[-empyre-] Why Noise?

Joo Yun Lee jooyun.lee.1 at stonybrook.edu
Mon Mar 19 05:19:15 AEDT 2018

Hi All,

Thanks for inviting me to this discussion group and I’d like to share some
of my interests and inquires in/about the proposed topic, hoping to hear
your feedback and open up a discussion.

First of all, I am not a sound specialist/scholar nor practitioner. As a
curator and art historian, I have had a growing interest in sound practices
and the related discourses, finding the reception and adoption of
contemporary audio practice in the intersection of visual art and so-called
media art. Hence, I delimits my research within sound art practice that
interfaces with digital media and the viewer/listener’s experience of
the corporeal effects of such practice and its social aspects.

In this respect, I want to take Ryoji Ikeda’s work as an specific example,
addressing the following question. Paris-based Japanese composer and visual
artist Ryoji Ikeda, who was a preeminent figure in glitch microsound and
the laptop music at large in the 1990s, as well as an active member of the
Japanese experimental intermedia collective Dumb Type (est. 1984 in
Kyoto), has expanded the arc of his artistic experimentation from music to
visual art. In particular, Ikeda’s site-specific installation of sonic and
visual intricacies—such as A (2000– ), a sound installation of pure sine
waves; matrix(2000–), a site-specific multi-channel sound installation
series; Spectra II (2002– ), a site-specific audiovisual
installation—experimented with a new realm of audiovisuality reduced
from the “compositional potential of pure electronic data,” revealing the
ontological complexity of sound and light that exists in both
the informational and material domains. In an analogous way to his music,
which deliberately reduces, restrains, and abstracts sound at the
micro-level and yet extensively orchestrates sonic intricacies at the
macro- level in time and space, Ikeda’s sound-oriented installation
turns sonic abstraction into a constantly transforming
soundscape, fostering the immersive theatrical quality and
stimulating the viewer/hearer’s engagement at the limits of their
perception. Thus, Ikeda’s work challenges and also ensures the
viewer/listener’s highly sensible experience of being in sonic space rather
than its signification effects in the linguistic sense.

Here, I find that media theorist and practitioner Mitchell Whitelaw’s
discussion of inframedia audio practice provides a firm theoretical ground
to support Ikeda’s work as well as many other sound practices that mediate
digital computation. According to Whitelaw, inframedia is “stratum below or
within the cultural mainlines of the electronic media,” and “in the
broadest sense, ecological, and this might be the core of its importance:
it shows up the fake immateriality of the electronic media, collapses the
clean, evanescent streams of data back into sensible dirt and grit; pulls
the media themselves out into the material world, into temporal,
kinesthetic and affective experience.” In this context, inframedia audio
practice integrates the “sensory and affective textures of a media
substrate, rather than media ‘content.’” That is, in the content driven
media industry and culture, “changing media technologies, and their
administration, discipline, control, and misappropriation, continue to
incite commercial, ethical and legislative turmoil. The very idea of
‘content’ reflects its status as a secondary concern; media infrastructure
is where the stakes are highest.” Hence, the rich absence of contents in
inframedia audio practice opens up a new domain of media aesthetics and
media critics, in a way, making media infrastructure—that is opaque,
inaccessible, and controlled—audible, “routing it out through the speakers,
into the sensorium.”

In this respect, possibly taking Ikeda’s work as an example, I want to open
up more discussions about contemporary sound practice’s key strategic and
political importance in contemporary culture, especially underscoring its
exploration of our reality entangled with media infrastructure and data
and its as yet unknown dimensions.


Mitchell Whitelaw, “Inframedia Audio,” first published in Artlink 21(3)
(Sept 2001): 49-52

Joo Yun Lee
Ph.D. Candidate in Art History and Criticism - Contemporary Art and Digital
Media, Stony Brook University
E-mail: jooyun.lee.1 at stonybrook.edu / jylovelf at hotmail.com
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