The difficulties we face in coming to understand the sonic relation and its relation, in turn, with the social relation more broadly are symptomatic, I suggest, of a crisis in the imagination of the common. The key to thinking the sonic/social relation is obscured precisely because it is interdicted by the forces that seek to hold us in thrall to the charm of property.[i] Without property, we have come to believe, we will be excluded from political representation, destined to dwell in the twilight of the amorphous proto-dēmos, without demand, without voice, without future. To answer the first question I raised above, then (how, that is do we constitute ourselves sonically?), it is in the process of attaching ourselves to an ideal scene of pastoral calm, the private imagined acoustically, that we think ourselves to be whole. It is not that we are all dreaming of a rural idyll, or seeking to live a life like Edward Carpenter’s glorious peasant isolation, but, rather, that we have come to identify with a certain sonic scene in which we have full control over the boundary between the inside and the outside. In what John Picker has termed the ‘soundproof study’, in a model, that is, of a certain imagination of social autonomy, subjects have come to think themselves as authors of their own soundscapes. Noise has become, quite simply, the name we give to the failure of that authorial control.
Yet there have been, as we have seen, some striking moments at which the desire for quiet and the private has been put aside for a desire for the communion of political activism. When the dēmos spills out into the streets and demands to be heard, and citizens leave their purportedly ‘silent’ bubbles and are absorbed into the throng, then glimpses are briefly afforded of some of the ways in which the demand for representation is made. In Madrid, that moment was constituted around the notion that the ‘we’ of the dēmos had been excluded from representation: the ‘they’ of a patrician elite not unlike the nomenklatura of the Soviet Union had deliberately sought to foreclose the representational matrix around a simple political equation (i.e. ‘Basque separatists are the enemy’ and ‘we have not endangered Spain by joining the Iraq war’) such that the ‘we’ of the dēmos is held in a state of hysterical exclusion.
‘Why won’t they be silent’, Nicolae Ceauşescu once asked his assistant, as he stood, on 21 December 1989, on the balcony of the headquarters of the Rumanian Communist Party in the Piaţa Palatului in Bucharest, trying to address the crowds that had gathered there in protest at the government’s actions in the Timişoara uprising. His failure to silence them, the puzzled and frightened expression on his face, the roar of boos, hisses, jeers and jibes, all this signalled the breaking of the channel and the forging of a new political matrix in which the demand of the dēmos to be heard had become deafening. In the light of the structural exclusion of both the Spanish and the Rumanian majority, a certain jouissance, or enjoyment attaches to the solemn coming together, at Cibeles, at the Piaţa Palatului, or at almost any place you care to mention, in the shiver of communion, and participation. That coming together, moreover, has a very particular sonic character, as an investment in unisonality, the speaking of many as one.
So what, then, to reiterate my second question above, are the processes by which we seek out and pleasure in this unisonality? Psychoanalysis has its own kind of answer to this question: we seek out this unisonality, it says, for gratification, for the need of contact, for the will to cohere, share, be a part of a movement that nourishes. And it does seem right to me that we seek it out because we are hopeless romantics, wilful idealists. The social is always an act of faith, a giving of oneself to the dangers of misunderstanding, offence, contagion. We seek out unisonality precisely, I suggest, because it seems to offer a raw and automatic communion, an alignment without introduction, intercourse without seduction, and it places us in the comfortable place of the passive who takes what is given, not having to steer, but being steered, not having to think but being thought. In becoming the object of political action, the thing in the mix, we can still the inner cacophony of the soundproof study and listen to the needs of others. We seek out unisonality because it seeks us. It wants us for a host.
This sonic alignment, this taking up a newly aligned sonic relation with others, engages what Gustav le Bon termed a psychologie des foules, a psychology of crowds. The crowd, for le Bon, is a site of madness, contagion, idiocy.[ii] Yet it is precisely these kinds of ‘idiocy’ or contagion that constitute the critical moment at which the dēmos is constituted. The roar of the crowd, the flatline lo-fi hum of communion, the to-and-fro of shouts, chants, demands – this is the noise that demands; it is a noise excluded from the patrician signals of political work; it is the parasite that builds in the channel until that channel is saturated and breached. The sentimental materialism of noise cannot help us here: this is no simple material as such, no special sonic domain all of its own, no island of sounds written out of political discourse. Noise is here the sound of new signals being sent, new channels being opened, new demands of the political matrix being made. Noise is nothing more (and nothing less) than the call for a new relation.
As Žižek puts it, ‘Politics proper … always involves a kind of short-circuit between the Universal and the Particular’,[iii] or, to put it another way, the political is that space in which the demand enacts a kind of denaturalisation or estrangement of the status quo such that exclusion from that order becomes sufficiently audible as to demand that someone, or some group be granted entry. Knock knock knock. Let us in.
[i] It is no coincidence that the recent financial crisis began in the Anglophone property sector, with an overheating of unregulated speculation on subprime mortgages. It is as if property had come to constitute in itself the ground for a certain kind of citizenship, to which all others inspire, and against which all other forms of citizenship are found wanting. To be a member of what Margaret Thatcher called the ‘property owning democracy’ (a fundamental oxymoron, of course), had become not simply a way (as had been the case in earlier decades) of becoming a member of the middle classes (meant here in the British sense), but of becoming socially agentive. Property came to equal representation as such.
[ii] ‘… the individual forming part of a crowd acquires, solely from numerical considerations, a sentiment of invincible power which allows him to yield to instincts which, had he been alone, he would perforce have kept under restraint.’ Gustav le Bon, Psychologie des foules (Paris: Félix Alcan  1907), 17.
[iii] Žižek, ‘Lesson’, 70.