[-empyre-] No. 1, Day 3, Week 2

Nina Eidsheim neidsheim at ucla.edu
Fri Jun 13 03:11:00 EST 2014

I am finally coming up from days scheduled back-to-back with oral exams to catch up on this fascinating and, to me, incredibly valuable conversation.

There are so many interesting threads running through the conversation--I'll pick up on a few.

Measurement: The question of measurement is fascinating, fraught, and, a question I think of as offering me more insights into the person/organization etc. who desires to pin down an object through measurements than learning something about what has been measured. From identifying something through the question "what is a sound" (the sets of values and skills developed in order to identify physical energy as sound with certain characteristics) to a given that constitutes coherence between sounds so that we may understand a series of sound to form a gesture or phrase, and, furthermore, keeping those phrases separate so that, for example, the individually recognized phrases in relationship form the fugue form; to measuring the energy and metaphorically representing that energy through visual graphs/waves etc. (Tara Rogers has offered interesting feminist critique of this). To me, the question of sound, or any other ways of understanding physical energy (including dance gestures, Johannes), often boils down to: what needs do these practices of measurements and subsequent  identifications/namings fulfill? For whom does infusing a given system of measurement with authority and holding a given system of measurement in place hold value?

The Body: With Douglas, I see the necessity to focus a historical inquiry (to for example include or not include the body). And, with Marcus' reminder of our Cornell Society of the Humanities visit to the Lab of Ornithology, I am reminded of the anthropomorphic undertone with which the concept of the body and epistemology through sensation is often infused. Does paying attention to the body means attending to the vibration as I feel the vibrations through the flesh and bones as it stands on the airport floor? Would an inquiry into the vibration as it pulses through a speck of skin fallen from my leg onto the floor also constitute attending to the body? If not, does size matter? Would attending to the vibrations of my severed leg laying on the floor constitute attending to the body? Or, does only a given material's seeming continuous material connection to what I think of as the object that is body constitute thinking about the body? The latter position, then, to address Marcus' question, does come down to "modes of sensing." At this point, I am not ready to subscribe to that. And, I doubt whether all of the artists with which Douglas deals in Earth Sound would subscribe to that as well. But, perhaps I am completely off base? 


On Jun 12, 2014, at 7:07 AM, Marcus Boon <mboon at yorku.ca> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Re. non-sensuous similarity ... that was something that I was trying to puzzle out in my book on copying ... what Benjamin means by that phrase ... or even where he got it from!  Apparently there are similar notions in Medieval Christian mysticism, "non-sensuous sensuousness" in Nicolas of Cusa.  But thinking about it in terms of forces operating below the level of the sensible is pretty helpful, and it opens inquiry up to thinking about energy states, forces etc.  It's also something that comes up in Taussig's work. In the Defacement book, he's fascinated by the ways in which a defaced object arouses such intense affective states, and often results in the destruction of both the object, and the environment around, and threats against the producer of the defaced object. He talks about defacement as a liberation of energy that is somehow contained within the object -- and which in some sense constitutes its objecthood for us.  It's almost as tho what we see as a particular obj
> ect is a configuration of energy -- but what kind of model of energy does that imply?
> On 2014-06-11, at 9:59 PM, Douglas Kahn wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> I should have said Bach fugue to keep to the point of atoms/atmos in the
>> field of clouds. I don't know enough about drones to ask a good question;
>> some seem atomystic, others overforecasting doom. I really like LaMonte
>> Young's early work (Robert Ashley just called him La) but it never struck
>> me as "drone" but, again, I'm out of the drone loop.  
>> I am still fascinated with the constant recourse to "the body". Freidrich
>> Kittler affectionately satirized Jonathan Crary on that count; it's part of
>> the lines drawn between a period of continental (German?) media theory and
>> American-style cultural studies. There seems to be more of an uptake of
>> Kittler now in the States than before (and rapprochement the other way with
>> cultural techniques), but when I taught a grad seminar on him at UC Davis
>> about a decade ago the cultural studies cohort came to the first class,
>> took one look and left en masse, leaving the seminar to anthropology,
>> communications, sts and art history grads. There is alot to be said about
>> not having the body as the main port of call, the locus of unity, at least
>> every now and then. (In the intro ESES I state my main reservation with
>> Kittler on his engineer/inscriptive basis viz. a science/transmission
>> approach, which means a media theory where 1/2, so to speak, of the
>> technological base of modern media is missing, and no uncontorted route to
>> an ecological standing).  
>> John Durham Peters has a good talk online at the IKKM website on the
>> "technological determinism" that is often used to dismiss Kittler outright.
>> He cannot not talk about social, cultural and political factors. I say
>> something similar about my concept of "lived electromagnetism". Try to
>> sustain a "non-human" perspective and you will get back to humans soon
>> enough. Get out into the e-m spectrum at a global and heliospheric scale
>> and you'll find yourself in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Marshall Islands, Nevada
>> Test Site, Utah, Mississippi, etc. and new demographic groups of Hibakusha,
>> Atomic Veterans, Downwinders, etc. soon enough.
>> I think the various "non-human" reversals are exceedingly important
>> especially, as is evident, if one wants to integrate an ecological politics
>> (again, sorry for the oxymoron) at the core of whatever analyses they may
>> undertake. I differ on some of the broader outlines found among some
>> proponents. I don't see what people refer to as technology as "non-human".
>> In the book I mention a couple/few places that, if you follow the path of
>> energy, so to speak, without regard to apriori categories, you will
>> encounter transductive locations, some of which are "naturally-occurring"
>> (including those in human sensory capacities, but many more having nothing
>> to do with humans), some of which are "anthropic". Anthropic transducers
>> are called "technology".   
>> I also try to sustain an abiotic perspective. It is much more difficult to
>> do since animals are more equipped to aid a non-human mind meld with their
>> sentience (their limbs, like machines, have technics). Plants, a little
>> more difficult except with heads of lettuce (sorry, old joke, got to work
>> up new material). Ecological discourse used to be very dependent on biotic
>> touchstones and, for good reasons like the present mass extinction, still
>> is. The abiotic has taken the stage too with "carbon" and solar-terrestrial
>> interactions, ocean acidification, etc. It is my contention that an
>> ecological politics, let alone a "being in the world" and the arts and
>> experience, will benefit from directed engagements with the abiotics of
>> energies. And these, of course, have, can and will happen through biotic
>> and anthropic entities, as well as "the body". 
>> Marcus, you alluded to Walter Benjamin's "non-sensuous similarity", in his
>> "Mimetic Faculty" and "Doctrine of the Similar", perhaps because it was in
>> my talk in Toronto. I think there is some there there in expanding upon
>> what already exists. Benjamin remarks about little kids imitating trains,
>> not just human roles; I've seen little kids on the beach imitate the
>> mechanical force of waves crashing into one another. I proposed that
>> certain types of music could be understood in such a relationship to
>> various states of energy. It could break open the shopworn discourses on
>> "representation and music" in an interesting way, and offer another angle
>> to those entertainging a prohibtion of representation, signification, and
>> poesis (collateral damage to semiosis) in "sound art". And, there again,
>> body practices return, perhaps even an empathic relationship with energy
>> sources that ultimately could care less about biotic beings, like the sun.
>> There's Sun Ra. Instead of Pater's parochial "All art constantly aspires
>> towards the conditions of music" why not "the conditions of plasma?" 
>> On the sensory, all--how many are there now, 23?--are admixtures of
>> energetic states. (People may be interested in my essay on America male
>> artist interoception in the postwar period...Cage, Tenney, Burroughs,
>> Turrell [Lucier's brainwaves are in the book]...in the recent book ReLive,
>> edited by Cubitt and Thomas.) Neither tactility nor hearing are mechanical
>> alone. There are many coditional energetic states as well, the ATP of
>> cellular surface transduction that will be effected by what you had to eat,
>> or didn't, let alone drink or psychoactives. There are some very
>> interesting complexes to be understood. How might these excitations relate
>> to the charge in the lithium ion battery of your phone streaming tunes from
>> a server farm halfway around the world sucking power from a hydroelectric
>> dam on the Columbia River? 
>> I would be more sanguine about discourses on "the sensory" if there was a
>> better place in the discourse for distributed sensing arrays. As I mention
>> in the book, "nature" has been written out of the history and theory of
>> communications technologies. The telegraph and telephone systems were not
>> merely used in a social frame for humans to talk and exchange data with one
>> another; they were also used as regional and global scale scientific
>> sensing devices resonating with the energetic environment. So, a conduit
>> for imperialism? sure, but also a model and allegory for an earth scale
>> coordination of media and ecology.
>> Finally, a clarification about "most of the work discussed in your book
>> relates to scientific knowledge as it stood in the late 19th C." Well, not
>> exactly. That sounds a bit anachronistic. I followed natural radio from
>> anecdote, to post-WWI science (ionosphere), to 1960s (magnetosphere) where
>> Lucier picked it up. My point about "lived electromagnetism" was primarily
>> to explain its historical recentness, the lack of a commensurate vernacular
>> despite its ubiquity, but also why it was not necessary (at least in this
>> first cultural purview of the electromagnetic spectrum) to get into things
>> quantum. I did this, not only as a historian, but also I've seen too many
>> philosophers skip the prosaic electromagetic world of, say, media and the
>> sun that we live in and go right to the "reality" of the quantum world. It
>> is a happenstance of historical discovery mixed with philosophical
>> practice.      
>> Douglas     
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> 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 reve
>>> aled 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.  
>> Douglas Kahn
>> National Institute for Experimental Arts
>> College of Fine Arts
>> University of New South Wales, Sydney
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