[-empyre-] Friday, 20th: The Sonic "Work, " New Media, and Theory

Seth Kim-Cohen seth at kim-cohen.com
Sat Jun 21 10:26:21 EST 2014

Hello again

Moving on...

I want to take up David's question, specifically this: (quoting Hansen) "'for the first time in our history, media […] has become distinct from its own technical infrastructure' (p. 172). What novel affordances are offered by aural practices—in the broadest sense—in the context of this second, singular, newness?"

Having been significantly persuaded by Craig Dworkin's arguments in his book No Medium (MIT 2013), I'm not sure what media might mean as or "distinct from its own technical infrastructure.” Dworkin shows that every time we try to form the thought, "a medium is x" we create rules which the "medium" in question cannot obey. Ultimately, medium cannot be merely technical infrastructure, it cannot be the material support, it cannot be the genre or the form... At least, it's fair to say, it cannot be any of these things alone. Dworkin gives the example of Broodthaers' Pense Bete (http://armathrop.wikidot.com/mise-en-page). Copies of Broodthaers' own book of poems are encased in plaster. In the process, the books relinquish their claim on the medium of literature, at the same time, the plaster surrenders its status as a sculptural medium, because it now functions as an - admittedly poor - binding material for the book(s). Ultimately, the problem isn't that each medium swaps itself out for the status of another, but that each material and each medium slips into an ambiguous position between mediums, and I would argue, beyond mediality itself. 

To connect this argument to my question, the same basic logic applies to the status of the work. To say "the work is x" is inevitably to leave some feature or function of the work out of the equation (not to mention the fact that what the work is or does will change based on its time, place, and situation of audition). I would agree, then, with Dworkin who says that medium is a relational construct, a nexus of temporary and contingent forces brought together as a matter of convenience and convention to help corral the meaning and effect of a work or set of works. This is equally true of how we use the word "work." What the work is, where it begins and ends, what other entities it rightly interacts with, are all open questions to be contingently located at the crossroads of various concerns, audiences, interactions, histories, psychologies, intentions, politics, and desires. This is a messy pain in the ass for the artist, audience, and critic alike. And I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Have a nice weekend!


On Jun 20, 2014, at 4:36 AM, Jim Drobnick wrote:

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

Thanks for the discussion yesterday -- it feels like we've just scratched the surface! 

For today, the topic is The Sonic "Work," New Media, and Theory, and will involve questions by David Cecchetto, Christoph Cox and Seth Kim-Cohen. This series of inquiries address the ontological and/or socially-constructed aspects of sound art, how its works are circumscribed by or reconfigure the genre of media art, and how it may generate new theoretical paradigms:

1) David Cecchetto: Mark Hansen notes that the term “new media” has both a plural and singular sense: plural in that the novelty of every medium waxes as an incipient innovation before waning into the sedimented form of the medium itself; and at the same time singular in that "for the first time in our history, media […] has become distinct from its own technical infrastructure” (p. 172). What novel affordances are offered by aural practices—in the broadest sense—in the context of this second, singular, newness? Might aurality, for example, conjure alternative sensitivities to these ubiquitous data flows and rhythms of change? Or does such a claim slide too easily into an essentialized understanding of sound? (Mark Hansen, “New Media,” in Critical Terms for Media Studies, ed. by Mark Hansen and W.J.T. Mitchell, University of Chicago Press, 2010). 

2) Christoph Cox: How can we move beyond the phenomenological and poststructuralist approaches that have thus far dominated thinking about sound?

3) Seth Kim-Cohen: In “What Is An Author?” Foucault writes, “A theory of the work does not exist, and the empirical task of those who naively undertake the editing of works often suffers in the absence of such a theory… The word work and the unity that it designates are probably as problematic as the status of the author's individuality.”

      Let’s take this problem seriously.

      Thinking the work as always otherwise suggests a certain wisdom in regard to the other: to be wise regarding the other is to be "otherwise." The other, in this case, is, of course, not necessarily another subject, or even another sonic object, but a host of forces beyond the material or formal aspects of the sonic work: politics, economics, history, intention, power, gender, race, etc. In this sense, the sonic work is constituted similarly to Foucault’s notion of the author function. It cannot be ascribed as, or to, a specific entity. Rather, it designates a sort of spatial conceit, a location in which disparate components might coalesce, implying a necessarily temporary and contingent substance, founded and formed in accordance, not with its own self-contained aspects or demands, but according to the exigencies of something we might call an event, rather than an entity. 

      My questions, then, are: What is gained (or lost) in abandoning the fictional unity of the sonic “work”? If we abandon material and formal aspects as the determinants of the boundaries of the phenomena under consideration, how do we adjudicate the jurisdiction of the work, not to mention, that of criticism, evaluation, or even, production? 

There's quite a bit to delve into here, but if David, Christoph or Seth would like to further elaborate, please jump in. 


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