“Gut sounds” is a term with significant resonances in American ass husbandry. Auscultation (i.e., listening) for gut sounds, or gastrointestinal motility, is a primary diagnostic tool in equine veterinary practice, where the presence or absence of normal gurglings (or borborygmus) in quadrants of an equine’s insides can carry big epistemological, emotional, and economic implications. Indeed, the resurgence of good gut sounds in a sick equine companion can make those otherwise vaguely obscene inner gurglings seem like the sweetest melodies on earth. On a more common level of experience, gut sounds are some of the first we all hear as mammals, as our ears start to function with months to go in utero and our brains begin to mesh with the sounds of the world that throb through the porous boundaries of maternal bodies.
Yet gut sounds are something we seldom attend to, even as their presence signals life and cessation means death. Living gut sounds surprise and sometimes even embarrass us with their immediacy, burbling up bigger questions of bodies’ unknowns and permeable boundaries. As they pass through layers of living flesh, gut sounds challenge common ontologies that assume certain boundaries between inside/outside, human/animal, and self /other. “Gut Sounds Lullaby” seeks to blur these boundaries, as we listen to strange and familiar hums on the insides of other beings. We invite listeners into an intricate and intimate auditory mesh, where gut-sounds phenomena fold and twist through questions of intra-species presence and responsibility. In this newfangled lullaby, sounds of normal borborygmus are remixed with layered resonances of old human melodies and addressed to an invisible but no-less-present human fetus, who we presume is listening on the other end of the intra-species transmission wires.
For Ethnographic Terminalia’s Audible Observatories exhibition at SOMArts in SanFrancisco, the “Gut Sounds Lullaby” consisted of two parts: a video/sound installation and a live performance. The video documents specific acts of R.A.W. ontological choreography and intra-actions amidst a herd of asses, a human woman, and others known and unknown. Set in a few different landscapes, these choreographies root in a ten-year relation between Karin Bolender and Aliass and other members of a multi-species family. R.A.W. choreographies seek to dig deep into certain wild discomforts with human acts of naming and the perpetuation of animal/human dichotomies. Each scene reflects particular tensions, longings, shames, and passions that flare up in conflict-ridden negotiations between human logos/language and raw experience of immersion in intra-species being.
The live performance at SOMArts (Saturday, November 17th from 1-3 p.m.) featured experimental musician Melanie Moser and the presence of Fireball, a miniature golden-palomino party pony. Melanie Moser performed live improvisation based on the “Gut Sounds Lullaby” score, a remixed version of a gnarly old lullaby known as “All the Pretty Little Horses” mixed with live and recorded gut sounds. The mix was broadcast by various wired and wireless technologies to the audience and through the Bolender belly interface to the human prenate. The performance was also broadcast live through Radio Transmission Ark.
This project owes special gratitude to the generosity and life-saving care and dedication of equine veterinarians Dr. Alice Beretta in Northeast Georgia and Dr. Jessie Koenig in Orland, California.
“Gut Sounds Lullaby” takes place in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association’s special offsite event, “Multispecies Intra-Actions: A Roundtable with Karen Barad.” Click here for details. We also wish to thank our official sponsor, Environmental Humanities.