‘phase transition’ in our ethos of engineering and landscaping. That is why I put so much emphasis on culture and politics that coalesce around technologies and infrastructures. It is not enough to engineer and landscape in a greener way. We must also allow these technologies to reshape the fabric of politics.
Big question: Assessing consequences of landscaping. Who do we take into our political community? Do we take biodiversity and non-human agents into consideration?
Sound is a great tool to record change, becoming, phase transition.
Famous past volcanos: 1) Mount Pinatubo: 1991 → Global cooling of 0.5°C. 2) Krakatoa: 1883 → Northern hemisphere cooled by 0.4°C. 3) Mount Tambora: 1815 → Global temperature decreased by 0.4–0.7°C.
[Link of volcano eruption to romanticism and observation of the sublime in forces of nature.] → Mary Shelley writes Frankenstein (subtitled “Modern Prometheus”), a story about synthetic biology and artificiality. Other important literary works: Prometheus Unbound by Percy Byshe Shelley. Darkness by lord Byron.
Eruption of the Laki volcano fissure in southern Iceland (June 1783 – February 1784) made the French revolution possible by causing crop failures in response to cool and rainy summers in most of Europe.
The volcano presents the planet as an active geological agent.
Main concept: Deep time → The discovery of deep, geological time is historically linked to the discovery of planetary catastrophic events and moments of extinction = invention of geology.
Fjallsárlón (glacial lagoon)
The melting ice is delivered to the ocean.
Main idea: Ice is an archival medium → Ice cores (Susan Schuppli’s project)
It is “nature representing itself”. It is a climate crisis right before our eyes and ears. It confronts us with destruction and the image of destruction at the same time.
Sound can work here as a medium of extending/prolonging the archival and evidentiary competences of nature. It makes space for “natural evidentiary tradition” to emerge. It is a natural autographic device.
Note: Explain autography → tree rings example. [Autographic visualization]
Etienne Jule Marey / William Fox Talbot→Pencil of nature + Language of phenomena themselves.
The temporality of ice is different from the temporality of human life. Syncing these two temporalities is a way of keeping track of climate change. As the glacial time accelerates due to increased melting, thus approximating human time, the glacial melting becomes more and more prominent and thus the most significant index of climate change.
Concept: Active landscape. Glaciers as the grand landscape architects → Mountains and valleys are results of their monumental activity.
Lisa Messeri → Geological Imagination: “Way of seeing.” Making the abstract science of geology and of glacial activity intimate → Placing the abstract. Similarly we can talk about geological ways of hearing in terms of glaciers.
Sound links between scales: The macro-event of melting is accompanied by the micro-sound of melting captured by hydrophones. Sound is a “scale trespasser”. It doesn’t respect spatial scales.
On distance and presence, touching and respecting: Do we really learn something by being at the melting glacier? Or can we instead create a culture that is not based on being everywhere and on being loud? Such a culture would be a culture of deliberate withdrawal, a culture that has learned how to pause as well as how to productively bring back a sense of distance. → Distance as a positive category.
Hellisheiði (geothermal power plant & Carbfix carbon capture facility
Geothermal energy as a small-scale artificial volcano. Two points of view: Energy scarcity vs. Energy abundance. Georges Bataille’s solution: Nature is a master in “luxurious squandering of energy”. → Scarcity is artificial.
The power plant and Carbfix are connected. The carbon dioxide is stored back in the geological layers, and geothermal energy is used in that process. This process uses technologically-induced mineralization of carbon dioxide in 2 years instead of several centuries. Similar process can be done on the seabed: because water is acidic, it reacts with the basalt rock. This releases chemicals that react with carbon dioxide and trigger mineralization.
Concept: Negative emissions. We will need to curb the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as a way of compensation for the past emissions, because the current available carbon sinks are not enough. There will probably be an overshoot of emissions, causing warming of more than 1.5°C. So we’re back to burying the past practices from Day 1 in the Czech Republic.
Big question: How to avoid the greatest alibi argument in the context of carbon drawdown? → Holly Jean Buck again: large-scale carbon sequestration projects require planetary coordination beyond means of contemporary corporations → “Amazon but for communism” kind of model.
Key argument: Heidegger claims that modern technology has a capacity of Gestell (enframing), that turns the planet into Bestand (standing reserve). He also distinguishes between techné and poiesis. And he says modern technology does not have the capacity for poiesis.
But: Against Heidegger, what would poetic technology, a kind of poetic engineering, look like? It would be self-reflexive, sensitive to natural affordances, capable of appreciating excess and redundancy as creative elements that can be played with, instead of minimized. Such a situation would lead to preferring habitability over sustainability (Dipesh Chakrabarthy), forcing economy and ecology to take into account all life instead of just human life. → That would also mean learning to see resources as gifts.
Culture of combustion vs. Culture of alignment. The first one is not impressive anymore in energy projects (although the dudes in Tušimice may think otherwise). It is hard to imagine a greater cultural contrast than between Tušimice and Hellisheiði. This difference is infrastructural as well as cultural. It is a different engineering culture, despite many structural, architectural and sonic similarities. Icelanders are not trying to impress us with numbers, physics and equations, but with their ethos of social impact.
1) Different landscapes embed different tempos of being: Let me return to agriculture and its cycles → “metronome of the cereals” (James C. Scott). Agricultural plants setting daily routines and yearly cycles to some societies & cultures. “The background music rhythm of the domestication process”. And not only that: Agricultural plants also set the whole web of civilizational metaphors & rituals. Links to the question of value too, to speeding up and slowing down as gestures of valuing things.
2) On historical change → Technology & accidents in context of climate change (Paul Virilio): Strategy to avoid “collapse of civilization” narratives, to show their explanatory vacuity. In the past, “collapse” was in fact only the disintegration of society into its basic units, building blocks (such as the grain-complex in early agricultural societies). Instead of civilizational collapses, let us observe instances of reverse prostheticizations and reverse domestications.
3) Possibility of art without heavily invested individuality: Artistic gesture not as showing off of individual ego, but as working with the serendipity and autonomy of objects and materials, in a sort of conspiratorial alliance (inspired by Reza Negarestani).
4) Narrative of 3R: Restore → Retreat → Rewild: Focus on the status of the artificial. → One force, different manifestations: Volcano, Geothermal, Coal Power.
5) Critical potential of sound: Václav’s point: Physicality and ontologicality of sound + sound pollution. Magnus’ point: Conductivity of human infrastructure. Pan’s point: Sound of evil + healing through sound. Relationality of sound.
To wrap up: Leibniz → monads as mirrors of the whole universe. The same works with sound, if we listen properly, at sufficient granularity. Sound offers us anti-dualist metaphysics & monadic relationality.
Kaly (aquaponic farm)
Starting point: Care. Connotation with agriculture: care for soil, care for plants, care for food. Connotation with immediacy: at first, it is weird to consider technologically-mediated care as care at all, since care is usually imagined to be related to touch, intimacy, etc.
Domestication & reverse-prostheticization narratives.
How do we co-evolve with our surroundings? → We first arrange the surroundings so that they can in turn arrange us.
G.W.F. Hegel feat. Jeep Cherokee
Speculation: What kinds of institutions do we need to make aquaponic farming work at scale? [Analogous to geoengineering.] In what sense can aquaponics be emancipatory? → Retreat from human-occupied landscapes.
“Tech bros” aspects of aquaponics: They are making salad instead of microchips, but their corporate ethos is the same.
Problematic narratives: Possible use of aquaponics in space exploration (generational starships, Moon and Mars farming) → “Maximum Jailbreak”
Opportunity / hope: Hydroponics should be more than just a continuation of industrial farming. There is a link to retreat narratives → possibility of rewilding → biodiversity restoration in areas abandoned after agriculture retreats into aquaponic complexes. →
Link to Žarošice, Carbfix and Milovice. “Restore climate, retreat (from) landscape, rewild the Earth”. → De-intensification of land-expensive mass agriculture, spatial intensification into aquaponic units instead of further exteriorization. This can even mean production intensification leading not to more growth, but to a genuine degrowth. → [Bypassing Jevons paradox]
Today, we face a dilemma whether future landscapes will be shaped more by the trivializing agriculture-related gestures similar to those of early states or by the opportunistic designing with affordances similar to those manifested by pre-agricultural populations of hunters & gatherers. So what comes in the next couple of notes is quite a complex but compelling argument with a surprising conclusion. The argument is based primarily on James C. Scott’s book Against the Grain.
Now, what we know is that for approximately the first 4-5k years of the Neolithic, homo sapiens relied on agriculture only as an additional, opportunistic strategy to enlarge their portfolio of nutrients. In other words, even after the invention of agriculture, for several millennia farming was only one of many food chains people relied on. → They were still partly hunters & gatherers. The decisive change came with the emergence of early states (in Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, China). → States emerged from early agriculture (or what James C. Scott calls “grain-complex”), because agricultural products such as wheat were easy to tax, collect, control and ration. Hence they could form the basis of state power with its structural hierarchies and systems of enforcement.
Now, think about this: Many mythologies contain a story of a god giving people grain and tools for farming. Yet, culture and civilization obviously existed even before agriculture and sedentarisation (viz Göbekli Tepe). Hence, we can think about these mythologies as massive psy-ops invented to force people into labor-expensive activities such as large-scale, state-operated farming. Along with that comes also the first distinction between civilization (= can farm) and barbarians (= cannot farm). Early versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh picture his partner-in-crime – Enkidu – as a peaceful, noble pastoralist. Only later versions turn him into a savage, half-animal half-human that must first be “civilized”.
What’s the point of this long argument? Agriculture invents a whole cascade of slow but massive social changes that culminate in a new mode of human inhabitation of the world, based on closed communities with strong hierarchies and bloodline relationships. But even this is not necessarily true, as we learn from Graeber & Wengrow in The Dawn of Everything.
Perhaps there are still traces of the nomadic past in early mythologies, such as the stories about the exile from Eden (Eden = areas easily settled in a nomadic way). → Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”.
Conclusion: Despite a popular myth, farming is not an invention of the “civilization”, it had been here before, just in a different form, i.e. not as a predominant mode of subsistence.
Architecture of closed environments: An aquaponics farm is a fragile ecosystem. The logo of Future Farming designates a closed ecosystem made of three elements: fish + plants + bacteria.
“Closed worlds” → Lydia Kallipoliti. The serenity of the artificial is different from the pastoral serenity of “traditional” agricultural landscapes. Here we move on the axis of exteriority vs. interiority. That allows us to ask questions such as: What exteriorizations enable agricultural interiorization? Of course, there must be some “compensatory” mechanism, e.g. in the form of intense water use.
Food & lifestyle: Reinventing modes of food production as reinventing conditions of our daily routines. Example: Grimes on AI & communism [link].
Motif: FALC (Fully Automated Luxury Communism). Labor automation vs. farming-intensive future. → Can we imagine aquaponics as fully automated? Or turning farming into HEZ (Human Exclusion Zone)? → Possible link to rewilding.
Thus: Automation for degrowth (?)
“Culinary materialisms”: Food has deep metaphysical implications, e.g. dichotomies like “industrial vs. organic” food. Moral dimension: What is allowed and what is not allowed to be eaten or even cultivated (religious reasons, lifestyle reasons, dietary needs & preferences).And what about all those fish? [Frontiers of domestication vs. animal liberation] Are we going to sacrifice some species to millenia of domestication so that we can liberate other species and let them repopulate the Earth instead of us?
Žarošice-Uhřice (planned underground CO2 storage)
Let us discover the potential negativity of this place rather than simply assume it. Let us apply the position of an ethnographic observer to avoid running to the conclusion too fast, since it may be tempting to dismiss the place altogether from the very beginning: It is, after all, a site of fossil fuel extractivism…
Sites of fossil fuel extraction exist in a special regime of exception from normal jurisdiction, they are highly surveilled sites. Almost as if they were dedicated to and managed by some occult powers.
Starting point: Carbon sequestration as a geoengineering method. Counter-argument: it is dangerous to technologically alter the environment of our planet. But: we are already altering the climate accidentally. Climate change can be seen as the biggest uncontrolled geoengineering experiment in human history. Thus, the problem is not the alteration as such. We must make a shift from accidental to intentional alteration.
Support: Paul Virilio → Every technology produces its own accidents. The trick is to act with the emergent potentialities of the historical accidents rather than against them.
Literary reference: Holly Jean Buck → After Geoengineering [Absolutely key reference]
“Geoengineering” is not a good term, it’s mostly an invention of its critics. We should instead speak about intentional alteration of climate as a cultural practice/cultural technique. ALSO,
sequestering carbon is necessary to keep the warming within 1.5 degrees of global average, since we are on a trajectory to have a large overshoot of carbon emissions beyond acceptable limits.
What institutional landscape do we need to make geoengineering work?
State/public institutions are necessary for carbon sequestration at scale. This denies the “greatest alibi argument”: a claim that carbon sequestration is just a way to avoid curbing emissions at their source, i.e. providing an alibi for private fossil fuel corporations to continue supporting and emitting emissions from burning coal, gas and oil. But: sequestering carbon yields no direct revenue → only public institutions can guarantee financing a project that is not profit-oriented → CO2 sequestration is actually a way to ruin the fossil fuel business and nationalize it.
“Carbon care”→Geoengineering as a public, cultural project, rather than simply framed as a private and technologically-oriented activity. We must be actively constructing this counter-imagination now.
Example: Sky burial. Imagine rethinking carbon sequestration practices as a burial of our atmospheric past. The Žarošice site can be reimagined as a graveyard of the history of fossil fuels. After all, fossil fuels come from the deep past of our planet, from the fossilized corpses of prehistoric organisms.
Deep/geological time: Awareness of the long duration of geological, planetary processes, beyond the scope of individual human life or collective human history. Understanding carbon sequestration as a project and as a culture invites us to think and plan along these non-human, vast timescapes.
Silver lining: This allows us to work outside the temporal logic of short-term profit and consumption.
Important line of terminological friction → Natural x Artificial: Nature has been historically considered a source of moral authority, e.g. categorizing non-heteronormative sexual identities as unnatural, justifying patriarchy or racial opression by natural metaphors. → Welcoming the artificial opens a space for alternative futures to emerge. Art reference: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
Spectral landscapes: Fossil fuel sites imagined as haunted by the ghosts of extinct species (similar to Kojima’s Death Stranding game). At these sites, we can attune to geological time and to sense the Planetary. → Sound as a tool of sensory access.
Meaning of ghosts: Messengers & navigators in a planetary terrain, not necessarily things to scare you. → Future mysticisms (?): Oil culturally reframed as a sacred liquid that is mined only for religious purposes and it is forbidden to burn it. → Ending combustion by a power of religious authority instead of political decision.
Caution: The previous note is mainly an exercise in imagining a different culture that is aware of the possibility of species extinction and combines planetary perspectives with everyday cultural practices. Different example: Carbon Care.
Note on sound: Sound can work as a great Trojan horse. It is often forbidden to take visual evidence of some site or action, but what about hearing and recording sonic evidence? You can always say: “Oh no, we are not recording, we are just listening!”