Carving out a sonorous space for tenderness is an urban sound-scape exploring my tender relationship with the city and home.

Text read before playing the soundscape:

“I live close to the park, I like to go there, when the evening falls. That’s when the playgrounds are empty and I can shamelessly swing. I start slow, let my legs dangle, then take up speed and try to go as high as possible. I love the feeling of butterflies in my belly, as the swing brings me down. And the rush of air in my face and hair when I go up. I laugh and scream ecstatically into the black vast sky. Here, because I am on my own, I can be intense. And yet, I wish someone could see me here, because this feels like my most authentic me.

What world do I leave, and why do I need to leave it? What makes up this crepuscular space I’ve entered? And who do I become when I’m intense on my swing? I call it tender. The etymological roots of tenderness go back to the Indo-european “Ten” meaning: To stretch or to be stretched. Since the Greeks tenderness became connoted as weak, infantile, feminine and imasculate. Freud added: hysteric, frigid, perverse, uncivilized. He says we need to repress tenderness in order to become healthy sexual adults. Does this taboo on adult tenderness remain? TMI, PDA, foreplay is something women like, over-Sentimental, crazy, soft, too-intense, he wanted to shower after sex so I can’t see him anymore…I need a manly man : Tenderness exposes something dangerous, makes uncomfortable. Why? What’s at stake? Is tenderness threatening and antagonistic to who we are supposed to be?

IF the taboo on tenderness creeped into our constructions of gender, age, race, sex, health, subjectivity and sociality? Could a becoming-tender disrupt these constructions from within? Could there be a critical potential hibernating in this tender space?

This is where my work starts. I look at the rare moments in which we carve out a space with others in which we become tender together. Co-creating this space is a necessary precondition, hard, creative, radical affective labor, in a mainly tender-less world. I think of pillow talk. When lights are dimed, time slows down, bodies become horizontal, voices soften, gazes too. Touch takes over from speech. A touching for the sake of touching. “Close-vision haptic space”, Deleuze and Guattri call it.  A becoming-music, we become-sonorous as we attune to each other. Infants and their caregivers do it, pet-owner and their pets, but adults can too.

Infant researchers like Stern and Trevarthen have scientific names for it. Communicative Musicality, or Affect Attunement. The parent carves out a space in which they allow, encourage, sooths and contains the infants affect. Not necessarily any particular categorical affects like joy or pain, but vitality affects, like surges or drops in intensity.

Who am I, when I’m tender with you? When we bathe and you wash my hair? So exposed, you feel and see each crack and fold of me? When we scream in orgasmic ecstasy and I see the contortions of your face. That you, there and then, I like the most. Who are you then? And where do you go from here? Who do I become when you carefully clean your spilled fluids from my belly? When you lay your body next to mine and I cry and can’t contain what I feel? Who are we in those moments, when asking where you’re body ends and mine begins, seems like the wrong question to ask?

Where are we, when you cry your gut out on my shoulder. When snot runs from your shivering chin, and I gently rock you to sleep?

Fluids, the vehicle of tenderness. Volatile bodies, both Irigaray and Grosz tell us, have the potential to undo rigid boundaries and binaries. So who do you and me, man and women, Belgian and American, become here? A strange meat-bal. And after this entanglement, what becomes of me and you? What words should we use? And who cares to listen?

Old-school psychoanalysis would call it “regression”. Winnicott “transitional space”. Kristeva “Reliance”. And the protagonists they indicate are not contained individuals, but “pre-selves”, “emergent selves”, “bodies without organs”.

In my work I ask: How can I give voice to this tenderness? Can I write it, while academia wants me rigid, composed, leveled, singular, professional, bounded, sceptic, ironic. How do I do theory from here? Do words fail? Or do they just not exist yet? Or do they need to be implemented with other forms: visual, movement, sound, song?

All the thinkers I mentioned: Irigaray, Kristeva, Deleuze and Guattari, Trevarthen, Stern, Winnicott, they all point at music and sound. Communicative musicality, Becoming-music, attunement …is it a coincidence that “tenderness”, “intensity” and “tune” share the same root? -Ten/-tan, to stretch and be stretched. It’s true, I am intense and tender when I sing. When I fill each particle of the room with my voice. When my voice seeps in between the cracks and moves an audience to tears. I’m especially tender in my room, with my ukulele tucked against my bosom, like a baby. Yet it is she that sooths me. Transforming my tears into sound. Together we create, in this crepescular space, so hard to capture and share.

This sound scape will try to capture these moments, through a collage of tender sounds collected from my life: everyday noises, first kisses, evening walks and bedtime stories. Maybe I’m able to carve out a sonorous space, and invite you to become tender. Maybe this is an occasion for me, to share my tender side with you …”

Performed at Capacious, Affect Inquiry/Making Space

August 2018, Lancaster, USA

Capacious conference goers laying down while listening to the soundscape.