Necessary mistakes on the path to an embodied analysis

Day one in ethnographic fieldwork into my ethnographic material.

These are my video journals from today, where I document the process of my analytical work:

As you can see in Journal I, above, I have used a logic of parameters to do a pre-sorting of my material. What are the most important factors in play in this specific context? The answer to this question might change as I go along and dig deeper into the material, but for now, there seem to be three overall factors. The first parameter (symbolised by the red cloth) has to do with initiative. The norm  is when the adults are setting the agenda. The exception (at least from a quantitative perspective) is when the pupils are deciding what to do and how. Second parameter (grey cloth) has to do with what you can do with your  body. The norm is to be sitting on a chair. The exception is when the pupils are alowed not to sit, ie walk, run etc. The third parameter (blue cloth) has to do with being indoor vs outdoors. The norm is being indoors.

Since I had so much space, i chose to represent these three parameters using large pieces of cloth and chairs. An uprigt chair = the norm. An upside-down chair = the exception.

These are the 8 combinations of parameters

To be read this way: image 1: adult initiative, seated, outdoors. Image 2: Adult initiative, seated, indoors. Etc.

For today, I chose the combination BAA, ie: child inititive, seated, indoors. This combination is at play in the situations, where the kids are eating ‘fruit’ everyday from 8.50 to 9.00. I decided to start off my analysis with this combination partly to make things easier for myself. Had it been for example the afternoon ‘own time’ playing sessions, it would have been much longer sound files (up to 1½ hours), and although it would be withing the ‘child initiative’ mode, it would be a mix between seated and freely moving (though not running or jumping). Is this an important distinction? I guess my further analysis might shed some light on that.

So I chose the ‘fruit’ sessions, of which I have 10 recordings, each with a duration of appr 10 minutes. A simple, ritualized activity, with a clear framework for the distribution of time, space and energy (cf Rancière).

In Journal II, I show some of the results from the experiments. The basic idea is to create a kind of being (using my body ‘masked’ by a green ‘second skin’ suit); this being reacts to certain sounds. I made an easy choice, and decided to divide the sounds according to who made them. I was able to identify the persons from the timbre of their voices, and I selected three children to be represented. For each child I made a video recording of ‘the green being’ gesturing in imitation of the voice of the child. This gave me three individual recordings. I made a fourth recording where the green being incorporated the noise sounds. I combined these four video recordings into one single movie, this way:


Back home, after showing this work to a selected audience (my better half and her friend), with their feedback, I have the following conclusions:

  1. The being who moves according to the noise sounds should be using the floor more. When doing the ‘performance’, I was imagining this being as being at the scale of what produced the noise. So a crackling sound of a plastic bag would result in many small and fast movements in all directions. This way, I imagined the source of the noise to be emanating from the center of the body. Alternatively, one could imagine the noise emanating from the floor level, and a sudden, sharp peak would result in a sudden movement, like an arrow shooting up from the floor.
  2. Following the logic of the ‘noise-being’, it would make more sense to get rid of the one-to-one-logic of the ‘voice-beings’. Instead of having one being re-enacting one specific person (by identifying his/her voice in the field recording), it would be more interesting to have beings respond to the voices in a certain register. This way, I could have a being responding to voice sounds in a high pitch register (ie children’s voices) and another being responding to voices in a middle register (which coincidentally would correspond to the women’s voices).
  3. Concluding, there would be three beings, a noise-being (like before), a high-tone being, and a mid-tone being. This way, the whole spectrum of the soundscape would be covered. At the same time, the logic of ‘de-personalization’ from the noise-being would be expanded, and we wouldn’t have this direct and redundant representation of specific persons, that basically doesn’t add to the analysis.

Getting rid of the impersonification of my first attempt, in future attempts, there will be an extra possibility: working with spatiality. The sounds of voices are coming from different places in the stereo soundscape, and this dimension of the soundscape can be extracted by the analyzing body, by moving bodyparts or the whole body in the corresponding direction.

Is this also a one-to-one logic? Maybe. But not in the same sense as above. Representing a specific person by one ‘analytical body-being’  doesn’t ad anything to what the typical language-based analysis is perfectly capable of. We don’t need an embodiment to do that, since we can simply just say: “Peter says ….”.

Basically, what I think I understand now, is that choosing the all too obvious direct impersonification has probably been a necessary step for me to realize, that for my experiments with the body as an analytical tool to make sense, I must abandon the representational stance, and instead take into account the level of materiality, so to speak. In this case – where the material is sound recordings –  the materiality  of the material consists in sounds and noises developing in time and space.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s