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

Christoph Cox ccox at hampshire.edu
Mon Jun 23 04:48:56 EST 2014

To Kevin's points: Collaborations between (or simply exhibitions that 
include both) sound artists and visual artists (despite the inaccuracy 
of those labels) are good ways forward, I think. But I actually don't 
think that museums have been "dumbing/dumbed down" lately. I see things 
going in the opposite direction. Museums have developed a much broader 
conception of what "art" is (including, e.g., sound, dance, performance, 
social practice work, relational aesthetics, experimental lectures, 
etc); and "education" departments have been emancipated from their 
subordinate role, allowing them to foster and encourage critical 
discussions between artists, critics, theorists, curators, etc. The most 
progressive museums (e.g., in New York: the New Museum and the Whitney) 
seem to be encouraging a laboratory approach that enables much greater 
fluidity between "disciplines" or "media," and between "artistic" and 
other sorts of practices.

To John's points: I'm curious what you mean by "materialist" when you 
speak of "materialist categories," "material outcomes," "materialist 
baggage." You seem to associate this term with Newtonian and Cartesian 
paradigms. I've used the term "materialist" several times in this 
discussion and just want to clarify that, my usage of the term (which, I 
think, follows current philosophical and scientific usage) has nothing 
in common with these paradigms and is much closer to the "energy-based 
worldview" you affirm. One of the reasons why sound is of philosophical 
importance, I think, is that it unsettles our ordinary ontology, which 
wrongly takes "matter" to consist of discrete, solid, visible, and 
tangible objects. The world is a single matter-energy, a continuous, 
ever-changing collection of flows. And sound plays a prominent role in 
investigating and creatively transforming this flux. This, I think, is 
what "materialism" affirms.

On 6/21/14, 11:26 PM, Kevin deForest wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> To Christoph: I think sound art would have a chance at greater 
> visibility in a museum setting, but with the current state of the 
> economy and the general dumbing down of museums in North America at 
> least, it feels like it would be a harder sell. It doesn't in general 
> offer shiny pop culture references to promote or advertise with for 
> starters. As Jim noted, there was a period at the turn of the 
> millennium when a number of sound art focused shows seemed to provide 
> critical mass in bringing the sound art category to a greater public 
> which I still think is very necessary. Its ephemeral and experiential 
> nature still has a radical quality that I think can still make 
> potentially accessible and innovative statements. Perhaps more curated 
> projects that involve sound artists collaborating with more visually 
> based artists could also result in interesting shows that dialogue 
> across media. Not the best example but I heard Christian Marclay 
> invited Christof Migone to DJ at one of his Christmas performances, 
> which I would have enjoyed taking in.
> 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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