[-empyre-] No. 1, Day 4, Week 2

Douglas Kahn djkahn at ucdavis.edu
Fri Jun 13 10:00:08 EST 2014

Welcome back Nina. Where did Tara Rogers write about graphs/waves? In the
process of researching ESES, especially when trying to understand what I
eventually called transperception evident in Thoreau and Lucier, I came to
realize that the concept of mediation itself had some of the basic problems
that wave representations had, in particular, a singular observation from
the side, from outside the event, a removal and positioning which was
repeated with a similar inscriptive logic in cartographic notions of
networks, the latter being more Olympian than terrestrial. 

The presence of a graphical wave, however, is not always a sign of
measurement. I was on the VLF (Very Low Frequency) Yahoo group for several
years and there was never a shortage of spectrographs. I wouldn't say that
they were used for measurement that much; if anything, it was an amalgam of
"I was present at the event", evidence of observation, engagement with the
(often mysterious) phenomenon, identification, and measurment. They were
occasions for humility and collectivism rather than exertion of any
dominion. That they were conducted over the internet at a similar earth
scale as the phenomena themselves was a plus, but unmentioned. 

On "non-sensuous similarity"...has any Benjamin scholar out there
approached this directly? I read Mimesis and Alterity years+ ago and don't
have my books nearby right now. It seems to me that the faculty of the
mimetic faculty/doctrine of the similar that informs it should neither be
brought into a perceptual or apperceptual frame too quickly, nor into one
of a drive. Rather, it is something either within humankind (since "the
ancients" as Benjamin calls them) or operating at a larger scale (I
wouldn't know how to characterize it). It surely is not merely manifested
in seeing animals in constellated stars, or kids imitating people, things
and forces; in one of the most amazing (long) paragraphs in One-Way Street,
"To the Planetarium"....I discuss this on page 77f. in ESES, sees an
alienated/repressed union with the cosmos practiced ritually by "the
ancients" sputtering along in "the poetic rapture of starry nights" but
really snapping back with a vengeance on the killing fields of WWI. "Human
multitudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled into the open country,
high-frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations
rose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellors,
and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug into Mother Earth. The immense
wooking of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary
scale--that is, in the spirit of technology." 

There is so much to say about the piece and this passage, but for here we
can note the presence of energies and a planetary scale notion of feminized
Nature. It posits the First World War as an energetic manifestion at a
global scale which would be punctuated at the end of the Second World War
with perhaps the most important one, Hiroshima, since according to Michel
Serres this was the first instance of a self-awareness of self-annihilation
at a global scale shared now with global warming and ecological
catastrophe, i.e., as in To the Planetarium, energy war and Mother Earth.   

But even more relevant, since Marcus this is where drone might be
revisited, is that this ritual (war, planet, technology) engagement with
the cosmos was conducted collectively through Rausch. This is one of those
German words that doesn't fit into English very well, but from my
understanding among its meanings/connotations are ecstatic trance (the way
its translated in the English) and relatedly, intoxication, but also the
sound of an onrush (on-rausch), like the white noise disorientation in
breaking waves, with an undercurrent of rumbling or roar (roar you feel,
but I think you also feel the hiss, with or without the mist). I could very
well be wrong because I haven't tried to sort it out with any precision,
but there might be some there there.

One last thing. A qualification on the sensory, an artist like Robert Barry
posits in his work that even though a person does not immediately sense
something, say, ultrasound or radio waves, it does not mean that they are
not there. When musicians like Pauline Oliveros produce overtones from
subaudible fundamentals, even if they cannot be felt, the audible sounds do
not necessarily abdicate their epiphenomenal relationship. In LaMonte
Young's butterfly piece he stated that, sure, the butterfly makes a sound,
just because we can't hear it does not mean it is not there. So there is a
"listening in" along the lines of a "reading into" at work and at play. 







> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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 Marc
>  us' 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? 
> Nina 
> 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 o
>  bj
> > ect is a configuration of energy -- but what kind of model of energy does
> that imply?
> > 
> >

Douglas Kahn
National Institute for Experimental Arts
College of Fine Arts
University of New South Wales, Sydney

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