• about
  • blog
  • email

    Posts filed under || Sound Studies

    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
    no comments

    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
    no comments


    written on November 24th, 2015

    During his talk last year at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal, Wolfgang Ernst mentions the concept of sonicity. This was the first time I’ve heard Ernst mention aspects of sound (aside from the few passages in Digital Memory and the Archive) and it got me excited. Especially since Ernst was a big influence on my MA-thesis about new media art archives with his media archaeological and deconstructive approach to (computer) archiving.

    With the announcement of his new book Sonic Time Machines (date of publication set for 2016), I am excited to see how Ernst will combine two great interests of mine; archives and sound.

    Yet after watching the talk, I am left with a tame feeling that this idea of sonicity is not the novel idea I was hoping it to be. Ernst starts to discuss what he means by this concept at 46:55; “There is an implicit sonicity in computational architectural silence. A sounding latency. Like a gothic cathedral waiting for the organ.” By this definition, sonicity is little more than a way to describe the oral/aural history of objects. How even an unplugged modem still contains within it the croaking and wheezing clicks, whirrs and beeps we remember so vividly. As interesting as the archived object’s potential for sound is, I fail to see what academic insights can evolve from this? Doesn’t it seem kind of.. old.. to you?

    Later, in talking about the magnetic tapes on which archives used to be stored, he takes another stab at defining sonicity, as the sounds coming from these tapes. (49:03) “If we listen to computing, we are not listening to content but to memory itself.” The sounds of the archive itself. So now we’re not talking about the sound of the objects, but the sound of the collections holding the objects? In a sense, what I think Ernst is trying to get at, is a acoustics of computational architecture. The resonance or reverberation of software – the rhythm of algorithms.

    And just as he seems to be tapping into intriguing territory, he shuts down and starts talking about computer architecture again. Ernst covers a lot more sonic ground in his talk, but it lacks focus and he keeps trailing off about silence (temporal, culturally negative), sound-as-signal/noise (Kittler) and other slightly dusty ideas.

    Maybe I’m being too harsh here. I do think that Sonic Time Machines will hold the academic clarity and rigour needed to explore what I hope will be the vibrations of software. A rhythmanalysis of the algorhythms of digital architecture.

    || filed under: Academia, Archives, Essay, Sound Studies
    no comments

    In flux

    written on October 22nd, 2015

    In the past week or so, I presented my PhD proposal to the other members of the Sound & Senses Research Group and wrote two articles about sound art and sonic warfare, respectively. The resulting discussions, feedback and introspection has made me reconsider my approach to the PhD proposal.

    My initial interest in sound art – beside the immediate aesthetic experience – was based on the idea that sound (and art in general) could be made for non-human beings. Be they computers, animals or inanimate objects – the idea that sound is received by much more than just ears seems to me inherently obvious, yet generally under-theorised or downright ignored by many sound students.

    What also interests me is the correlation between sound and intelligence. Just like an object’s reception of sound is often judged by anthropocentric standards of reciprocation and ability to distill meaning from a sound, so is intelligence judged in relation to human intelligence. In a colonial act of uniformity, computers and parrots are required to think like humans to be considered intelligent.

    Trying to arrive at these ideas through the affect theory of Brian Massumi and Will Schrimshaw seemed logical at first, but anthropocentrism lurks in the shadows. Instead, my eyes have been opened to Object-Orientated Ontology. Perhaps this focus on objects and their relations can bridge the gap between Massumi’s affect theory, sound art and Steve Goodman‘s vibrational ontology. In a sense, I think this is what Schrimshaw attempted to do in his article “Non-cochlear Sound: On Affect and Exteriority.” However, he never addresses OOO directly.

    It’s truly odd. Half a year ago now, I went into this with a curiosity about whether Actor-Network Theory might be what I was looking for in order to describe these anthro-decentric ideas I had. I remember diving into the Wikipedia article to get a taste of what this was all about, and ended up stuck in Latour feeling let down and dissatisfied. If I had only taken a left turn, followed some stray hyperlink or plunged deeper I might have found Morton, Harman, Bogost and Bryant much sooner.

    All the more exciting to be academically starting anew. However it does not feel like starting over – it feels like reading up on ideas that – when formalised – were always self-evident.

    || filed under: Academia, OOO, Sound Studies
    no comments

    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
    no comments