DANNI ZUVELA, JOEL STERN
There’s a position between ‘sound in itself’ and ‘non-cochlear’ approaches that is not uninterested in what it sounds like, just more interested in what its effects are, what the forces are that produce it. This position hears, but also reads sound. Sound, as a text to be read:
• results from unexpectedly intersecting forces;
• is the site of multiple disciplinary crossings;
• is the sound itself, its social character and its effects;
“An expanded sonic practice would include the spectator, who always carries, as constituent parts of his or her subjectivity, a perspective shaped by social, political, gender, class and racial experience. It would necessarily include consideration of the relationships to and between process and product, the space of production versus the space of reception, the time of making relative to the time of beholding. Then there are history and tradition, the conventions of the site of encounter, the context of performance and audition, the mode of presentation, amplification, recording, reproduction. Nothing is out of bounds. To paraphrase Derrida, there is no extra-music.”1
• dealing not just with what is but may be;
“No music has the slightest esthetic worth if it is not socially true, if only as a negation of untruth; no social content of music is valid without an esthetic objectification.”2
This is our position.
Festivals are uniquely placed to provide context for the experience of new ideas, approaches – and sounds. If festivals are to be at all culturally relevant, if they are to break new ground or be ‘socially true’, they need to make use of their resources to create conditions under which disclosures may obtain to the works and the larger contexts which produce, enable and frame them.
“If the collision of a proposal with a work yields no sparks of radical attainment, then it is worthless to us.”3
As CHRISTOF MIGONE4 points out, the stutter is plural, it is multiple; it is an ensemble. When it voices otherness, it becomes a stutterance. The power of the stutterance, when it erupts from the uttering mouth, is the power to perform disruption on language. The stutter disturbs language’s servility to order, coherence and flow; this is ‘interruption as speech when the pause of intermittence does not arrest becoming but, on the contrary, provokes it in the rupture that belongs to it.’5
Morse Code may sound like experimental electronic music – but it isn’t music, it’s language. For it to be comprehensible demands a semantic listening6. But we don’t listen to codes; we act on them – or they act on us (or, most likely, both). Morse sounds require the activity of decoding as they are sounds whose most pertinent property is not acoustical. In fact, Morse works perfectly as an entirely silent system; a visual language, read by eyes, speaking entirely through the symbol. And so Morse Code, as an inescapably sonic phenomenon that nevertheless manages to escape the complete jurisdiction of the ear, offers itself to us as a test of thought. Might there be other things located in sound that only become legible when we place them in other contexts, play them into other systems? From Morse, a kind of paragon (exemplar, model) to parergon: this is Derrida’s term, picked up by Kim-Cohen, which designates the textuality of an artwork as irreducibly composed of – and by – its relations. Context not as an “added extra”, but as indivisible from the work itself: The text and its context is the text. So, from a focus on the formal, material properties of a sound, its perceptual or phenomenological qualities, into questions about what it is that sound is doing, what it produces and what produced it. This is the move from affect to effect.
Liquid Architecture’s 2014 program is invested in artists working with sound to ask questions about the systems, forces and assumptions structuring our society, our experience, and our listening, and to make those audible, or visible (or maybe let’s just say, ‘perceptible’). JOHANNES KREIDLER works in the mode of ‘expanded composition’. His Chart Music (2009) takes statistics, such as the plummeting stock price charts of the 2007-8 global financial crisis or war casualties, as visual signal. Sonifying the graphics of economic glissando with cheap Microsoft software, Kreidler makes the charts sing saccharine pop melodies tuned to the infantile register consistently used by the culture industries in cultivating each successive generation of eager new consumers. From the opposition between children’s tunes and the reality of foreclosed homes and ruined lives rises a spectre of what the future beyond our gilded age might hold. In outsourcing the compositional labour for his 2009 work Fremdarbeit (Outsourcing) to a low-cost Chinese composer and Indian programmer, Kreidler critically reproduces fetishised managerial logic, making as he does both a profit, and a concert spectacle. The constellation of consumption, creativity and unequal global economic relations which produces music, discourse and listeners is more than Kreidler’s subject; it is also his material.
In code, information is represented by symbols. Each symbol is a unit of exchange, exchanging information, but is also exchangeable for other correlants. As sound stands in for language, and symbols for sounds, artists seek equivalences that stand in for relationships between culture and capital to find new ways of making these relations perceptible. ANDREW BROOKS and SAM PETTIGREW (UR 1st LUV) ask pointed questions about the devices used by the market to transform “things” into “commodities”, and how far the “artist as entrepreneur” is willing to go in order to participate in neoliberal regimes. Their successful Pozible campaign, the first work of this festival, proposed to make a work for the cash value of the amount raised through the crowdfunding process. The work is an activity: the decoding of their work back into its market value. Extending Johannes Kreidler’s methodology of reproducing contemporary business practices to artificially create value through the mechanism of invented scarcity, the artists here adopt the role of entrepreneur, speculator, banker and market manipulator. What this reduction of artistic practice into a unit of pure exchangeability makes apparent is that sound art, like all commodities, is a relation – it exists in a relationship of exchange, subject to the forces that determine its exchange value in the market at a given time.
Post-GFC, mid-catastrophe: amidst the clear-felling of arts and communities, opera, that most elite of musical forms, has its protected status, its unassailable immunity, confirmed. Radically re-imagined for the age of austerity, JOHN NIXON’s operatic songs address the arrangement of chairs and squares, and will be performed by one soprano in a trench. What Nixon’s and Ur 1st Luv’s works will precisely entail is uncertain, except that they will appoint, in Lyotard’s words, “kapital (as) stage director for noises and silences”.7
While the house of opera luxuriates in perpetual privilege, time is not so kind to others. ‘Classic rock’, for example, has little status left to preserve. NEW WAVER takes classic rock as code for conformism, flaccidity and defeat. Thus the classic rock devotee, marked by miscalculation, emerges as an ultimate loser – duped, deluded, uncool. From the remaindered wreckage of pitiless cultural depreciation, the storm called progress, the loser figure is one of history’s sadder angels: a harbinger of humiliation, enfeeblement, forfeiture and loss.
In New Waver’s world the diminution includes:
• masculine vitality (I Just Can’t Get Enough becomes I Just Can’t Get it Up)
• rebellion (Jail Break becomes Tea Break)
• identity (Working Class Man becomes Middle Class Man)
• community (Bohemian Rhapsody becomes Bohemian Suburb Rhapsody)
• analgesia (Heroin becomes Prozac)
New Waver’s inter-epochal transpositions make audible the sense of resignation produced by loss of social relevance and economic control – especially by the so-called creative classes who drive, and are then overtaken by the forces of gentrification:
“Hey dude, don’t be afraid
Move into this low-status neighbourhood
The minute you walk around looking hip
Then you begin to make it better
And every time we raise the rent, hey dude, relent
You carry investments on your shoulders
Enthusiastically organize events
And decorate retail strips with posters
[...] ha ha ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha, hey dude”8
The trajectory of New Waver’s persona over the years reflects deeper cultural shifts: from zine-swapping underground of the 1980’s, to the authentic thrills of indie rock and experimental music, to an increasingly alienated dad-rock existence experienced mostly online. Having ‘given up’ music around 2009, New Waver has taken recently to hosting ‘Facebook parties’.
“To listen to someone, to hear his voice, requires on the listener’s part an attention open to the interspace of body and discourse and which contracts neither at the impression of the voice nor at the expression of the discourse. What such listening offers is precisely what the speaking subject does not say: the unconscious texture which associates his body-as-site with his discourse: an active texture which reactualises in the subject’s speech, the totality of his history.”9
Between the speaking self and the voice expressed there is a space. This space – an ‘unconscious texture’, an interspace – takes in both sayer and said, and so is both between and encompassing them. MAKIKO YAMAMOTO, Alessandro Bosetti and Id M Theft Able’s work takes place in this space of exchanging subjectivities. Yamamoto uses self-interview as a strategy to dissolve the boundaries between speaker and listener, subject and self. Her repeated attempts to pronounce English words and escalating embarrassment seem to produce an increasing incapacity emblematic of the psychic dislocation built into transnational lifeworlds. But the stutter here is as much signal as it is failure, as these repetitive mispronouncements are also articulations of the dialogical self. For from the spaces between her utterances surfaces an expressive space, in which the social and cultural codes organising her experience as a Japanese woman speaking in an English-speaking society may be ventilated. What we witness at the point of language failure is not the artist’s actual shyness or humiliation, but rather her performance of these, as gendered gestures towards the ideal. The phatic becomes the emphatic. She does not speak this; it speaks through her, to sound the possibility of attaining a transformation of these relations.
“all signification takes place within the orbit of the compulsion to repeat; “agency”, then, is to be located within the possibility of a variation on that repetition”10
ALESSANDRO BOSSETTI’s work proceeds from a central act of ventriloquism. In live performances, the artist uses a keyboard to reorganise and play units of his pre-recorded speech in improvised but increasingly elaborate and absurd dialogues. For Bossetti, this noisy, machinic self-speaking presents as an alternative to the detached mental purity of the meditating mind – what he calls a ‘reverse meditation’, which “makes sound and makes sense no longer as the sounds of some things, but in their own resonance”11. This logorrheic performative putatively models the ungovernability of human thought – at a moment when the activity of unseen forces that unceasingly analyse and cultivate our space for thinking intensifies in ever-multiplying ways.
“Sound coming out of her had been a sound coming out of her and going on and coming out of her and coming out of her and going on and coming out of her and coming out of her and rising”12
Equally impenetrable, IDM THEFT ABLE is more assemblage than individual. The artist rejects the conventional signifiers of a unified, coherent self, such as a recognisable name, familiar image or consistent style. His performances, ostensibly sited within the permissive parameters of experimental music, harness a material and processual unpredictability so pronounced as to constitute to what might be termed a personal strategy of radical unintelligibility, a refusal to be read.
So dissociated are the iterations of persona, and so persistent the shifts between them that i’d m thfft able moves beyond the practice of self-speaking into a kind of self-scrambling, like the wearer of a scramble suit who is Everyone in every combination. This is the multiplication of the self as critical defense mechanism. This is evasive manoeuvring. This is not the practice of self-invention13 but the constant re-invention of The Stranger, “the ultimate impossible subject (who) only respects the authority of radical performativity rather than the Represented”14, sabotaging representation and the forces of order and control.
Over the course of the last year, HONG-KAI WANG has transformed transcriptions of her interviews with senior artist Chris Mann and a group of his long-term friends and collaborators into scripts for actors, with whom she will work in the performance of her Conceptual Biography of Chris Mann. In this way, the artist’s friendship with her subject, developed in private, is taken into the public sphere, where it can open onto the political. However, this decentred, distributed authorial approach produces various tensions – formally, at the level of the narrative approach, between the truth claims of biography and the dramatic imperatives of live performance; and socially, by estranging the interviewer and interviewees from their reflections and commentary on their friend, the living subject.
“the future of the political becomes the future of friends, the invention of a radically new friendship, of a deeper and more inclusive democracy”15
Talking about “the political problem of friendship”, Derrida suggests that friendships developing from what he calls the simulacra, meaning the social codes of etiquette in the public sphere, bring with them potential for conflict, but also the opportunity for mutual respect for the freedom of the other. Hong-Kai’s project invites danger, and potentially even jeopardy to the very subject, matrix and material of the work: friendships. Yet it proceeds from an artistic methodology that echoes and is profoundly informed by the praxis of its subject – and so is both a representation, and expression of that friendship.
‘Deep listening’, as usually theorised and practised, is an approach that offers the listener intensely subjective opportunities to delve into the unlimited depths of their sonic perception.
We want to propose a deep listening today that shifts focus from listening, in the established mode, towards ‘listening to listening’, the multifarious regimes that produce not just what, but how we hear, and are heard. ‘Listening deeply’ to the world today sounds questions about power: about who has the deepest capacity to listen, or as Attali puts it, to “listen in on”. These are the digital communication superpowers and their lackeys, the state listening apparatuses, that together act through but also upon us, as what Attali presciently described as “a gigantic, monopolising noise emitter, and at the same time, a generalised eavesdropping device,” giving rise to the question, “(e)avesdropping on what? In order to silence whom?”16
Artists both answer and call these questions. ROBIN FOX’s RGB Laser is an ambiguous spectacle. It is an unrivalled sound and light extravaganza addressed directly to the bodies and sensing organs of spectators, accelerating “to end in the unicity of a sensation that some people like to think of as a ‘visual orgasm’” (Virilio). But the tactics of expansion, dispersion, immersion, multiplicity can also act as a smokescreen for the “giant noise emitter”. This is rapid domination; addling, silencing, subduing, pacifying. This is direct force applied to command and control centres. These are the tactics of shock and awe. These are (about) technologies of power. This is the escapist euphoria of the laser light show, the soaring, strobing obliteration of disco, flicker film, rave or noise (hedonism, thrills, surrender). These are (about) technologies of pleasure. These are the distractions that legitimate, reinscribe, generate and disguise the disciplinary power of the military-entertainment complex.
“There is no clever feat of deconstruction here, only the beginnings of pure and simple dematerialisation of the art of seeing and of knowing; the confusion of the perceptible that is analogous, in many respects, with the confusion of this Babelian language where everything dissolves into indistinction, followed shortly by the indifference, then by the passivity, of a befuddled subject.”17
So: These riotous rays are either analytically reproducing, OR unintentionally quoting the strategies of the war machine (superior technology, precision engagement, information dominance). Maybe these are distress flares, sent up by an assembled collective consciousness from the site where ambivalent production and consumption are enacted at the level of experience (Mattin). Perhaps all that is dislodged in these oscillations is a glancing perception of a reality obscured, at once highly present and highly elusive.
The condition of absence within presence for you, as a listener, is the subject of neuroscientist NEIL McLACHLAN’s public experiment. To hear what is missing, we project, we expect, and so produce; and so what is tested and what we learn is not how deeply we listen, but how deeply our listening is determined. (Like Robin, Neil also experiments on us, but does so openly, and at least he publishes the result).
With one microphone, HELEN GROGAN produces a sonic account of the interior volume of the room, its form plotted by the specific movements of her singular body around the perimeter. With fifty microphones, Christof Migone produces a sonic account of the social space of the room, through the scored movements of fifty bodies lying face down on the ground. The accretion of these deliberate gestures requires an intimate listening, a listening in a real room to be comprehended through your presence in it. And so the move, from Helen’s Concrete Room (which opens this festival), to Christof Migone’s Hit Parade (which closes it), is a move from the one to the collective, from individuality to co-presence, symbolised as it is evidenced by the destroyed microphone. The aim is to amplify activity that has no conventionally productive effect other than community, in order to return, in some small way, agency that is rightfully yours. This isn’t just our conclusion; this is the conclusion.