Interference Journal Issue 6

Christof Migone; Microhole; 2006 (Photo courtesy of the artist).

The title of the inaugural issue of Interference – “An Ear Alone is Not a Being” : Embodied Mediation in Audio Culture – acknowledges acoustic practices that involve not just the ear but a corporeal body that senses, resonates, transduces and responds to sound, and furthermore, seeks to emphasize the legacy of this embodied listening subject in the practices, media, and conceptual frameworks that make up audio cultures. ‘Embodied mediation’ presumes a reciprocal process: the texts in this issue explore not only how listening experiences and acoustic practices are shaped by corporeality, but also attend to the many ways in which those processes work upon that body, through psychophysical affect and the representation and encoding of listening subjects in acoustic performances, technologies and cultural artefacts.

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In this essay, I examine the ways in which Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man enacts listening as a corporeally distributed process, one that is not isolated in the ear, but is instead dispersed throughout the body. This essay also engages the ways in which Ellison reflects on the impact of sound technology on constructions of race. While the novel dramatizes invisibility as its key metaphor for racial dislocation, Invisible Man amplifies listening as a fully embodied experience, one that allows the Invisible Man space in which to reconstitute his being. For instance, about his underground home in Harlem, Invisible Man says, “There is a certain acoustical deadness in my hole, and when I have music I want to feel its vibration, not only with my ear but with my whole body”. He owns one phonograph on which he plays Louis Armstrong’s “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?,” but he longs to own five phonographs so that he can envelope himself with the song’s sound. Invisible Man longs for Armstrong’s music to touch him, for audition that is felt as well as heard. In this sonic feeling, Invisible Man finds a space in which to potentially sense a newly materialized racial identity.

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This paper focuses on performance art which uses biosignals to digitally trigger or synthesise sound. A discussion of work in this field by artists Stelarc, Atau Tanaka, Pamela Z. and Mona Hatoum is followed by an account of how a critical engagement with these artists’ work is reflected in the practical approach to biosignal sonification in the author’s own performance practice. Adopting a cultural critical approach, the author suggests several ways to read the sound material in the discussed work as signifiers in a gender critical paradigm. Subsequently, drawing from accounts of the author’s own work, possibilities for a ‘queer’ practice of performance art with sonified biosignals are introduced, in which sonification methods which may be identified as adhering to normative technological paradigms, are deliberately juxtaposed with sonic references to technologies which are commonly considered inappropriate for male bodies.

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This paper re-evaluates the trope of music as a mode of performing subjectivity from the perspective of Slavoj Žižek’s critique of cognitivism and his discourse on the (post-Freudian) death drive. I locate performance within the gap between cognitivism’s emphasis on emotion within neurobiological reasoning, the foregrounding of empathy and sympathetic movement in embodied cognition, and deconstruction’s privileging of the text. In this light, recent developments in consciousness studies support Lacanian insights into the “object voice” and modes of listening to offer fresh insights into performance strategies in the transition from desire to drive in the performing subject. I propose a schema to ground the new models of subjectivity and embodiment in apparently diverse contemporary music, with a particular focus on works by Salvatore Sciarrino and Robert Ashley.

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This paper explores the ‘spaces’ of sound theatre, taking the voice into different acoustic and electronic realities. It examines aspects such as the dramaturgy of Space Frames and the relationship between real and virtual voices, as well as the nature of this interactivity with electronics. The theatrical space is deconstructed by means of a dislocation between direct and recorded sound, through the virtual voice that creates a shift in balance between sound and image, through the role of memory, the ‘neutral’ voice, the a-verbal musical voice, and the ‘mechanics’ of language. Examples from a performance project for voice and live electronics entitled ‘Zaum: Beyond Mind’ are given, citing the creation of a ‘third’ dramatic space in the mind of the receptor. In particular the process of call and response between the voice-body and the sound is examined within a performance situation.

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In this paper, we argue for cross-pollination between the discourses of cultural studies and phenomenology in the exploration and description of the embodied relations effected by contemporary digital media. After surveying literatures on both embodiment and cultural studies, specifically those that address auditory experience and the particularities of listening culture, we propose a case for developing a cultural phenomenology of technologically mediated aural practices. This functions as a point of departure for negotiating the notion of embodiment as a culturally contextualised inquiry – one that is reconfigured according to the prevalence and use of contemporary digital media. Some of the main contributions of this work lie in the coalescence of disparate, yet worthwhile and relevant sets of literature, which provide the groundwork for the development of a context sensitive, experientially-oriented ethnography of embodied aurality.

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