[-empyre-] Saturday, 21st: The Disciplinarity of Sound Art

Kevin deForest kevin at lux.ca
Sun Jun 22 04:36:27 EST 2014

I'm also with Seth on the messiness of the production and reception of 
art. The point of art is not to clear that up, but to exist within it. I 
do lament to an extent the era of 1980's post-modernist and 1990's 
post-colonialist theory that had a canon of theory that my peer group at 
least was aware of and could converse in. I find the whole pluralist 
prophesy of "anything goes" in a currently oversaturated information age 
to make it harder for artists to have a common ground to begin a 
conversation with.

With schools in Europe offering degrees in Sound Art I start to wonder 
how the Sound Art discipline is being formulated, formalized or 
institutionalized. My art bias is rooted in conceptual work from the 
1960's from people like Max Neuhaus and Robert Barry, and currently I am 
a big fan of Postcommodity, an Aboriginal collective of musicians and 
artists that I feel importantly address issues of identity and 
colonialism through many of their sound based projects. As much as I am 
a fan of the "anything goes" principle, I still value art that is at 
least cognizant of issues of contemporary art from the last half century 
as much as it might be evolving out of currents and innovative new 

I suppose my problem is more with defining the "art" in sound art, which 
for some leans more toward technical and disciplinary mastery (and from 
some of the conversation this week, the pressure to be "innovative" 
usually in a technological sense).The ephemeral nature of the medium can 
still provide critical reaction, cultural awareness and reflection on 
the social as much as the physical space.I do however think it's 
important to retain sound art as a distinct category that an artist 
could fall in and out of depending on their project.

On 14-06-21 9:21 AM, Jim Drobnick wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Seth's trenchant post about the "messy pain" the status of the work 
> provides an interesting segue to today's topic on the disciplinarity 
> of sound art. Is it likewise messy? Questions by David Cecchetto, 
> Darren Copeland, Christoph Cox and Andra McCartney revolve around the 
> definition, distinctiveness, and gendering of sound art/studies:
> *1) Darren Copeland*: Is Sound Art a discipline separate from the 
> other disciplines of the arts (music, visual art, media art, etc.) or 
> is it simply a sub-genre with parallel histories in a number of arts 
> disciplines?
> *2) Christoph Cox*: Should (and/or how can) sound art break out of the 
> relative isolation it has enjoyed as a practice pursued by a small 
> group of artists but largely ignored by art historians, cultural 
> theorists, musicologists, and others?
> *3) Kevin deForest*: is there a need to define the term "sound art" 
> and "sound artist" in more specific terms? Although they are used in a 
> general way to acknowledge those working with audio in the production 
> of "art", I think the term should also be identified as a specific 
> discipline evolving out of a specific contemporary conceptual art context.
> *4) Andra McCartney*: A few questions: to what extent are gendered 
> differences being maintained or challenged by the new emphasis on 
> sound studies? To what extent do disciplines of sound studies rely on 
> the words and ideas of a small number of 'big men' to anchor and 
> distinguish their emerging field of study? How do disciplinary 
> perspectives become entrenched in sound studies?
> This will be the last series of questions posted for my hosting of 
> this week. Tomorrow (Sunday) will be a day to reassess and comment on 
> any question from the previous 6 days.
> Best,
> Jim
> On 2014-06-21, at 7:33 AM, Seth Kim-Cohen wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> 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!
>> Seth
>> ________________
>> www.kim-cohen.com <http://www.kim-cohen.com>
>> 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.
>> Jim
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