ABSTRACT
For the Storytelling, Illness and Medicine Conference run by Interdisciplinary.net

Thembi Soddell
RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

 
Sound Experience: Listening Session and Discussion on the Experience of Invisible Illness
 
As a person living with a chronic illness that has no clearly measurable cause or cure, I have spent many years confused and seeking answers. With each new doctor comes a new diagnostic story, each appearing equally valid yet dramatically changing treatment methods and my relationship to symptoms. As a sound artist and practice-led researcher I use my art practice to think through these experiences. Composing with ambiguous, abstracted real-world sounds, I consider the complex questions that arise from living with invisible illness: How do we make sense of experiences with no tangible form? How do the narratives we place on our illness affect our relationship to it? What happens when a doctor’s imposed narrative does not match our own? How useful is the language of illness in healing? And how do we psychologically cope with the unknown?
 
For this session, I will draw audience members into the experience by asking them to listen and reflect. I will playback an electroacoustic composition created through my research, then guide a discussion around the listening experience and its relationship to living with chronic physical and mental illness. The listening session will take place in complete darkness, the removal of the visual sense heightening the intangible yet powerful nature of sound (and, in turn, invisible illness). I will ask audience members to reflect on their experiences while listening—the feelings evoked, the associations they drew, the sensations that occurred—as a vehicle for considering some of the larger philosophical issues behind living with chronic invisible illness, where accurate diagnosis relies on a person's ability to accurately self-report and understand the language of clinicians, which is often vastly different to their own.
 
This session will be an experiment in using sound art to facilitate discussion and provoke thought.
 
Key words: illness narratives, sound art, electroacoustic composition, listening, mental illness, chronic illness, first person madness narratives