[-empyre-] No. 3, Day 2, Week 2

Marcus Boon mboon at yorku.ca
Thu Jun 12 02:32:49 EST 2014

Point taken re. a potentially problematic politics of the body, when it comes to talking about "human energies" etc. And the importance of "the great outside" and the possibility of being aware of what is, and what is not us, and not accessible to us. And that there's a history of attempts by artists to work with this.

Still, for myself, I think it's still the case, even after Deleuze, that "we do not know what a body can do" ... or a mind.  The non-human is immanent to aspects of the human body and mind as much as it is to environment and ecosystem, and much remains to be discovered.  I take that to be one of the major concerns of what's called Afro-futurism ... the possibility of new techno-cultural figurations of the human, post this or that or not.  I mistrust the rhetoric of a lot of the speculative realist folks when they seem to argue that a focus on the non-human also means an abandonment of concern with human subjectivity. It often looks evasive ... as if human subjectivity  is the one thing they don't want to think about, even the horrors of Cthulu are more welcome! Than themselves .... ourselves ...

And the issue of the ways in which the human body is capable of accessing the electromagnetic spectrum is important.  Technologies like the telephone are prostheses that make natural radio accessible. There are other creatures that can sense other aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum through their own sensoriums.  No doubt the possibilities for instrumentalizing access to the electromagnetic spectrum are going to expand radically in the years to come.  Again, what I find intriguing about Nina's argument about possible relations to sound as vibration is the suggestion for non-instrumental approaches.  That's also something you hone in on in ESER, Douglas, when a new technosocial development suddenly reveals, amongst other things, new aesthetic possibilities.  

What does a global geophysically driven ecopolitics sound like?  Hmmmm.  If I respond in a literal way, I would bring up the work of people like Toshiya Tsunoda, and his recordings of waves in the Tokyo Bay amongst other things.  So the concern there would be with awareness of what is, and the ability to evoke something otherwise unpresentable.  I think it is possible to think about drones in relation to the question too tho! Tim Morton gestures in that direction with the section on La Monte Young at the end of Hyperobjects.  La Monte tuned some of his drone based music to the 50 Hz of the electrical gridline in the US apparently.  He also described his music as "meta music" in the 1960s apparently.  But when you listen to contemporary drone music, whether the synth based sounds of Oneohtrix Point Never or the dark metal drones of Earth or Sun O)))) (the names are clue!) what you're hearing is a music built around energy surges, vibratory matrixes ... it's energy that is revealed by sustaining tones.  You stop focusing on the shifting of pitches and melody, your sense of time is altered because a lot of the time there are no drums and thus no overdetermination of pitch or rhythm.  You tune into much faster and slower periodicities, often so fast or slow that at first you're not aware of them at all. It's about attention ... La Monte said "tuning is a function of time".  The unpresentable aspects of sound and vibration become a model for the unpresentable as such.  But I also come back to Nina's point that it's about modes of sensing, about immersion and strategies for exploring an immersive unknown.  And in a way I think we're just at the beginning of thinking about these matters ... as you noted, Douglas, most of the work discussed in your book relates to scientific knowledge as it stood in the late 19th C.  

On 2014-06-11, at 4:21 AM, Douglas Kahn wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> If you look at the expanse of Alvin's work you will see that his "the body"
> does not play an overly important role. This does not necessarily include
> the corporeal rigors that performers must go through to play his music.
> Invoking his stuttering in the text of "I am sitting in a room" is an
> obvious example, and much more candid than the passive relationship that
> Cage had to his body invoked in the specialized scientific space of the
> anechoic chamber, where it was last refuge for environmental sound in a
> theoretical free-field where space was not locatable, especially in "a
> body" let alone the socious of bodies. It's no secret that the Western art
> music tradition is not immediately equated with trance-n-dance.
> However, the role that Alvin's body or brainwaves plays in the overall
> scheme of things is limited. I referred to it most importantly because it
> was his first venture into what he called "natural electromagnetic sound,"
> a class of sound that he understood to be occurring with a Cagean
> imperative for "more new sounds." It turns out that his instincts were
> correct on that count. But the fact that he deployed the speakers in Music
> for Solo Performer according to spatial precepts that included the
> landscape of New England and the space of a football stadium, and that his
> next work in natural electromagnetic sound was at earth scale, would
> suggest that his body was a waystation. It certainly was a waystation in my
> book. 
> My great privilege, besides being a student of Alvin's, was to have
> interviewed Edmond Dewan, the physcist who offered Alvin many of his key
> ideas (brainwaves, whistlers, Amar Bose's demonstration that transformed
> into I am sitting in a room). Edmond too was focused, in my estimation
> proportionally, on human consciousness as but one feature of a larger
> spehere of physical operations. 
> So, perhaps the melding that you heard/felt/experienced/thought about/wrote
> about of inner and outer in Alvin's performance was the product of a
> weighting in favor of the outer. The default is with expression; that
> realization informed Cage post-1948. Cage's mistake was to equate
> jazz/improvisation with self-expression whereas many of its most
> interesting practitioners are in it precisley to abdicate self to the
> inheritance, to the musical group, to the audience, to the environment and
> cosmos. It's laid out in Anthony Braxton's Tri-Axium writings among many
> other places. It is the sonosphere of Pauline Oliveros. 
> Anecdotally, the proportions play themselves out differently in the
> different places in the world. From my limited experience, when I presented
> the material that went into Earth Sound Earth Signal on different
> continents, questions about Alvin's brainwaves were more intense in nations
> with lesser remnants of civil society. In the U.S., "the body" that could
> host brainwaves becomes the reconstruction site of a familiar
> individualism, preferably consumptive (of things, HBO series, innovation,
> etc.). I often had trouble directing people to the main topic. Whereas in
> Australia and Europe, where civil society is more extant, audiences have
> questioned the material in the proportion in which it was presented. 
> This is where the politics arise. The Nero-like antropocentrism of an
> immediate default to human energies while the world burns; despite the
> abdication of a traditionally expressive self among improvising violinists,
> it seems to correlate to an eroded civil society, i.e., to a lack of
> expressiveness within a state rather than purchases, fandoms, allegiances,
> and debts to an economy. In Australia there is a broader consensus about
> the environmental crisis than in the U.S. because of a persistance of civil
> society (despite Tony Abbott's recent attempts to abolish both). So I
> wonder about the ecological politics, in certain settings, of formulations
> of "the body". Michel Serres has pointed out the oxymoronic state of
> "ecological politics" since "polis" derives from the social behaviors
> within a city state (elevated in the fortress of the Acropolis). It seems
> to me that bodies, if they are to live within cities or anywhere else, now
> require a politics that embody the finitude of the planet as the last
> fortress. What does that sound like?
> Douglas   
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> I'm intrigued too by the role of Lucier in Douglas' book -- and how Lucier
>> thinks about matters of body and psyche in relation to his work.  Did you
>> get a sense of this at all when you were studying with him, Douglas?
>> I was lucky enough to hear/see/feel a performance of "Music for Solo
>> Performer" in NYC a while ago.  I think what remains with me of the piece
>> is the sense of one interior (that of a brain, or a psyche) somehow
>> projected onto an exterior, which forms another interior (that of the
>> resonant performance space).  The confusion of the different inners and
>> outers was really uncanny ... and it also triggered a sense that as
>> listeners, we're also continually mediating these senses of inner and
>> outer.  
>> But that's where modes of transduction ... also tempos of transduction,
>> which Douglas discusses in the intro to his book ... are important.
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