Body and Acoustic Experiments at Sights of Remembrabce

Often turning to memory, we look into it from the needs of the current day: the past forms the language of the present. In this way, states can develop a normalized memory of important events and turn to it to solve current political problems. To combat this normalization, it is important to look for a new language in the places of remembrance – where society’s ideas about itself and its history are preserved and created. Our experiments with body and sound are attempts to find this language.

Radio Ladoga

This sound track is the result of the work of an acoustic laboratory in places of memory associated with the Siege of Leningrad – Shuvalovskoye Cemetery and the Road of Life.

Lilia Akivenson, anthropologist and sound researcher, says:

Sound is a shaky and immaterial sign of a place, it cannot be touched (it can even be difficult to describe it verbally). For a long time in Russia, sound anthropology meant a strange hybrid of folklore and ethnomusicology: a completely historical discipline that collects and analyzes the canons of songs, poetic and everyday texts. As a researcher, I have always been surprised by this excessive attention to the sound left in the past, no-longer-lasting.

It turned out to be very useful to start working with everyday sound fields: the category of the past tense was replaced by the category of the present. Sound streams arise and last, are reproduced.

According to the same logic, we built the work during the laboratory, visiting places of memory and listening to them. Thus, we discover them in the present, and do not leave them in historical time remote from us. At first we read about the soundscapes of besieged Leningrad, working with documented sound. Then we ended up on Ladoga and had our own auditory experience – also in the context of military history.

Sound makes the place alive and real for the listener: the story ceases to be abstract and becomes already experienced personally. The roar of autumn Ladoga storms, children’s laughter in the halls of the museum and accidentally heard comments from visitors – these form exactly the same collective knowledge about the war, only not on the pages of a textbook.

Diary readings

You can hear the performance participants reading entries from a blockade diary.

Daria Sedova, dance artist and performance author, says:

On September 3, after a tour of Besieged Leningrad, we gathered in the Silvanskaya mansion on Konyushennaya 9, where during the war there was a school, and now there is a commercial cluster. We found a relatively neutral space – a transition with a window and white walls. And first did a bodily attunement, checked with themselves – having absorbed all this terrible information, we returned to the body as it was at the moment, and then began to slowly read and place excerpts from the blockade diary of the schoolgirl Lena Mukhina in space. I prepared these excerpts in advance and divided them into cards that were placed on one of the walls in chronological order – then one of the participants could take a card and start saying the text aloud, at the same time, noticing what was happening in the body, what I wanted to do, physically and vocally. Everyone else also found for these words a movement/gesture/sound/way to breathe and repeated it, spreading it across space.

It seems to me that when we work with memory, testimonies, texts in an exclusively verbal and speculative way, we only partially assimilate information – taking some convenient distance that does not concern our direct experience, our body. The attempt to embody and appropriate evidence is designed to radically reduce this distance in the pronunciation and feeling of the word in the first person. This is an attempt to perform some kind of operation, the reverse of a diary entry – to take out from the written speech all this horror, fear, ignorance, pain, humility, strength, try to find it and live at least through it’s echo, appropriate it and separate it.

The collective attuned slow reading, speaking, naming and unpacking of the meanings we can find in our bodies today creates both a dense practical and performative space where we can channel the evidence and manifest it in space. I think that this is a way to work with intergenerational trauma, one of the ways from the practice of performance and composition.