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

John Hopkins jhopkins at neoscenes.net
Sun Jun 22 08:30:13 EST 2014

For those of us who have lived through several iterations of a technology 
'becoming' a field of creative/'artistic' inquiry, much of the discussion here 
may be retroactively recognized in substituting "new media" or "network" or 
"internet" or even, digging back a few decades, "photographic" for "sound" in 
"sound art" -- all these materialist categories have once been 'outsiders' in 
the dogmatic hierarchy of art institutions (including magazines, academies, 
fairs, museums, critics, funding bodies, etc etc...). Now many of them have 
their own journals, departments, museums, funding schemes, and so on. Who cares? 
The socially-mandated relevance of a art form seems to be peripheral to the 
intensity and verity of a creative praxis.

> 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

...snip ...

> as much as it might be evolving out of currents and innovative new technology.

To me this temporal repetition points to a distinct poverty of thinking that 
relies on tired materialist paradigms and an over-riding need for career-minded 
folks to justify their existence and their product-oriented processes. IMHO this 
way of thinking is a creative dead end -- to categoirze the world according to 
material outcomes rather than to approach it from a more wholistic and 
continuous pov. (For example, an energy-based one that Douglas has suggested.) 
(and, at the same time recognizing that much of the language we use is so 
replete with materialist baggage its scarcely possible to escape the gravity of 
soul-killing Cartesian dominance -- we do not approach any 'thing' we are not 
separate from the world except in our socially-primed and abstracted imaginings).

To take on an energy-based worldview is to be liberated from the underlying 
paradigms of Newtonian physics whose limits in modeling reality cause those 
following the dominant worldview to imagine themselves as the detached observers 
of a segmented and categorically-defined world -- this to the detriment of the 
whole global system ...

(Physicist David Bohm proposes a powerful alternative view in his book "The 
Implicate Order" where he observes the effects of the Newtonian approach, for 
example where "from early childhood we learn to accept the notion that the world 
is constituted out of a tremendous number of different and separately existent 
things. Among which is the self as a 'physical body,' sharply bounded by the 
surface of the skin, and then as a 'mental entity' ... which is 'within' this 
physical body and which is taken to be the very essence of the individual human 
being. The notion of a separately existent 'self' thus follows as an aspect of 
the generally accepted metaphysics, which implies that everything is of this 
nature." It is this illusion of separation that has profound consequences in 
life and it needs to be understood as a convenient form of "metaphysical art 
that fits our general experience within certain limits, [but is] not an 
expression of how thing really are": that is, fundamentally *not* separated ...)

so it goes.

I suggest that an energy-based definition of (any particular or in total) 
technology is crucial for exploring the dynamics of the wider social system that 
will provide any results addressing our current situation on the planet. 
Technology may be seen, in this context, as an array of specific individually 
adopted or discovered, collectively-refined and optimized pathways that govern 
any and all of the flows of energy that cumulatively form a social system. 
Technology is prima facie evidence of the actuality for human life to alter and 
distort pre-existing flows as it endeavors to optimize its relationship with 
those existing energy sources.

Getting stuck focusing a discourse *or* praxis on particular sets of 
technological protocols without understanding what it means to 'use' a 
technology ends up ultimately repeating the obvious and never understanding how 
our 'system' is functioning.  (Here, the concept of protocol defined as the 
existence of refined, defined (learned or imposed) pathways for energy to follow 
in the 'service' of the system that generated the protocol. A protocol does not 
carry any energy itself although by definition energy is expended when a 
protocol is applied.)

I understand that if some of you consider yourselves 'sound artists', or you've 
been taught in a 'sound art' program or you've been hired on as the faculty 
member in a new 'sound art' department that a pragmatic survivalist approach as 
a participant in the dominant social system dictates that you have to carry 
those distinctions around like the baggage of all the socially-mandated 
behaviors, I understand this challenge very well, I have been called a sound 
artist myself, among other perjoratives. My comments here come from being a firm 
believer in the value of ignoring the labels, not relying much on prior 
frameworks or pov's and finding more idiosyncratic expressions and approaches 
arising from momentary impressions ...

So, just a few imaginary comments on the discussion so far...

Dr. John Hopkins, BSc, MFA, PhD
taking Manhattan as Berlin isn't possible right now

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