in Lists, Orphans, Revelations, Sound

27 Things to Be Said About Sound Generation – October 10, 2005

27 Things to be said about Sound Generation (in lieu of writing an introduction)
October 10, 2005


1) Our Aim: Sound Generation aims to survey contemporary sound art practices, with special focus on the role of recording technology, the relationship of sound art to traditional artistic disciplines, and the political ramifications of artists’ processes.
Invited artists represent a diverse range of practices: concrete music, noise music, ambient; ‘glitch music’ and microsound; sound collage, voice collage, radio narrative and “ear-films”; field recording; acoustic sculpture; extreme aplification and oscillating structures; public audio intervention; web-radio.
Interviews explore conceptual questions on the nature of sound; the demarcations of sound art; and the relationship between sound and the visual. Issues at the intersection of technology and politics will be investigated in the context of each artists work: What are the political implications of sound generation, recording and manipulation processes? How do artists engage the political economy of performance and distribution? What potentials and risks lie in radio, microradio, and webcasting, or in involvement with the gallery system or music industry? Issues of influence and precedence will be explored, and we hope this will illuminate details in the emerging contours of the history of sound art.


2) A few things worth noting. At the time we began this (in 2001) “sound art” was a word on the tip of alot of tongues in the art world. The show VOLUME: BED OF SOUND had rocked and rested New York the summer before, and there was a listening section at the BITSTREAMS show at the Whitney. NOISE WATER MEAT had made a loud and fleshy spash, and there was talk of a sound art section in the upcoming Whitney Biennial. In short, there was a great deal of interest (which led Greg and I to believe that the book would be eminently fundable, and well-received.) At the same time as there was a great deal of interest, no one really seemed to know, what the fuck is sound art? The “what is it?” question was especially pressing in New York where, then as now, alot of what was passing as sound art was electronic music in a gallery setting, possibly with some attention to spatialization of the sound or its visual presentation. I intuitively felt that sound art was something, and not everything by that name was it. Thus, the book also felt like a very necessary attempt at answering that question, and when I write my introduction, I had better clearly make the attempt.


3) What is sound art? It is significant to note that while several of the artists in this book do refer to themselves as “sound artists”, I dare say that none of them besides Ed Osborn propose any clear definition or delineation of “sound art.” I myself well understand this situation.


4) I, like many young artists in 2001, had begun calling myself a sound artist without really knowing what it was. I knew that Vehicle for Conversation, both in the original performance and in the subsequent installations and performances, were sound art.


5) {Explanation of Vehicle for Conversation project, into the questions of this book. Introduce issue of location, articulation of place. Location is essential. Specificity of location against the ubiquity of abstract space. It runs through every level of the project: Locating my perspective/trajectory; locating interviewees trajectory; locating events of sound; locating deployments of sound.} {Location! Location! Location!}


6) With Vehicle for Conversation, I felt like I had crossed some kind of boundary into an art practice where sound was primary. I recognized a trajectory that led there, from my first poems written on dictaphone, to my poetry performances with boom-box accompaniment to my three-years radio project The Influence of Dada Amongst Colonized Peoples. This trajectory was grounded in American poetry, and led me into this intermedia outside of poetry. My trajectory marked me, it left traces. Within the intermedia of sound art, I found other artists, who all bore traces of their own trajectories, above all from sculpture, cinema, poetry or music. We were like naturalized immigrants in a new land, speaking a common language, but our accents (our preoccupations, our tropes) revealed our native countries.
The only certainty of definition lay in its intermedia-ness. Sound art is rhizomatic, its roots are multiple and promiscuous. {And, while now, as it is becoming an official practice (as with installation) the academies are attempting to create a foundation for sound art, this can only be an impoverishment.}


7) This understanding of trajectory informed the practice and structure of this book. Accepting sound art as a plural overarching category, we avoided imposing any geneological assumptions, letting the actual positions and trajectories of interviewed artists inform us of routes to follow.


8) So, in a way, I am saying there is such a thing as a sound artist, and no such thing as a sound artist, and no such thing as sound art. This is a precarious position, but I take heart in the words of Conze, the great translator of Buddhist texts, who said of the Prajnaparamita sutra:

“All the many thousand lines of this sutra can be summed up in two sentences:
1) One should become a Bodhisattva, i.e. someone content with nothing less than all knowledge obtained through the perfection of wisdom for the sake of all living beings.
2) There is no such thing as a Bodhisattva, or all knowledge, or a ‘being’ or the perfection of wisdom, or an attainment.” (p.5)

Sound Generation, a survey of contemporary sound art, can be summed up in a similar fashion:
One should become a sound artist, and abandon the fetters of whatever traditional discipline has brought them to this intermedia.


9) Categories are empty. But they serve a purpose.



10) Back to Vehicle for Conversation, and my preconceptions at the outset of this book, to be unpacked:

sound as material
rupture of technology
assault upon power

organization of sound as the forming model of collectivity
emergent models of sonic practice engendering new collectivity

language and consciousness
restoration of voice
sound and consciousness

production of heterogeneity within homogonized space
abstract space
standardized language


11) Sound as material 1:
What is sound? “Sound is our perceptions of differences in pressure in the air.” Ephemerality of sound. Ephemerality and the historic modes – folk and notational. Only music could be repeated. Notational composition as a grand recording device. Music-world as an immense recording-and-playback system. Reference to Cutler. Recording as the introduction of sound as material – virtual material in the historic modes, actual material with the advent of phonography.


12) Sound as material 2:
The big bang of this whole universe we’re exploring is a half-deaf man singing Mary Had A Little Lamb into a horn attached to a needle attached to a spinning cylinder of wax that would later sing back to him. Stuck-sounds. Another mythic power of divinities achieved by modern humanity


13) Rupture of technology 1 :

“Sound inhabits its own time and dissipates quickly. Its life is too brief and ephemeral to attract much attention, let alone occupy the tangible duration favored by methods of research. Only recently in historical terms have there existed the conceptual and technological techniques available to sustain a full range of sounds outside their own time… the mere existence of phonography – it’s ability to hold onto any one sound in time and keep all sounds in mind – produced a new status for hearing.” – Douglas Kahn


14) At the outset of this project, I thought “the recorder is everything.” No longer. (Later we will turn to demarcation between phonographic and generative sound art.) Nonetheless, recording is the break.  Attali speaks of mode of repetition. Cutler speaks of modes of memory; O+A and Westerkamp speak of new hearing.


15) Assault upon power 1: Organization of sound gives us the very idea of the possibility of social existence, frames how we relate with each other and express our shared needs. Organization of sound enables the existence of a social body. Attali: “More than colors and forms, it is sound…”


16) Assault upon power 2: Music and power. Symphony and industrial society.


17) Assault upon power 3: Attali’s “composition” and self-management.


18) Assault upon power 4: language and consciousness. The scribes. Legality and power. Nebrija and letrados. Grammar.


19) Assault upon power 5: It was recording that freed language from writing, allowing radical poets to at last realize Mayakovsky’s demand in “How to Construct Verse”: the revolution must make art of people’s actual everyday language. With recording, poets can at last quit being writers and can really “construct verse” with actual utterances. This also murders the monologue inside one’s head, making possible polyvocal works only hinted at with the limitations of ink. Imagine if the many voices of Paterson really sounded different? Moreover, if they could overlap, becoming variously simultaneous and distinct? This could reorganize our brains! This was the end of the power behind the scribes! My recorder and mixer filled me with downright revolutionary fervor. I felt that sound art could and would change the world, through a radical practice of recording, if only we could define that practice. {Reference to Rasula “Poetry’s Voice-Over”}


20) Assault upon power 6: sound and consciousness. Reference to Amacher. O+A. Discussion of resonance (to direct one to Greg’s essay.) New sound is revolutionary. Anecdote of Lenin and the Theremin? “Lenin stood up, moved to the instrument, stretched his hands out… It is not so often that that a head of state tries out the latest electronic musical instrument, and, yet more exceptionally, plays it well.” If include, Foreshadow music and authority – the two traditions. Plato’s warning: “Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state and ought to be prohibited.” Yes, new sound is revolutionary, but what ends will it serve? It all comes back to composition. Musical composition is hierarchy. We need a more specific word for Attalian composition. {Other possible anecdotes here: Opening of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring?}


21) Interlude: What do we mean by politics? “This is what we mean when we say it is a political piece…” Sam Auinger. Roots of politics. Reference to Tobias. Spontaneity beyond politics, foreseen by new types of collectivity in new types of sound organizing: Tobias and affect, INB and tactics, Lockwood and region, Westerkamp and soundscape/place, Ultra-Red / DeLaurenti et al on sited-event. Leave a growing tip for the turn to tactics to pop-up later.


22) Production of heterogeneity: Lefebvre: Abstract space. Differential space. Abstract space and captialism. Abstract space and visuality: active seeing (watch, gaze, survey) versus active hearing (listening). In favor of listening.


23) Production of heterogeneity: A particular revolutionary sound art practice: the articulation of local places. Reference to Westerkamp and Vehicle for Conversation. Reference to the two-traditions (Lockwood: “That Cage and Stockhausen divide is still with us.”) Composition and power. Authority and anti-authority. {Discussion of Frijian mode?} The tradition of purity/authority. Mother fucking Milton Babbitt: “I realized there was a tremendous discrepency between what we could specify and what could be done by performers… [with the Mark II Synthesizer] the notion of having complete control over one’s composition, of being complete master of all you could survey… it seemed a practical solution, a musical solution.” (Chadabe, p18). {Delicately mention Konrad Schitzler: “I wanted to make the machines do exactly what I wanted them to.”} The tradition of purity does not accept what-is. {what about Grainger, free music? Maybe too complicated to bring in…} The tradition of purity LOVES synthesizers!


24) Production of heterogeneity: Oppose tradition of purity to tradition of improvisation. In favor of improvisation. The implications of improvisation. Phonography as emboldening improvisation


25) Other findings 2: Demarcation of generative and phonographic practices. Electronic material. New forms of synthesis. Muddier situation. The Cage/Stockhausen divide is old: Synthesis and phonography are not necessarily respectively pure or improvisational any longer. Xenakis. And, what about rhythm? I need to touch on rhythm just enough wiggle out of my responsibility here.


26) Missing: Having said all this, will I venture a definition of sound art? {I don’t know.} Also I haven’t touched anything from Whitehead on authority. Have to work this in…


27) The future? Fuck yeah. The weight of politics. The turn to tactics. Schism between the rebel and the revolutionary. Further meditations on listening. {In all the interviews. Who should we refer to?} New forms of collectivity. Swarms. {Reference to INB, reference to Xenakis. “It’s interesting for me because I’ve been in musical environments that were made not only by individual sounds but also with large numbers of sounds. When I was in the resistance in Athens, there were multiple sounds. Many people shouting at the same time, in thousands of cries, and I was amazed. Another thing: I used to go camping around Attica and I heard the cicadas and raindrops on my tent. I was always charmed by these noises.”} Radio-bodies. Affinity. Self-management. Autopoiesis. Each cell creates the cell around it. Vitality. Moving forward. Listening. There is no conductor anymore.



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