Paper short abstract:
This paper considers the ethical and aesthetic discourses surrounding how sensory modalities are used among the Batek, a forest dwelling, hunting and gathering group of Peninsular Malaysia. How do these come to orchestrate human relationships with the non-humans of the forest?
Paper long abstract:
This paper considers the ethical and aesthetic discourses surrounding how sensory modalities are used among the Batek, a forest dwelling, hunting and gathering group of Peninsular Malaysia.
Batek people do not distinguish between 'types' of sound - such as between musical and speech sounds, verbal and non-verbal sounds, or human and non-human sounds. Rather, people make an important distinction between 'sound' and 'noise'. 'Bad' and 'ugly' noise is often taboo, and the contamination of 'good' sounds with 'bad' sounds has the power to cause cosmological and ecological disturbance - upsetting the non-human persons and super-beings of the forest.
Through discussion of how sounds are talked about as 'things' that are 'given' and 'taken away', and that can be 'found' in the forest, this paper compares the mixing of tabooed sonic 'things' to the mixing of tabooed physical things such as blood, and other tabooed sensory phenomena such as smells. In so doing I illustrate how webs of multi-species relationships are 'orchestrated' sensorially under the forest canopy through the ethical and aesthetic discourses surrounding their production and reception.
The paper will therefore argue that a contextualised understanding of 'sound', including how it interacts with the other sensory modalities, can be used to deepen understanding of Batek theories of ethics and aesthetics that resonate beyond the domain of the sonic - becoming used to define people's relationship with the non-human persons of the forest.
Semiosis as orchestration