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Pieter Verstraete Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Theatre Studies, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands Paper for the ASCA Conference ‘Sonic Interventions: Pushing the Bounderies of Cultural Analysis’, March 2005 ABSTRACT In this article, I am going against the tendency towards a naive discourse regarding immersion and immersive installation art. Taking the notion of sonic intervention as a cue, I conceptualize the necessary moment of resistance and closure against particular instances of immersion and interactivity, usually only regarded in terms of flow and openness. Reading Barry Truax, Robin Maconie, Henri Lefebvre, among others, helps me to reflect on the intervention from two opposite directions (as is also shown in the two case-studies): either the soundscape (subsonically) or the body/the ears of the visitor intervene in the relationship between human body and system. As a way to deal with the resulting disturbance or ‘sensory distress’, I elaborate on Joseph Roach’s notion of kinaesthetic imagination, and a narrative mode of listening. INTRODUCTION In search for the grain When Roland Barthes wrote his text on the grain of the voice, he had in mind the certain quality, the image of the body within the singing voice. This corporeal grain has already inspired many to develop ideas surrounding the bodily basis of listening to a voice and the performative aspects of singing. As a way of introducing my purpose, I would like to extend the notion of the grain to the experience of a technologically sensitised, sonic environment in an installation. I am not so much interested in Barthes’ evaluative approach1, nor in an ontological narrative about the origins of sounds, although I have to admit there might be an implied ontogenesis in the association with the granular synthesis software, which contributed to the improvement of interactive and immersive installation art. Granular synthesis has changed the conception of sound in electroacoustics. This software has enabled the composer to be much more in control of time and space
The concept of the ‘grain’ allows Barthes to describe and evaluate the distinctions between two renown bass-singers, Fischer-Diskau and Panzera, in terms of what he terms, the pheno-song and the geno-song (Barthes 182-4). The latter distinguishes itself through the distinct articulation of certain sounds in the text, accompanied by appropriate bodily movements that support the musical diction (gesture-support).
within the sound. Basically, it breaks up sounds into small bits and pieces, or ‘grains’, which allow the composer to prolong the sound in time (granular timestretching) and “overlay several unsynchronized streams of simultaneous grains . . . such that prominent spectral components are enhanced” (Truax 1997). This process has made electroacoustic composition and installation art much more fluid in such a way that sound can be spatialized and temporalized through movement of the sound grains. ‘Granular Synthesis’ is also the name of an artistic collective in Vienna (Kurt Hentschläger and Ulf Langheinrich), whom I will deal with later, next to David Rokeby, in the context of their immersive works. The fluidity of sound, however, needs a more cautious look – or let’s say, ear. As such, the grain as a philosophical concept and granular synthesis as an artistic tool have paradigmatic relevance. Correspondingly, I would like to look more carefully to the intrinsic, necessary moment of resistance within the flow of movement and resonances. Apart from the sound grain, I would like to introduce at this point the sound body. This notion not only refers to the sounding body of a musical instrument, a loudspeaker, or the resonating body of the listening visitor, the performer proper, but also includes sound as body – as an epiphenomenon of the new technology and software – as physical and corporeal mass that can only be sensed by its interaction with physically present bodies in the installation space. Robin Maconie defines the sound body as “a body in motion, and it is a feature of sounding bodies, including musical instruments, that they change their shape. . . . A sounding body in changing its shape is unilaterally reorganizing the space around it, with the effect that in places it will push the air molecules out of the way, and in other places create more room into which the air molecules can expand” (34). The pressure of air molecules and their oscillation in space, changing thereby the constant atmospheric pressure, are necessary to perceive sound (Truax 1984:16). Sound is compressed energy that propagates through a medium, which does not go without resistance of that medium. Moreover, the human ‘resonating’ body in the installation space “presents an absorbing obstacle to the passage of sound” (Maconie 35). So next to the features of motion and changing shapes, sound and sound bodies characteristically entail an element of pressure and resistance against their environment. In this sense, sound is always intervention: it exists due to interference, strain and stress. This basic acoustic law prompted me to search for strategies in the flow and resistance at instances of ‘sonic intervention’ in relation to interactivity and ‘immersion’. The movement of sound against the grain in terms of resistance calls for a better understanding of bodily resonance and sound bodies by taking a reflection on ‘intervening’ and ‘interventional’ sounds and rhythms as its cue. This theorizing will mainly focus on the thresholds of the human ear’s spectrum, where the inaudible, the soundless or the subliminal feeds our imagination to conceptualize sound. Taking the whole body as the vortex, I am going to look at how immersive installations and 2
their soundscapes can communicate on a subsonic level with our perception of time and space, and how I can conceptualize these experiences. Should we speak in this context of a narrative impulse of the installation, or do the thresholds of our hearing abilities defy closure in conceptual representation? The quest for the grain, the corporeal quality of the technological sensitized space, raises questions of (dis)embodiment, agency and control through body movement. Only the embodied ears can tell if the sonic interventions are powerful enough to leave a trace in the art work, in our imagination, or on our bodies, so that in its performative occurrence the intervention has political impact. I. SONIC INTERVENTIONS
Il y a en outre une idée concrète de la musique où les sons interviennent comme des personnages, où des harmonies sont coupées en deux et se perdent dans les interventions précises des mots2. (Artaud, “Le Théâtre de la Cruauté, premier manifeste” 144)
Indirectly, Antonin Artaud has exercised a great influence on today’s installation art. In his manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty, he envisioned a total theatre of sound and voice, which he realized partly3 in his radio piece Pour enfinir avec le Jugement de Dieu (‘To have done with the Judgment of God’, 1947/8). In this piece extended (i.e. mutulated) voice techniques and screeching glossolalia are clearly instances of sonic interventions, as they were so disturbing that the broadcast4 was suppressed. Through the interlocking interventions of sounds and voices Artaud realised a theatre full of unexpected physical rhythms, sonic gestures and excessive vocal sonorities and noises. In his radio piece, the voice becomes a body on its own (the so-called ‘corps sans organes’), and enhances a bodily way of listening through its disturbing effect. The intervening sounds fold back to their corporeal materiality and highlight their existence through stresses and strains. The notion of strain in this context constitutes a first important feature of sonic intervention. Although in a traditional sense, strain refers to rhythm or musical phrase, the word also touches upon meanings denoting both the limit of resilience or the threshold (causing damage, injure, nervous tension) and the appearance of a virus (Connor 160). In Artaud’s aesthetics the word as language is the intervention and the
“Concretely, a type of music can be created, where the sounds intervene as characters, where harmonies are separated and broken up by the meticulous intervention of words” (my transl., PV).
Artaud proper claimed that his radio play was “a reduced model” (OC XIII: 127) or the first “grist for the theatre of cruelty” (OC XIII: 139).
To have gone with the judgement of God was banned by Wladimir Porché, the director of the station Radiodiffusion française, shortly before broadcasting, because of the “inflammatory, obscene and blasphemous” content of the politically and religiously volatile text (Barber 1993, qtd. in Sheer 6). It took about thirty years before the original tape was officially broadcasted in its entirety.
virus. Through rhythms of articulation the words intervene as ‘pheno-song’ in Barthes terms (see first footnote) and it is difficult not to listen to these vocal rhythms with our bodies. The intervening rhythms establish, moreover, a relation of time with space, of ‘localized time’ or ‘temporalized place’ in Henri Lefebvre’s words (230). This gives me reason to say that the Artaudian voice temporalizes our bodily sense of space. Following Lefebvre’s reasoning on rhythm analysis5, the intervention only exists through the polyrhythm and the arhythmy between the distinct resonances or rhythms of the voice and the rhythm of the listener’s body: “[T]here is a struggle between a measured, imposed and exterior time, and a more endogenous time” (Lefebvre 239). This struggle constitutes an element of resistance and contradiction. I also distinguish this moment of resistance against the intervening faculty of sound (and rhythm) in the experience of soundscapes in interactive or immersive installations. Artaud, in a certain sense, has paved the way for installation art, when he described the experience in his Theatre of Cruelty in terms of dread in the dentist’s surgery, or a feeling of being caught unaware as in a police raid. Entering a soundscape in a sound installation may also include this sustained moment of dread and resistance. Here a second trait of sonic intervention comes to the fore: not only sound, but also the body of the visitor of the installation space intervenes through his/her own resonances by blocking the path for sound vibrations and causing arhythmy. Sonic intervention relates through its qualifying adjective to both spatialization and temporalization. ‘Intervention’ in its turn introduces the idea of sound as intervening or interventional6 movement within a particular frame of time and space. The act of intervening – as such statically by blocking, standing in-between, or dynamically by interfering and necessarily getting involved – affects the sound in terms of spatial occurrence and air mass, as well as the bodies of the visitors, who move through the soundscape. As a discontinuous but socially defined space, the installation serves as a sort of heterotopia (in Foucault’s sense), that presupposes a system of opening and closing, of approaching and distancing according to the flow and resistance of its moving sound bodies. As a heterotopia of deviation between rhythms (polyrhythmicity), the sound installation makes the space both isolated and penetrable, and it marks the moment of entering with a feeling of trespassing. This moment of resistance questions the ideas surrounding interactivity and immersion in installation work. Interactive works create a mode and a sense of ‘engagement’ and ‘feedback’, but typically interactivity is mostly constrained and
In this work, Lefebvre proposes an analysis of urban rhythms (Venice and the State).
‘Interventional’ can be regarded as an extension of ‘intervening’, meaning ‘invasive’. But the term is more frequently used in particular contexts of radiology and cardiology. Later in this article, infra and ultrasound will be introduced as interventional phenomena of sound. ‘Interventionist’ is another term that stems from medicine and politics, but its meaning exceeds the scope of this paper.
occurs only when the user modifies the installation from the outside for the time when the system is considered operational (Pourveur 1). However, Arjan Mulder favours a multidirectional meaning of interactivity as flexibility, and as such, he leaves out the element of resilience of the medium or its user in his definition: “A system is interactive if it is flexible enough to adapt to the way people use it, and if conversely the users are also altered by the changes they cause in the system” (Mulder 183). Mulder however acknowledges the necessary instance of intervention in terms of agency in a later publication: “Interactive art is art whose autonomy must be disturbed by the visitor for it to be art at all. An interactive work of art is a system that seeks to become a network (or vice versa)” (Brouwer & Mulder 5). The idea of a network precludes a dynamic exchange between system and environment, regarding the installation’s technology as the interface for the user to interact. The system feedback brings about an illusion of action and integration of the technology as a ‘phenomenal’ extension of the self or the agency of the user. But this way of interacting still favours the role of the human agens who activates the system. In response to a naive view on interactivity, installation art tends to develop another type of communicative relation between the user and the system. The humanmachine symbiosis in most installation works is being extended by the illusion of transparent interaction with a (seemingly) invisible interface. These are so-called immersive installations. Already a hyped term, ‘immersion’ is seen as an extension of the interactive work, fully drowning the visitor in the technological sensitised space. Immersion, in this sense, refers to the forgetting of the physical boundaries of the body and extending the corporeal experience to the device. In other words, immersion is disembodiment. The status of immersion is, however, questionable for each and every immersive work. From the point of view of experience, immersion paradoxically defies openness within the interaction, since the notion also entails giving in to the seduction of the installation, or maybe even being ‘blissfully’ unaware of one's surroundings and the passing of time as one escapes into the pleasure of listening and interacting. In Game theory, Douglas and Hargadon (2004, qtd. in Whalen) see in this respect a dialectic between the conscious moments of engagement and the unconscious states of immersion, when the concentration becomes so intense that one is completely absorbed into the game of the installation. Bringing this dialectic to its extreme thought, immersion would evoke closure and disable resistance. Following Roland Barthes’ description of music’s corporeal experience, an immersive installation would sustain and bring the thrill and the rare but erotic pleasure of the grain to its height. Fortunately, however virtual the installation may be, one will never be fully disembodied and fuse with the ‘grain’ in the soundscape, since the grain retains its self-presence, materiality and performativity: “The ‘grain’ is the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs” (Barthes 188). Similarly, the grain in the immersive work only seduces the ear due to 5
its intervention and resistance, until it recedes again in ambience7 and immersion. From the moment the ear declines embodiment, immersion becomes totalizing and the grain of the sound in the hearing experience simply looses its intervening power. II. IMMERSION, SENSORY DISTRESS, IMAGINATION
It would be inappropriate to equate Barthes bodily concept of the grain with the sound fragments in granular synthesis, though there is a reasonable connection. The software has enabled composers to spatialise sound with astonishing effects on our modes of listening. The program organizes audio (and possibly also visual) data in time cells (or ‘grains’), after which the data is stored on parallel, autononomous levels that allow the data to be continuously and repeatedly re-organized, re-composed (Richard 17). In this way, the spatialization of sound particles enhances the experience of sound as a sound body. The artistic duo Kurt Hentschläger and Ulf Langheinrich, aka Granular≈Synthesis, have already experimented with this modular re-synthesis system from 1992, resulting lately in more abstract sonic environments supported by sub-audio, mainly a huge sub-bass speaker system. By exploring the subfrequency range, they create spaces in which a physical way of listening is unavoidable. The aesthetic expressions of Granular≈Synthesis include an ethics of hearing based on the physical impact of intervening sounds at subsonic frequencies. Their immersive installation art, consequently, calls for a way of hearing that is both spatial and corporeal. Following Barry Truax, spatialization in the hearing experience entices “a sensitivity to both the detail of physical vibration within an environment and its physical orientation as revealed through its modification of those vibrations” (Truax 1984:15-6). The physical experience of vibration – the corporeal grain of the sound(scape) – and orientation in the sonic environment, however, gradually lacks refinement of detail in listening, when the sound surpasses the range of the human auditory system and thereby, the thresholds of hearing. This range of audible frequencies8 is dynamic and extends from “the slightest intensity level that excites the auditory system, to the threshold of pain, the intensity level that causes acute discomfort” (13). Below the thresholds of hearing, the tactile or haptic sense of physical vibration takes over. R. Murray Schafer has significantly pointed out in this
Ambience is the kind of environmental music or soundscape that communicates rather subliminally in the background, only adding certain colours or textures to the space. In an earlier publication, I have argued that ambience appeals to the uncontrollable, ‘floating ear’ as opposed to the embodied ear: “The floating ear merely captures sounds, which are nothing but themselves. Ambience could then be quite hermetic. The sounds relate only to other sounds, thus creating merely a network of exchanging resonances in an empty space” (Verstraete ‘Resonances of audience space’: 5, original pagination). In this sense, ambience also defies the element of openness in the experience and the corporeality of sound.
In acoustic terms, this ranges from 20 to 20,000 Hz, but it differs from each listener.
respect: “Hearing is a way of touching at a distance” (11). Respectively, subsonic vibrations reduce the distance forcefully and make the sense of touch compelling. Frequencies below or above the human auditory range are termed ‘infrasonic’ and ‘ultrasonic’ respectively. Since these sounds are either too low or too high to be heard by the human ear as having a pitch, the brain cannot distinguish separate events in time any longer. As a result, sound and rhythm (i.e. pulsed events) coalesce in bodily sensation (Truax 1984:14). In the context of the intrusive presence of sounds experienced in the body9, Don Ihde makes the following important remark: “The gradations of hearing shade off into a larger sense of one’s body in listening. The ears may be focal ‘organs’ of hearing, but one listens with one’s whole body” (66). I would like to add to this remark that this mode of listening with the whole body does not stem from a voluntary act of hearing, nor deliberate act of immerging. Rather, infra and ultrasounds penetrate the body and cause arhythmy with the body’s resonances before one can abstain. What’s more, the ear is a susceptible and vulnerable organ, always being ‘switched-on’, or according to Schwartz, “unreflectively accumulative, and naively open to even the most harmful of loud, high, or concussive sounds. . . . [T]he ear lacks the most rudimentary of defences: it has no equivalent to the eyelids that protect vision; the lips and tongue that protect taste; the nasal hairs and sneezes that protect smell; and the general mobility that protects touch and proprioception” (Schwartz 487). Infra and ultrasounds highlight this forced state of susceptibility, which makes the (Cagean) pan-acoustic turn towards sound, ‘noise’ or every kind of sonority an inborn necessity. Producing pressure effects on organisms, touching or slamming into living tissues, infrasonic and ultrasonic waves flatten the body “as if one were struck with a solid invisible wall from which there is no escape” (Cody 2). As such, the virus-like, disturbing effects10 of these inaudible, subsonic, or even ‘soundless’ sounds are interventional in it’s truest sense. The Granular≈Synthesis team makes artistic use of the subsonic as a medium to appropriate the audience as ‘resonance chamber’. Through the synthesis of sound grains and flickering images the audience is compelled to plunge into the sonic environment. Birgit Richard describes this experience in terms of “being taken hostage in a vibrating color-space(ship)” (23), and further: “The audience must ‘inhale’ the color field; the latter, in turn, absorbs the spectators and makes them part of a visual space whose inside has been turned out in seemingly visceral fashion. A spatio-temporal continuum arises in which, by means of subsonic frequencies and lightwaves, the brain is addressed directly over the subliminal body experience” (Richard 23). These (sub)sonic interventions that go
A well-known example is when one feels the blast of a subwoofer in his/her belly.
Infrasound covers long distances and tears open whatever it finds in its path. It can cause nausea and the illusion of apparitions, a feeling of a presence. Ultrasound respectively is most often used for medical ultrasonography (‘ultrasound imaging’, ‘Diagnostic Medical Sonagraphy’ or ‘Sonar’) in order to map and visualize internal organs and physical structures. It requires liquid to travel through.
under the skin, tend to assault the visitors, confront them with their physical thresholds and create a spatial-acoustic experience of confinement and entrapment11. <360>12 is an example of an immersive installation or so-called ‘circular audiovisual sculpture’ by Granular≈Synthesis that makes use of the subsonic. This installation installs a ‘totally’ immersive horizon by means of sixteen large screens and sixteen speakers hanging and positioned in a circle (360 degrees) around the audience. Typically for Granular≈Synthesis’ aesthetics, the visitors are immersed in the 360-degrees surround by means of flickering lights and a ‘resonance bath’. The sub-basses make the immersion compelling, so that one has to surrender to the interventions of all sounds, even when they are loud and unwanted. Robin Maconie has pointed out how already from infancy13 we attempt to turn our backs to (unwanted) sounds, or control them, although we will keep them hearing or sensing: “As long-suffering listeners, we learn willy-nilly to control what we hear, not so much by excluding the possibility of unwanted sounds . . . as by manipulating the auditory environment” (Maconie 24). In Maconie’s reasoning, as the listening experience is continuous, ever-present, even unavoidable, we try to control the sound and its environment through body movement, due to acoustic or ‘sensory distress’: “[A]ll sensory input is distressing, and we are engaged in a constant effort of keeping unwanted intensities of information at bay. Most of us succeed in channelling that effort into productive activity” (23-4). This activity could be either physical movement or vocalization (or other sound production) in order to control the sonic events or introduce a controllable element into the auditory environment (24). According to Maconie, the resistance on the part of the listener comes with creating a counter-movement against the distressing auditory stimuli, as an unconscious act of self-preservation. In the case of <360>, however, the visitor is confronted with the difficulty to move freely through the installation space. During the electro-acoustic and visual performance of <360>, the visitor is most commonly to sit down on the floor within an audience of visitors. Consequently, immersion and the necessary resistance against sensory distress call for another kind of activity than the ones mentioned by Maconie. Through aural-visual synaesthesis, but also through the impoverished (or reduced) electro-acoustic environment and the removal of the figurative, the hearing experience stimulates a kinaesthetic imagination. Because of this fusion of the senses, I see reason to combine the words synaesthetic and kinaesthetic into a new term of my invention, ‘skynaesthetic’, which
Earlier, I have termed this effect of immobility and confinement on the body through loud subbasses: ‘audio-autism’, as if there is no escape to an outside (Verstraete, ‘Eric Sleichim’s Men in Tribulation’: 6).
12 13 11
<360> was created for the Villette Numérique festival in Paris, 2002.
Michael A. Forrester has stressed also the importance of this development in infancy: “[W]e need to keep in mind that the infant’s primary sensation environment is tactile and auditory before it is visual. We feel and 'sound' our way into the world before we perceive that world visually” (9).
allows me to address the interdependency and reciprocality between these two notions. Imagination, in this context, is not to be understood solely as defined by Susanne K. Langer (1942/1957), as “symbolic transformation of experiences” (qtd. in Dryden 3). This definition restricts imagination to processes of making meaning or conceptualization, whereas the bodily basis of imagination is left out. Mark Johnson (1987) acted against a Cartesian stance towards imagination as disembodied thought, by restoring the Aristotelian premise: “For Aristotle there can be no knowledge of the what or the why of things without sensing them, without at least having sensed them, without images, phantasmata, persisting in the phantasia (imagination) . . . This phantasia or imagination is a kind of motion generated by actual sensing: it is a physical occurrence. And sense images, phantasmata, are corporeal, not ‘mental’” (Johnson 144). In the Aristotelian sense, imagination is an indispensable means by which sense perceptions are recalled as images. This definition, however, presupposes that the imaginative faculty of recollecting (as such, of memory) is grounded in our urge for knowledge about the physical world (Johnson 144). With <360> it is clear that one can also create an imaginative space through subsonic frequencies that seem to break down the pressure to make meaning. Granular≈Synthesis intend to drain the image of any narrative elements by “directly short-circuiting the body with image and space” (Richard 24). As a result, a direct mediation between body and space negotiates a feeling of (a) presence, and of being fully in the present. This experience is prototypical for many immersive works. Immersion14 brings in the sense of “being ‘in the moment’ without having to be aware of what it takes to be in the moment” (Whalen). In the context of immersion, kinaesthetic imagination can be defined in terms of relying on learned scripts (of interpersonal behaviour) and ingrained memories. Joseph Roach quotes Paul Connerton to address kinaesthetic imagination as “the ‘incorporate practice’ of memory, which ‘is sedimented, or amassed, in the body’” (qtd. in Roach 26). Further, Roach elaborates on this notion very similar to the Aristotelian sense: “This faculty, which flourishes in that mental space where imagination and memory converge, is a way of thinking through movements – at once remembered and reinvented – the otherwise unthinkable, just as dance is often said to be a way of expressing the unspeakable” (Roach 27). Paradoxically, <360> heavily restricts too much movement, but the oppressive spatial confinement of the synaesthetic experience between image and sound brings about movement of thoughts that are effected in immediate corporeality.
Immersion here stands in opposition to engagement as “the process of learning the scripts and requires an objective awareness of the object supplying the new schema” (Whalen). Engagement asks for a more contemplative and interactive approach towards an installation.
Where is the grain in installation art? Even Roland Barthes seemed to have difficulty locating the grain in the voice: “The ‘grain’ is that: the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue; perhaps the letter, almost certainly signifiance” (Barthes 182). Earlier, I made clear that the grain dissolves at a point of total immersion, which Granular≈Synthesis tries to anestheticize. However, total disembodiment is highly questionable. The last resort of resistance seems to pertain to the body and the listening ear. In my opinion, this is where we should locate the grain: in the articulate listening experience, when listening becomes inter-acting, and as such performative. As opposed to the immersive works of Granular≈Synthesis, I will develop now a reflection on an interactive installation of the Canadian artist David Rokeby, which allows me to elaborate on the intervention of the visitor’s body in the installation. In n-Cha(n)t15, Rokeby puns on the verbs to ‘enchant’, to ‘chat’ and to ‘chant’ in combination with the mathematical symbol ‘n’ for an indeterminate number. Basically, the installation consists of n amount of TV screens, hanging in space, and each equipped with a highly focused microphone and voice recognition technology. Each screen shows an ear and represents an individual system. Initially, the different systems form a closed community, each humming syllables and tracking resonances of (similar sounding) words from each other until they are in unison (or ‘unisono’). The visitor is encouraged to speak as well into one of the microphones, thereby distracting the system and intervening the entity’s ‘state of mind’. As long as the system is open to receive, a listening ear is displayed on the screen. When the system captures the sound, it first cups the ear to focus, and then presses the ear with a finger to show that it is ‘thinking’. If the system reaches a point of saturation, it will cover the ear with a hand. By recognising and repeating the captured sounds, each system can break up the coherence in the chant. When all its neighbours have appropriated the new input and no further interventions occur, the coherence and unison can be restored. This interactive installation inverts the relationship between human body and system. The voice is the intrusive element, trespassing a coherent acoustic environment, a closed eco-system of feeding and feedback. The human intervention opens up, but also disarranges this heterotopian space in its network and commensurability of relations and spaces. Rokeby’s aesthetic intentions are directed to particularly the moment of becoming aware that the machine is ‘seeing’ or ‘hearing’ the visitors. In n-Cha(n)t the system even copies the image and the function of the human ear, which makes the visitor aware of his/her hearing attention. As a result, the listening experience is more attentive and becomes interactive. The ears
David Rokeby’s n-Cha(n)t (2001) was commissioned by the Banff Centre for the Arts and won the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Interactive Art 2002. The installation was displayed at the DEAF04 festival 2004 in Rotterdam.
are not only receptive, but communicate with each other interactively. Similarly, Schwartz remarks on the interactivity between ears: “We have discovered recently, for example, that the ear, in addition to being a receiver and an amplifier, actually does broadcast sounds that, on occasion, others can hear. Waxing poetic, we might even say that the ear sings, but that its song can become shrill with earache, tinnitus, or buzzing confusion if mistreated” (Schwartz 500). The image of the singing ear represents the human ear as an active agent and not exclusively a well-tempered receiver (Schwartz 487). The ear becomes even a body16 in itself, both a listening and a sounding body. Rokeby’s installation also thematizes the closure of the ear, as Robin Maconie would argue: “It is a biased instrument, but the bias is useful and also practical: it makes communication easier and, by burying the ear-drum down a narrow and self-damping tube of human tissue, helps protect a sensitive mechanism from ever-present dangers of acoustic overload” (Maconie 37). Schwartz formulates, in this sense, the dual tendency of the ear towards intervening as such: either the ear is masochistic by intruding and even violating the intimate sphere, or it is protective against a perpetual danger of being overtaxed (490). To conclude, David Rokeby’s interactive installation art could call for a narrative mode of interacting as opposed to the aesthetic project of Granular≈Synthesis which attempts to drain the spatial experience from any framing, narrative element. As n-Cha(n)t shows, the attentiveness in the listening act (as opposed to hearing) may yield a narrative impulse. It would be untrue to say that the installation is narrative as such, but as an open system, it makes a tendency towards narrativity potentially present in the listening experience of the visitor. In terms of the materiality of interactivity, the installation questions its status of ‘open’ system against tendencies of closure, in being an ecosystem with closed-circuit, definable and controllable parameters. This self-questioning of the technology could become part of a narrative, which in a sense can be understood politically. One has mentioned the virus-like quality of the human intervention. The installation appropriates an Artaudian idea, when language becomes the virus. Moreover, the human agent is marked as the other, tearing down the closure and thereby, the narrative as a closed system in itself. The listener becomes the ‘performer’, and the intervention makes him/her aware of the active role he/she plays. The sonic intervention acts upon the idea of performativity as ‘twice-behaved behaviour’, in the sense of Richard
Similar to the so-called voice-body (Stimm-Körper), one could even think of an ear-body. Steven Connor’s account of Stimm-Körper can inspire to regard the ear-body also in terms of a living entity, continually in (sensory) distress: “Denn Stimme ist nicht einfach eine Absonderung des Körpers; man kann sie sich vorstellen als die Erzeugung eines Nebenkörpers, eines Körper-Doubles: eines ‚StimmKörpers’. Dieser Stimm-Körper ist kein wirkungsloses Geisterbild, keine Erscheinung oder träge sich windender Rauch. Er steht unter Spannung, von einer Art Leben gehalten“ (Connor 159).
Schechner (Roach 3), since it duplicates every intervention as itself in the interactive installation, thereby rupturing the standard behaviour (Mulder 190). Sonic interventions can stimulate haptic narratives about our modes of being in and controlling social space. As this paper showed, the intervening and interventional sounds can make us aware of our fear of “[b]eing overwhelmed – by so many, so loud, and such nerve-wracking noises that the physical system would break down, with the ear as the very epitome of this breakdown” (Schwartz 493). But after this breakdown – when the resonances have penetrated our eardrums – lies a realm of subsonic imagination, an open narrative too deafening for our dreading ears. References Artaud, Antonin, 1966, Le théâtre et son double, suivi de Le théâtre de Séraphin, Paris: NRF, Gallimard. Barthes, Roland, 1977, Image, Music, Text. Essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath, London: Fontana Press. Brouwer, Joke and Mulder, Arjan, 2004, ‘Feelings are always local’, Feelings are always local, Rotterdam: V2_Publishers & NAi Publishers, 4-5. Bull, Michael & Back, Les, eds., 2003, The Auditory Culture Reader, Oxford & New York: Berg. Connor, Steven, 2004, ‘The Strains of the Voice’, Phonorama: Eine Kulturgeschichte der STIMME als Medium, catalogue Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst, 18 September 2004 – 30 January 2005, ed. Brigitte Felderer, Berlin: ZKM, MSB Matthes & Seitz, 158-172. Cody, John D, 2003, ‘Infrasound’, online, last updated 08/04/04, copyright 2003, Robert Todd Carroll, www.borderlands.com/newstuff/research.infra.htm. Dryden, Donald, 2004, ‘Memory, imagination, and the cognitive value of the arts’, Consciousness and Cognition, 13, 254-67, online 19 March 2004, http://wernicke.ccn.upenn.edu/epstein_web/Dryden_Proustreply_PUBLISHED.pdf. Forrester, Michael A., ‘Auditory Perception and Sound as Event: Theorising sound Imagery in Psychology’, Psychology of the Image, Routledge (to be published), online, http://www.kent.ac.uk/sdfva/soundjournal/forrester001.html. Foucault, Michel, 1984, ‘Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias’, Architecture / Mouvement / Continuité, October 1984, transl. Jay Miskowiec, online, http://foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html. Ihde, Don, 1987, ‘Auditory Imagination’, The Auditory Culture Reader, 61-6. Johnson, Mark, 1987, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, Chicago: University of Chicago Press/IL.
Lefebvre, Henri, 1996, ‘Rhythmanalysis of Mediterranean Cities’, Writings on Cities, select., transl. and introd. by Eleonore Kofman & Elizabeth Lebas, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 228-40. Maconie, Robin, 1990, The Concept of Music, Oxford: Clarendon Press. Mulder, Arjen, 2004, Understanding Media Theory: Language, Image, Sound, Behavior, transl. Laura Martz, Rotterdam: V2_/NAi Publishers. Pourveur, Céline, 2004, ‘Openness in Installation Art’, Festival V2_: DEAF’04 – Affective Turbulance, 22 Oct 2004, Creative Commons licensed, online in cache, http://www.deaf04.nl/deaf04/coverage/section.sxml. Richard, Birgit, 2003, ‘Immersion in the Resonance Chamber, and Blinding. On the craving of Images in the Work of Granular≈Synthesis’, Granular≈Synthesis (Kurt Hentschläger and Ulf Langheinrich), Karlsruhe: ZKM. Roach, Joseph, 1996, ‘Introduction: History, Memory, and Performance’, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, New York: Columbia UP, 1-31. Rokeby, David, 2002, ‘Guardian Angel: Installations: n-Cha(n)t (2001)’, copyright 2002 David Rokeby / very nervous system, 4 July 2002, online, http://homepage.mac.com/davidrokeby/nchant.html. Rokeby, David, et al., 2004, ‘Of Communication, Interactivity and Intimacy: Mobile Feelings, Membrane and N-Chant. [Art Projects by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, Sponge and David Rokeby]’, Feelings are always local, Rotterdam: V2_Publishers & NAi Publishers, 46-53. Schafer, R. Murray, 1977, The Tuning of the World, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. Sheer, Edward, 2004, ‘Introduction: on Antonin Artaud. A beginner’s guide to cruelty’, Antonin Artaud: A critical reader, ed. Edward Sheer, London & New York: Routledge, 1-8. Sobchack, Vivian, 2000, ‘The Scene of the Screen: Envisioning Cinematic and Electronic “Presence”’, Theories of the New Media. A Historical Perspective, Ed. J.T. Caldwell: Athlone Press. Schwartz, Hillel, 2003, ‘The Indefensible Ear: A History’, The Auditory Culture Reader, 487-501. Truax, Barry, 1984, Acoustic Communication, Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex Publishing Corporation. Truax, Barry, 1997, ‘Composition and Diffusion: space in sound in space’, Actes III, Bourges: l’Académie Internationale de Musique Electroacoustique, online, http://www.sonicartsnetwork.org/. Verstraete, Pieter, 2004, ‘Resonances of audience space. Ambience as the interface’, Beyond Aesthetics, eds. Christopher Balme & Meike Wagner, Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier.
Verstraete, Pieter, 2004, ‘Eric Sleichim’s Men in Tribulation, a total theatre of sound and extended voice’, E-View 2, online, http://comcom.uvt.nl/e-view/042/verstraete.pdf. Whalen, Zach, 2004, ‘Play Along – An Approach to Videogame Music’, The international journal of computer game research, 4.1, November, copyright 2001-2004, Game Studies, online, http://www.gamestudies.org/0401/whalen/.
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