[-empyre-] vibration and movememt (cosmic scale)

Douglas Kahn djkahn at ucdavis.edu
Sat Jun 14 10:41:36 EST 2014


Thanks. Noticing the small earth sounds and noises of natural radio that
were heard in the telephone in the last-quarter of the 19th century was a
means to open an examination of the relationship between sounds and
electromagnetism, as two energies (in a classical physics frame). In the
book I put a specific historical tracing of natural radio (in particular,
whistlers) on the larger backdrop of a social and cultural development of
the electromagnetic spectrum. Just like I don't get into the body that
much, I also hold back from wandering out into the wider cosmos too much,
opting to remain primarily terrestrial (Earth), and going out to the moon,
Sun and Jupiter now and then. Whistlers are generated by lightning, go out
six earth radii into outer space (in the magnetosphere) and return to the
opposite hemisphere. So they are terrestrial to the extent that they have
an "earth return". For eco-theory and practice purposes, I think it's
important to remain tethered to the earth and not always evaporate out into
the cosmos as pop theoretical physics is prone to do.  

In Earth Sound Earth Signal I bring up Benjamin's To the Planetarium to
introduce how some of the energies in this euphemistic repressed union with
the cosmos were among the signal corps on both sides and that while
listening for enemy code or locating position (Direction Finding) of the
signal whistlers were inadvertently heard, and the science proper of
whistlers proceeded immediately thereafter (with Barkhausen in 1919, then
Eckersley and others). In terms of historical media theory, this is where
Friedrich Kittler had to invoke radio in order to associate it only with
the coding and ciphering if an inscriptive telos was to be maintained that
would then head to computation, whereas attention to D/F would have
generated, as I mentioned before, the "other half" of communications in

On another note, I think what is "invisible" or not is overrated. As I say
in the book, a major attribute of what makes things visible--light--is
itself not visible: its movement. 


> The ritual and cosmic associations now brought up by Douglas's re-reference
> to Benjamin's "One-Way Street" and "On the Mimetic Faculty"   � recontexted
> to war-time destruction (through technologies), self-annihilation and
> ecological catastrophe -- where are you pointing the sonic pathways now? 
> Many here may not have read your book yet (sorry, I have not yet), and thus
> I feel the framework of course seems to have been hugely expanded, and I
> cannot follow yet, and I think the nereges or forces have not been fully
> discussed yet, only where you wish to stay away from (new age and psychic
> channeling etc, the Rausch of the trance folks out in the desert at the
> Burning Man revelations..) You very recent example of
> Pauline Oliveros �  or Nina's and Marcus's reference to ornithology or
> rather to the birds, animals and other species interests me obviously, as
> does Benjamin's imaginary dance with the clouds, dancing the storms [=
> "sensuous similarity"] �  
> interests me, and there could be a political reading desired by Marcus, not
> sure, when you speak of 
> >
> Oliveros produce[s] overtones from subaudible fundamentals, even if they
> cannot be felt, the audible sounds do
> not necessarily abdicate their epiphenomenal relationship.
> >
> that is a daring formulation, I feel, anthropomorphizing sound into an
> agent, and there then are co-agencies, some that are not known/recognized
> (like invisible drones that capture us or shoot us, not drone music)  But
> maybe you read waves and ultrasound etc as forces that operate on the
> universe, on the earth, on social spaces and habitats, but the
> imperceptible ones, what effect do they have on humans, animals, objects,
> architectures, ecologies? what type of agency would be that that could be
> resisted or coopted, or in-corporated (whether along the axis of an anatomy
> or furtherfield) or contested (the sounds and epiphenemena that are
> dangerous to the health of the planet or the inhabitants). Could you  all
> say a bit more about the overtones, or what Marcus mentioned regarding
> tuning or being out of tune -   "The unpresentable aspects of sound and
> vibration become a model for the unpresentable as such"?
> regards
> Johannes Birringer 
> [Douglas schreibt]
> [..]
> 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.
> Douglas
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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Douglas Kahn
National Institute for Experimental Arts
College of Fine Arts
University of New South Wales, Sydney

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