[-empyre-] Thursday, 19th: Hearing and Listening

Seth Kim-Cohen seth at kim-cohen.com
Fri Jun 20 00:27:27 EST 2014

Hello All

Nice to be with you and thanks, Jim, for the invitation to participate. 

Art that engages sound is not a special case. The same obligations obtain, and the same privileges too. The fetishization of audio technology hearkens back to half-century-old discussions of the "material support" of visual artworks. Why should we care if the painting is on canvas or linen? Likewise, should we know or want to know if it's Supercollider or Max or a CD? Similarly, why is listening isolated, idealized, and idolized? Ultimately, the interactions that sustain interest and importance are not those between sound waves and eardrums, but between ideologies and economies, between societies and subjects, between history and concentrations of power. 

The fatigue with the language of conceptual art expressed by Semitransgenic strikes me as a response to the very difficult and neverending work of resisting the dominant vocabularies of our times and places. Such vocabularies are so pervasive as to operate transparently and to be adopted unproblematically as natural. The best "international art-speak" of the past fifty years has taken it upon itself to sprinkle sand in the gears of the cultural-industrial machinery. Of course, the machinery constantly recoups this sand as raw material for further manufacture. This recuperation produces both our collective fatigue and the demand for further "innovation" (I use the term cautiously) in the strategies and modes of alternative meaning-making. 

I fear - genuinely, I do - that our collective recourse to technology, to listening, to mute materiality, is a signal of retreat from the ubiquity of cultural-ecnomic hegemony. Sound schmound. Let's think about the relationships artworks create between audiences, institutions, conventions, ideas, and philosophies. Then we're on to something. 

Kindest regards to you all


On Jun 19, 2014, at 9:09 AM, Jim Drobnick wrote:

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
For today, Thursday, 19th, our focus will be on "Hearing and Listening." While these topics may have been addressed in the past through perceptual or phenomenological  methods, the questions by Jennifer Fisher, Eldritch Priest and Salomé Voegelin hint at the affective, bodily and political forces implicitly at work during this activity. Too often it is assumed that hearing or listening merely involves a passive transfer of sensory data, as if the ear were merely a conduit for information. But it's clear that the ear is subject to socialization and bias, training and discipline, personal idiosyncracies, and influence by the surrounding environment. The 3 questions today, then, seek to reflect upon the effects of such influences when attending to audio art:

1) Jennifer Fisher: What is the significance of spatial resonance and affect when listening to sound art? How do hearing and proprioception combine in formations of resonance?  How might the resonances of ambient space -- whether a museum, concert hall or other venue -- operate contextually in curating sound art? My sense is that resonance operates somewhat differently from vibration: if vibration stems from the tactile sensing of a discrete object (or its emission from a particular point in space), might resonance afford more delocalized, contextual, intensification of hearing and proprioception?  

2) Eldritch Priest: Through tropes such as the often cited “the ears are never closed,” artists and theorists alike routinely posit audition as form of “exposure,” a veritable faculty that lays us open and vulnerable to the world. But as Steven Connor notes, the ear is not submissive; it "actively connives to make what it takes to be sense out of what it hears.” This means that the ear not only refuses to entertain an outside -- “noise” -- but its operations seem to entail "a kind of deterrence of sound” such that to hear is always to mishear. But if all hearing is mishearing, audition can only be a fundamental hallucination that works for the powers of the false. From this premise we might ask whether hearing is (in both its ordinary and Peircean sense of the term) an abduction of the “outside.” What would it mean or do, then, for sound studies—specifically sound studies in its humanistic phase -- that its organ of concern (l’oreille) is steeped primarily in “guesswork”? Does studying sound mean studying what is effectively a connivance? And if so, if audition is always making sense up, then with what, or as Neitzsche would say, with “whom” is it complicit?

3) Salomé Voegelin: What is the relationship between listening and sound art?

Jennifer, Eldritch and Salomé, please feel free to further elaborate or extend your initial thoughts!




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