An invitation to the MA Sound Arts exhibition: Constantly Evolving But Never Ending, happening at the Angus-Hughs Gallery from 1st-7th December, 2014.
As part of our guest lecturing programme, artist and filmmaker Aura Satz came to give us a lecture on machines, the links between magic and music and the discussions of perception, the body and beyond…
Satz makes very interesting work in relation to the history of technology and researches into how it has informed our artistic enquiry over time. Satz goes back to the beginnings of technology, when it was still a body in process; it was an entity we were still sculpting. In an article written about Satz’s practice for Frieze Magazine, editor Melissa Gronlund wrote:
When machines began entering everyday life in the 19th century, the prospect of automation aroused a mixture of fear and euphoria. Devices such as the gramophone or the telegraph (‘writing from afar’) seemed to offer the possibility of communication with another world – they were even used in seances and magic performances. Technology promised an amplification of what humans could do while also, occasionally, actually mimicking human activity: pianos were invented that played themselves and the voices could be stored on pieces of vinyl. The 19th century surmised that a vast world of secrets, which seemed hidden under regular ways of seeing the world, could be unlocked by playing the right airwaves, understanding letters in colour, visual patterns as music, or languages as universal – mere matters of shifts in perception that Satz works to restage.
The idea of technology performing as its own body is something that I had never really thought about before, especially not within this context. As described above, machines were perceived as a sort of oracle device, aligning themselves with the invisible and transforming into a mechanism that could access transcendental realms. When reflecting on these ideas more in depth, I do remember encountering the myth that when someone took your photograph it captured a part of your soul. I guess there was a lot of superstition formed around technology, as in those days it was almost seen as a supernatural creation.
The lecture included a series of her own works, in which she presented a series of film works that explored the acoustic energy visualised through machines such as the Ruben’s tube. We later looked at other devices such as the Chladni plate, which creates visual patterns to reveal different resonant vibrations and frequencies. I realised that there was also one of her works I had referenced as part of my degree show project, called Spiral Sound Coil (2010) in which she sculpted an object that resembled an ear trumpet. This was done to emphasise the body’s own mechanics, with the spiral replicating the geometry of the inner ear. I found this work very interesting, as of course our bodies are a machine of its own.
Satz also introduced the work of British electronic composer Daphne Oram who is best known for her contributions to the British Sound Art world having co-founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1957 as well as pioneering the Oramics. The Oramics was a machine built by Oram to visualise the patterns of sound by drawing them as different notes were produced through the machine. Oram used her machine to create a relationship between the sonic and visual and saw this as a natural conversation in progress. Oram also wrote a book called ‘An Individual Note’, which speaks of all machines having their own individual sound.
This notion was also voiced by German-American abstract animator Oskar Fischinger, who in his philosophic discourse claimed that each object embodied a spirit. During his career Fischinger encountered John Cage, who had a profound impact on his later practice. Cage recollects their meeting in an interview, he says:
One day I was introduced to Oskar Fischinger who made abstract ﬁlms quite precisely articulated on pieces of traditional music. When I was introduced to him, he began to talk with me about the spirit which is inside each of the objects of this world. So, he told me, all we need to do to liberate that spirit is to brush past the object, and to draw forth its sound. That’s the idea which led me to percussion.
Interestingly Fischinger relates the spirit of an object to sound, instead of to a visual expression. Fischinger’s notion of the “spirit inside each object” was inspired by his research in sound phonography in ﬁlm. On the audio portion of a sound ﬁlm a clear visual representation of sound wave structure appears; the visual nature of this phenomenon inspired numerous theories similar to Fischinger’s on the indexical relationship between sound and image and its implications for a composite visual music.
As I have expressed before in my previous posts, it seems to be a recurring topic, almost like a repetitive pattern in history that sound reveals the spirit or the identity of something. I find this to be a extremely interesting relationship, especially in relation to how we experience and interact with objects. As Fischinger explains in his quote above, all one has to do is to brush against an object to draw forth it’s sound. Perhaps this is what I should try and do in the Archive…to draw out it’s sound.
As part of my ongoing contextual reading I decided to look into the philosophical debates of phenomenology and the phenomenol body in relation to the perception of experience. In the past my work has been referred as having a phenomenological approach, so I thought it would be interesting to explore this further.
Phenomenology is the philosophical debate that looks at the body and the constitution of meaning within human experience and consciousness. It is the philosophy that discusses the nature of meaning through bodily encounters and experiences. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who was a French phenomenological philosopher in the 20th century spent his life investigating and discussing human experiences and their perception primarily in relation to art and politics.
Merleau-Ponty emphasised the body as the primary site of knowing the world, a corrective to the long philosophical tradition of placing consciousness as the source of knowledge, and maintained that the body and that which it perceived could not be disentangled from each other. The articulation of the primacy of embodiment led him away from phenomenology towards what he was to call “indirect ontology” or the ontology of “the flesh of the world” (la chair du monde), seen in his last incomplete work, The Visible and Invisible, and his last published essay, “Eye and Mind”.
As one of the main contributors of this philosophical debate, I decided to read Ponty’s major text Phenomenology of Perception and observe how he addresses these discussions throughout his writing. During this period of research, my main aim is to reveal how sound affects our body and how physically experiencing sound changes our perception of it. This also extends to investigating the bodily relationship we have to what we are listening and it’s overall affect on us. I found reading Ponty’s book in relation to the discussions of the perceptions of the body very interesting. I felt that his observations were extremely fascinating as they vigorously investigated how this relationship takes place inside and outside the body. Ponty explains that what we perceive is largely due to the organs with which we perceive them with. He describes the body as a vessel that we project and live through and calls this the phenomenological body. In his eyes it is through this body that we experience the world.
The body is the permanent condition of experience. There are some things we can only appreciate or truly understand through the language of our inner body.
In looking at the phenomenal body in relation to works like the Sonic Bed, and Deep Listening, it was interesting to see how Ponty describes the relationship between our bodies and what they experience. In Phenomenology of Perception, Ponty explains how the body itself can teach us what it is, through it’s own sound and voice, and that within the body itself we can find our own language of experience. Ponty speaks of this inner language that exists only in our body, by stating:
To return to the things themselves is to return to that world which proceeds knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks. We will find in ourselves, and nowhere else, the unity and true meaning of Phenomenology.
In this quote, Ponty is referring back to our own bodies, the very object that we experience the world in. If we return to the source of our experiences, we can find that inside it lies the true meaning of our very experiences.
I find that listening to sound is a very physical experience. It is a language that unfolds inside you. Every time I encounter it, for it to resonate it has to access an invisible part in my body that creates a vibrational relationship between my body and what i am listening to. I feel like it is almost an exchange happening inside me, rather than externally. Through both its ephemeral nature and invisibility, sound has a way of allowing one to experience or perceive their bodies in a different way, it passes through our physical body and triggers an invisible space inside us. The nature of sound has a very immersive quality that allows us to feel like we are part of it. How can we tell where our bodies start and end? Where the sound enters and of it ever leaves our bodies at all? Through the connection of energy between our bodies and the sound, it translates as part of ourselves.
“I am in it, or rather I am it.”- Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Experiencing events with a more conscious association with the body itself, allows us to have a clearer perception of how our body effects our experiences in the world. The body is the framework in which we perform everyday, it is through our bodies that we experience life, both physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually…Wether our experiences even decide to take us out of our bodily perception, we still need our bodies in order to be able to perceive this. Ponty explains this relationship as the ‘linked relationship of objective spatiality‘. It creates a horizon to conceive the body against. Framed within the phenomenology of perception we can experience the world externally from ourselves, as well as internally.
Sound historically plays a big part in the understanding of both our bodies and personal identity. To refer back to the evolution of the human body and consciousness, sound was conceived as the moment in which we voices the internal into the external. This was done by creating a bridge between our right and left hemispheres of the brain; the corpos callosum. This bridge was triggered through sound, because the different sides of our brains communicate better when we vocalise our thoughts. This theory can also be linked back to the very origins of the word ‘person’, which comes from the Latin: personar, per [through] sonar [resonate]. Through resonance we create a sense of self. Ponty touches on this in his book, he writes:
The sounds of a being reveal its nature. I might in the first place understand by sensation the thing in which I am affected and the experiencing of a state of myself.
I find it very interesting how Ponty brings into his discussion the sound of our ‘being’. The sound of an object is a fundamental part of its existence. Ponty goes on to discuss the relationship between our body and the external world further, by looking at the connection between both as a conversation between two bodies, rather than a subject/object relationship. He quotes:
Thus the permanence of one’s own body, if only classical psychology had analysed it, might have had it to be the body no longer conceived as an object of the world, but as our means of communication with it, to the world no longer conceived as a collection of determinate objects, but as the horizon latent in all our experience and itself ever-present and anterior to every determining thought.
Sound is the only medium that can truly convey what is exists inside us, it is I made of the same space; invisible frequencies.
: “SPATIAL SENSATIONS’
~Bodily space can be distinguished from external space and envelop its parts instead of spreading them out, because it is the darkness needed in the theatre to show up the performance, the background of somnolence or reserve of vague power against which the gesture and its aim stand out, the zone of not being in front of which precise beings, figures and points can come to light.
Space frames our experiences. If there was no space, would we still have a sense of our body? There would be no space for me if I had no body…By considering the body in movement, we can see better how it inhabits space.
If bodily space and practical space form a practical system, the first being the background against which the object as the goal of our action may stand out or the void in front of which it may come to light, it is clearly in action that the spatiality our body is brought into being, and an analysis of one’s own movement should enable us to arrive at a better understanding of it.
The spatiality of our bodies has a huge impact on the way that we experience and perceive the world. through the framework of our bodies, we can both exists and access both external and internal realms. The language of the world and the language inside us. As far as bodily space is concerned, it is clear that there is a knowledge of place which is reducible to a sort of co-existence with that place, and which is not simply nothing, even though it cannot be conveyed by a description or even by the mute reference of a gesture. Ponty says:
It is never our objective body that we move, but our phenomenal body, and there is no mystery in that, since our body, as the potentiality of third or that part of the world, surges towards object to be grasped and perceives them.
The map of the phenomenal body: when stung by a mosquito, one does not need to look for the place he has been stung. One knows immeditalely. He feels it. A directly experienced relationship is presented in the natural system of one’s own body. The whole operation takes place in the domain of the phenomenal; it does not run through the objective world, and only the spectator, who lends his objective representation of the living body to the acting subject, can believe that the sting is perceived.
It is not a question of how the soul acts on the objective body, since it is not on the matter that it acts, but on the phenomenal body.Where the experience of our own body teaches us to embed space in existence.
To be a body is to be tied to a certain world and as Ponty explains “our body is not primarily space; it is of it”. Through our perceptions, our bodies can travel and experience many worlds simultaneously. it is a constant conversation moving in between our internal and external consciousness. For the voice to be heard, it must leave itself and then return in order to become audible. And that is the journey of the perceptual body; to listen to itself through its own sound.
Last month, I went to see the exhibition Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy. It was an incredible show, using the grand architectural framework of the building to showcase a series of works that all questioned our relationship to each piece. Space has always played an fundamental part in my work, especially in relation to resonance and it’s capability to embody and reveal the sonic qualities within them. The exhibition was curated so that each space presented a large installation that grew inside the room.
Spaces to me represent the same impression as great temples; they are the everyday places we fill with energy, our movement and thoughts, they form part of our identities, and imprint our routines…they hold our memories, traces of the past and are nests for the future. Spaces play a fundamental role of our lives. In my practice, I have spent a long time exploring how different spaces can make us feel, and how this can be revealed through sounding them. When once sounds a space, they are making the invisible heard. Your voice encompasses the frequencies and distinctive attributes that make up a space, wether it be rounded, built from stone or wood, each material holds its own sonic quality.
As you entered the Academy, you were welcomed into a vast space filled with light. It was opened through an octagonal hall, which formed as the heart and connected all the galleries spaces together.
It was a very interesting experience to enter each space as they presented a very different atmosphere. The use of light and dark was also very affective in each of the pieces as they attributed tot he overall experience, either illuminating them or shadowing them. It was definitely an exhibition to go and experience with someone, they were all extremely explorative and asked for your participation in some way. Each piece was interactive in the way it wanted to make us think what a space was and to question the boundaries of what a space is…In a way they had been all built into each other.
One space led into another, telling a unique story. For instance in one room there was a large maze constructed of wooden sticks, that made you feel like you were entering some sort of quest or journey. It was lit from the ground, with a panel of light leading you through its different pathways. This installation then opened into a vast open space, which was reflected by a full wall mirror and a bed of stones. You were invited to walk on the stones and watch yourself in the reflection of the walls as you witnessed yourself move in this strange dimension. I was amazed how displaced I felt; it was a very surreal experience. I think the artist very cleverly used our senses in this environment to make us aware of our presence. Walking on the stones created loud crushing sounds, which marked our movement in this new territory and the mirror was placed for us to see this process as it unfolded. And yet the sensation of displacement was impressive. I could both hear and see my movements, but I was not sure where I was located. Our senses in this environment could not inform the experience we were having, and that was a strange happening. This was piece I was most aware of my presence in, and yet the one I felt most disembodied in…
I think that spaces can be extremely metaphorical of life itself, I find them very poetic. They can immerse you in their way of viewing the world by obstructing your view and taking you to new dimensions; they are the framework we exist in. Spaces symbolise the pocket of air you breathe in, they also form as they places we go to to find peace and quiet, away from the external world, a place to exhale…
In the final room there was a documentary that interviewed each of the Architect’s who had designed the pieces for the exhibition. It was really interesting to watch and listen to each of them explain their processes and how they had sculpted the spaces in relation to their experiences. One of them said that the one thing he looked for within a space was a sense of void. It was finding this vacuous element that made him feel the energy of a building. Once he had found the void inside it, that was when he knew he had made a good piece of work. He explained that every space needs to flow and have its own energy,
One Architect, spoke about human beings as ‘cyclical’, she said “we occur in cycles and we find recurring events and themes in our lives that shape us…” I found this very insight very inspiring as it made me think about how spaces frame our lives and mirror the very cycles of nature. They hold and project the light in the summer and protect us from the cold in the winter. Not only are they connected to the cycles of nature and its elements, spaces are also very linked to the cycles of our own lives, like our ageing. The homes we were brought up in never leave us. They witness our growth. I love it when you enter a house and you know it has been lived in for a long time, you can almost sense all the years that have taken place inside them. For example when a door has been marked with your height from the day you were able to stand up right, or the smell of a place that holds your personal scent.
All the senses come into place when investigating a space; our sight, our hearing, our touch, our smell. One of the pieces in the exhibition was a large installation built as a wooden fortress. The materiality and the smell of the wood was what made it so magnificent. It was alive.
In another you went from a deep, immersive room that was dark and had low ceilings into a light and spacious room. When you entered the new gallery it really felt like you had been on a journey through time. This was even more so portrayed at the end, in a big expansive space that ended the exhibition. People sat in the space contemplating the journey they had just experienced; it truly looked like they had been through something. It was really interesting to observe how much space impacts our experience of our own presence and or state of being.
Spaces evoke a feeling inside you, they create a reflection between the internal and external world. The possibilities of designing a space are endless, one could easily sculpt a space within a space. One thing to me is certain though, and that is how much they embody human energy. I have entered places in the past and you immediately feel the presence of someone who has lived there before you. They open up an external exploration of our bodies and presence within the framework of their own bodies. A space allows you to absorb it’s energy. They resonate both from inside and outside and can compliment what we see outside, and what we feel inside…
They frame a contact between two worlds, wether it be between our bodies and the architecture, the inside and outside world, or the past and the present; spaces are continually evolving through being inhabited. I was told once that architecture is said to be music frozen in time, and conversely music is architecture in motion. I find this an interesting notion as there is definitely so much fluidity within spaces that capture a sense of lightness and emotion like music does in composition. They both encompasses our presence at the centre of their experience and that is a very wonderful thing.
I have been slightly absent from the world of blogging due to a lot of work and different projects, but hopefully after a much needed day of updating you will be able to see what I have been up to…
The other day, we were all speaking at lunch and discussing about the frustration of making a response to a bodiless space of text and lots of sheets of paper, which at the end of the day is what an Archive is. I was explaining how I had had this vision of physically vibrating all the pieces of paper, all the objects and trying to make them sound. Gilda, who is also studying the MA at that moment brought out her phone and showed me a video she had posted earlier that day. It was a short documentary about sound artist Christine Sun Kim and her work. In the video there was a sequence where Kim uses the vibrational energy of sound to animate her objects…Kim, who is deaf explains how the tactile and visual energy of sound is very important to her way of exploring the medium. I found it really inspiring piece and thought I would share it…
Speaking to Holly about my project recently, she introduced me to the practice of Affective Listening…Affective listening is very similar to the concepts behind somatic listening in that it engages directly with listening through the body. The practice originates from the Sound Art movement in China, which takes inspiration from the methods used in Zen Buddhism. John Cage was also said to have influenced his Silence works from his discovering of these Eastern practices. I find it very interesting that the more I research this field of work, there seems to be a recurring connection between sound and more spiritual and philosophical practices. Through the framework of Sound we can create new dialogues by interacting methods between ancient and modern practices. Aspects of Meditation have now been introduced within the framework of Sound through the act of listening, which have evolved into practices such as Sonic Meditation and Affective Listening. It is interesting to see how these practices can cross over, and how they translate similar concepts into one field. Holly sent me a paper about Affective Listening, which I found very engaging, especially as it included testimonials from participants who explained their individual experiences of listening through their bodies. Listening, in this sense is a very internal and personal process, taking place within the inner framework of our body, so being able to hear those experiences vocalised helped to reveal how each of us are affected by our listening…
When we listen affectively, we listen with and to our bodies. The ear-becoming-body. When a sound does not carry any identifiable, decodable, or communicative message, it affects the listening body in the way touching does. Sound touches the listening body, causing concretely felt intensities before the mind knows. Affective listening is a commitment to forces, intensities and becoming. One listens to the Qi or ‘haecceities’ of sound, which are only later reduced and signified as harmony, melody, or emotions (Cox 2011; Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Massumi 2002). Affective listening resembles Buddhist meditation in that both emphasize the practice ofQi (of body-mind-soul) rather than the mind alone, and both lead to self-transforming rather than self-transcending. In the context of Chinese experimental music and sound art practice, affective listening functions as the cultivation of the self, aspiring to the state of selflessness. This paper presents the initial stage of a larger project to formulate the model of ‘affective listening’ as a mode afforded by China’s free improvisation and experimental music practices.
Affective listening is listening with and to the body. The body here refers not only to the human body, but also to the bodies of animals, plants, and objects. A tree listens affectively to the wind and to the squirrel, which also listens affectively to its surroundings. This is not metaphorically or imaginatively speaking. Instead, one has to switch paradigms and shift perspectives, from that of representation or signification (that commit to structures, meanings and signs) to that of naturalism or materialism (that commit to forces, intensities, and flows). While the paradigms of representation and signification treat sounds as signs, symbols that carry information, the paradigm of naturalism or materialism treats sounds as intensities and vibrating particles. Affective listening proffers a belief in the value of the materiality of sounds, that is, the so-called ‘extras’ of sounds: the extra-symbolic, extra-textual, and extra-discursive.