Tuning Speculation

November 7, 2013

Tuning Speculation

Excellent poster from the excellent Tuning Speculations event in Toronto.

Ideas of Noise and Nature

October 3, 2013

http://willschrimshaw.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/wpid-The_Path_to_Transcendence.png Outline of a Temple of Tyranny: Envelope from The Idea of Sound (2013).

Notes for my talk at Noise in and as Music. These notes are intended to help structure a discussion around a work in progress entitled The Idea of Sound, which will be previewed at the conference.


This is an attempt to undermine the opposition of noise and nature, and to do so specifically within the context of acoustic ecology and soundscape studies where this opposition is often vehemently upheld. As a caveat, it should be noted that the argument that attempts to perform this undermining is articulated at a metaphysical level; in place of a concept of nature as divinely tuned harmonic equilibrium it is suggested that a conceptualisation of noise would be more successful in beginning to articulate the nature of nature. It is not my intention to argue for a positive or affirmative concept of noise as an aesthetic orientation or disposition that is validated in somehow being inherently “transgressive”. Neither is it suggested that the concept of noise outlined in what follows should be taken as metaphysically rigorous or sufficient, but rather that the temporary adoption of noise as a—admittedly crude—term for describing the nature of nature is a necessary step in expunging the divine from the soundscape.

The Idea of Sound

I’ll begin with Deleuze, not due to the self-validating difficulty of such an engagement, but because it was the following passage from Difference and Repetition that lead me to the confusion of Ideas of Noise and Nature:

the Idea of colour, for example, is like white light which perplicates in itself the
genetic elements and relations of all colours, but is actualized in the diverse colours
with their respective spaces; or the Idea of sound, which is also like white noise
(Deleuze: 2004, 263).

To this excerpt, which presents us with the Idea of sound as something akin to white noise—a source of unactualised potential—we should add Deleuze’s definition of Ideas, which are not ideal elements—conjured in the mind—but “precisely the ultimate elements of nature and the subliminal objects of little perceptions” (Deleuze: 2006, 205). The equation of white noise as the Idea of sound and Ideas as the ultimate elements of nature presents us with a metaphysics of noise and the beginnings of a discourse on the nature of sound; the extent to which this is the sound of nature is something that will have to be addressed later.

Noise and the World Soundscape Project

From the perspective of a transcendental materialism, noise—understood in a metaphysical or noumenal sense—remains silent and so the opposition of these terms is, in this context or register, defunct. With regards to the registers in which a conceptualisation of noise takes place it is necessary to distinguish between two types or registers of noise within acoustic-ecological discourse: actual noise or the noises of aesthetic experience and a noumenal or metaphysical concept of noise. On the basis of its descriptions of the former, acoustic-ecological and soundscape discourse is frequently berated for an apparently rigid understanding of noise in strictly negative terms. In contrast to this hackneyed criticism of acoustic ecology’s concept of noise, an example of the latter concept or register of noise can be found in Schafer’s description of the “primordial unity” of a “first sound”.1 For Schafer the noise of the sea constitutes an originary ur-sound: “it is the fundamental of the original soundscape and the sound which above all others gives us the most delight in its myriad transformations […] each wave sets a different filtering on an inexhaustible supply of white noise” (Schafer: 1994, 15-6).2 A similar, if less mystical, concept of noise is found in Barry Truax’s statement that:

noise, in the sense of information that is unpatterned and unordered by
the brain, is the only source of new information […] People often use the word
“noise” in a non pejorative sense to mean any undefined or unrecognized sound that is
potentially meaningful […] noise as the source of new information is open-ended and
offers the promise of all that we may possibly experience (Truax: 2001,

Truax outlines a concept of noise as the source of the new rather than merely interference amidst the actual. It is this conception of noise that brings Truax into proximity with the Deleuze’s “Idea of sound”, as a source of unactualised potentials; this understanding of noise describes not only the nature of sound but a concept of nature in general, as not simply the sum or known set of what is, but as the source of all that may come to be, a source of blind and indifferent production. It is in this metaphysical concept of noise that the equation of nature and a harmonic, balanced equilibrium that dominates acoustic-ecological discourse is most dramatically threatened, something which presentes an opportunity to hollow out the theological or spiritualist core of Schaferian thought towards a more scientistic orientation.

While Truax’s writing has done much to move discourse on soundscapes and acoustic ecology on from Schaferian mysticism, it remains linked to a metaphysics that is essentially theological, a metaphysics according to which the nature of nature is harmonic equilibrium—the difference between Schafer and Truax’s emphasis on the importance or necessity of equilibrium being that the latter downplays the notion that this harmonic equilibrium is divinely tuned.3

The general and the specific

While the concept of noise with which this argument is concerned is primarily metaphysical rather than aesthetic, there are inevitably aesthetic consequences to its being assumed or adopted within acoustic ecological and soundscape oriented practices—this area of sonic practice being particularly sympathetic towards representations and exceptionally concepts of nature and its “elements”. One of the aesthetic consequences of a reorientation of acoustic ecology around a metaphysical concept of noise is a tendency towards the abstract and confused rather than the discrete and specific, towards a chaotic source of production of the new rather than an eternal order of things. This entails a shift from the specific—whether that be site-specificity or a focus upon specific species—to the underlying generativity of the general—but not generic—a tendency that leads from the documenting and cataloguing of individual species, objects, events to an engagement with the concept of noise as the nature of nature as productive confusion.4 This tendency towards confusion as the ground of production depicts nature not as harmonic or divinely tuned order but as blind productivity, a system of chance occurences indifferent to the apparent order of the terrestrial.

In the work of artists such as Jacob Kirkegaard, Francisco Lopez, Jana Winderen and Toshiya Tsunoda we hear a shift towards a confusion and abstraction that, while obstructs indexical listening and the perception of discrete sonic events and their objective or somatic origins, nonetheless attempts to document something that is nonetheless of nature, namely the nature of its blind and indifferent productivity. The work of these artists identify specific and necessarily actual instances of sound that take listening to a limit, threshold or horizon at which point the coherence of the object or phenomenon begins to break down, a point of transcendence where the specific becomes confused within the general, with the Idea as ultimate element of nature.


Deleuze, G. (2006) Difference and Repetition. London and New York: Continuum.

Schafer, R. M. (1994) The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester: Destiny Books.

Truax, B. (2001) Acoustic Communication. Westport and London: Ablex Publishing.


1 I have previously been guilty of having succumbed to such hackneyed critiques, akin to shooting fish in a barrel.

2 The attempt to align Schaferian thought and practice with a concept of noise that can be retrieved from within his own practice may seem peculiar, yet this salvage operation is undertaken due to the desire to retain the scope and ambition of Schafer’s project—which integrated, design, town planning, architecture, musical composition, environmentalism, social and cultural theory, phono-cartographic techniques—and specifically orientation towards the philosophical and metaphysical.

3 According to the closing chapter of Schafer’s Soundscape, this harmonic order is structured according to the overtone series of a divine bell that rings out for eternity without every having been struck. Truax’s work remains bound to a theological orientation that is more explicit in Schafer’s writing in the sense that necessity of a harmonic order holds only if we believe that this order has been divinely created rather than chaotically produced.

4 This relationship between the specific and the general in phonographic practice is discussed at length in Schrimshaw, W. (2012) ‘Any Place Whatever: Schizophonic Dislocation and the Sound of Space in General’, Interference: Journal of Audio Culture, vol. 2. http://www.interferencejournal.com/articles/a-sonic-geography/any-place-whatever

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Module for a Comprehensive Instrument – Tuned City

September 13, 2013

Some documentation of the Module for a Comprehensive Instrument from the Tuned City Festival in Brussels 2013.

Technical notes and further details are available.

Noise input, French output

A quiet day in Haren

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Detektor decoding

June 19, 2013

Howsian detektor into Module (1) for a Comprehensive Instrument. At present the phoneme outputs are too discrete. Next version to use phonemes taken from natural speech patterns for better resynthesis / decoding.

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Module Illustration

June 13, 2013

A wonderful illustration of the Module for a Comprehensive Instrument by the marvellous Rob Pybus.


What a strange chaos is this wide atmosphere we breathe! Every atom retains at once
the motions which philosophers have imparted to it, mixed and combined in ten thousand
ways with all that is worthless and base. The air itself is one vast library, on whose
pages are forever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered. — Charles
Babbage, The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise.

Turning an ear to the atmosphere the Module for a Comprehensive Instrument traces imperceptible lines and patiently decodes this vast archival substrate upon which every utterance is impressed. Obscure and confused signals are rendered sensible in the form of speech and broadcast for the pleasure of the passing pedestrian.

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Tuned City

May 31, 2013

Tuned City 2013

It’s hard to not be uncontrollably excited about Tuned City after looking again at the line-up:

Lectures, talks, performances, installations, walks and workshops with Hillel Schwartz (US) / Christoph Cox (UK) / Shelley Trower (UK) / Mattin (E/BASK)(tbc) / Thomas Y. Levin (USA) (tbc) / Dawn Scarfe (UK) / Joanna Bailie (UK) / Christina Kubisch (D) + students / Kabir Carter (US) Der Wexel – Wessel Westerveld (NL) + Yuri Landman (NL)(tbc) / doc-team; Szilvia Kovács, Carina Lesky, Anamarija Batista (AT/INT) / Francesco Careri (I) / Joost Fonteyne (B) / Brandon LaBelle (US/D) / Akio Suzuki (JP) / Lee Patterson (UK) / stalker (I) / Felicity Ford + Valeria Merlini (UK+IT/D) / aifoon (B) / Udo Noll (D) / Lukas Kühne + Robyn Schulkowsky (D/US/URG) / David Helbich (D/B) / Marina Rosenfeld (US) / Okkyung Lee (US) / Guy de Bievre (B) / Franziska Windisch (D/B) / Rie Nakajima (UK) / Roberta Gigante (I/B) / Pierre Berthet (B) / David Maranha & Patricia Machás (PT) / Gernot Böhme (D) / Timothy Morton (UK) / Jean-Paul Thibaud (FR) / Will Schrimshaw (UK) / Aki Onda (US) / Zoe Irvine, BBOT/BNA (B) / ZENIAL Lukasz Szalankiewicz (PL)…

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Resonance and the Apparatus of Capture

April 9, 2013


Notes from Tuned City:

Apparatus of Capture: Resonance, sustain, drone. The encounter must be sustained, drawn out, for it to “take hold”, to bed down, to adequately function as a means or mechanism of subjectification.

The sustained tone becomes a kind of memory: storage and stasis.

Ultimately the sustained tone must be held in the mind as a kind of pointer that establishes itself as the precondition for a sense of resolve or resolution upon reconnecting with the tone or upon its resurfacing. The sustenance of tone in architecture and infrastructure supports and expediates the tone becoming sustained in the mind, makes it more likely to “take” in the subject.

Rhythmanalysis (RA) is a good starting point for the identification and analysis of tone. While RA concerns itself with a broad field of events and durations that necessarily encompass the fleeting, its focus is—in being removed from a focus upon sustain—to easily distracted. In providing an analytical framework for a taxonomy of regulatory durations RA provides an entry point, a means to begin identifying events or encounters of more sustained and fundamental durations.

Infrastructure is the instrument of sustain, of capture and resonant extension, of tonal regrounding and recentring (towards “an international tonal centre”). Infrastructure allows for the establishment of tones that appear “natural” and spontaneous to the subject. This is due to a kind of infrastructural tenacity, the resilience of harmonci structures and their relative subtlety. Their effectiveness in establishing a horizon or threshold that cannot be simply described according to amplitude but according to harmonic structures and organisations that impose a “natural” order of things. The infrastructural determination of a perceptual threshold and regulatory (harmonic) structure can be recognised in the structure of LaMonte Young’s Dream Chord (18/17/16/12).

Resonance is a function of power. As much as the excitation of a resonant capacity is a means of connection, the nature of this connection is ambiguous. The resonant connection may be considered always productive but not necessarily positive. The violence of resonance is recognised in its opposition to reason (Erlmann: 2010).

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Sound, Music, Affect: Theorizing Sonic Experience

March 18, 2013


It was very nice to have this book arrive today. This collection features my Non-cochlear sound: On affect and exteriority essay and some fantastic essays from the following brilliant people: Marie Thompson, Ian Biddle, Patricia Clough, Eldritch Priest, Richard Elliot, John Mowitt, Clara Latham, Dean Lockwood, Paul Hegarty, Anahid Kassabian & Freya Jarman.

The book is published by Bloomsbury and can be purchased from your local not-for-profit, worker’s co-operative, radical and community bookshop.

Sound, Music, Affect features brand new essays that bring together the burgeoning developments in sound studies and affect studies.

The first section sets out key methodological and theoretical concerns, focussing on the relationships between affective models and sound. The second section deals with particular musical case studies, exploring how reference to affect theory might change or reshape some of the ways we are able to make sense of musical materials. The third section examines the politics and practice of sonic disruption: from the notion of noise as ‘prophecy’, to the appropriation of ‘bad vibes’ for pleasurable aesthetic and affective experiences. And the final section engages with some of the ways in which affect can help us understand the politics of chill, relaxation and intimacy as sonic encounters.

The result is a rich and multifaceted consideration of sound, music and the affective, from scholars with backgrounds in cultural theory, history, literary studies, media studies, architecture, philosophy and musicology.

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The Tone of Prime Unity

February 14, 2013

Below is an outline of the workshop I’ll be leading in Brussels (22nd – 28th March) at Tuned City 2013.

This workshop explores the subliminal influence of acoustic space upon citizens. Participants will explore the city as a material practice of ideology. Forming a roving pedestrian laboratory, through the use and construction of open tools and methodologies, the frequencies at which the city insinuates itself into the mind will be logged and mapped. This workshop will focus specifically upon the existence of an international “tone of prime unity” posited by R. Murray Schafer:

In the Indian anahata and in the Western Music of the Spheres, man has constantly
sought some prime unity, some central sound against which all other vibrations may be
measured […] It is, however, only in the electronic age that international tonal
centers have been achieved; in countries operating on an alternating current of 60
cycles, it is this sound which now provides the resonant frequency, for it will be
heard (together with its harmonics) in the operation of all electrical devices from
lights and amplifiers and generators (1994, 98-9).

Schafer’s tone of prime unity describes the determination of a collective sonic unconscious through the acoustical impressions of electricity. Schafer optimistically interprets this as the foundation of a community of listening subjects bound by fundamentals established by the ‘electric revolution’ (Schafer: 1994, 89-99). This workshop begins with a more ambiguous interpretation of Schafer’s discovery of the “tone of prime unity”, understanding it to be an example of the influential capacity of acoustic space, its ability to subliminally inform and individuate.

This workshop will make use of the following methods:

  • Pedestrian Research: A mongrel, undisciplined practice combining philosophy and computing in the pursuit of a concrete epidemeology of concepts on foot.
  • Archaeoacoustics: the decoding and study of acoustical events and utterances impressed upon physical artifacts and substrates.
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There’s No I In Immanence

November 1, 2012

On Friday 23rd November I’ll be giving a workshop and lecture at the University of Sussex as part of the Bridging Sound event. This promises to be a great event, bringing together a really great bunch of people:

Oeyvind Brandtsegg http://flyndresang.no/
Rupert Cox http://www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/chimera/staff/members/cox/
Angus Carlyle http://www.lcc.arts.ac.uk/research/research-staff-profiles/dr-angus-carlyle/
Salomé Voegelin http://www.salomevoegelin.net
Michael Bull http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/119032

This event launches an interdisciplinary research forum dealing with 21st century
soundscapes and auditory environments, which have become an exciting focus for artistic,
technological, and sociological research. Our urban surroundings and the sites we
frequent for work, leisure, consumption and transportation offer scaffolds for new kinds
of acoustic architectures. Sonic designs employ and mix platforms ranging from public
address systems to intimate messaging. Roles of artists, urban planners, commercial
stakeholders, state authorities, and “local bodies” are mobilised by the steadily
expanding, yet never-quite-real estate inhabited by sound. Bridging Sound promotes and
debates this burgeoning area of contemporary practice. It convenes practitioners and
theorists from a range of disciplines to investigate figuratively, metaphorically and
theoretically the intersections between sound, architecture and culture.

A two day event consisting of an internal workshop on Friday followed at 4pm by a series
of public lectures and presentations which continue all day Saturday.

I’ll be giving a lecture entitled ‘There’s No I in Immanence’ alongside Salomé Voegelin. I’m particularly excited about this as my own thinking is very much opposed to a lot of Salomé’s. For this reason we’ve decided to make the most of our differences, and so my own lecture is intended to highlight some of the main points where I disagree with Salomé, in the hope that some productive discussion will arise from the tension (between the texts, hopefully not the two of us). The talk is still being assembled, I’ll post it here once its in some kind of coherent form. Below is a provisional abstract:

There’s No I in Immanence: Auditory Proxemics and Individuality

The metaphysics of presence, the audio-visual litany, the ideology of immanence; these overlapping positions continue to hold ground in discourse on sonic practice and experience. All assert as a component of the nature of sound a pre-critical immediacy. Contrary to the above positions it will be argued that immanent sonic presence constitutes a dissolution of the spatiality or distance constitutive of alterity and listening subjects. Immanence qleaves two possible outcomes for the listening subject: solipsism or annihilation. Contrary to the immanent dissolution of critical distance, the auditory components of proxemic theory (Hall, 1990) describe the role of sound in establishing intimate, personal, interpersonal and public territories. The taxonomy of personal spaces and interpersonal distances proposed in Hall’s proxemic theory were conceived as a means of redesigning urban and shared space. If it is to be capable of contributing to this social and civic project, sound and sonic practice needs to be understood in terms of its implication in the establishment of critical distances and territories. It is argued that while immanence constitutes a dissolution of the critical distances delimiting interpersonal spaces, it simultaneously grounds proxemic theory in what lies beyond it, in an impersonal space (too close and too saturated to accommodate the I of the listening subject) that both underpins and undermines the possibility of personal space.

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