Recalling the Chimes: How Sound and Silence Collaborated to Save a Public Clock in Hong Kong
In the essay Phenomenology of Voice, Don Ihde describes the phenomenon of figure/ground reversal at work in auditory practices. The ‘ground’ of silence could be heard as ‘voices of silence’ (when, for instance, the silence is dramatic and overpowering) and the ‘voice of things’, often mute, could be made to sound (when, for instance, the solidity of the table is bespoken when it is struck). Every material thing has a voice and ‘the voices of things bespeak the multiple dimensions of the thing.’ My questions are, how do the voices of things collaborate, what do they bespeak, and how do they relate to the silent ‘ground’ against which they are focal in particular cultural-political contexts? In this paper, I aim to contextualize and elaborate on this proposition by way of a series of sonically-driven artistic-political actions in Hong Kong. The actions were part of the civil movement that culminated in the latter half of 2006 in response to the imminent demolition of the Hong Kong Star Ferry Pier and Clock Tower in Central. The architectural structure had been consistently articulated as an icon of Hong Kong's modern identity, which was considered to begin acquiring socio-cultural significance in the 1960s. The clock chimed what is commonly known as the Westminster chime melody. I propose that while the artistic-political actions were self-consciously aware of imitating and referring to the melody of the chimes, they also collaborated with the silent intervals between the chimes. These sound-less intervals were positive and productive in the actions and not merely mute background. The sounds and soundless intervals collaborated politically in three ways: first, doubling the socio-cultural and symbolic significance of the sound of the clock chimes; second, contesting the smoothness of the continuity and unity of modern, global and universal clock time; and third, returning the voice to the active silence that public time-telling in an urban space suggests but marginalizes. The actions enabled the negotiation of embodying discrete modern objects as expansive ones in time.
Keywords: Auditory Practices, Sound in Art
Dr. Yang Yeung
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong