Immanence and Immersion: on the acoustic condition in contemporary art, Bloomsbury, 2017.
Immersion is the new orthodoxy. Within the production, curation and critique of sound art, as well as within the broader fields of sound studies and auditory culture, the immersive is routinely celebrated as an experiential quality of sound, the value of which is inherent yet strengthened through dubious metaphysical oppositions to the visual. Yet even within the visual arts an acoustic condition grounded in Marshall McLuhan's metaphorical notion of acoustic space underwrites predispositions towards immersion. This broad conception of an acoustic condition in contemporary art identifies the envelopment of audiences and spectators who no longer perceive from a distance but immanently experience immersive artworks and environments.
Immanence and Immersion takes a critical approach to the figures of immersion and interiority describing an acoustic condition in contemporary art. It is argued that a price paid for this predisposition towards immersion is often the conceptual potency and efficacy of the work undertaken, resulting in arguments that compound the marginalisation and disempowerment of practices and discourses concerned with the sonic. The variously phenomenological, correlational and mystical positions that support the predominance of the immersive are subject to critique before suggesting that a stronger distinction between the often confused concepts of immersion and the immanence might serve as a means of breaking with the figure of immersion and the circle of interiority towards attaining greater conceptual potency and epistemological efficacy within the sonic arts.
The Price of Immersion, Dissonance, 2018.
To be immersed is to be surrounded, to be within. When talking of musical and sonic experience, to be immersed – in an installation, a performance, a listening experience, a walk on the beach, etc. – is to perceive from within rather than from with out. A typical example of this distinction is the experience of a sound installation in contrast to that of a wall-mounted visual artwork; in the latter we perceive the work across a void that separates us, the viewer, from the work displayed at a distance; in the former we are within the work and accordingly there is no distance between us and the work which both surrounds and often penetrates us. This experience of immersion is often considered a privilege or property of the sonic as sound is often considered “the immersive medium par excellence”. To be immersed is, in the most powerful of immersive experiences, to not only be surrounded or enveloped but to be penetrated by the work; it is the intensive intimacy arising from the combination of envelopment and penetration that supports claims for sound’s privilege regarding immersion …
The Tone of Prime Unity, Organised Sound, 2018.
In The Soundscape R. Murray Schafer describes a tone of ‘prime unity,’ a tonal centre conditioning an international sonic unconscious. Diverging from the bucolic image of nature readily associated with Schafer’s ethics and aesthetics this tone is found in the ubiquitous hum of electrical infrastructure and appliances. A utopian potential is ascribed to this tone in Schafer’s writing whereby it constitutes the conditions for a unified international acoustic community of listening subjects. This essay outlines Schafer’s anomalous concept of the tone of prime unity and interrogates the contradictions it introduces into Schafer’s project of utopian soundscape design. Discussion of the correspondence between Schafer and Marshall McLuhan contextualises and identifies the source of Schafer’s concept of the tone of prime unity. Of particular interest is the processes of unconscious auditory influence this concept entails and its problematic relation to the politics of sonic warfare. Through discussion of contemporary artistic practices that engage with these problems, it is argued that the tone of prime unity nonetheless presents an opportunity to shift the focus of Schafer’s project from a telos of divine harmony towards collective self-determination through participatory intervention in the world around us.
Writing Out Sound: Immersion and Inscription in Sound Art, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, forthcoming.
Within the curation, theorisation and production of sound art we find a predisposition towards immersion and interiority. It is argued that auditory culture's perceived privilege with regard to immersion, immanence and interiority is not only inaccurate but limits the critical and epistemological scope of sonic practice. By initially situating this critique within the terms of Jacques Derrida's critique of phonocentrism the exteriorty considered proper to writing yet antithetical to sonic immersion is taken up as an initial means of escape from the epistemological constraints of interiority. Initially using Derrida's theory of writing to help unbind theorisation of sound in the arts from affirmations of affective interiority, it is argued that Derrida does not take us far enough, leaving us in a situation where everything is reduced to a play of texts. Escape from the infinite play of signs is attempted through recourse to phonographic procedures and the work of Friedrich Kittler in order to ground the exteriority of writing in a notion of the real. Finally, with reference to basic definitions of sound and the work of artist Dawn Scarfe, it is argued that sound is always-already written in the real, prior to any phonographic act or textuality, and so consequently sound writes itself out of the circle of phenomenological interiority and immersion to which it is readily consigned.
Exit Immersion, Sound Studies, 2015
Immersion is the new orthodoxy. Within the production and curation of sound art, as well as within the broader fields of sound studies and auditory culture, the immersive is routinely celebrated as an experiential quality of sound, the value of which is inherent yet strengthened through opposition to the visual. This opposition of the auditory and the visual reiterates a dubious metaphysical distinction critiqued by Jonathan Sterne [ The Audible Past ] under the title of the ‘audiovisual litany’, a critique that seems to have largely been tuned out or to have fallen upon deaf ears. Addressing the limitations and homogenising effects that the predominant figures of immersion and interiority have upon sonic practice and discourse, Sterne’s critique is herein developed and extended to address the ideological predisposition towards the immersive and the incarcerating consequences of interiority. A critical survey of statements attesting to the immersive nature of acoustic space and experience, taken from a variety of significant authors working in the overlapping fields of sound art, sound studies, and auditory culture, highlights the extent to which the figure of immersion has taken hold within sonic discourse and practice. It is argued that a price paid for this predisposition towards immersion is often the conceptual potency and efficacy of the work undertaken, resulting in arguments that compound the marginalization and disempowerment of practices and discourses concerned with the sonic. The variously phenomenological, correlational, and mystical positions that support the predominance of the immersive are subject to critique before suggesting that a stronger distinction between the immersive and the immanent might serve as an initial means of breaking with the figure of immersion and the circle of interiority towards attaining greater conceptual potency and epistemological efficacy within the sonic arts.
Ur-writings: a geophonographic fiction, Leonardo, 2018
Geophonography is a practice of sonifying the geological record, of tracing what Friedrich Kittler referred to as “signatures of the real.” The aesthetic efficacy of techniques for audifying and visualizing data derived from geological materials is discussed within the context of Ur-writings, a piece by the author first exhibited in 2013. Tracing a line through the work of Freud, Adorno, Kittler, Ballard and Derrida, geophonography is positioned within a cultural context that has continued to draw inspiration from speculations upon the relation between earth and mind.
Non-cochlear Sound: on affect and exteriority, Sound, Music, Affect: Theorizing Sonic Experience, 2013.
This chapter considers the notion of the sonic affect: what it is, what it can be and what it does. Affect is commonly thought in terms of feeling or emotion, an event bound to ‘labor in the bodily mode’, of which the products are ‘intangible, a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement or passion’ (Hardt and Negri 2001: 293). The present argument, however, is primarily concerned with a notion of affect theorized as an indifferent complement to these emotional products that is nonetheless implicated within them, constituting a ground that undermines their ‘immateriality’ (ibid.: 292). This implicated yet indifferent complement is the independent affect famously theorized by Deleuze and Guattari. The frequently cited ‘autonomy of affect’ theorizes affect as independent of the ‘bodily mode’ in which it is rendered as emotion or affection. This essay examines some of the consequences and problems of asserting the autonomy of affects, the most obvious being in what capacity an independent affect can be known if it is thought to be in excess of its subjective capture or encoding as emotion. It is argued that a positive consequence of the argument for independence is – at the price of a degree of abstraction – the potential for a broader consideration of sound in the arts through decentralizing the necessity of its direct perception.
Any Place Whatever: schizophonic dislocation and the sound of space in general, Interference: a journal of audio culture, 2011.
Distinct from the tendency for field recording to be understood as a veridical act of documentation— faithfully recording the sonic specificities of a given place—there exists a complementary tendency towards abstraction, emerging from the ‘schizophonic’ dislocation implicated within phonographic practices. This tendency emphasises the mutability of space in general rather than the identifiable specifics of place. This ‘lack’ of specificity is understood to expose an underlying productivity or generative capacity only accounted for in a more abstract notion of space. This paper focuses on the extent to which field recording practices are heard to occupy a point of tension between the identifiable fixity of the site-specific and the generative mutability of space in general, a point of tension that is audibly manifest in the work of artists such as Francisco López and Asher Thal-Nir.
Undermining Media, ArtNodes, 2012
A distinction between the terms medium and media, as can be found in the work of Marshall McLuhan, is taken as the starting point for developing a materialist theory of media. Media, as ‘cultural techniques’, are understood to be undermined by the material contingencies of the medium which constitutes an indifferent channel for symbolic content. This process of undermining reveals something of the medium itself as an affective and influential matter. The affective potential and occasional surfacing of the medium as material substrate is explored through the work of three artists: Will Schrimshaw, Martin Howse and Jonathan Kemp.