[-empyre-] No. 1, Day 5, Week 2

Douglas Kahn djkahn at ucdavis.edu
Sat Jun 14 10:09:54 EST 2014

Lots to chew on this morning. Only problem is that a cut in my finger got
infected overnight is now quite painful. If I start swearing mid-sentence,
you will know the reason...it's nothing personal.

Marcus is correct. We have been talking more theoretically here, whereas
the bulk of the book argues through the minutiae of historical event, with
several instances reconfiguring larger narratives, one of those being how
people heard natural in the telephone a decade before Hertz confirmed the
existence of electromagnetic waves and two decades before Marconi. Thus,
radio was heard before it was invented. This was based first of all on
documents by Thomas Watson, Bell's assistant, that had never been cited by
anyone before, and on trolling the anecdotal and technical depths of
telegraph and telephone literature. So that complicates "the history of
radio" not with the "noises" of nature to be eliminated but with electrical
sounds that people found fascinating and pleasurable. It puts "nature" back
among the origin stories of modern telecommunications, where nature has
been written out in favor of genius inventors, patent disputes, business
models, etc. It shows telephone lines functioning as scientific instruments
not just means of communication. And, taking one step back to Thoreau
listening to nature's Aeolian sounds on telegraph lines (the Telegraph
Harp), it requires a new term for hearing electromagnetic sounds on
telephone (and telegraph lines...and wirelessly) lines: Aelectrosonic. If
there is a small library on the Aeolian in literature, music and
philosophy, then we should be hearing a plugged-in version too. That the
Aeolian exists in nature and in instrumental (music/science) form is true
too for the Aelectrosonic, starts messing with nature/technology
distinctions. It directs attention to moments and mechanisms of
transduction amid propagations of energy. It turns out that "nature" has
been part of the technological circuit of telecommunications (earth
returns, grounds, ionospheric reflection...), and that there are broad
historical phases of nature going in and out of circuit. Then there are the
earth scale issues.  

I worry that many of these observations will get lost in their
demonstration; that someone who might be interested in historical media
theory will chafe at reading about experimental musicians at the core; or
that music scholars will find it uncomfortable listening to the beautiful
glissandi of whistlers in the trenches of WWI; that theorists who often use
artworks as peripheral illustrations of formulations founded elsewhere will
find it odd that artists occupy places at the center; etc. Since finishing
the book I've started to elaborate some ideas separately in papers. Next
week, for instance, I'll present a paper at a conference on ecology and the
humanities at Australian National University on what I meant by "Icarus in
reverse" viz. global warming.

BTW, I'd forgotten the whole Ludwig Klages connection with rauschen and To
the Planetarium, although not sure where he dug up his phantoms and
ancients. If I remember correctly, Norbert Bolz's little book on Benjamin
had something about this and "anthropological materialism."  





> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Sorry for the slow response here ... I gave a talk on Burroughs and
> shamanism at a workshop on General Idea, and yesterday was a long day!
> Yes, a lot of different threads.  I was able to read further chunks of
> Earth Sound, Earth Signal en route yesterday ... a lot of what we've been
> discussing this week is about theory, conceptualizing things, but I urge
> people to read the book, because it's so rich in historical data, strange
> anecdotes, and portraits of relatively unknown but actually pretty major
> figures like Alvin Lucier's physics mentor Edmond Dewan.  And I get the
> core point about the natural history of media, and the ways in which what
> gets called "technology" as a human endeavor, is necessarily embedded in
> these natural strata -- geophysical energy, electromagnetic forces, and so
> on.  
> I think Nina's point about understanding the purposes of different
> measurement (or notation?) systems is important.  It reminds me of
> something poet Chuck Stein said to me recently re. "object oriented
> ontology" and similar endeavors: that you have to understand what the
> purpose of particular arguments about ontology are.  That there is no pure
> onto-logy outside of different practices, ways of approaching the issue. 
> This I also take to be Badiou's position in Logics of World, as a (slight)
> corrective to his argument in Being and Event that ontology is
> mathematical. Even mathematical truth takes the form of different logics:
> algebra, geometry etc.  
> My take on non-sensuous similarity (and "The Doctrine of the Similar") can
> be found on pages 29-33 of In Praise of Copying. I wrote to a group of
> Benjamin scholars, including Howard Eiland, editor of the Harvard Benjamin
> series and author of the new biography, and he said there was no known
> outside source for the concept.  John Noyes suggested it connected to
> Benjamin's work on Goethe's Elective Affinities (which could be helpful to
> your natural history of media, Douglas?).  Mikhail Iampolski, whose
> knowledge of these things is always encyclopedic, said it was a theological
> concept, emanating from Medieval Christian debates, perhaps in Meister
> Eckhart. My attempts to track this down got me as far as "indistinct
> distinguishings" and "non sensuous sensuousness" (i.e our presence, being
> as a part of God), but if that's where Benjamin got the idea, saying
> "non-sensuous similarity" adds a definite twist to the theological idea. 
> In my own work, I connect it to the idea of sameness
>   (sameness as opposed to being identical) ... which can certainly be
> interpreted in terms of physical forces ... or religious energies ... or
> ... see the above remarks about ontology! And that's part of the focus too
> of my recent work on drones, because drone music is characterized by a
> sameness which is characterized by pulsation, periodicity, subtle
> phenomenological shifts on closer inspection.  Benjamin has some lovely
> remarks re. sameness ...
> By the way, I hadn't read "To the Planetarium" before -- what a fantastic
> piece!
> With La Monte Young's work, I think it's important to separate the Fluxus
> period pieces like the butterfly piece, from the sustained tone pieces, and
> the work in just intonation.  Young's interest in sustained tones predates
> the Fluxus work (Trio for Strings is 1958, before he moved to NYC I think)
> and continues through the Fluxus period ("X for Henry Flynt"), onwards to
> the Theater of Eternal Music and the Dream House installations.  
> I feel like there's a lot more to say about different approaches to energy
> in the arts and in philosophy ... not that we're going to cover it this
> week, but that it's an important research topic!
> Best
> Marcus

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