OA#1: LISTENING AND MAPPING THE SONIC.
PLURALITY AND WAYFARING: WRITING THE OPENSOUND PROJECT
J. Milo Taylor, Carlos Alves, Xabier Erkizia, Julien Ottavi, Wajid Yaseen
This issue of the Journal is focused upon the emerging epistemologies, methodologies and ontologies of sound studies.
Contributors: Holger Schulze, Barry Truax, Katharine Norman, J Milo Taylor, Marinos Koutsomichalis, Axel Volmar, Florian Hollerweger, Michelle Lewis-King, Maarten Walraven, Walter Gershon, and Justin Patch.
A Film by Dan Linn-Pearl, Marianna Roe & Andi Spowart
“Learning to Listen is a documentary film crossing the dividing lines of experimental music and Sound Art. It is a series of accounts from established artists discussing their work in relation to shifting movements in creative thought and process. The sonic sense is explored through performance, improvisation, technology and sound art. Learning to Listen intends to inform a new audience of work beyond the confines of commercial and traditional sound making. Discourse takes place across the cities of London, Berlin and Amsterdam.”
Featured in the film: Ed Baxter, Clive Bell, Kevin Chan, Viv Corringham, Peter Cusack, Paul Freeman, Sylvia Hallett, Ig Henneman, Derek Holzer, Christina Kubisch, Willem de Ridder, Carsten Seiffarth, Jasper Stadhouders, J Milo Taylor, David Toop.
Taylor, J. Milo., Rivas, Francisco & Mesa, Miguel
Affiliation: Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM) / Fonoteca Nacional Mexico / Independent.
Research Focus: Listening Cultures, Media Archaeology, Sonic Anthropology: Methodologies of Sound in the Humanities
La Cantada: The Songs for the Dead in Naolinco town.
When Spanish conquerors arrived on the Mexican Caribbean coast they encountered a town called Naolinco. To this day, an ancient annual tradition still occurs there: “El Día de todos los Santos” (The Day of Every Saint) – the so-called “day of the dead”. It is a time to remember the deceased and to renovate communication with them. In family homes, altars are made and at dusk, families walk to the cemetery to sing to their deceased. These special songs (cantada) are both ancient and syncretic, mixing indigenous traditions with the Catholic iconography of the invaders. Following their dedication, people move from house to house, visiting altars in the homes of others, singing the cantada. “Fiestas”, as noted by many anthropologists, configure the ritual and social calendar, articulating the sacred and profane, which, in this kind of community, become blurred. In this context sound becomes a “bridge” between two worlds consolidating the identity network of the inhabitants of Naolinco. We witnessed an auditory culture activating the “world of the dead” through ritualised and collectivised soundings. In this study we discuss our participation in the custom and we explore the function of this music in this specific context.
with Dirk Specht and George Brock-Nannestad
J. Milo Taylor, George Brock-Nannestad, Dirk Specht
Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln
This paper approaches noise from a media anarcheological paradigm closely informed by Siegfried Zielinski’s notion of “deep media time”. The observation that noise is not absolute, but is variable is somewhat banal; yet if the temporal, methodological and aesthetic scope is extended beyond the conventional discourses around noise what implications for practice may be drawn?
The origins of the paper derive from a research fellowship undertaken at the Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln which dealt with sound, noise and listening as practice-based research methodologies. A selection of discarded shellac records (cultural noise) forms the material basis of this study. This media detritus contains program material created during a problematic yet arbitrary period of Cologne’s past (1929-62 – this period defined simply by the contingent array of shellacs found). These discs also offer today’s listeners traces and scars of the damage and decay these traumatised objects have experienced in their lifetime.
These material artefacts are noiseful in many regards: a conventional approach to archiving or preserving these might involve media migration into the digital domain after which processes of “noise-cleaning” may be undertaken. Such cleaning may aim to remove “noise” from “signal”. Yet how is such difference established? There are plentiful examples of problematic media cleansing – and a central issue explored in this paper is this distinction between what the authors frame as “primary” and “secondary” information.
Hence, issues around the context and techniques used during the original recording (e.g. frequency transfer functions), the means by which this recording is produced as a capitalist object (e.g. post-emphasis curves), and the subsequent unintended inscriptions upon the media surface in the course of the objects’ biography (e.g. careless handling) provide a deep media perspective upon the noisy media object.
Audiorama del Bosque de Chapultepac.
November 4th 2012
The opportunity to present a sound performance in this unique location intersects with a growing area of interest for the artist – namely that of archaeoacoustics – the positioning and understanding of sound in ancient societies. This area of research is emerging and much work remains speculative, however there is a growing discourse around the the sonic properties of ritual spaces and the importance of site-bound performativities. Specific issues relevant to sonic meditation may be outlined as follows.
There is the recognition that sound often takes a central role in human ritual – this appears to approach a universality, yet also displays great variation across spatio-temporal cultures. Researchers in the field propose that ritual sound provides the historical antecedent of music, with such speculations also argued by such theorists as French economist Jacques Attali – to whom we will shortly return. The diversity of ritual sound practice, its role in the performance of community and its close connection to place can only be hinted at here. We may wish to consider for example the depictions of auditory phenomena in the “sound scrolls” in the Codex Borbonicus, where Xochipilli, the Aztec god of music, is marked with a jewelled flower indicating the poetic importance of song and sound to this pre-Hispanic culture. Mayan “speech scrolls”, common in the classical period, as well as examples found in Zapotec culture further underline the significance of sound in pre-Cortesian Iberoamerican societies. Such a sonic sensitivity is not limited to these pre-Christian examples, we can also extend this analysis using Zeilinski’s notion of a “deep time of sound media” pausing our playback to consider the impressive acoustics of Christian churches and cathedrals, then fast forwarding in time to the more contemporary experiences of the “electric church” of the rock concert and the powerful sound systems of today’s bass cultures (techno, reggae, dub, jungle, hip-hop, dubstep and so on).
Such temporary acoustic communities are both centripetal and and centrifugal – on the one hand attractive and bounding to believers, and on the other hand repulsive, disturbing and excluding non-initiates, evil spirits and the damned. While many ritual musics refer towards transcendence and the evocation of entities exterior to human consciousness (gods, spirits etc.), the piece to be presented here explores a different plane – that of immanence (the “who-here” and “who-now”).
Archaeoacoustic studies, and sound studies more generally, draw attention to the continuum existing between internal experience and external phenomena, and indeed challenges a (Western) ocularcentric paradigm which operates to enforce such problematic distinctions. When we speak, for example, we sound. This sonic entity, betraying intimate secrets of ourselves (Barthes “grain of the voice”) exists both “over-here” inside our bodies, and simultaneously (in fact with a degree of delay) “over-there” inside the bodies of those able to hear us. Sounds exterior to us touch us with vibration – we have no distance from sound – it passes through us, and something of it may continue to metaphorically resonate within us, once the actual sound itself has dissipated.
Let us now return Attali. Writing in 1977 he outlines the positioning of auditory culture relative to society’s modes of production and the associated power relations. He proposes four major periods of sound-making in deep historical time – ritual, representation, repetition and composing. He argues that the primary function of sound, as introduced above, was the reinforcement of community through ritual practice. Once its power to do this is recognised by early centralising states (e.g. Mayan), it becomes co-opted by the elite classes, and it is used to represent the interests of these groups to the rest of society. As society evolves, sound-making becomes detached from this explicitly representative function, and sound-makers, though still bound to dominant modes of production enter a period of repetition. This is articulated by Walter Benjamin in his 1936 text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, where the repetitive reproducibility of the modernist art object (prints, books, LP’s, CD’s) involves a loss of aura. His historical positioning, on the cusp of such significant sonic mutations as punk rock and disco (the latter innovating the development of the dance music sound systems mentioned above), suggested the fourth period – that of composition. Though not fully explained, he proposed that sound makers would seek to reclaim their role as auratic community formers, composing novel forms of future-facing micro-societies, where the exchange between sound-maker and audience/congregation would no longer be over-determined by a financial transaction (a cost of entry/purchase), but be based upon a participatory post-humanistic encounter. It is with such thoughts in mind that I accepted the invitation to present a piece in the Meditatio Sonus series.
The piece, performed in real-time with open-source/FLOSS technologies, intends to fold together these historic, social, aesthetic technical considerations. The sounds to be used are exclusively sine tones – “pure”, characterless, non-representational and total sonic abstractions derived from the mathematics of the ancient Greeks. Such tones will be used to explore the resonances of the site. At the same time, difference tones (“beatings”) between the resonant frequencies of the Audiorama will be used to activate psychotropic frequencies in the consciousnesses of the congregation. The intention is to guide the brain state rhythms of the gathered listeners from the usual frequency of waking consciousness (the so-called “beta rhythm” 13 – 30 Hz) though the base frequency (“alpha rhythm” 18 – 13Hz) down to the hypnogogic meditative state (“theta rhythm” 4 -7 Hz). This gradual journey inwards and outwards will resolve with a return to the beta rhythm.
It is with the greatest pleasure that I embark on the composition and performance of this work. It is my hope that the openness with which I was invited to participate is echoed and returned in my conception. It is my belief that a sonic meditation, shared between friends, family and strangers is a wonderful opportunity to experience ourselves as a collective body composed of humans, non-humans and sonic entities alike.
Free Public 3 day workshop. Listening Techniques, Archaeoacoustics and Histories of Sound
Art. Organised by Tito Rivas.
Soundscape Composition with Tito Rivas
Fonoteca Nacional, Mexico City.