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Abstract

This dissertation unfolds from three premises: that listening is a relational act, something that takes place between a listener and a sound object; that North American contexts are already Indigenous contexts; and that ecological crisis “immediately demands we look elsewhere than where we are standing” (Povinelli 2016). Each chapter explores these premises from a different vantage point. Collectively the chapters attempt the methods that these premises suggest. The first, “People and Publics, Audiences and Inuit,” focuses on how Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq reads her settler audiences to produce performances that are legible to them, recontextualizing the concert hall vis-à-vis the land on which it sits. Informed by multi-sited fieldwork at healing walks, ceremonies, and other Indigenous- and settler-led events in Northern Alberta and the California Bay Area, “Singing to Rivers” then zooms out to consider entangled relationships among settler humans, Indigenous humans, and nonhumans. It explores how heterogeneous flows of people – rather than mainstream publics – find themselves singing to rivers and it explores the ethical stakes of this practice, ultimately arguing for an expanded and indigenized understanding of sound studies. “On Listening on Indigenous Land” inquires into another form of relational listening, directly addressing ethnomusicological and musicological settler publics (“us”) to ask what it means to listen on Indigenous land. Focusing on an unintended contextualizing tool that “racializing listening techniques” may provide, I focus on how whiteness might appear in power relations between interlocutors and ethnographers even when there are no white bodies in the room (or on the land). The final chapter, “Of Desks and Altars,” is about writing, itself using experimental ethnography to expand upon the third chapter’s assertion: that words do more than function as a kind of realist mapping or mirroring of the world; they make the world. By taking a multi-sited approach that responds to the structure of something as slippery and complex as climate crisis, this research contributes to new ethnographic methods for a globalized, interconnected, and contemporary world. It also offers a reconfigured understanding of sound studies by taking into account non-human actors and Indigenous understandings of what sound and listening are and do. Finally, it provides a model for engagement with Indigenous thinkers in an arena that is not necessarily “marked” as Indigenous: climate crisis in North America. Specifically, it models a wide variety of practices of critical self-reflexivity that relational listening, Indigenous contexts, and ecological crisis demand.

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