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    Posts filed under || Sonic Materialism

    Jean-Luc Nancy – On Listening

    written on January 17th, 2017

    This second semester of the first year of my PhD starts with a course related to my research; Improvisation and the Poetics of Listening. Although listening is central to my interests, improvisation studies is still new to me.

    During last year’s Sound & Sensory Studies colloquia we discussed most of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening. I must admit that a lot has happened in the past year, and I already remember it as a lot more lyrical than the excerpt from “On Listening” we read for the second Improvisation seminar last week.

    Venus and Music

    The main points that came up were questions around Nancy’s use of “self” rather than “subject.” My own immediate thoughts might become clearer by the end, but suffice it to say that I think it is tied to Nancy’s insistence on the non-human (or non-(subject-in-the-usual-sense-of-a-clearcut-individual)). Simply calling the resonant body a subject would only confuse, since he is not just talking about the human reception of sound, but sound, listening and resonance as such…

    Sonority and Sense

    Nancy also invokes a McLuhan-esque distinction between medium and massage – or in this case, between sonority and meaning. Sound and voice. In a questionable turn, he calls the listening to sonority – to the sound apart from any meaning – true listening. I almost always find these hierarchical modes of true, pure or concentrated listening problematic. To me, different forms of listening seems more like a state of flux – always intersecting with one another.

    In “On Listening,” Nancy becomes interesting in his suggestion that listening could somehow be sonorous. Could listening have a timbre of its own? Of course, there is the oto-acoustics of our inner ear, but is there perhaps a way that listening itself creates sound?

    Listening is always caught in the tension between the acknowledgement of sound as such and the straining towards its meaning. Both of these modes disappear the other – one cannot exist without the occlusion of the other. Listening strains towards a sense beyond sound, yet listening also imparts sense on us where meaning becomes sound through our listening to it (as is often the case in music).

    Feeling oneself-feel

    Sounds are spread in space, vibrating through one thing before it hits the next, resounding or resonance or echo as a referral back to itself. In this way, sensing is always perception of perception itself. In almost Derridean prose, Nancy shows that sensing is a feeling oneself-feel. This is where Nancy invokes the self rather than the subject. It does not matter for Nancy who or what is doing the sensing. The act of sensing is itself a subject (or rather, a self). Therefore, sound and meaning create a self through resonance’s self-referentiality.

    The space of sound is omnidirectional and flowing through objects. To listen is to be penetrated yet surrounded – both from oneself and towards oneself. We are thus always in the midst of sound – both receiving and transmitting sound through our resonant bodies. In Douglas Kahn’s words, we are transducers of sound.

    Nancy’s ontology of sound is a strange one, where sound itself is seemingly given agency through its self-ness. According to Nancy, sound is not in a fixed presence or being, but always in motion, which makes it a place-of-its-own-self as relation to itself. Sound is a self that creates a place for itself through its resonance. The sonorous place is not a place where the subject comes to make itself heard. It is a place that becomes a subject because sound resounds (resonates) here.

    I (perhaps wrongly) assume that Nancy is here talking about a making-a-place-for-oneself through listening. Yet I prefer to read it as an account of the agency of sound. A Bryantine sound-oriented ontology or Bennettian vibrant sono-materialism, where sounds themselves acquire agency through their resounding of their environment. Could resonance be the appearance of sound?


    Once I’ve read what Brian Kane has to say about Nancy’s Listening, I will be back with more on this…

    || filed under: Sonic Materialism, Sound Studies
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    Will Schrimshaw – Infraesthetics

    written on February 25th, 2016

    I found this talk Will Schrimshaw did at Tuning Speculation: Experimental Aesthetics and the Sonic Imaginary in 2013 – a conference that had a lot of talks by people whose work I am still getting acquainted with.

    The term infraesthetics is proposed in order to describe a prominent and `reductive’ domain of work that takes a functional approach to sound and signals wherein the aesthetic is understood to be a kind of residual congealing or crystallisation, an unavoidable byproduct of more fundamental and primarily functional processes.

    Infraesthetics is the way in which art dealing with the infrasonic boundary orients our thinking away from interiority (and immersion) toward exteriority. The aesthetic is treated as a necessary interface to the inaudible conditions of audition. In this talk, Schrimshaw’s concurrent aim is to implement infraesthetics as an ontology of sound based on movement – not the artwork’s pictoral qualities, as is the case in cymatic artworks. It’s an ontology of the vibrational aspects of sound art, removed from its visual appearance.

    Infraesthetics is concerned with the concept of the noumenal.

    Later, Schrimshaw talks about an aesthticist engagement with aesthetics based in Deleuze’s statement that »experimental practices are primarily concerned with ideas« and that »white noise is the idea of sound.« This is something that recently has become clearer to me – the need for a more experimental and alternative approach to my research.

    Now I need to figure out how I am going to implement this in my own upcoming PhD-research. Both in terms of institutional and personal limitations.

    || filed under: Academia, Sonic Materialism, Sound Studies
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    Sound & Sensory Studies

    written on September 22nd, 2015

    The second meeting of the Colloquium for Sound & Sensory Studies kicks off on Thursday. This time, I will be presenting my PhD-research project proposal, while Stina Hasse and Rasmus Holmboe will lead a discussion and communal reading of “Veils,” the first chapter in Michel Serres’ The Five Senses. For my own presentation, I have asked the participants to read Will Schrimshaw’s “Non-cochlear Sound: On Affect and Exteriority.”

    I think that the two themes of the colloquium will complement one another well, and definitely spark much discussion about the nature of sound. The critiques of the brilliant people at the Sound & Senses research group will surely give me a lot to re-consider.

    Read more about the Sound & Senses research group here: http://kunstogkulturvidenskab.ku.dk/Forskning/projekternetvaerk/soundsenses/

    || filed under: Academia, Colloquium for Sound & Sensory Studies, Sonic Materialism, Sound Studies
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    Vibrational Affect

    written on September 2nd, 2015
    This is the second in a series of posts concerning the theories of what Jonathan Sterne would call ‘sound students.’ This is my humble attempt to grasp the (no-longer-so-)budding field of sound studies and develop a theory of sonic affect.

    A few weeks ago, Steve Goodman visited Copenhagen to talk about Sonic Warfare and his work as Kode9. His talk was largely based around the militarisation of sound – whether through LRADs, sonic booms over the Gaza Strip or the ‘ghost army‘ deployed by the US during WWII. Reading Sonic Warfare has showed me how an investigation that on the surface seems to deal with examples of sound as weaponry can move much further than that. Goodman tackles Deleuzo-Guattarian politics, Massumi’s theory of affect, Kodwo Eshun’s afrofuturism, Whitehead’s speculative materialism and more.

    Sonic diagram

    Steve Goodman

    Augoyard & Torgue argue that the sonic effect is an open concept that constitutes a new paradigm of analysis. The ‘effect’ lies between cause and event. It is not an object in itself – sound does not physically change in the Doppler effect, as when an ambulance drives past. The only change happens in the relation between the observer and the emitting object. Thus, the object and subject emerge out of this relation – this ecology of vibrational effects. The sonic effect is what lies between physical sound and the subject’s ‘internal soundscape.’ However, instead of an ontology of vibrational effects, we should approach the (sonic) world through an ontology of vibrational affects that account for our mediatised, environmental and machinic coexistence. It is here that Augoyard & Torgue’s research is helpful to Goodman’s project, in that it positions the body and a transducer of vibration rather than a detached subject.

    In the same sense, affect theory replaces the fluid nature of meaning for a more materialist approach. Steve Goodman writes; “If affect describes the ability of one entity to change another from a distance, then the mode of affection will be understood as vibrational.” (Goodman 2010: 83) This concept of change based on sonic vibrations presents novel modes of analysis of sonic arts that move away from the multiplicity of meanings deduced by methods lifted from the visual and textual arts. This vibrational force – or affective tone – then becomes a way to modulate not only mood, but materials and the socio-aesthetic realm.

    To develop his ontology of vibrational force, Goodman refers to Whitehead’s speculative materialism as a way to describe how all things flow and no objects ever exist in themselves; objects are simply amalgamations of qualities (red, hard, sweet, crunchy). Therefore, according to Graham Harman, objects are useless fictions. This flow and malleability of objects is central to how Simondon and Whitehead both see living things and complex systems as striving for change. And perhaps this is what creativity is – change and novelty.

    || filed under: Academia, Sonic Materialism, Sound Student Series, Sound Studies
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    Sonic Materialism

    written on August 24th, 2015
    This is the first in a series of posts concerning the theories of what Jonathan Sterne would call ‘sound students.’ This is my humble attempt to grasp the (no-longer-so-)budding field of sound studies and develop a theory of sonic affect.

    The exposé for my PhD is slowly coming together. Having re-read Christoph Cox’s Beyond Representation and Signification: Toward a Sonic Materialism this spring, I was inspired by his call for a new theory of the sonic. Since then, I’ve done my best to read myself into the field of sonic materialism, ecology of vibrational force, sonic affect and speculative realism. Many (if not all) of these overlap, and so it’s been a case of trying to figure out who agrees on which aspects, and how they differ.

    Christoph Cox

    In spite of sound art’s recent increase in prominence, Cox writes that little has been done to generate rich and compelling literature on the already under-theorised subject. Much academic writing has taken its outset in art history’s visual paradigms and musicology’s penchant for the textual, leaving out completely the nature of the sonic.
    He calls for a theoretical framework that rejects essentialism’s position that the world consists of “[…] fixed conceptual or material essences to which images and signs would refer.” (Cox 2011, p. 146) Opposite essentialism’s fixity, Cox neither accepts cultural theory’s fluid relationship with meaning, which “[…] aims to account for and foster the contingency of meaning, the multiplicity of interpretation, and the possibility of change.” (Cox 2011, p. 146) However theoretically rich cultural studies may be; suggesting, as Jacques Derrida does, “there is nothing outside of the text” (Derrida, 1976) is a dangerous move according to Cox.

    The freedom gained by relying on the contingency of meaning comes at the price of an ontological insularity that comes with textual or discursive theories. These theories “[…] implicitly support a separation between culture […] and nature […].” (Cox 2011, p. 147) In contemporary cultural studies, culture is the realm of meaning and significance whereas nature is inert and at the very most a socially constructed space. This anthropocentrism privileges human experience over the rest of nature – forgetting that human beings are themselves a part of it.

    If “[…] the limits of discourse are the limits of meaning and being […]” (Seth Kim-Cohen in: Cox 2011, p. 148) then how do we write meaningfully about the sonic arts? Sound art frequently explores the very material texture or temporal flow of sound. How it is transmitted, and how these materials change the sound itself. Sound art and music is not more abstract than visual art, “[…] but rather more concrete, and that [it] require not a formalist analysis but a materialist one.” (Cox 2011, 149)

    || filed under: Academia, Sonic Materialism, Sound Student Series, Sound Studies
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