Sound and Being

The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.

(McLuhan, 1994, p.18).

McLuhan documents these “changes in sense perception”, (1994, p.18) contrasting oral, written and visual readings of a subject to its environs in the cited work. McLuhan provides an analysis of this in terms that could be broadly described as overlapping movements and that such movement is instigated by technological advance. Paper allowed for the form of written literacy, written literacy itself he argues is instrumental in new technological sophisticates. HTML and interface design could be considered contemporary examples of this. The textual and the visual are furthermore, conflated in written communication. According to McLuhan, this structures the life experiences of individuals in a linear sequential way as opposed to older auditory based means of information dissemination. An understanding of the environs becomes mapped in terms of the eye/text conflation; with a detachment based on continual assessments of causality and the opiate like effect of newer forms of image making. Without an active awareness of media that McLuhan is arguing for, an individual becomes magnetically held to this mode of understanding, deep within their psyche and a schism in terms of inner life and outer world develops.

Other theorists have also drawn similar conclusions, albeit with slightly different philosophical bents. Eye Culture is a term coined by Berendt (1988, cited by Wrightson, 2000 p.10). Eye Culture refers to the rise of the eye as the predominant gatherer of knowledge of the world and the associated impact this has had on being, and by extension of subject to object. The reification of text is also dealt with by Wishart (1994, 1996), concerning the musical score. This, he argues, constrains the world of sound through the diktat of notation. The computer however is a new means of expression and as such creates an entirely new relationship to sound, releasing us from the conformities of platonic “fixed Ideals” (sic) (1994, p.111).

This brings the role of the artist into the frame. The role of art becomes normative. Oliveros argues composition and any creative act should be twinned with listening expansively to what is being experienced, moment to moment. She uses technology to both link and establish new ways of understanding for performer and audience (Oliveros, 2005). Cage made a well known statement “new music: new listening” (Cage, 2011, p.10), to not only foreground a particular sense of the auditory but also of the sense of self (Nyman, 1999). These normative actions are not limited to artists working directly with sound. Joseph Beuys also called for new ways of listening to the world, for the artist to establish new creativities, to not just reflect upon but to create a healing of the void existing in the self, and by extension, society (Beuys & Harlan, 2004).

…The artist plays a de facto normative role when acting against the prevailing dominance of Eye Culture. Cage’s work is illuminating in this respect. 4’33” (1952) is an instruction in three movements, with a direction for the performer to remain silent in each of these. Although it is commonly understood to last four minutes and thirty three seconds, there are no actual time limits set (Nyman, 1999). Nyman elucidates how Cage forces an unholy “trinity” in 4’33” onto the audience as they become simultaneously composer, performer and listener of the work itself (1999, p.22). Subject and object become one as the passive state of the audience member becomes merged with that of creator/composer and active listener. Cage’s 0’00” (1962), (JCCE2012, 2010), is a kind of violence in listening, an instruction for the performer to make a non musical action that is heavily amplified. Listening to it my hearing itself seems to be objectified, while also being the subject of the piece. This is far from the conventional unidirectional relationship to sound, controlled, aesthetically pleasing, easily masked when unwanted, Subject. And then. Object.

…From the normative to the daily. Its is arguable this disjunct, this lack of fluidity between subject and object creates a profound sense of dislocation. This dislocation relates in particular to the eye’s way of perceiving the world. Wishart (1994) touches on the lack of language for inner states of being while Berendt (1988) mentions the loss inherent in screen based fairytales, as opposed to the inner worlds created through more traditional auditory means of storytelling. Screen and visual interfaces are ubiquitous in digital media culture. In respect of an analogous medium, Zizek (2001) analyses cinema as both a metaphor for the dislocation and also to exemplify the normative structures the fetishisation of the moving image creates, the “dematerialisation of real life itself, its reversal into a spectral show” (2001, p.1); life becomes framed through reality shows. The inner world remains a poor relation through the dominance of visual and linguistic modes. As previously stated, digital interfaces that do not operate in these modes tend to be framed in terms of impairment, as “deviances” from the norm. The translation of media from the big screen to miniature (mobiles, tablets) arguably are transformations of style not substance.

Zizek (1989, cited by Bryant, 2011 p.125) states the following:

[A]ppearance (sic) implies that there is something behind it which appears through it; it conceals a truth and by the same gesture gives a foreboding thereof; it simultaneously hides and reveals the essence behind the curtain. But what is hidden behind the phenomenal appearance? Precisely the fact there is nothing to hide. What is concealed is that the very act of concealing conceals nothing.

Sound and Being is extracted from Sound, Spatialisation and a Sense of Being. Rina Sagoo, 2013. MA Dissertation.

  • Berendt, J.E., 1988. Nada Brahma, the World is Sound: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness. Translated from German by Bredigkeit, H. London: East West Publications.
  • Beuys, J. and Harlan, V., 2004. What is Art? Translated from German by Barton, M. and Sacks, S. Forest Row: Clairview.
  • Bryant, L.R., The Democracy of Objects. [ebook]. Open Humanities Press. Available at <http://www.openhumanitiespress.org/books/titles/the-democracy-of-objects/> [Accessed 6 July 2017].
  • Cage, J., 2011. Silence: Lectures and Writings. 9th Ed. London: Marion Boyars.
  • JCCE2012, 2010. 0’00″/2009/John Cage 100th Anniversary Countdown Event.

    . Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I1gfOlNNo4> [Accessed 6 July 2017].

  • McLuhan, M., 1994. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. 2nd Ed. London; Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Nyman, N., 1999. Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Oliveros, P., 2005. Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice. Lincoln: iUniverse.
  • Wishart, T., 1994. Audible Design: A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Sound Composition. York: Orpheus the Pantomine.
  • Wishart, T, 1996. On Sonic Art. Amsterdam: Harvard Academic.
  • Wrightson, K., 2000. An Introduction to Acoustic Ecology, Soundscape, The Journal of Acoustic Ecology. 1 (Spring) pp.10-13.
  • Zizek, S., 2001. Welcome to the Desert of the Real. [online article]. Available at <http://web.mit.edu/cms/reconstuctions/intepretations/desertreal.html> [Accessed 3 April 2013].

Artist portfolio site for Rina.io

I work with interaction, machine listening, video and performance, exploring themes of presence and being.

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