Steve Feld

Waking in Nima
Sound Recording

Artist Statement

Everyone experiences waking. But what difference does it make to wake in different places, singly, or repeatedly, and to wake to different sounds? Through years of waking in multiple locales, I am deeply drawn to sonic shifts marking states of sleep, dream, and partial or full consciousness. These provide an unending mix of daily lessons in acoustemology, (acoustic epistemology), in knowing the world sensuously through immersions in local listening.

Waking in my terrace apartment in Nima, an ethnically diverse and class-mixed neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, once-strange sounds have now, after five years, become so familiar that I have the sensation of first opening my ears and eyes to the performance of an electro-acoustic composition in a concert hall. Did I hear that – or did I dream I heard it?

I drift from 5am sleep to Quranic recitation and calls to prayer from close and distant mosques, overlapped by gospel hymns, hellfire preaching, and speaking-in-tongues from close and distant Pentecostal churches. In their layering I hear religious tolerance as acoustic co-existence.

As the sun begins to rise I become aware of the sonic dawn of mosque and church sounds filling out in the surround of roosters, car alarms, voices, street vendors, a distant train. At a moment of emergent conscious awareness I realize that this whole ambient ground is acoustically figured through the presence of songbirds excitedly calling from a tree next to my window.

It’s not long before I become aware of my landlord’s presence in the flat below mine. He’s always up early, sweeping at his doorstep, cleaning his Land Rover, and packing its rear with crates of empty bottles from his restaurant. Dozing off after my cell phone alarm rings, I know the day is really underway when I hear his engine idle, and the compound’s heavy gates swing open.

Waking in Nima is an ambient audio composition that follows my process of waking into acoustic awareness. The sound is mixed from eight real-time tracks recorded 4:30-6:30am from microphones placed in nearby trees and on the roof of my flat. The exhibition excerpt runs 15 minutes; the full CD version is 47 minutes long.

The gallery installation space recalls my spare Nima bedroom, the low-light calm before dawn, the rising sun burning a color beam into the screened window just over my bed. To best experience the acoustics of waking from dreaming, take a pillow, sit or lie on the floor, close your eyes, relax your breath, then enter Nima with headphones.


Steve Feld is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, taking a position at the university in 2003 after appointments at Columbia University, New York University, and the University of Texas, among others. His research principally concerns the anthropology of sound and voice, which led him to spend almost twenty-five years studying the soundscapes of the Bosavi rainforest in Papua New Guinea. Steve’s writing brings together the natural and human worlds, figuring a singular world of sound that includes the hum of the rainforest and the call-and-response of bird songs together with human-produced language, poetry, and music.

More recently, Steve has spent time studying Greek Macedonia and Romani instrumentalists. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he is an active member of the city’s musical scene.