Functional Sounds Conference, Berlin

Functional Sounds
1st Conference of
European Sound Studies Association
Humboldt University, Berlin, 4-6 October 2013
Day One – four of many speakers at this eclectic conference of the newly formed ESSA.
First keynote, Earth’s functional sounds from Douglas Kahn
(National Institute for Experimental Arts, UNSW, Australia)
sets the scene for an eclectic cross-disciplinary discussion on Functional Sound,
its reading, writing, emplacement,
significative or narrative role in explaining space and time and
uses from the political to torture, story-telling and cultural ecology.
“With the nineteenth century advent of modern telecommunication technologies,
noise and odd little sounds, some of them musical, existed alongside
the conversations and information exchanges of communications.
Many were considered to be interference but others were recognised as
the sound and music of a new nature, an electromagnetic one,
the knowledge of which also evolved significantly with the nineteenth century. . . . 
Instead of a default Olympian gaze, this talk will present only
the smallest sonic breaches in the ideal,
veritable Pythagorean commas in communications dreams of a
complete annihilation of space and time, as they have been engaged in the arts.
Commas in music, after all, were an adaptation to the noise of the real.”
Frauke Behrendt (University of Brighton) spoke entertainingly on
Making Cycling Sound(s)”: bicycles own sounds and ‘political’ uses of
air horns like those of lorries (which cause 50% of UK cyclist road deaths).
I wonder how placing cone horns and compressed air tanks
on an adapted bicycle (now capable of 178 decibels) will persuade
truck drivers to stop killing cyclists and if the biggest,
most dangerous machines on the roads are only killing half of the
cyclists who die, what unforgivable idiocy and neglect
of fundamental duties to good sense are causing the other half?
The talk moves into more fecund, more sonic territory, where
elements of designed environmental sound are considered:
these may be individual or collective.
They may have social, political or artistic motives.
By contrast to the usual practice of creating sound in spaces –
“designing sound in”- they may also constitute cancellation
or removal of sound – “designing sound out”
to create “privatised listening environments” with headphones.
Or using sound as a controller of spaces and their users:
programme music used to code a space,
making it unattractive to non-consumers. (Stern)
see Frauke Behrendt:  “The Sound of Locative Music“, Convergence 18 (3)
Anette Vandso (University of Aarhus) gave a wide-ranging talk
with excellent examples on “Political Potentials of Sound Art”
How does sound art permit and/or lead us to
    – Explore   – Interrogate   – Intervene    
in a political and/or social context?
Where the designed-in exclusion of sound exteriority was
breached by importing ‘noise’ sounds, this was, in its earliest stages,
a highly subversive and resonant act:
permissive of a hitherto absolute aesthetic and political taboo.
Luigi Russolo called the concert hall a
“hospital for anaemic sound” (Art of Noise, 1913)
It is increasingly hard to imagine living and working in this cultural situation.
The shift from music to noise-sounds invites and
incites a new democratisation of sound communication.
Some political potentials of sound art identified by Vandso
    – Participation     – Representation/aesthetic indeterminacy    
– Eventness/Becoming                 – Power/Control
Examples discussed/shown:
*            Hom Kai Wang (2010)            “Music While We Work”
            Taiwan Pavilion, Venice Biennale
*            Yu Hsien Su (2010)            “Sound of Nothing”
            Taiwan Pavilion, Venice Biennale
*            Anke Eckhardt (2010)
            “Between You and Me is a Wall of Sound”
*            Dick Higgins:            Danger Music No. 17 (1962)
            A musical score containing only instructions to the performer to scream.
Mark Grimshaw (University of Aalborg) presents
Living between the virtual and real worlds
– prefacing the talk with the warning that
since committing to the title some months previously,
his thinking has moved on – he challenges the
accepted distinctions between, asking whether
listening to any recorded sound is not a virtual experience.
Phonomnesis, remenances, other auditory illusions.
Problems with definitions of sound as either wave, event or perception of event,
the cross-functionality of senses, being at once autonomic, perceptual and affective.
The perception of having perceived sound can after all be obtained from other senses 
than hearing: the cochlear implant converts acoustic signals to electrical energy 
which stimulates the cochlea.
The sound itself is therefore no longer being perceived….
The animated pub discussion that follows with
Kevin Logan (http://theearoftheduck.wordpress.com) and
Fergus Kelly ((http://livecomposition.wordpress.com)
sees us trying to formulate our own distinct positions on a 
continuum between these ostensible poles of “live” and “virtual”.
Kevin is the most extreme, arguing that all live listening being mediated by
memory and associative reference, only first encounter with the 
entirely alien can be said not to have elements of virtuality.
Grimshaw also touches on Game Transfer Phenomena (Gortari, Aaronson, Griffiths, 2011, International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning), characterised by 
(1) delayed release of immersion on returning to the physical environment and 
(2) temporary obscuring on returning to physical environment of distinctions 
between reality and virtuality.
GTP is based on studies of actions – is game sound different?
Action/behaviour transfer has palpable consequences whereas sound or perception 
transfer need not and is less easily quantified.
That sound is both perceptual and virtual was touched upon, the distinction 
between virtual and real only relating perhaps to the sound’s provenance.
Environment, memory and affect arguably essential to comprehensive definitions of sound.
Treating sound as potential, as virtuality can engender new approaches.
Bio-feedback for user-centric sound design development: EMR, ECG, etc
Direct Brain-To-Brain communications in humans?
A pilot study (video shown) at
University of Washington, Seattle, August 2013 (NSL with CDDL).
Literally mind-blowing.
Conversion of user 1’s deterministic thought patterns send
guiding signal to user 2, who presses a keyboard button:
It was unclear whether the required information was for
User 2 to hit the target or the correct time to press the trigger –
Anyway, whoops and hollers came from the young geeks as
User 2 consistently appeared to act correctly on receiving telepathic instruction.
  
Situated cognition, argues MG
primarily comprises
*            one or more continual feedback loops
*            between stimuli in the environment as perceived and
*            responses to subsequently experienced sense of
*            cumulative context of that which has already occurred or been perceived to occur
I would add that augmentation of the environment,
specifically in situated listening that blends real with virtual
necessarily makes recognition of those feedback loops impossible.
WIthout blurring of the two, no augmentation can be achieved.
Arguably, memory can also be tricked, in this context,
to re-identification of familiar as new, new as repetitive, other combinations:
not just loops but all manner of cognitive shapes can be made
to appear momentarily, like hallucinatory audible bubbles,
before vanishing upwards into the sky.

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