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“To us, the value of a work lies in its newness: the invention of new forms, or a novel combination of old forms, the discovery of unknown worlds or the exploration of unfamiliar areas in worlds already discovered – revelations, surprises.” (Octavio Paz)

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This work is intended as a digital ecology, a designed underlay of synthetic life beneath the everyday environment of the garden. Although some of the sounds emitting from the loudspeakers are derived from the natural world and several recordings have been used in this final implementation, the majority of the sounds you can hear are synthetic. The physical causes of sounds existing in nature (water, frogs, wind, cicadas and so on) have been explored, analysed and modelled in open-source software.

For example, the water-like textures (water being the focus of the recent World Listening Day) are generated according to the implementation of algorithms expressing the phenomenon of turbulence and its modification by factors including imagined depth, speed of flow, impedance and fluid viscosity. By way of a second example, sounds derived from insect life include pure tones, high pitched whistles and frictional sounds of tiny hairs and body parts rubbing together – a phenomenon called stridulation – a diversity of such sonic processes have accordingly also been modelled.

Practico-Aesthetic Context 1

“Procedural audio is sound qua process, as opposed to sound qua product. Behind this statement lies a veritable adventure into semiotics, mathematics, computer science, signal processing and music. Procedural audio is non-linear, often synthetic sound, created in real time according to a set of programmatic rules and live input.” (Andy Farnell)

Sound, in a general sense, always involves an element of change – the most simple oscillation, and hence most sound creation, depends upon a dynamic change between one state and another. A further observation is that sound creation also implies some form of behaviour – be this intentionally communicative as in the case of many biotic sound forms (mating calls, territorial warnings, orientation signals, human speech and song etc.) or simply indicative of system states in the case of non-biotic forms (large-scale behaviour, water flow, wind speed etc.). The piece is then a primitive attempt to model, and thereby understand, the complexities of biotic and non-biotic sound interactions as found in our soundscapes.

The encounter of the title, in the first place, refers to these complex interactions.

“Biophony describes the acoustic bandwidth partitioning process that occurs in still-wild biomes by which non-human organisms adjust their vocalizations by frequency and time-shifting to compensate for vocal territory occupied by other vocal creatures. Thus each species evolves to establish and maintain its own acoustic bandwidth so that its voice is not masked. For instance, notable examples of clear partitioning and species discrimination can be found in the spectrograms derived from the biophonic recordings made in most uncompromised tropical and subtropical rain forests.“ (Bernie Krause)

Secondarily, the encounter also describes the meeting between technology and ecology. The work was initially based upon sound recordings of a river ecology in North Western Scotland, a place with profound personal meaning and overflowing with memories. As work on the piece developed it became clear that a more procedural methodology (as described above) would not only support a more nuanced understanding of the behavioural sound interactions in this environment but also remove unnecessary (outmoded?) emotional content and enable a more nuanced and dynamic digital installation.

Theoretical Context 1: Bergson: Time and Duration

“The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth all sensation is already memory.”

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” (Henri Bergson)

The primary means by which this is implemented is through the introduction of time into the piece. While sound recordings invariably point towards the past, the procedural method implemented here occurs wholly in the present. Various behaviours occur at particular moments throughout the day and sonic events are programmed to occur at the level of seconds, minutes and hours. We might also begin to imagine further variations in sonic behaviour at the grain of weeks, months, years and so on. Consider, for example, how the sound environment of this garden has changed over the last 30 years? How might we be able to track such change? Are these changes for the better or the worse? How also does your own behaviour alter this, and other environments?

“The idea of the future, pregnant with an infinity of possibilities, is thus more fruitful than the future itself, and this is why we find more charm in hope than in possession, in dreams than in reality.” (ibid.)

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As you move around the garden, as we certainly hope you do, you will also encounter small solar powered sonic circuits created by local participants in the supporting workshop. These elements are, like the sounds coming from the loudspeakers, also intended to evoke primitive “life-like” sonic entities. They are fully autonomous, drawing their energy solely from the sun. Their behaviours, as designed by their makers, are variable and each displays its own idiosyncrasies as determined by their individual internal resistances, capacities, their location in the garden and the contingencies of the daily climatic conditions. The various elements of the work then (solar circuits, and the various sounds diffused from loudspeakers), all attempt to exist as fully as possible in the present, though are derived from past activity and are, like us, facing an uncertain future.

Thesis 1

1. Technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster.
2. Only the collapse of modern technological civilization can avert disaster.
3. The political left is technological society’s first line of defence against revolution.
4. What is needed is a new revolutionary movement, dedicated to the elimination of technological society. (Theodore Kaczynski)

The third, and perhaps most vital area referred to by Electronic Encounter is this individual and collective participation in and impact upon our sonic environments and our broader lifeworld.

Theoretical Context 2: Dark Ecology

“Ecological writing keeps insisting that we are “embedded” in nature. Nature is a surrounding medium that sustains our being. Due to the properties of the rhetoric that evokes the idea of a surrounding medium, ecological writing can never properly establish that this is nature and thus provide a compelling and consistent aesthetic basis for the new worldview that is meant to change society. It is a small operation, like tipping over a domino…Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadistic admiration.”  (Timothy  Morton)

This piece is, finally, “an ecology without nature”: an exploration and implementation of artificial entities, in whose company we found ourselves, here and elsewhere. Any sentiment towards the exterior world has been absenced – though a form of affect may yet still remain.

It is hoped that the work is enjoyed and that some of these issues are of interest and of relevance to you here in this moment that we encounter each other. It is proposed that contemporary society requires “renewable thought” – concepts being here considered as a resource in the broader ecology of human life. It seems clear that my own society, the so-called “United Kingdom” is in dire need of tenable concepts with which to survive the future, its economic malaise a dark mirror of its moral and social bankruptcy. It is a further wish that this electronic encounter can participate in meaningful exchange and that an ecology of health and hope can be encouraged in both our troubled nations.

Research Presentation: University of Brighton: July 2015

Abstract

In late 2014 a collection of various media was passed on to me by veteran sound practitioner Z’EV. This assemblage of auditory media artefacts (cassettes, CD’s, vinyl, CD-R), print materials (catalogues, magazines, posters) and various ephemera offers a unique insight into the aesthetic, technological and social-economic habitus of avant-garde “abstract” music in the period 1977-2014. Rare releases by such practitioners as Brion Gysin and Genesis P-Orridge, Carl Stone, Naut Humon, La Fura dels Baus and Diamanda Galás exist along ultra-obscure singular items (e.g. unreleased CD-R’s, rehearsal recordings) derived from the informal and shifting milieu associated with the nomadism of the touring musician / composer / sound artist.

This archive offers a unique potential both as a focus for research and as potential pedagogic material suitable for students of various disciplines.

This presentation will introduce some elements of the collection and sketch an initial theoretical framework for thinking through, existing in, and listening to, this diverse material. Key paradigms include media and sensory archaeology, entanglement theory and material studies, contemporary historiography and critical readings around notions of the archive and counter-archive.

Abstract Music in Europe and America 1977-2014: Webcast



Opensound Project. With Audiolab (ES) and Apo33, Nantes, France.

http://opensound.eu/audioletters

KHM/CRiSAP Klanglabor Sound Arts Research Fellowship Programme

The focus of this fellowship was upon listening cultures, practice-based research, sound archives and media anarchaeology

Access to the sound archives associated with Klanglabor offered 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 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.


References
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

Sound Culture Module

Sound, Writing and Critical Thinking

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Leading Reading and Listening module.

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Modus Arts is a creative platform exploring the intersection between sound space and body space. We are structured as a soft edged network comprised of a core team of artists and associated artists, technicians and administrators, producing a range of installations, performances and theoretical writeups.

modusarts.org

Building Sound is a project instigated by Ella Finer and Fabrizio Manco, PhD candidates at Roehampton University, London.

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The Building Sound symposium took place at the Olivier Stalls Foyer, National Theatre, Southbank, London, SE1 on Friday 5th February; 1pm-4pm.

Ella Finer and Fabrizio Manco each chose a selection of speakers to come together and describe what sound means to them; to provide an interdisciplinary hearing and sharing of ideas and definitions, leading to an open discussion.

Simon Fisher Turner
Stephen Cleary
Marcia Farquhar
Ansuman Biswas
John Wynne
Maggie PIttard
Jonathan Ashmore
Yvon Bonenfant
Mariella Greil and J Milo Taylor
Ross Brown

http://buildingsound.org/


Sound Art, Digital Media and Post-structural Critical Theory.

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The primary aim of this project is discursive – to create a real-world forum where people can meet, try out ideas, and enhance our understanding of what a contemporary ‘sound art’ might involve.