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.