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

Marcus Boon mboon at yorku.ca
Mon Jun 16 01:27:20 EST 2014

So today's the last day of our exploration of energy and vibration as ways of thinking of an expanded field of sound studies ... and of our discussion of Douglas' new book Earth Sound Earth Signal. Thanks to Douglas and Nina for sharing their thoughts on these matters!

I understand Douglas' concern that this kind of work will fall between the gaps -- but I think it also challenges us to develop the kinds of competences in things like basic physics that will help us to reconfigure disciplines -- and our own practices, whether they're built around history, art, theory etc.  And, to put it in Latourian things, the invisible nature-cultural hybrids are all around us ... they are what constitutes our reality, which makes it all the more urgent that we refine our awareness of these matters.

For myself I'm interested in the ways in which the arguments and developments which Douglas has given us allow us to think about popular and subcultural cultural practices.  My father was an amateur shortwave radio enthusiast, and I did spend some of my childhood in West London watching him and listening in to the frequencies he was exploring.  So somehow when those same frequencies appeared in early Cabaret Voltaire tracks, it didn't surprise me at all ... it was a familiar part of my sonic environment -- but therefore also one that I gave little thought to.  


On 2014-06-13, at 8:09 PM, Douglas Kahn wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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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