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The Journal of Sonic Studies

To refer to this article use this url: http://journal.sonicstudies.org/vol04/nr01/a04


Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 4, nr. 1 (May 2013)

OA#1: LISTENING AND MAPPING THE SONIC. PLURALITY AND WAYFARING: WRITING THE OPENSOUND PROJECT[1]

J. Milo Taylor, Carlos Alves, Xabier Erkizia, Julien Ottavi, Wajid Yaseen

Introductory Remarks


Wayfaring, I believe, is the most fundamental mode by which living beings, both human and non-human, inhabit the earth. By habitation I do not mean taking one’s place in a world that has been prepared in advance for the populations that arrive to reside there. The inhabitant is rather one who participates from within in the very process of the world’s continual coming into being and who, in laying a trail of life, contributes to its weave and texture. (Ingold 2007: 81)

Over the course of a two-year European sound project, Opensound.eu, an iterative series of sonic encounters have occurred in seven different countries. The first of these took place in December 2011 on the island of Favignana and subsequently in the city of Palermo. A diverse group participated in four days of workshops, lectures, soundwalks, performances and discussions. A great deal of planned and spontaneous documentation activity could be witnessed, such media capture being commonplace in contemporary society.

This paper and the associated artwork (an experimental web assemblage Opensound Assemblage #1) offers some reflection upon such practice as informed by the proximate fields of anthropology (Ingold 2007), media archaeology (Zielinski 2008) and non-representational geography (Thrift 2007) and proposes some methodological implications derived from the collective strategies that have emerged over the duration of the Opensound project.

What appears to be occurring in the moments of media capture (phonography, photography) is an exchange between a (naïve) singular, phenomenological and subjective experience of presence and a (reified) media-directed future stock-piling of cultural capital. This trend can be well illustrated by the prevalence of the various “sound maps” that have appeared.[2] Should such practices, and the act of sonic documentation, be framed as disruptive or augmentative? What is the status of the “recording subject”? How are such entities (media, methodologies, subjects, collectives) mutated by sonic praxis?

The questions relevant to us here acknowledge that the technical means by which we see and hear are powerful and variable, that material culture is productive of variable subjectivities and that in today's society we should expect a plurality of media techniques (Zielinski 2008; Olsen 2010). What is finally proposed is sonic paragogy and an experiential (non-representational) approach to sound mapping (Thrift 2007): a return to a medieval subjectivity of the wayfarer (Jusserand 1920; Ingold 2007) implying a novel rationality embracing the somatic complexities of pluralised auditory experiences.

What is Opensound and OA#1?


Opensound is a two-year funded project involving seven European sound-based organisations.[3] The project focuses upon non-formal adult learning, contemporary European sound practices (with a particular emphasis upon open-source technologies, attitudes and politics) and sustained knowledge transfer between organisations and individuals. Casting contemporary European practice in close relation to transcultural exchange has provided the opportunity to reflect upon habitual contexts of auditory practice and facilitated a questioning of previous methodologies of sonic documentation.

The web-based artwork Opensound Assemblage #1 (OA#1) explores contemporary technical means to re-position the act of “writing sound” and posits a questioning and re-evaluation of “mapping sound”. It questions the term “capture” in relation to sound recording – indeed, isolated in scare quotes, the word appears quite ridiculous. OA#1 is neither a sound map nor a field recording project, but suggests a plurality of techniques appropriate to the preservation of multiple sonic wayfarings. Such wanderings are not restricted to external auditory phenomena, but also include inner listenings which might otherwise remain obscured. This work offers a virtual spatialisation of collective practice emerging from the inscription and transformation of various forms of sounding traces and threads. These “lines of flight” occur within and between conspecifics, and such entanglement typifies the contexts of our everyday listening (Ingold 2007).[4] The Opensound Sicilian encounter can be said to have been populated by a limitless number of actors: humans, non-humans, places, objects, sounds and media technologies. These elements were co-tangled and in lively excess. It was in recognition of this plurality, early in the development of OA#1 , that participants were invited to contribute inscribed media of any sort to form the content of the piece. Could a virtual space, conjured in relation to a sonic sensibility, successfully incorporate these conspecific traces of “bare life”? (Thrift 2007)

FIG2

Screen Capture of OA#1

How does OA#1 work?


OA#1 has been constructed entirely in X3DOM: a proposed open-source framework integrating HTML5 and 3D web content using only WebGL and JavaScript. Hence, it is claimed by developers, there is no need for users to install any additional browser plugin (http://www.x3dom.org/?page_id=2). WebGL-enabled browsers include Google Chrome 9.x, Firefox and for Mac (OS X 10.6+) Safari 5.x+. Linux users need to enable WebGL in Firefox. For more information on this and general troubleshooting, see the X3DOM documentation.

Rather than describing OA#1 as a web-page, it might be better treated as a virtual sculpture; while X3DOM inherits much from html navigation (point and click, hyper-links) interaction with OA#1 is expanded into three dimensions (see Figure 1). This enhanced dimensionality has been explicitly influenced by Roselind Krause's “expanded field”, which she discusses in relation to minimalist (sounding) sculpture of the 1960's and 1970's (Krause 1978). While such critical insight is explicitly related to the discourse around sonic art practices, the practice-based sonic sensibilities of the Opensound group, attuned to sound installations, sound art and experimental music, have also played their part in the shaping of this virtual space. At this point, we may be able to evoke some sense of what a sonic methodology might involve.

Navigation through the space is straightforward with movement from “previous” (<<) to “next” (>>) viewpoints facilitated by two standard hyper-links. While the narrative traces of the piece can be simply experienced via these links, visitants are also able to move freely through the space with their mouse. There are various modes of movement and useful key commands, summarised below:

  • Left Mouse Button: Rotate
  • Middle Mouse Button: Pan
  • Right Mouse Button: Zoom
  • Keyboard Commands: (Reset View) (Show All) (Upright)

The first viewpoints simply offer rotations around the space and present a few misshaped fragments in each of the languages spoken by Opensound participants.[5] This short introduction simply reveals a small selection of the plenitude of ways humans have of uttering the simplest of human invitations: listen to our story. This invitation to sensory experience is more than a metaphor however, with the idiosyncrasies of the media form (X3DOM) simultaneously enabling and restricting the possible uses of sound.

Embedded in OA#1 are a number of sound recordings derived from the soundscapes of Favignana and Palermo. Is it necessary to annotate these sonic traces here with text? What added value is there in explaining the sources of these to the listener? The nature of X3DOM determines that each file sounds in an indeterminate manner – we may choose to describe this as oneiric sound – suggestive, associative and opaque.

The remainder of the content has been provided by Opensound participants and takes the form of visual images and differing writing styles. These elements point attention to a variety of ways of experiencing place through sound and a variety of means of writing sound in place. Such techniques range from text polemics to spontaneous poetry, sketches and doodles, diary fragments, visual scores and material created during workshops.[5] In such ways, we are seeking to augment the explicitly sonic through creative subjective interpretation. These privately rendered but collectively consumed threads and traces draw much upon the practice of taking field notes, but expand upon this towards a shared virtual domain of open-sourced percepts and affects, creative and autonomic, multiple, polyglot, excessive, intimate, shared.

Methodological Remarks


“An experiential approach to soundscape proposes a return to the subjectivities of medieval maps'. I am here in the tuna factory, Favignana. Are there monsters here?”
(Research diary entry made while listening to Stefano Zorzanello's presentation Inverse Exploration: The Removal of Map Detail on Favignana, 8th December 2011)

In OA#1, sound is not presented as a text to be read, but as an uncanny ambience existing somewhere between phenomenal and noumenal realms. Rather than closing down possible interpretations by annotating these sounds with textual data, let us reiterate our invitation to you to listen and to ask you the following questions:

  • How much information are you able to derive from these recordings?
  • Do you know, only by listening, where it was recorded? Favignana island or the city of Palermo?
  • When were these recordings made? Which day of the week? What time of day?
  • What occurred during these recordings? What actors participated in the action?

This exercise forms an important part of an emerging sonic methodology and forms part of our efforts to render sonic media artefacts as learning resources. One of the Opensound partners, Audiolab has been especially active in the development of such methods, and a separate exercise from which the above is derived can be found here on the Opensound website.

At its most basic level, a sonic methodology requires an attitude of, aptitude for, and attention to, listening. What eludes the hard disk recorder is, however, perhaps of more interest. OA#1 asks the question “To what are we listening, and by what means do we hear?”

Rather than supporting a view of sonic documentation as a mapping or capture we are asking what such activity precludes for the recordist. We are also, in this particular instance, exploring an alternative focus for sonic research based in interiorities. The implication is a radical empiricism embracing the experience of bare life where subjective experience and sounding content are the most important aspects.

Our efforts have been directed towards creating a tension between one's experience of place and the media artefacts derived from this. OA#1 is thus a diagrammatic means to a relational end. Dependency upon the dependability of the word/text/diagram as the basis for legitimate knowledge is prevalent throughout Western society. This very text is proof enough of the problematic relationship of sound to conventional academic practice and we express our gratitude to the editors for this opportunity to present our work. Our aim is clear however - to attract listening, indeed to provoke it.

After all, the best way to travel is to feel.
To feel everything in every way.
To feel everything excessively
Because all things are, in truth, excessive
And all reality is an excess, a violence,
An extremely vivid hallucination
That we all live in common with the fury of the souls,
The centre to which tend the strange centrifugal forces
That are human psyches in their harmony of senses.
(Álvaro de Campos)

Notes


1. Supplementary material has also been contributed by Ryan Jordan, Marc Behrens and Stefano Zorzanello. This is a collaboratively authored work by the participants of the Opensound project. More have contributed than can be formally acknowledged - our respect and gratitude is extended to all those who made those days in Sicily possible and inspired this reflection.

2. See for example the London Sound Survey, British Library Sound Maps, University of Salford's Sound Around You Project, and the New York Sound Map. See here for an online overview of sound map typology.

3. Antitesi (Palermo, IT), Apo33 (Nantes, FR) Audiolab ( San Sebastian, Donostia, ES), Granular (Lisbon, PT), Modus Arts (London, UK), N.K. (Berlin, DE), Piksel (Bergen, NO).

4. Consider for example passing a friend a doodle of a tree.

5. Including Basque, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Welsh.

6. Notably the drawings made of five minutes of listening by six participants in Marc Behren's workshop Listening Spaces of Architecture: Concepts for Sound Installation, which occurred 8th December 2011.

References


Cox, C. (2011). “Beyond Representation and Signification: Toward a Sonic Materialism.” Journal Of Visual Culture 10(2): 145–161.

Ingold, T. (2007). Lines: A Brief History. London: Routledge.

Jusserand, J. J. (1920). English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages. London: T.F. Unwin Ltd. Retrieved April 27, 2013 from http://archive.org/details/cu31924027902364

Krause, R. (1978). “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” October 8: 30-44

Olsen, B. (2010). In Defence of Things: Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects. Lanham: AltaMira Press.

Pessoa, F. (2009). Collected Poems of Álvaro de Campos, Vol. 2: 1928–1935. Bristol: Shearsman Books.

Sterne. J. (2003). The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham: Duke University Press.

Thrift, N. (2007). Non-representational Theory. Space, Politics, Affect. London: Routledge.

Zielinski, S. (2008). Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Online Sources


Opensound Partner Organisations

Antitesi http://antitesi-associazione.blogspot.co.uk Last accessed May 1st 2013.

Apo33 http://www.apo33.org Last accessed May 1st 2013.

Audiolab http://www.arteleku.net/audiolab Last accessed May 1st 2013.

Granular http://www.granular.pt Last accessed May 2nd 2013.

Modus Arts http://www.modusarts.org Last accessed May 2nd 2013.

N.K. http://www.nkprojekt.de Last accessed May 2nd 2013.

Piksel http://www.piksel.no Last accessed May 2nd 2013.

Sound Maps

Atlas Sound: A Typology of Sound Maps. http://www.weirdvibrations.com/2010/01/10/atlas-sound-a-typology-of-sound-maps Last accessed April 23th 2013.

British Library Sound Maps http://sounds.bl.uk/sound-maps Last accessed April 25th 2013.

London Sound Survey http://www.soundsurvey.org.uk/index.php/survey/soundmaps Last accessed April 23th 2013.

Sound Around You Project. University of Salford. http://www.soundaroundyou.com Last accessed April 24th 2013.

New York Sound Map. http://www.nysoundmap.org Last accessed April 25th 2013.

Technical

Google Chrome https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser Last Accessed May 2nd 2013.

HTML5 http://www.w3schools.com/html/html5_intro.asp Last Accessed May 2nd 2013.

Mozilla Firefox http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/all Last Accessed May 2nd 2013.

Safari http://www.apple.com/safari Last Accessed May 2nd 2013.

WebGL http://get.webgl.org Last Accessed May 2nd 2013.

X3DOM http://www.x3dom.org/?page_id=5 Last Accessed May 2nd 2013.


J Milo Taylor: Artist, musician and academic. He is an associate of CRiSAP (Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice), University of the Arts London and recently held a fellowship at the Kunsthochshule für Medien Köln. He currently takes up a post running the undergraduate program in Sound Performance at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.

Carlos Alves: Improvisor, composer, organiser, artist, teacher. An inspirational figure in the new music and free impro scene in Portugal. Alves runs the sound art/new music association Granular (Lisbon) with Maria João Garcia, Carlos Santos, Emidio Buchinho and sonic writer Rui Eduardo Paes.

Xabier Erkizia: Musician, producer and journalist from the Basque Country. His work is based on research among people, sounds and formats in different situations, resulting in sound installations, recordings and musical compositions, radio-art pieces, working with bands or collective improvisation.

Julien Ottavi: Artist-researcher, anarchitect, experimental film maker, composer/musician, poet and tongues destroyer. He is founder of Nantes-based cultural association Apo33 and involved in research and creative work, combining sound art, real-time video, new technologies and body performances.

Wajid Yaseen: Sound Artist, organiser and researcher. Yaseen is creative director of Modus Arts and is a PhD candidate at Middlesex researching human embodiment within the context of sound installations.