[-empyre-] body noise as (non)sense

Caitlin Woolsey caitlin.woolsey at gmail.com
Fri Mar 30 05:03:47 AEDT 2018

In his writings, Henri Chopin correlates the particular modernity of the
period after World War II with an operative assumption of plurality. He
sets this plurality (semantic, sonic, visual) against expression (artistic
or otherwise) as meaning. His work, I think, is not so much against
language as such as it is resistant to conceptions of meaning per se. You
can listen to a number of his sound works, which he called “audio-poèmes,”
on Ubuweb:

In "Vibrespace" from 1963, the artist constructs a sonic atmosphere that
engulfs the listener with rhythmic electronic pulses, rising bubbles, soft
clicks and hisses. The bodily trace remains: we hear the huff of the
artist’s intake of breath, and can identify the wet clack of his lips. Yet
machinic-sounding elements and natural evocations of wind and water are
juxtaposed with the vocalic remnants. In this particular audio-poem, the
listener experiences a sense of containment. Is it as if we have been
transported into a subterranean or underwater space, dark and enclosed, and
the auditory trajectory of this piece reflects back to us the interplay
between organic noises, the constructed soundspace in which we find
ourselves (like a submarine), and the protestations of our own senses that
may not find this kind of “poem” particularly pleasurable.

What is the poetics or “sense” of a work like "Vibrespace," which is
composed of the voice—but a voice that does not ostensibly speak as voice?
What about the sonic envelope it creates, which is evocative even as it is
impossible to fully locate? Chopin pursued what he called “mobile
signs”—positioned against the concrete (albeit metaphorical) stance “in the
beginning was the Word.” And yet I wonder: is a sound poem like Vibrespace
in fact closer to the biblical formulation, in which expression—the Word,
meaning—is made flesh, instantiated in the materiality of the human body.
Might its “nonsense” voice—scrambled and layered and distended through the
artist’s interventions and the tape recorder; and also constructed through
recording non-vocal bodily vibrations—convey meanings insofar as it is
created from and elicits a kind of embodied, haptic materiality?

What about the impulse to interpret noise, to understand it in relation to
human experience/analysis/effects (as Murat identified)?

And how do we talk about noise and sound work like "Vibrespace" that seems
to both elude and invite the impulse to describe or analyze or locate? I
grapple with this problem as someone who is trying to write about sound
works. Is there any way to describe them that doesn't mediate, compromise,
mislead? That is, to generate a whole lot of language/description around
the locus of the noise that resists being fixed? Perhaps this is where
Christof's proposal of noise as a hyphenating agent might productively come

Caitlin Woolsey
Yale University
PhD candidate in History of Art
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