This project is cross-posted at

I’ve named my project after an archaic term for low notes, the lowest note in the Greek musical scale. The sounds are taken from NOAA’s Vents Program index of unidentified sounds, very low frequency recordings captured by autonomous hydrophone arrays throughout the Pacific Ocean, including SOSUS (which was designed to detect Soviet submarines during the cold war). Although a researcher speculates some of the sounds are the movements of ice, its also very likely they’re biological in origin. The original recordings were sped up to 16x and 20x their original speed to make them listenable – I have restored them to their original speed (for the most part). Nobody really knows what made these sounds.

To use music as a metaphor, proslambanomenos emerge from the bottom of the music scale. They are the drone, or “burden” of a composition. From this biocentric viewpoint, if the earth is a composition, then the rhythms and systems located in the lowest spatial realm of the deep sea would be our lowest bass notes.  As the sounds here are nearly subsonic, their realm is still associated with the Cambrian period, before the land was colonized, and today the ocean represents our subconscious. Exotic species have been found in ocean waters long after they were thought to be extinct.

My thought behind this involves intentionality and non-human agency, or biocentrism (as opposed to anthropocentrism). Noise is merely unwanted sound – but when we intentionally create sound constructions out of noise, we are approaching a totalizing order of music (or more generally, the art of sound), which envelopes and rationalizes our aesthetic decisions  in accordance with other works, even in experimental methods. From the avant-garde to electronic composers, noise is assimilated into human constructions through which we communicate some meaning or expression. When one creates a noise for the sake of noise, there is a puerile aspect to that minimal amount of intention. I wanted to explore truly unintentional sound which is not given over to anthropocentric classification, since we often use natural sounds as acoustic symbols (a volcano explosion is powerful, a dog howl is mournful, etc). How can we divorce the sign from the signified? It’s a good start if we don’t understand the sign.

These sounds are also related to a critical issue in several ways. From a “deep ecology” perspective against anthropocentrism, ocean life and sounds like these are threatened by overfishing, resource and noise pollution which upset the delicate ecologies supporting the origin of these sounds, whatever it may be. The “biophony” of the natural world is encroached upon by the alteration of adjoining systems and industrial/human activities. In 2002 Natural Geographic reported that 83% of land on Earth is directly influenced by human activities. There are two issues here: will we destroy the source of these sounds before we have the chance to learn what they are? Or will we exhaust the unknown for anthropocentrism?

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7 Comments on “Proslambanomenos”

  1. February 22, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Nathan, I enjoyed your clip and listening to your explanation of the concepts supporting it. It reminded me of this interesting Radiolab podcast on time which also considers the chronological aspects of sound.

  2. February 23, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Thanks! I love Radiolab so I’ll be sure to check it out.

  3. March 3, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    Update: I did get around to listening to the episode the other day, very cool, thanks for the suggestion!

  4. April 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I’m a little late here (found it thanks to a link from @Radiolab). For me, this wonderful track connects to Ian Bogost’s recent work _Alien Phenomology_, which proposes to put nonhuman things front and center in philosophy (to avoid anthropocentrism). A recording like this, which as you say is hard to make sense of in traditional ways, distances us (while also making us aware) of the alien in our midst. Long story short, this is fantastic stuff. I am teaching a course in the Fall the nonhuman and nonsymbolic rhetorics, and this recording will certainly be front and center. Thanks!

  5. April 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    I hadn’t heard of Borgost or Alien Phenomenology yet, looks fascinating… thanks for using this recording, it sounds like a great class! I’d love to see more work in this area – as the Borgost’s book’s description points out, “This experience, however, withdraws from human comprehension and only becomes accessible through a speculative philosophy based on metaphor.” Incomprehensibility sounds fun, I’d like to see what metaphors he uses!

  6. April 16, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    The Alien Phenomenology is fascinating. Bogost writes quite a bit about ontography–a kind of philosophical practice that grants ontological weight to the nonhuman; I think this recording is something akin to ontophonography. Here is a link to course site if you’re interested:

    • April 17, 2012 at 1:14 am #

      Very cool! I love the Marcel the Shell video. My sister-in-law went to SLU for nursing, small world. I understand the English program there is excellent (no surprise if they’re studying things like object oriented ontology).

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