The Situation of Place and the Layering Effect

I wrote the post below intending for it to be recorded and merely heard without the written word. I wanted to see if, especially the beginning sort of introduction “story,” could be usefully comprehended if I used some of the technique I found in our “readings” for this week. I recorded it using voice memo on my phone, but I am still not tach savvy enough to figure out how to upload it on here since the file type is not compatible. Hopefully, I can figure out a way to do this and post it later :).


The Situating of Place and the Layering Effect

Solely sonic mediums can be difficult to understand. As a child, being read to, a story does not take shape solely with the pictures on the page, or the lullaby voice of your mother or teacher reading the words. Instead, the essence of storytelling emanates from the place of reading, as you are curled up next to your mother, or looking up to a teacher who reads in her trusty rocking chair. It is a layering effect: you sit cross-legged on the carpet or curl upin your bed and gaze up at the Berenstain Bears, listening to your mother’s or teacher’s voice read the words—or better yet, impersonate the bear’s voice through inflection and sing-songy undulations. We are fully captivated by the experience of storytelling. It’s the layering—the  sound of the words, the pictures we learn to read long before we can read letters—all of these things accumulate to form the story. A story situated in a safe place.


All of the “readings” for this week used the situation of “place” to give us a grounding, a home base if you will. While listening to a story on tape can be somewhat hypnotic or not as attention grabbing as an interactive story like Bear 71, situating the story in place gives the listener something to hold onto, a home base to re-situate the mind around when the mind strays. In “The House on Loon Lake,” there was a first person limited narrator who spoke of a mysterious old house and one boy’s life-long pursuit to uncover the mystery of its former inhabitants. The story was chronological, its sense of time situated in the narrator’s recollection of events from when he was a child to more recent years. Even when there were other voices, other characters, who added and sometimes conversed with this narrator, it would always come back to his narration (a perspective we clung onto like the voice of our mother or teacher reading. Also, the house itself, the place, was the main focus and the main mystery of the story, the narration relentlessly tying everything back to the place. We were always brought back to descriptions and stories of the physical house, even when the story spawned into something greater like the story of the family who inhabited it or even a discussion on the importance of materiality within memory and sentiment. But there is another layer: We listened to this story in the comfort of our homes and still felt something strange, something irking and frightening about this not-so-ghost story. Before the story even began, the radio host set the scene for us: he spoke of some folks being in their car at nighttime or suggested those of us at home to turn of the lights, situating us in the prime “listening space.” Here, he begins the layering effect: as the listener lays in the dark listening to the mysteriousness of this abandoned house (sometimes the sounds of creaks within the house coming from the speakers) they are situated within a false zone of safety. We are vulnerable in this listening space, experiencing the creepiness of sound and storytelling while we are alone in the dark.


Bear 71 also used the situation of place as an integral part of telling a story. Not only were we so starkly stuck, aware of our position in front of the computer screen—this technological device for invasion and watching, surveying the natural—we had to literally explore a digital map comprised of digital dots and moving pieces. There was an important contrast between the digital map and the pureness embodied within the videos of the animals in their “natural habitat.” This distinction (a this vs. that that spawned into a them vs. you, you bastard) along with physical maneuvering this story, caused the reader to be distinctly aware of his or her own presence. In this way, as an outsider looking into this tragic story of a bear who is branded and watched and lead to an tragic death, we are made to feel responsible in some way, as sick as the voyeur or the silent onlooker. We are emotionally distraught by the story told by the innocent voice of Bear 71. We are crushed when the haunting line from the beginning returns in the end with deeper meaning: “You can take the grizzly out of the prairie but you can’t take the prairie out of the grizzly… We take what’s coming head on.” The voice is paired with the image of a train coming head on as the bear reacts the way most natural to her. She defends her cubs by fighting back, facing the train head on.

bear 71

It is the situation of place and its layering effect that makes these stories so haunting. Situated both physically—at home or in the car— and mindfully—in the haunted house or in the crux where digital meets natural in a bear’s habitat. We take advantage of the safeness of our couch or distance from the computer screen. When we listen to these stories, they teach us how vulnerable we truly are. With sound, with layering, they make us feel something.


~ by khughes80 on March 17, 2013.

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