solo show, 17 Feb – 24 March 2023, Rosa Stern Space, Munich
„Counter Lexicon“ by Chris Wenn
Both the individual and the gathering, the witness and the witnessing, audience is the transcendent register of performance. Audience only exists in the sharing of the world with another being, gathered in a place in time. In line with Grant (2010) we cannot consider:
a) the audience (gathered here, now)
b) an, this, or that audience („incomparably singular“)
c) all or any audience (genus or species of audience)
d) audiences in plural (incomparably multiple)
Instead, we consider audience qua audience – phenomenon of one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, many-to-many – as experience in place, space, and time. Live, recorded, improvised, prepared, in all forms. Audience necessarily witnesses, necessarily gathers, necessarily attends, and is necessarily listening.
sound is a condition of the perceptible world. It operates on the materiality of existence – on spaces, surfaces, bodies. To some extent, sound passes through all conditions of the world. Sound produces meaning, though, in and only in the listener. Voegelin says „It is the body that listens and hears and then tries to find language that holds the key to the language sought itself“. Sound therefore is the dialectic of all listeners with all sounding objects, and with all those who cause sound to happen. The drone is ultimate, transcendant perception.
Sustained tones or identifiably repeating, drones are situated as a key compositional tool in contemporary music cultures. The drone is transcendence/liberation:totalizing/oppressing – „elevating the mundane or physical and transforming it into something spiritual.“
Both the physical encasement of experience in the materiality of flesh, and the experience of materiality itself, embodiment relates profoundly to listening, to sound, to transforming and transcendence. noise – particularly the extension and repetiiton of drone produces and embodied listening subject through its totalizing power, working on bodies uniquely and in unison.
The embodied phenomenon of being-in-the-world, both present and distant as participant through place, time, and the material. The major constituent of perception and self.
Both truth-to-the-thing-itself and a quality of perception, fidelity is the ability of sound to be reproduced as it was produced. All recording media, regardless of immortal presence, impose their own technical limitations on the tone of the recording itself. Thus, the digital reproduction is limited by disk capacity and sample rates; mastering removes information in anticipation of the material reality of the medium; the lathe carves from the acetate in close approximation to the digital master; the acetate degrades under the playback needle.
Our means of recording sound increase in fidelity – oral and performance traditions produced generation loss of material forgetting, leading to the reproduction of music as written scores. Written scores hold the map of the music, but forget its form except in the broadest terms – lounder, softer, with feeling. Thus, we come to produce mechanical recordings, on successively more sophisticated devices – the Edison phonograph, player piano, vinyl record, cassette tape, CD, digital audio. The preservation of sound becomes a project of immortality, extending the life of the composer beyond life. Beethoven, Mozart, Hildegard, as comprehensible to the future listener as Beyoncé or 1000gecs.
If the project of music is immortal, the project of drone must be sonic liberation. Drone operates outside conventions of tone and structure – it can repeat and extend indefinitely, operating in the space of its own creation. It can be background, foreground, the ground of being and the being of ground in itself. As audience or participant in the drone we are freed from earthly constraints.
„When one is listening, one is on the lookout for a subject, something (itself) that identifies itself by resonating from self to self, in itself and for itself, hence outside of itself, at once the same as and other than itself, one in the echo of the other, and this echo is very like the sound of its sense.“
Both presence and object, we speak of material as the thing itself. For sound to sound, it is vibration of the object that is required – pluck a ruler against a desk. Material meets material, impulse meets object, both materials vibrate and produce sound. The material conditions of space and time fundamental: consider the sounding of a cathedral bell. Do you hear its titanic clatter in the bell tower itself? At the very least, your ears would be irreparably damaged. You hear the bell from a distance, shaped by its passage through the world – reverberation, attenuation, transformation. It echoes from walls and rooftops, tangles in trees. sound is immaterial yet material – present in the world, in fidelity with its sounding. The sound of the sound, however, is not the sound of that sounding.
„Dancing at a loud and dark rave party in a big factory hall outside Zürich in the early 1990s I did not know who was dancing me: my body or the noise. The noise deafened my senses to anything but itself, and funnelled me into its own insistent beat. This was not really hearing music and sounds as much as feeling them through a vague and glorious pain in my ears, entering my body on their way to becoming this pain, and moving in reaction to its intensity.“
Being held in place, held back, held down. The drone crushes, the gravity of its sound acting as the event horizon of a black hole. The point source of sound becomes the point source of experience.
„Every sensory register thus bears with it both its simple nature and its tense, attentive, or anxious state: seeing and looking, smelling and sniffing or scenting, tasting and savoring, touching and feeling or palpating, hearing and listening“
Thus, as in Nancy’s formulation, perception consists primarily of two linked functions of meaning and action. Meaning is generated through the action of the body. For Merleau-Ponty, this is further divided into sensation, association, attention, and judgement – the phenomenological.
A wave motion in an elastic medium (such as air or water), exciting particles within that medium and causing them to vibrate, sound operates in both space and time. Sound emanates outwards from a fixed point in space – a point source – at 343 m/s, given dry air at 20C. Compared to even moderately fast human machines, this is glacially slow.
„Sound does not describe but produces the object/phenomenon under consideration. It shares nothing of the totalizing ability of the visual. It does not deny visual reality but practises its own fleeting actuality, augmenting the seen through the heard.“
Sound operates on the whole body, in the whole space, in the whole time. Think of the overwhelming, encompassing, throb of a bass-heavy sound system or a huge engine. The ear no longer exists as the primary site of perception, as the weight, pressure, intensity of sensation, generates the audience as total mass. The audible as totem, a locus of spiritual weight on the world.
The drone, functioning in both time and duration, in the triumvirate of space and site and place, in listening and embodied bodies, operates in the connective space of the spiritual. Like the spiritual song, the lifting of voice to god and transcending the boundaries of material world for the promise of a better one to come, the spiritual drone transporting and transforming, its repetition and extension invoking focus, trance, inner and outer experiential worlds intermingling.
In that sound resonates in the body, beyond simply the sense organs and the mind that perceives that sensory stimulus, we can determine that sound as sound operates at conscious and subconscious levels. Consider the sonic warfare engaged by capital, in shopping malls and public spaces, where the use of high-frequency sound is intended to prevent young people from gathering. Unlike the ideal older consumer, young adults have more acute hearing at high frequencies, and are – without their necessary conscious knowledge and consent – caused to act on the discomfort that this sonic violence generates.
„When social antagonism culminates in political and economic crises, only force remains as the “ultima ratio” of social integration. Force must assume the form of systematic (physical and psychical) terror, organized in accordance with social relations: terror assumes the function of a productive force, extorting discipline and adaptation of the masses to existing relations of production and the existing apparatus of production. Systematic terror becomes the constitutive instrument of government.
Thus, violence is not a system or aesthetics and even less so entertainment. Violence is a brutal necessity, to which we have submitted.“
The dimension of drone in space and time – for sound in the free field is unbounded by either – includes its capacity to transcend the single body. The gathered witnesses of the audience are permeated by suspension, extension, repetition of tones that exist between the status of note and noise. Althought the individual listener is still present – physics will not permit us to inhabit the same point in space at the same point in time – the audience is immersed in the sonic, immersed in the space through sound, as if only one body is present and only one movement is possible: the riff.
A guitar string is plucked, and its coiled steel vibrates against the pickup; the pickup’s magnets vibrate, converting movement to electrical impulse; the digital recorder converts electrical impulse to data; the lathe converts data to electrical impulse; the cutting head converts electrical impulse to a spiral scratch on acetate; the needle converts the vibration caused by the spiral scratch to electrical impulse; and to the speaker converts electrical impulse to vibrating air; the body creates meaning from vibrating air, and is changed thereby.