THE CATR 2021 Ann Saddlemyer award
Dylan Robinson, Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Sound Studies. University of Manitoba Press, 2020.
Committee: Ric Knowles (Chair), Kristin Moriah and VK Preston
“I would like to begin by thanking my fellow members of the Saddlemyer award committee, Kristin Moriah and VK Preston, for their diligence, intelligence, and congeniality. It’s been a great pleasure to work with them.
One of the most difficult things to consider when writing about performance is reception, and among the most difficult things to do in writing about reception are to move beyond the visual to, in this case, the aural, and beyond the consideration of content to affect and structure. This year’s unanimous winner of the Ann Saddlemyer award does all of this and more, taking into account multiple, irreconcilable listening positionalities concerning, on the one hand, “inclusionary music,” in which Indigenous content is assimilated into Western musical and material structures as raw material, and on the other, “Indigenous+art music,” which foregrounds resistance to integration, the “+” marking the space of listening itself. Dylan Robinson’s Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Sound Studies offers field-changing scholarship that forges essential reckonings between Indigenous studies and performance theory. This beautifully written work is as timely as it is important for understanding the terms and depth of a colonization whose ongoing violence we continue to confront.
Robinson coins the term “hungry listening” from Halq’emelem words designating the white settler as starving person to inform keen analyses of patterns of appropriation and consumption. Whether in the shapes of inherited disciplines (and institutions) or dominant modes of law, perception, and learning, Robinson situates this work alongside resurgent work by Indigenous musicians, artists, and theorists. Hungry Listening enacts a forceful critique of settler “apathy toward Indigenous structures of performance” and, incisively, the category of performance itself.
Robinson also engages the form of the book and of scholarship, his “improvisations in structural refusal” addressing (at least) two readerships, including ten pages as “irreconcilable spaces of aboriginality” that non-Indigenous readers are asked not to read, while ceding similar space to non-Indigenous scholars for a dialogue into which he does not intervene. The book also includes several intermedial and generatively disruptive “event scores” consisting of structural alternatives to extractivist, colonialist modes of scholarly writing.
From courts of law to theatres, orchestras, and museums, this work’s historiographical and theoretically nuanced rigour make it a key text across many practices and disciplines. Robinson studies an “epistemology of relationship” in which relations are not static but remain steeply asymmetrical. Hungry Listening‘s interventions in improvisation, sensation, positionality, and refusal shift sedimented political and disciplinary discourses while reading across practices with tremendous generosity, drawing, not only on a wealth of Indigenous scholarship but also on intersectional, queer, and Black feminist thought, making it clear that, while the concerns of writers and theorists such as Audre Lorde and Fred Moten are not specifically his, their work resonates with Indigenous musical and performance studies, contributing to the building of a lineage of cross-racial, intersectional solidarity. This is rich, “resonant,” and essential reading that comes at a critical time, reimagining decoloniality and movement towards possibilities of reparative listening. Congratulations Dylan Robinson!”
Again, congratulations Dylan. The book is hugely significant, timely, and a great joy to read.