Scan from from Potter, R.K., Green, H.C., Kopp, G.A.,1947. Visible Speech. Van Nostrand, New York, NY.
We know the scene. In late May 2021 the Greek police made the news when they began to deploy Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) – a so-called “non-lethal” weapon also known as a sound cannon – and “AI-powered lie detectors” at the border with Turkey.¹ Media outlets reported on the fact with a mixture of curiosity, alarm, but most of all desire – not only to make this new technological arm of the border-industrial complex knowable, but to render its utopian promises believable. We are familiar with what this means: that certain bodies are not allowed to be in certain spaces, and that, so long as people lack the right papers to cross, technology will make sure everything remains in its place. While spokesperson for the European Commission Adalbert Jahnz, as well as other humanitarian observers, demonstrated concern from an ethical standpoint² (as if the borders of EU member states were not the borders of the Union itself) billions of Euros are funnelled into border technologies to ensure that the European project remains not just the “fortress” we know of but, in the words of Frantz Fanon, a self-reinforcing “zone of nonbeing”.³
The European Union, the Greek police, and the majority of the media outlets reporting on the border all have something in common: they dream of this sonic techno-utopia of no crossing. In this dream, sound cannons deter, maim and control, blasting loud, high-pitched frequencies that can literally make a person drop to the ground in pain. So-called “Artificial Intelligence systems” analyse voice, speech, dialect and accent with supposed accuracy to ensure that those who manage to get past a crossing point never arrive at the end of their journey – instead, they are turned back. Sound, in these narratives, is granted too much agency: its power is difficult to make sense of, mysterious, elusive – both fantastic (“magical”) and fascinating. It renders a border audible; this border is also listening. Listening outwards, in warning shots of thin, formless sound, the border becomes one with the air around it. Its limits stretch as far as sound shockwaves can travel and hit bodies in movement. Listening inwards, the border stretches its limits as far inside the body as its measurement devices can penetrate. The border sounds and listens like a bullet, violating bodies as it strikes, maims and senses. In other words, the listening border is driven by the teleological certainty of always making its target.
The border sounds and listens like a bullet, violating bodies as it strikes, maims and senses.
Let us unpack this by asking how exactly the border listens. This is not to say the border has agency of its own, but instead that its agents – human and technological – are always listening for and listening to specific bodies, in order to yield results that can be already predicted by its own design. In other words, the border listens for people in a way that matches them to categories they “should” belong to (e.g. “German”, “Greek”, “Syrian”). When this listening for fails to produce these categories, the border then listens to their bodies with the purpose of uncovering the “truth” that these border subjects might be concealing. This is the border, human and technological, listening to measurement, performing auscultation, mathematically assessing extracted sonic features. Its listening is inextricably entangled with the economic arrangements of the border and the technological promise of objective truth. Thus, to ask the question “how does the border listen?” demands that we stop looking at the border as just the space where the crossing takes place and, more importantly, cease seeing these techno-utopian narratives at the border as exceptional moments. The border – this arrangement between juridical, economic, political, cultural and geographical entities – reaches deep within its own configurations to constantly produce subjects already defined in and by its own spaces: a hearing, annotations on a case file, its technological sonic reach. Bodies at the border are, then, bodies a priori, made and re-made as both objects of sound and subjects of listening. The border is always making its target: it produces the bodies it seeks to contain.
The border not only listens for and listens to the body; it also listens towards bodies. The border listens to the narratives around it, in sync with the economic arrangements of public and private capital that take place before and beyond it. The border listens towards the body, always reaching, arranging and designing the sounds it wants its subjects to hear. Indeed, such listenings always begin from desire: a desire for detaining, discovering and uncovering its subjects as fully knowable, rendering some more believable than others. In this state of aural hypnagogia, some subjects listen, in small bites, to the texture of the border, its jawbreaking efficiency, its smooth fusion of software and prosthetic sensing that elicits a craving for the sweet taste of free-range nationalism. Other border subjects hear only the droning hum of white-light bureaucracy, the loud blast of the weapon, the piercing shriek of deportation. Both, however, are unmade and remade at the border, by the border and its actants. This is how the listening border projects outwards: extending its seductive, treacherous influence. The border is what is behind and ahead of the border itself, in time and space. It has no agency of its own, yet it reaches towards the bodies it has produced, always making its target.
what other ways of being human – uncertain, unknowable – could also undo the listening border as it listens?
That the policing of the border always makes its target through listening tells us something about the nature of listening itself. This question goes beyond metaphors, for these listenings for, to, and towards are intrinsic to listening as it were: not only the physiological, but also the set of techniques and modes of knowledge-making that exceed the ear. Put differently, listening is a bodily sense that makes sense of the world around it. In doing so, it also constructs it. The border that listens is the border resonating with itself and the practices around it. Granted, if the border resonates with the bodies it wants to subdue and restrain, then it also inadvertently delineates that which remains uncontainable and untameable, that which cannot be shaped by either design or metaphor. The border that listens is always deciphering sounds in order to recognize them for what they are believed to reveal. This process transcends the constructed boundaries between “objectivity” and “subjectivity,” as they are instrumentalised towards “truth”. Still, this certainty the listening border demonstrates inevitably choreographs out uncertainty and unknowing. After all, the border cannot listen to everything that it contains. This is where we must begin, if we want to imagine different worlds.
What if we imagined a listening beyond prepositions, before the moment in which subjects are defined in relation to – and simultaneously as – objects? If the listening border undoes the body in order to remake it, it also means that these listenings – technical and technological, cultural and cultured – could be arrested in anticipation of reifying the categories it wants to find, and that new pathways of and for remaking the body might be possible. In other words, what other ways of being human – uncertain, unknowable – could also undo the listening border as it listens? Gloria Anzaldúa has long reminded us that “[in order to] be healed we must be dismembered, pulled apart”, and that new ways we might come to understand ourselves emerge from such doing and undoing. These moments, then, need not be moments of stasis or absented agency. Instead, they open up for a profound investigation of the cracks, the failures, the loose knots of the consensual description of what being and becoming human might mean.
So, how do we listen as the border listens? We can begin by slowing down processes of undoing, zooming into their tiniest assumptions. We can interrogate them, play with them or mess them up completely, as the border reveals its own designs. We can interrupt the border at the border, but also behind and beyond it. We can cease according too much agency to sound and stop fantasising about what it can do. We must imagine a listening stripped of its colonial scaffolding – as a mode of “redress”, as a “reorganizer” of realities¹⁰ from the doors the border leaves ajar. This is not, however, an attempt to romanticize or glorify the de- and re-realization of the body done by the European border. Rather, it is an invitation to become undone or, paraphrasing Fanon, to grasp this undoing with both hands and, in this gesture, imagine a pathway of escape, a disappearing through the rifts.¹¹ The disruptive potential might be, for now, mostly speculative. Yet it remains possible, insofar as these moments are still those in which the body, always already de-realized, may refuse to announce itself.¹²
1. See e.g. com/watch?v=VzLPAX_GGBo or middle-east-europe-migration- technology- healthc23251bec65ba45205a- 0851fab07e9b6 (accessed June 19, 2021)

2. news/eu-concerned-about-greekuse- of-antimigrant-sound-cannon- greece-greek-brussels-turkey-european-commission- b1859030.html (accessed June 19, 2021)

3. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952) p.2

4. Mahmoud Keshavarz and Shahram Khosravi, “The Magic of Borders”, e-flux architecture (2020). architecture/at-the-border/ 325755/the-magic-of-borders/ (accessed June 19, 2021).

5. Pedro J S Vieira de Oliveira, “On the Endless Infrastructural Reach of a Phoneme”, transmediale journal #3, (2019). https:// on-the-endless-infrastructuralreach- of-a-phoneme (accessed June 19, 2021).

6. Dylan Robinson, Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies (2020) pp.50–51

7. Gloria Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (2015) pp.29–45

8. Sylvia Wynter, “Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, The Puzzle of Conscious Experience, of ‘Identity’ and What it’s Like to be ‘Black'”, National Identities and Socio-Political Changes in Latin America, (2001) pp.30–66

9. Robinson, 2020.

10. Anzaldúa, 2015.

11. Fanon, 1952.

12. Denise Ferreira da Silva, “To Be Announced: Radical Praxis or Knowing (at) the Limits of Justice”, Social Text 31, 1 (2013), pp.43–62.

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