[-empyre-] vibration and movement

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Wed Jun 11 06:25:04 EST 2014

thanks to Nina, Marcus and Douglas for these very fascinating thoughts
opening the second week, 

and it struck me, listening to (well, reading) Douglas trying to "stay away from the body" examining Lucier's "Music for Solo Performer", that I have never really seen the Lucier performance except in photos, with the electrodes attached to the head, and  in re-performances of Lucier's piece by younger artists and  then I was intensely aware of, or drawn to, the strangely "immobile" body of a performer concentrating (or letting go, relaxing) :  the sound generated by the brainwaves, inexplicably from a conventional schema or "territory of assumption" (as Nina asks) or value or even identification –  unless we go to the other end and "listen" to the percussion instruments, and their membranal movement, but what moves the movement? how do you worry about waves (not being physicist or engineer or pyschoacoustic scholar).?

And speaking from a perspective of theatre/dance and performance, which would interest me to ask you all about, as well as from a perspective of social choreographies or soundings (Julian Henrique's work on cultural sound "systems" and the operators of the speaker system collectively producing the Jamaican music and its kinetic frequency phenomena  -- thus also the dancing and the community), how do you know, indeed, as Nina implies so poignantly, how to measure a gesture from a gesture, how to understand or know affect or react to it when you listen or move to sound vibrations?  

The energies in performance --  this might not be the subject that Douglas wanted to talk about here, and my knowledge of the physics of sound is minimal, yet Douglas mentions opening out sound to energy.  But how does the snake measure the vibrations it feels on the earth (the snake is evoked by Antonin Artaud when he addresses vibrational energies and transmissions through/across and along the while body/organism), only along the length of the body?  what lies outside?  

Or how do "sounds" or music (and higher frequencies) enter inside, via hearing, into the kind of most strangely perplexing affect, body-eros, and perceptional confusion of memories, for example when I started to write, here,  and listened to a falsetto ("castrato" voice), right here in my room (online version of Othon Mataragas & Ernesto Tomasini - "Impermanence"), then switched over to hear Tomasini talk excitedly about flamboyant gay performers re-owning the lost/suppressed male high voice..... 
I found this very encouraging and exciting; and against suppression & forgetting, I realize there is increasing work done out there, scholarship on sounding histories and localities  (and artworks such as Teri Rueb's sound walks), well I came across a book by Emily Thompson, titled The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), and I figured she must have gone on to search out the old (radio) archives in New York or Chicago, maybe like Douglas did --- where do you go for these layers of "older" sound and (no longer existing voices)? 

And how to measure them?

Johannes Birringer

[Nina schreibt]

The rabbit hole of physical energy or, vibration, opened up beneath my feet when I started to question the assumptions I had to hold in order to subscribe to the category “sound.” It was experiences within my own sustained practice of singing and inquiry other singers'  vocal pieces, pieces that initially did not make sense to me, that led to my doubting and questioning assumptions around sound. So, to address Marcus’ initial question: deeply indebted to the questions and perspectives sounds studies have opened up (Alain Corbin, Veit Erlmann, Julian Henrique, Doug Kahn, Mara Mills, Jonathan Sterne, Emily Thompson, and others), the way in which my work relates to sound studies is by interrogating the very category of sound.

For example, in my forthcoming book, Sensing Sound, I am interested in how the different conceptualizations of and names (say, “sound”) given that which might be thought about as vibrations-transmitted-or-transducted-through-material directs our overall experience of it. (How might this relate to Doug’s three part framework: vibration, inscription and transmission?) For example, how is subsequent aesthetics and analysis marked by the understanding that sound is understood as measureable within in time—i.e. that a given sound starts, goes on, and ends? Moreover, if it is assumed we can know sound and that it occupies a certain time-span, what else is it assumed we ought to know about it? And, if a given person is not able to recognize or name according to such parameters, what do we believe their naming or inability to name the sound tells us about that person?

In other words, thinking about vibration in the form of sound seems to push into the territory of assumption about what can be known, and value and virtue around people who hold such knowledge. The assumption that we can identify a given vibration as a knowable sound, also presumes that there is something stable, or, a prior, to an iteration of vibration towards which the given iteration of vibration is compared. Moreover, thinking about sound as knowable, presumes the listener not only hears and recognizes the sound, but, prior to that assessment, holds knowledge about possible sound designations. The knowledge about these sound designations is used to subsequently compare and recognize sounds. Finally, what does thinking about a certain category of vibration as sound, presumes vis-à-vis listening, or perception thereof, more broadly?

To me, it is here the body--already mentioned by Douglas and Marcus--is inextricably linked to a category such as sound. Who whom or to what (whether human, animal, object, or instrument of measurement, or other) does that energetic or vibrational field unfold as *sound*? More importantly, what is gained, or, what (political, social, ethical, etc.) work can be carried out by understanding energetic or vibrational field as sound?

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