Freya Johnson Ross

Call me: the politics of interpersonal listening

Don’t be afraid

you can call me

Lying in the dark, rehearsing snappy conversation in my head. Does this count as cultivating self-listening, or is it a nervous tic? Walking along the street rehearsing what I want to say to you, or rather, what I don’t want to say to you. Wot do u call it?

What does your internal monologue sound like? Is it chirpy or angry? Are you familiar with it? Are you so familiar with it you’re bored? Can you tune it out or have you practiced quieting it? Actually perhaps ‘it’ isn’t right, or too singular, maybe it’s they… 

How do you listen to yourself? Can you do it without cultivating speaking to yourself in some way, or are the two inseparable? For example, if you write a diary are you talking to yourself or someone else? Or maybe it feels like an external voice is observing and noting on the page.

Maybe you listen to the way your body feels or senses without words. Exhaustion. Thirst. Sadness. Restlessness. Tension. You just read these words. Think them. Say them. Hear them. Feel them?

If you lie still can you ever hear your body, perhaps sensing the internal vibrations. Swimming in breath or pulse. Hide and seek. More delicate than listening to a recording of your own voice: talking, lecturing, reading, practicing, musing, pretending. Horrifying and delighting. ‘Perhaps I just get bored with myself’. Find your guts.

Listening needn’t have a response, form part of a dialogue. Speaking into a void, to exorcise, you don’t want anyone to hear. Or if you’re just noodling. When you read your own (old?) writing, do you feel like you’re listening to past you. Writing a letter to yourself and having it posted by the workshop organisers so you receive it some months later *eyeroll*

You say elision, I say liaison. Listening between the lines, lip reading. Lip syncing intimacy. Rising sign.

I’m worried about cancer, 1 in 2, twit-tu-woo. The sound of your voice does soothe me, but hearing your noises of understanding as you listen to me voice these fears is worth a thousand ships.

Active, gentle exchange of listening, giving and receiving, reciprocity unspoken and not negotiated.

Taking turns, take a break.

Who do you ask questions of?

No but I meant:

You’re not really listening.

Wot? I didn’t quite catch that, I lost you. Sorry? I don’t know if it’s my reception – can you walk around a bit. Hang on, I’ll try again.

Is that any better?


Maybe try turning off your video? Can you hear me?


In your ear, intimate. Visibly out of sync – auditory jet lag. Uncomfortably close. Neuropathology swimming to consciousness: plastic, china, lid of metal. What’s insiiiiiiiiideeeeeee

Walking: let’s swap sides.

Airing out loud – validated, reflected by and through someone else who knows you. A precious commodity. Vent.  ‘Holding space’ has a ring of personal architecture – the framework for…an auditory hug?

Do you think I understand you. Hmm. Listening, holistically (or specifically) as relationship building. What are we doing? Perhaps I can help you to make sense of some of the confusion around what you’ve been feeling. We could explore that together. I’m sick of the sound of my own voice, how long it takes to feel like someone has heard you. To feel like someone.

If you’re feeling sad and lonely, what does it feel like to be heard by a stranger? What does it feel like to listen to a stranger? I did hear you on the Lesbian Line before, the birds are singing so loudly.


I wonder how many people I know have called the Samaritans, and I’m not sure why I don’t feel able to ask them. Freedom in anonymity. A friendly void. Stickers on the inside of toilet doors, and signs attached to high places.

maybe it’s late

but just call me

Don’t imagine you’re an amateur psychiatrist. Some people have never had anyone to give them their complete attention. There’s no more precious gift you can give to another human being than your undivided attention. Non-judgemental. Not giving advice. Not jumping to conclusions. Most people don’t want advice: they want to be told that what they have decided to do is ok.

Are you ok?

Under your skin: mirroring or mimicking? The parole ricochets around the room. The zoom. Do you lean towards filling silence out of politeness, to convey or steer? Discussion, resolution, decision. The ears have it, the ears have it!

Shared, ecstatic, hypnotic. Moving. Singing. Listening as part of a whole, to stay part of the whole. In sync. Effortless.

Excruciating, lonely, tense: that bombed. Can you edge it in or are you too worried about how it will be received? No repartee to lean on. Silence. Awkward attention. Focused, quiet, listening. Positively restrained: leaving space not leaving the room.

Drained. Have you ever gone through a conversation with your internal voice piping up after a while, god they haven’t asked me a single question, as you draw out and inquire into the detail of another person’s mind. That’s not to say it can’t be delightful, or fruitful, to devote yourself conversationally to an other. But it can be tiring, or come to feel like you are servicing someone else with your grin, engaged eyes, nods and encouraging noises. Equally, listening to someone’s unfolding thoughts, ideas or feelings – their unrehearsed mood can be joyful, captivating, relaxing. Closeness: a privilege. Effort or dedication to listening, is just as present as when it is light, reviving or unnoticed.

What do you listen to to numb yourself? Really really loud relentless music. Deliberate radio in the background. Any radio in the background. White noise. Rain, café, rustling. Sound clash. Hoovering inside and out. Something really interesting. Silence, something closer to silence. Less impingement, semi-anechoic chamber. [hhinnngggggggggggggggggggggggggg]

Cheap, careless, unlimited repetition. render tender tck tck tck-tck-tck  tck tck tck-tck-tck  tck tck tck-tck-tck

Freya Johnson Ross is an artist and researcher whose practice is focused on sound, multimedia installation and interdisciplinary listening – and how this relates to methodologies for knowledge production. Her current work addresses the politics of listening and the ethics of making and using personal and institutional archives. From Glasgow, she has studied at the University of Cambridge, Wimbledon College of Art, and the University of Sussex.

Freya Johnson Ross