Sonic (Dys)tonic | Kim Munro, Peta Murray, and Stayci Taylor

A message from the editor:


Sonic, Social, Distance

As more than a third of the planet’s human population has gone into some sort of social restriction…self-isolation, social isolation, physical distancing, quarantine…since those who have the luxury of walls have gone behind them–time has not so much stood still, but became fragmented and blurred. Our schedule markers have gone virtual, or gone away, or are far away.  As artists of various media attempt to capture some essence of this time, it may be found that fragments, notes, moments, and blurs, are what express better our experience. Text, audio, visual-both moving and still, compilations, complications, towards combobulations, if that is what comes. This is a time-capsule archive of finished works, and of fragments, reflecting a fragmented time. Fragments that feel frozen or appropriate as they are, and would then be placed with other fragments to create an unanticipated whole.

Sonic, Social, Distance, is calling for works on listening and sound, and thinking about listening and sound, in the time of social distance…alone together, together apart. We are calling for full texts, as well as text with media, or fragments and notes that will be curated and compiled together. This call is on-going, until it no longer makes sense.

This entrancing second work in the Sonic, Social, Distance series captures a fluid and fragmented collective soul of this pandemic experience. While reading, one might find a sigh escapes with laughter, a definition may move like a poem. The parts don’t simply fit as evolve together and flow, a playful and expressive tapestry of these times.



What are the aural equivalents of jigsaws’ loops, sockets, knobs, holes, tabs, slots, keys and locks? In COVID times how do we pick up the sonic pieces?

sonic dystonic
Photo © Stayci Taylor 2020

From 30 April – 30 June 2020, the Symphony of Awkward (Kim Munro, Peta Murray and Stayci Taylor) made a project called a Sound A Day (aSAD). This is a sonic extension of playful and participatory nonfiction experiments we have been conducting for a while using our own and others’ childhood diaries. Over time we have proclaimed our research a new science, naming it “Diarology”, just one of many playful new words and satirical concepts our practises have unleashed including here at MmmyCorona, where one of us posts a freshly-coined neologism at the close of each working day.

aSAD extends our inquiry in its durational and diaristic approach – by which we mean its devotional dailyness – only here our diarological impulses are dedicated to responses to isolation, remote collaboration and the general unease of COVID-19. Each member of our team made a daily ‘phorage’ – denoting a sonic foraging for up to 30 seconds of sound, collected on Smartphone, to be uploaded to a bank of microscopic sonic samples here on Soundcloud. An image, directly representational or not, is the only other contextualising information.

In this essemblage (a portmanteau combining essay and assemblage) we have edited some of these samples into discrete ‘tracks’ we call ‘audicles’. An audicle, as one Symphonette defines it elsewhere, is “a particle of sounds, disconnected from their sources, and entirely unique”.

These audicles, raw parcels of unfiltered audio matter, are offered here in the spirit of ‘jigsorcery’, alluding to the mesmerising jigsaw puzzles so many of us have been captivated by under COVID. Through this playful essemblage, we ask: what is auditory knowledge? And if a tonic is a medicinal substance taken to promote feelings of vigour or well-being then how might these microscopic sonic samples serve as something more fitting: a (dys)tonic for our times?


DOSAGE: Take regular (eaves)drops while in a relaxed posture, and if (dys)comfort persists, try again later. Repeat as necessary.


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I listen once, I listen twice. I am desperate to shake the earworm I have had in my head since last week’s drive here. Fleeing Melbourne in my little car, with the radio tuned to Smooth 91.5 for company, and the same twelve-song playlist and this tedious duet about an ex-couple who can’t help but call each other at 1am when he’s a little drunk and she’s a little weak and they need each other now. I hear this song every time I make this trip and yet again the faint country and whinging lilt is lodged in my head non-stop on auto-repeat and so I play this droplet of sound and will it to sonically expunge, ex-sponge the song, and to overwrite it with an audicle of what I know instantly as a hubbub. This is an audicle of hubbubbery.



(titled hubbub)

hubbub | ˈhʌbʌb |

noun [in singular]

 a chaotic din caused by a crowd of people: a hubbub of laughter and shouting.

        • a busy, noisy situation: she fought through the hubbub.


mid 16th century: perhaps of Irish origin; compare with the Irish exclamations ababú, abú, used in battle cries.


I hear tines of forks, as forks clatter into fork trays – tines, lovely word, but what are the names for fork trays in those plastic receptacles in cafes where forks, knives and spoons cluster? I hear cafe klatch without knowing what klatch is. I hear babble and hum. Hubbub. It may have been a battle cry, but now it is all hearty and hearth, all hot drinks and honey, all hangout with a rowdy crowd in a suburban place where you feel right at home, and the barista knows what you want and has it on the table in an oversized mug before you can say lockdownmark2.

Klatch is Yiddish. Like kvetch. I never knew I spoke such good Yiddish until Covid. Kovid? Now we overdose on Shtisel and Unorthodox and I find I understand whole tracts of it when it’s not in Hebrew. This little audicle is clanking cutlery and crockery until a mopster comes and gives the place a good going over. And that was then. Last week. Last weekend. Yesterday.

I’m freezing. I want coffee now. I want a long soak in a hot tub. I want a shot of something warming, like a brandy. I want to pee. Our liquid lives. Our liquidity. Our flow, suspended in this strange timezone, the Anthropocoronacene, like one of those frozen sculptures where milk falls from a carton and remains airborne as suspended splash.

And now is upturned chairs on cafe tables and the sign switched to takeaway only and the floor swabbed with an extra blast of bleach and the steam train that is the vintage espresso machine from Naples falling silent, getting only the occasional workout as we all work out what to do in the new now. Or is it the repeat now? Or the on-constant-rotation now?

I fall silent too. And hear small birds outside, peep, peep, peeping at different pitches, determined to tell each other something. And hear the faint growl of cars on the roadway in the distance. And hear the dull thud of footfall in the kitchen. And hope it is J making me the best homemade latte she can make in our vintage Pavoni. But no, it is the blender I hear next screeching like a sick cockatoo and now J is on approach with a tall glass of the weird turmeric-laced fruit drink we are trialling for our flaring arthritis as winter winds its way around our creaky hinges and makes for useless hands and aching knuckles and slow-mo typing in the early hours of the long workfromhome day.




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Things going through.


I haven’t been on the train for months now. The train is more appealing as an object that I am outside of. The idea of train is pleasing. The sound is soothing, the thought of it rocking me to sleep as I am transported through time and space. Oh to be trainsported (a neologism by accident) through space now – and time. But is the future worse than the present and if so, take me there ever so slowly.

Through the keys on the pad – also loud, clunky and sounding busier than they surely were. Through the park – Daddy Cool is crazy like the fool, swoosh it goes past – like a train, through and past me, awash. When things go past and go fast, we try to catch and hold long enough to identify but you can’t call it back – when it’s gone it’s gone, as they say.


Snip snip snip.


These are hefty scissors, according to the sound – real dressmaking ones that have a weightiness about them. The sound resembles the peeling of a vegetable or fruit – something methodical and languid. But snip doesn’t go with the carrot or cucumber – how to write the onomatopoeic sound of the peeler peeling a vegetable. Things that read like they sound. It’s a hard word to describe. One is better to give examples rather than a definition. It’s like…or like…

The volume of sound – how is it similar or different to what the eye does with light? The aperture adjusts more and less open to moderate and filter the light and dark. But we know the ear doesn’t do this – there are no earlids or iris.


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pedestrian| pɪˈdɛstrɪən |


lacking inspiration or excitement; dull: disenchantment with their pedestrian lives.


early 18th century: from French pédestre or Latin pedester ‘going on foot’, also ‘written in   prose’ + -ian. Early use in English was in the description of writing as ‘prosaic’.


It is true that to be a pedestrian is to be at the bottom of the move chain. I just made that up. See what I did there? Move is a part-rhyme of food. If you missed it. A full rhyme would be better. When I looked it up, I couldn’t resist pressing go on the sound file. The one teaching me how to pronounce ‘pedestrian’. I can’t stop pressing it. Pedestrian. Pedestrian. Pedestrian.

Two of us recorded the sound of a pedestrian crossing on the same day. But listening again I realise that what is captured is the sound of waiting and, then, permission to proceed. As we deal with the rules of waiting and proceeding in this moment of global history, with these modules and audicles and jigsicles and these words, on this page, on this sunny but cold Tuesday July morning, together yet apart.

We were all together in Phoenix, Arizona where the cross lights literally told us to wait, wait, wait until it was time to wait no more. Wait. Wait. This piece of Americana was captured in a small film for the ages. There is plenty of news coming through from the shit show that is the US response to COVID, and my ears prick whenever Arizona is mentioned, with its disproportionately sobering stats. How could we have known, as we performed and conferenced, that in two short years the state would be one of the worst hit places of a pandemic?


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There is no epidemiological link between COVID-19 and water, that I’ve heard. Is there? No theories? Unless it’s liquid spouting from bodies. The DROPLETS. First there were the anecdotal reassurances that only the BIG DROPLETS (once a droplet is big, is it just, then, a drop?) could cause contagion. The ones that are only airborne for moments, then fall heavily to the earth. There are many nurses in the family and one insisted that, for this reason, we should only be worried about shoes. Leave them at the door. Clean them, even. Now the word on the empty streets is that, nay, the tiny droplets, the ones left hanging in the air by singers and joggers (most especially, singing joggers) are the ones to be feared and, therefore, we should’ve been wearing masks all along. Like spray mist stations at the music festivals of the past, we are risking infection every time we pass through another’s drizzle.

So, there is. An epidemiological link, I mean, between COVID and water. I was going for something else. I was going for the watery associations of a pandemic. The early thrilling rumours about dolphins in canals. The persistent thrilling rumours and reports of the earth healing herself and her waterways. At the same time, the handwashing – sanitising an okay stopgap but apparently a poor substitute. Just when we’d all got used to water preserving techniques such as brushing teeth with the tap off, now we were letting water run over our soapy hands for 20 seconds. This felt like a long time.


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But I’m avoiding the water to where I was really heading. The tears. I feel inadequate to write about tears. I feel like I could Google ‘great quotes about tears’. Barthes asks: Who will write the history of tears? In which societies, in which periods, have we wept? Since when is it that men (and not women) no longer cry?[1] I wonder if this now seems sentimental.

How to write about the tears of a pandemic? Or tears that occur within a pandemic and are probably shed for other reasons because life’s banal struggles continue. The context, presumably, is ever present, compounding the overwhelm.

I’ve only just now thought about ‘shed’ as a verb used to describe what happens to tears in the act of crying. It feels odd, now. It implies they’re already there, waiting to be shed. It doesn’t feel like that, in the moment, it feels like the tears are spontaneously produced. She looked wistfully to the sunset and produced a tear. This can be my literary contribution, wilfully unpoetic, sheepishly didactic.

The sound of tears isn’t really the sound of tears but the sound of weeping. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary to actually capture the sound of tears??? What equipment would that take? There could be some stage management involved, in terms of supplying a surface likely to sonically respond when catching falling tears. To achieve this may also involve daring acts of contortionism on the part of the weeper. Is there a sound when a tear forms in an eye duct? And then leaves the duct to brim?


I am reminded of a conceptual art piece where microphones were set up around a large block of ice to record it melting. This was in the 60s or 70s but since then more people have been drawn to try to capture the sound of the immense sheets of ice at the poles of the earth as they melt, break, disappear at exponential rates. Tears.


It’s odd to capture the sound of one’s own weeping. How upset can you really be if it occurs to you, in that moment, to pull up the voice memo app and press record? Can creative opportunity exist concurrently with deep despair?


She once took a whole roll of 35mm film of herself crying but never dared to get it developed – the visual feels more fixed or lasting than the auditory.


The variable here is that I had thought previously about the range of possible sounds in our project. How to extend the range beyond what was immediately available and somehow representational of a COVID project. Authentic, emotional, embodied, personal sounds. I was waiting. It wouldn’t have worked if the act of recording had caused me to recover. It didn’t, but it could’ve. Creative pursuits can be dangerously healing.


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sluice | sluːs |


(also sluice gate) a sliding gate or other device for controlling the flow of water, especially one in a lock gate: the water gushed through the sluices | lake levels are now regulated by sluices.

verb [with object]

wash or rinse freely with a stream or shower of water: she sluiced her face in cold water | crews sluiced down the decks of their ship.


Sluicing. Not to be confused with sleuthing. It interests me to learn the meaning of sluicing and its accommodation of the Latin for exclusion, so befitting in this time in which we are doing all we can to exclude the virus. At the expense of the women and the children and the traumatised people in the towers. At the expense of the women and the children in confinement with the angry men. At the expense of the elders in the residential aged care facilities. At the expense of the poor and the bereft. In the name of the Father and the economy.

We are sluicing through COVID, sluicing through lockdown, trying to flush out the virus, but it cannot be flushed. We wash our hands like there’s no tomorrow. We swab and rinse and sluice and shower and spray and sanitize but there’s still a stench, right? Stench warfare. This is an audicle of stench warfare.


Ink, pink, you stink!


This was a little barb of bullysomeness girls used to hurl at other girls when I was a lass. In COVIDtimes we are alert for anosmia – any sudden loss of taste or sense of smell may well be a symptom. In our household, we start the day with a turmeric smoothie and an oregano essential oil dispersed – diffused – through the living room. Can you smell that? we ask each other. Yes, I can smell it. You must tell me if you can’t smell it. You will, won’t you? Yes. I’ll tell you.


We want to smell. We’ll stink if necessary. Ink, pink, you stink!




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What is the difference between a menacing sound and a comforting sound?

Neither sound is unpleasant. In fact, the more I listen the more I feel comforted by the predictability and the circularity of the sounds. Round and round and around – each with its centrifugal force spinning up and with and distributing and dispensing. They’ll be tracing car licence plates soon, I hear.

I’ve come to appreciate the domestic spaces and the importance of a tidy house more.

Lisa told me her house is always clean now.

In ”the past” when we were out a lot, the home was a place to come back to after living most of our lives in the world. The internet is like a life support. It’s failing though.

I think of Apocalypse Now, and how the fan in the hotel room cuts to the helicopters, chop-chop-chop or is it the other way around. I’m not sure, but it’s definitive PTSD. Will we have that also? I’ve read that some will – young people. And what about those in the locked up and down towers?


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When I think about places to be, I return to the train – a slow train around a coast – hugging the shoreline in the winter. Or maybe a fast train that glides above the rails. Filming out of the window as the landscape passes – sometimes too fast to capture or too slow and bumpy to also capture. Tunnels that go forever through mountains. I want a vehicle to take me through this moment to a destination that has been pre-decided. Just far enough. Six weeks. That’s too far. Time as distance is different from pure temporal time.


I will return to walking to cover the time through the steps.




[1] Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, (London: Penguin,1990), 180.






Kim Munro is a documentary maker and academic from Melbourne. She lectures in documentary theory and practice and emerging media in the Bachelor and Masters programs at RMIT University. Kim has a background in fine art, linguistics and filmmaking and her multi-disciplinary works have been shown in galleries, festivals and on television. Her research focuses on social and environmental justice, participatory practices, expanded and experimental forms and sound and listening. Kim is also the Conference Programmer at the Australian International Documentary Conference.



Peta Murray is a writer-performer and Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in Melbourne. Her experience as a dramaturge and theatre-maker informs her work on the use of playful and meaningfully irreverent arts-based practices as modes of inquiry and forms of social activism. She currently posts five neologisms each week at MyyyyCorona.



Stayci Taylor is an award-winning screenwriter, and lecturer with RMIT’s School of Media and Communication. Her research interests include screenwriting, script development, web series and comedy, and she won an RMIT prize for research excellence in 2017. Before completing her PhD she worked as a playwright, performer, theatre maker and TV writer in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Her publications include two forthcoming edited collections on script development, and creative practice research works in various special issues of TEXT.



The Symphony of Awkward is a collective endeavour driven by a trio of researchers from RMIT’s non/fictionLab. It grew from the chance disclosure that each of us had secret stashes of childhood diaries tucked away. In pre-COVID times the project explored new performance modalities including DiaryBingoKaraoke (DBK) and LiveHypotheticalRadio (LHR) and has published its research in journals New Writing and TEXT. Through COVID we have continued to focus on myriad expressions of diarology, and will host an online forum on the topic in September, 2020, as part of the series How the Future Looks Now.


Maile Colbert

Sound artist and designer, intermedia artist and filmmaker, teacher and researcher