KHM/CRiSAP Klanglabor Sound Arts Research Fellowship Programme
The focus of my current fellowship will be upon the experimental music / klangkunst / hörspiel archives of WDR and the Studio of Acoustic Art.
Access to the sound archives associated with Klanglabor offer the researcher a unique means of exploring a number of specific sound-world’s of the past. My interest in working with the archives derives from a number of interrelated hypotheses:
Contained within the material artefacts found within the archive we can find empirical evidence of a range of constituent elements. Following Foucault, whose work has long been of interest to me, one can propose that the artefacts embody epistemic ontologies of practice. In Foucault’s terms such ontologies are formed by historically determined conjunctions of materials, concepts, themes, subject positions, sites of emergence and so on.
In the case of the sound archive we might ask what a survey of the changing nature of technology (from shellac to tape to CD to .flac) may tell us about the changing nature of listening. We may invert the question and ask if/how the changing experience of listening has informed artists’ and composers’ use of technology. A technological determinism is to be avoided however – drawing from the literature of archaeoacoustics (Scarre & Lawson 2006) one finds recognition of the coevolution of material culture, (understood in the broadest terms, beginning in the body and extending though language into the built environment) and internal cognitive processes – the traces of which may be found in material objects, of the kind found in archives for example (Ingold 2008). The archive itself, conceived of here broadly as a mnemonic conceit, is also productive and participates in this feedback circuit between what is thinkable, doable and “soundable”.
Do certain sonic artefacts only occur at certain times? Do they have a lifespan? Can we identify the period in which a sound was born? When does a sound die?
Drawing on Massumi’s treatment of the virtual (Massumi 2002) and Manning’s related notion of the instant of “pre-acceleration” in relation to movement (Manning 2009), binding these notions to David Toop’s thoughts on the “uncanny” nature of sound and Sterne’s insightful discussions of Edison’s interest in the relation of sound technology to the dead (Sterne 2003), may we begin to formulate a speculative auditory ecology? Something along the following lines, as recently suggested by R. Murray Schafer as “the 5 important sounds?
Sounds we hear
Sounds we hope to hear
Sounds we remember
Sounds we miss
Sounds we imagine
(Drawn from personal notes taken during Schafer’s keynote address at the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology Conference. Corfu. October 2011.)
Such a list is clearly incomplete and unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. What it contributes however is an initial means for thinking through a creative engagement with sound archives. We could of course greatly augment Schafer’s list with a simple ploy/play.
Sounds we hear / Sounds unheard
Sounds we hope to hear / Sounds we hope not to hear
Sounds we remember / Sounds unremembered
Sounds we miss / Sounds unmissed
Sounds we imagine Sounds / unimagined
We will return to the these shortly after embarking on a short discussion of Foucault’s treatment of the archive and how his approach, combined with affect theory, will be used during the research period. Foucault, addressing a broad range of social practices (medicine, sexuality, death, punishment), took great pains to depreciate the centrality of the subject in the production of statements – concomitant with his post-structural contemporaries proposing the “death of the author”. He alternatively emphasised an expanded field of discursive play involving contingent power relations existing between subjectivities, organisations and statements simultaneously and contradictorily enabling and limiting production, distribution and archivisation. Folding his ideas into our field of enquiry one might outline the relationships between the following as constituent of historical and contemporary sound discourse and practice:
• Organisations: KHM, WDR, apparatuses of state and civil society, archives.
• Subjectivities: artists, composers, musicians, curators, theorists, academics, promoters.
• Statements: compositions, artworks, performances, publications, releases, editions.
Such an approach would, by way of example, focus less upon the “major artistic figures” whose work is present in the archive (Stockhausen,Cage, Kagel et al) and instead explore a genealogical description of the changing nature of sound works themselves. We would wish to select particular epistemic snapshots, burrowing into emblematic years of the archives’ past (e.g. 1956, 1968, 1977, 1984, 1991, 2000, 2011). We would also direct our attention to a microdescription of works found at these times and find the means of articulating the appearance and subsequent disappearance of particular sonic features – more on this later. Let us now turn our attention to affect theory.
Affect is described variously, according to the discipline within which which it is applied and intent of the author (see Kosofsky Sedgwick 2003, Thrift 2008, Greg & Seigworth 2010). Steve Goodman, writing recently about sound provides us with a succinct definition applicable to our interests:
“[affect is] the potential of an entity or an event to affect or be affected by another entity or event” (Goodman 2010: xiv)
I suggest that such a definition, perhaps echoing the autonomy of the objet sonore proposed by Pierre Schaeffer, or indeed the “sound characters” of Maryanne Amacher, allows the media researcher to conceive of sound practice as an “ecology of intensities”. A field of practice formed by entities and events bound together in historically and geographically determined co-modulation. Such an approach, greatly expanding upon Foucault’s supra-subjective propositions, attempts to articulate the contingent relations between sounding “con-specifics3”. Such entities could include organisations, technologies, humans, sounds and much more. Such a formulation, populated by entities with clearly differential affordances, could enable us to move through disparate strata of an epistemic snapshot of a sounding archive and allow us to connect aestheticised sonic utterances with broader bio-social realities.
Returning to the play on R. Murray Schafer’s list of important sounds, we can imagine a number of strategies that might be used by the researcher when confronted by the exhaustive and perhaps intimidating body of work contained in the archives. This is suggested to occur in three stages:
1) A sounded exploration of material objects. It is anticipated that the archive contains a broad variety of media ranging from contemporary and instantly playable formats (e.g. CD, mp3, DVD) to the more temporally distant and hence more problematically playable (e.g. compact cassette,VHS, Beta-Max, 2” and 1/4” tape, vinyl, shellac, wire recordings, 35mm, 16mm, 8mm film). The textures and forms of the various technologies and the procedures of playback for each format may be sounded however (e.g. contact microphones) and suggestive of creative response. Reflective writing and audio recordings of the mechanics of this (fetishised?) process is proposed as an appropriate methodology generative of artistic/academic output. (Sounds we hope to hear)
2a) Selection of Works known to the researcher. This aspect of the research, and 2b, closely related to this that follows, involves a more usual engagement with the archives4. Both elements involve a systematic process of cataloguing and a close listening to the works present and the re-presentation of their sounding bodies. These bodies are considered as “con-specifics” with the mechanical aspects of sound reproduction explored in 1). Previous research has involved an extensive survey of historical sound practice. A beta version of my international database of sound art can be found here (http://www.soundartarchive.net). I expect a certain degree of overlap between the materials found in each archive and I am keen to explore how access to such material may be opened to a wider contemporary audience. I am aware of the Nocturnes series of events organised by Klanglabor at KHM and place my own work alongside such efforts (http://www.khm.de/kmw/klanglabor/?cat=3). A related piece of mine warrants mention at this point – “A History of Sound Art” was commissioned in early 2011 and toured the U.K. (http://suborg.net/a-history-of-sound-art/) This plunderphonic composition presented a playful re-contextualisation of 100 years of creative sound practice – such a strategy would seem appropriate to the proposed research – a remix of the archive. I have no interest in this however and I suggest instead an approach informed by the questions suggested by affect theory introduced above.
Particular works will have particular effects upon different listeners and I include myself within this. I anticipate finding works whose sounds are immediately affective to me, and other works, while of interest, will not conjure any specific visceral response. Why should this be? What are the sounds that affect me? Does their affective nature remain constant through time? Is there a personal sonic ontology at work that at this point remains hidden to me? Could such a framework be of use to others? Do specific periods speak to me? Do others remain mute in their soundings? What is involved in this subjective propensity towards different sounds? To conclude this section I propose that with a systematic cataloguing of archive material according to the epistemic instants introduce above (i.e. 1956, 1968, 1977, 1984, 1991, 2000) will be a creative response informed by those particularly affective sounds heard during this process. This creative output will be an autonomous work and is intended as a performance informed by such practices as spectral composition, signal processing and live video. Supporting this will be an online database presenting the original works with relevant documentation, images and metadata. Note that this latter proposal would only occur pending permissions obtained from the host archives. (Sounds we remember)
2b) Selection of Works unknown to the researcher. There is also great scope for creative work to be produced from a position of imagining sounds. What type of work may be produced from simply reading an unfamiliar composer’s working notes, linear notes of a LP or an exhibition / performance catalogue? Could a work be produced in 2011 that takes as its point of departure a record sleeve originating in 1968? What would be the process of imagining the unheard sounds from the original? As well as an intriguing creative proposition to me, a focus upon works of “minor” artists, as
well as “minor” works of “major” artists may well expand our vocabulary for sonic creation (Sounds we imagine). To paraphrase Žižek, the question is not what can we learn from history, but how the present might appear through a historicized ear. (Žižek 2009)
3) Audio-visual Virtual Environment. I hope, by this point, to have established a clear working methodology and outlined several concrete examples of the type of work to be undertaken. What remains is the need to expand upon the means by which the appearance and subsequent disappearance of particular sonic features may be articulated. 1, 2a and 2b above, while partly digital in nature, are not exclusively so. The homogenising effect of digital media is intended to b approached from a critical and distanced perspective. The work introduced above highlights the affective nature of sound, implying a phenomenological binding between source and listener and technology is cast as but one agent in a broader discursive field also including subjects, organisations and broader epistemic constructions. The final output, entirely digital in nature is intended to further question the affective nature of digital media and to explore its suitability for re-presenting sound archives. Such a production draws on some previous work (see Figure 1), and I would again direct you towards the video documentation of the ImMApp project. (http://vimeo.com/4222483) This work will be an interactive and immersive installation created with open-source software tools (Puredata, Processing, X3D) that will allow visitors to inhabit a hauntological rendering of emblematic years with the time-spans included within the WDR and SAK archives (Figure 2) (Sounds we hear). It is the intent that the installation will have a dual iteration – firstly occurring as a real-world gallery-type installation, and secondarily as an online presentation exploring the X3D/VRML capabilities of the newer generation of web browsers (e.g. Google Chrome)
The work is suggested then as a speculative but empirically bounded exploration of the WDR and SAK archives. The approach is informed by sound practice and extends soundscape theory towards that of the mediascape where all auditory phenomenon is proposed to be, by its nature, mediated. I have outlined a methodology based upon listening and a sensory excavation of the archival materials guided by an expanded field of post-structural theoretical concerns. The central generative antagonism in the work is the tensions produced in the travel across a spectrum constructed by material culture at one extreme (objects, artefacts) and immaterial affects (feelings, autonomic internal changes) at the other. The traces of sonic activity held in the archives partially document exterior and interior movements on the part of composers, improvisers, musicians, writers and artists. While many such motions are impossible to record (we may wish to consider the fleeting thoughts that pass through our minds while listening to a piece of music by way of example) the proposed research will attempt to map some of these subjective, but possibly generalisable, experiences. While I am no ardent subscriber to R. Murray Schaeffer’s work, some of his thoughts, when placed in the context of this proposal can offer a somewhat poetic insight into my aims. At the recent conference in Corfu he re-iterated that we as humans, are “condemned to listen”: in his view, to a increasingly homogenised sonic environment. It is my intention to re-animate some of the extra-ordinary soundworlds of the past and re-introduce these sounds into the contemporary context. Schafer made three observations that affected me deeply and have influenced the shaping of this document. I will conclude by leaving his thoughts with you and ask you to consider how these statements affect you in relation to the works preserved in the WDR and SAK archives.
all sounds are original.
most sounds will never be heard again.
all sounds will never be heard again.
Foucault, M. (1982) The Archeology of Knowledge. Vintage Books
Goodman, S. (2009) Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and The Ecology of Fear. MIT
Greg, M. & Seigworth, G. J. (Eds) (2010) The Affect Theory Reader. Duke University Press.
Ingold, T. (2008) Lines: A Brief History. Routledge.
Kosofsky Sedgwick, E. (2003) Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Duke University Press.
Massumi, B. (2002) Parables for the Virtual:Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke University Press.
Manning, E. (2009) Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. MIT Press.
Thrift, N. (2008) Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. Routledge.
Scarre, C., & Lawson, G. (Eds) (2006 ) Archaeoacoustics. Short Run Press.
Sterne, J. (2003) The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Duke University Press.
Žižek, S. (2009) First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. Verso