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

Douglas Kahn djkahn at ucdavis.edu
Mon Jun 16 09:30:17 EST 2014

Thanks, Marcus, for the invitation, acting as moderator for your
contributions, and thanks Nina and everyone else for contributing.

Per Christoph and OOO, I think Jane Bennett does well on its pros and cons
her essay on Harman and Morton. The important thing to remember is that
Morton is not defined by OOO alone, in fact, he was brought to wide public
attention for his eco-theory and for many that is how he is still best
known. And OOO on a vernacular level (as a philosophy it's influence
exceeded the usual demographic of discourse) it became an occasion and
exercise for a radical reversal, not just of agency but in an ecological
frame as well. This was in conjunction with Serres, Latour and Bennett, but
perhaps it was the seeminly stark manner in which it was posed that served
as an emblem for this field. In any event, it was quite important
politically with respect to eco-theory, even if now it is being critiqued
along the lines of more traditional philosophical debates. 

My concern for an expanded field of sound studies, as Marcus framed part of
our discussion this week, has been formed by my study and association with
experimentalism in the arts/music, both in its open-ended approach to its
own means and contexts and its desire to address and connect with daily
life, "art and life", and a breadth of politics. You can see Jonathan
Sterne in his introduction to The Sound Studies Reader and choice of
entries being especially capacious in response, in my intuition, to an
uneasy undercurrent of possible academization. It goes with the territory.
Close scholarly studies, of course, shouldn't be confused with academic
ones circling in tightly on ultimately irrelevant questions. So it's my
opinion that it is the class of drives that opened sound studies initially
that should be valued most. They should continue to operate in Marcus'
expanded field of sound studies even if they exceed the sound barrier to
get out into what's important, of which there's plenty to chose from. 

Again, thanks Marcus, Nina and empyre. Everyone, please feel free to
contact me to discuss any of these issues. As you can see, I like to talk.


> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> 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.  
> Best
> Marcus
> 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
> >> 
> > _______________________________________________
> > empyre forum
> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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

More information about the empyre mailing list