[-empyre-] No. 2 Day 2 Week 2: Sonic Paths

Douglas Kahn djkahn at ucdavis.edu
Wed Jun 11 16:52:18 EST 2014

Let's try that again.....

Nina. Your book sounds wonderful; what's the ETA? On the face, it seems
like a wise move to couch "sound" in vibration since it would be more
inclusive of not only inaudible and audible acoustics, but also the
mechanics/movement operating across bodies and spaces at first sensory and
physical remove from sound. It seems to retune and temper sound to lived
and performed situations. It also questions how close sound should be
attached to listening. Hillel Schwartz in Making Noise and other writings
has long made it clear how "sound", its kith and kin change with respect to
historical, cultural and physiological contexts. The presumption of the
"human audible range" rolls off the tongue.

I like too what you say about where a sound stops and starts. It reminds me
both of James Tenney's notion of the event structure of the klang in
Meta-Hodos as an analytical and compositional construct. On a more prosaic
level, it reminds me of the atoms/atmos issue of a cloud, how many clouds
in a cluster, overcast, overcast at night. Marcus, are there drone fugues?
A contrapuntal overcast? Where the "sound" in sound studies stops and
starts is a much more fraught question. I was in Europe recently where a
musicologist decided that musicology was the best discipline to decide what
was canonical and what was not in sound art as a whole. Not that discourses
in sound art make that much reference to sound studies in any case, but the
inheritant presumption of the musicologist (buy me a drink and I'll name
names) was precious.    

I don't necessarily think that the "vibration" in my early tripartite
formulation of "vibration, inscription, transmission" is awfully applicable
to the way you're using the term. When I brought that up in 1992 in the
introduction to the collection Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the
Avant-garde it was a rhetorical reading of figures of sound present in the
early-20th century and influential on modernist, late-modernist and
experimental practices subsequently. It was mostly in literature and
representational forms of synaesthesia (physiologically, synaesthesia
exists, its generalization among the arts and aesthetics is as cultural as
it gets). It was very developed and common in occult and spiritist
materials, where it played the odd role of a mystical rationalism
flourishing from the latter-half of the 19th century while the putatively
rational sciences and mathematics grew further from experience. 

The heavy use of integers is a good sign, so that's where music often comes
in. Its rhetorical standing is written in the way music extended to the
structure of the cosmos in adherence to Pythagorean and neo-Pythagorean
ideals, and even in the retreat (that I mention in the book) to an
instrinsic mathematics and cosmogenesis in superstring theory that has
Brian Greene and others effusive about violins, cellos and the Aeolian
existing at an exceedingly tiny scale. No cosmic brass or percussion, it
seems, just strings. My daughter is a classical clarinetist, so this too
disturbs me. I would like her to be recognized as part of the cosmos. Her
partner is a cellist but that is beside the point. 


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