Notes for Michael Bull and Les Back The Auditory Culture Reader
Introduction: Into Sound
Leigh Eric Schmidt, 2000
(41) The voices of the past are especially lost to us. The world of unrecorded sound is irreclaimable, so the disjunction that separates our ears from what people heard in the past are doubly profound.
More than Meets the Eye
(45) By analyzing fragrances and odors as well as tolling bells, [Alain] Corbin has broken out of the vision-dominated storyline and has brilliantly connected the pursuit of these sensory modes to social representations.
(45) To understand the richness of oral traditions is, at some level, restorationist: it is, for Ong, a way to reconnect to the auditory modes that underpin scripture itself and that make possible Christian redemption.
(46) Ong, one of the ear's great apologists, ironically helped sever it from the history of the Enlightenment and the modern aftermath.
(46) Crucial to McLuhan's construction of his mythology of modern Western visuality were common rhetorical strategies of alterity. The other to this Western technology and epistemology was for McLuhan the 'ear culture' of tribal, non-literate peoples in which spoken words had 'magical resonance'.
(47) The otherness, blackness, or primalness of the auditory keeps it from having a history within modern Western culture (at least, on McLuhan's terms, in between the Gutenberg revolution and the twentieth-century proliferation of electronic media). . . . In a necessarily more subtle form, the storyline continues to structure descriptions of 'a Western sensory model' of visuality in contrast to the compelx orality of 'premodern' cultures – that is, to divide the world between us and them.
(48) As Ong's own theology of listening suggests, to romanticize hearing at the expense of vision is an all-too-common counter-Enlightenment move already; it hardly needs reamplification. Instead, as in the work of Alain Corbin, the multisensory complexity of the social, religious, aesthetic, and erotic imaginations of the culture of the Enlightenment and its successor warrants further attention.
(50) In at least one crucial way, the expanding inquiry into acoustics did demonstrate the ocular basis of knowledge-making in the experimental philosophy, for it was one of the central ambitions of early modern students of acoustics to visualize sound.
(53) One thing that all these acoustic ambitions make plain is that printing had plenty of company in the technological transformation of listening in the early modern world.
Seems to respond to Keller and Grontkowski on absence of scientific and technological evidence that vision had competition.
(54) Printing, in other words, had performative accompaniments in the disincarnation of spoken words, counterparts that have very much continued to thrive – from the mediated voices of the radio to computer simulations. . . . The sinuous cave of the ear beckoned philosophers into complex entanglements with the auditory, with hearing and voices, and those imbrications need to become a fuller part of historical narratives about modernity. There is much more to the Enlightenment than meets the eye.
Sounds in the City
Aural Postcards: Sound, Memory and the City
(303) The Babel of the crowd and the wordless solitude of the individual in a noisy city capture in sound a larger urban tension between collective and subjective life.
Listening and not Listening in the City
(304) Modern auditory technologies – in architecture and design and well as in recording and broadcasting – served to marshal and discipline sound in space, from the muted interior of the office building to the total acoustics of the concert hall. . . . Ears cannot discriminate in the way eyes can – as with smell, hearing puts us in a submissive sensuous relation to the city. And yet still we glance at sounds in the city, we don't gaze. Individuals' relation to sound in the everyday spaces of the city tends to be one of distraction rather than attention. . . . As a blank reaction to overstimulation, a narrowing of 'peculiar adjustment' of the senses (Simmel 1903: 179), the blasé posture inures the metropolitan to the hectic ambiance of city life.
(304-305) In rendering technical what otherwise is simply learned, the mobile technologies of the personal stereo or telephone realize this logic of separation and of indifference perfectly.
(305) The modern city, in its confusion of tongues, bespeaks otherness.
(305) Walking the city, people invent their own urban idioms, a local language written in the streets and read as if out loud. A strange city, too, can seem like a language you don't know. . . . Even laid out as a system of signs, cities won't rest quiet on the page – finally and vividly, the city for Barthes is a kind of poem that he wants 'to grasp and make sing' (Barthes 1997: 172).
Sound Souvenirs: Memory and the City
Tonkiss: for Benjamin, hearing as sense of memory, recording.
Tonkiss: perhaps spoken and written language bias symptom of available media before computable text and sound, that is, recent print literature: new thinking possible with sound reproduction artifacts and technologies.
(306) Walter Benjamin had that knack for making
cities speak and sing. He souvenired sounds from different places,
composed urban vignettes as if they were aural postcards.
(306) In these ways, sound threads itself through the memory of place.
Tonkiss: we get to include sounds with writing, which texts and technology studies correctly recognize, but have to also include programming; Sterne gives us a methodology, but working code must also be written, we (humanities scholarship) must go beyond literary criticism into technomedia learning and practicing programming.
(307) Hearing has its own relation to truth: to testimony, to spoken evidence, to placing trust in words rather than in images, to accepting things that are promised, even if they cannot be shown. Hearing likewise involves a special relationship to remembering. It might, as Benjamin says, be the sense of memory. . . . It might be less affecting if we had telescopes and cameras for the ears, if we could amplify and capture the echo and shudder of memory, if we took and kept our passing snapshots of sound.
Silences of Cities
(308) A blasé manner of being in the city may lead you to not listen, but soundlessness – those moments in those places when the city stops speaking – can be strangely arresting.
The Sonic Composition of the City
Thibaud: three movements to listening of elsewhere from visible to audible, perception to action, private listening to public secret: why not consider it via comparison to micro-ecology of visual navigation by comparing to reading while walking in Symposium, as all three movements occur walking reading for vision as hearing with mobile sound reproduction devices; for reading versus hearing another read edges upon oneself reading another. There is the connection I was looking for (using poor style).
How does music with headphones mobilize the walker's gait? What does
this contemporary form of urban mobility stand for? How should we
consider this micro-ecology of musical navigation?
(330) Using a Walkman is part of a process of derealization of urban space that depends on the technical mediation of spatio-phonic behaviors. As a transposable object, the Walkman offers itself as one of the most advanced stages of musica mobilis. It involves mobile listening. As an involvement shield, the Walkman 'momentarily allows us to position ourselves outside the social theater' (Kouloumdjian 1985). It is part of secret listening. As a schizophrenic object, the Walkman develops 'the separation between an original sound and its electro-acoustic reproduction' (Schafer 1979). It participates in listening of elsewhere.
The Hidden Sides of the City
(330-331) The walking listener reveals the hidden sides of the city according to three movements. The first movement is from visible to audible. . . . Thus, this selective listening enables a hierarchization of everyday sounds and a decomposition of the urban soundscape. . . . Instead of the eye-oriented flaneur dear to Walter Benjamin, mustn't we sustitute the discriminating listening of the musicalized passer-by?
Thibaud: selective listening with Walkman seems like loss of detail compared to Shafer's soundwalk.
(331) The second movement is from perception to action. . . . The passer-by with headphones navigates through several worlds at once, the one in which he hears and the one in which he walks.
Thibaud: comparison to reading while walking, reading in public had seeing to public secret as hearing to public secret: who would think that two people talking while walking would be reading aloud?
Thibaud: long texts could be stored in long walks, and then when writing removed the need for the long walk because a stationary anything would suffice, texts began eulogizing that loss of enjoyment in the present moment: this is the sound of memory going from working memory into the environment and long-term memory.
The third movement is from
private listening to public secret.
. . . The problematic nature of these phenomena can be explained by
the fact that they render public – by not following them – the
social codes from which the expressive order of the body constitutes
a shared signifying system.
(332) These preliminary remarks bring us to consider the way public places are experienced. It requires thinking in terms of thresholds, knots, and configurations.
Doors, Bridges and Interchanges
(332-333) The distinction established between putting on the headphones and starting to actually listen leads to a differentiation between leaving one's home and entering a public space. . . . Whereas it seems appropriate to remain sonically accessible in domestic places, being available in public places seems less necessary. A first type of threshold can be revealed: we call this border point a 'sonic door' where the contact with family life has still to be maintained or can be interrupted. In other words, the sonic door deals with the phatic function of communication. It involves the possibility to shift our modes of attention towards others.
(333) This is what may be referred to as a phonic deterritorialization of the urban environment in the sense that the walking listener neutralizes the sonic delimitations between domestic and public spaces by establishing a continual listening between the two spaces. This musical link tends to neutralize the sonic identity of the places. The spatial decontextualization of listening with headphones creates a sonic bridge between the interior and exterior.
(334) A third type of threshold consists in adjusting the sound volume of the Walkman in terms of movement, modulating the listening conditions according to the sonic context of the street. . . . We witness a sonic reterritorialization of the urban space in the sense that sonic urban occurrences are recomposed in terms of musical dynamics.
The Knots of the Urban Environment
(335) Whatever the tactic applied, the Walkman user is situated within two simultaneous sonic worlds. We are referring in this case to an interphonic knot – in other words, the point of convergence between two sonic spaces of a different nature – that of the walking listener and that of the street.
(336) The built environment also interferes with listening to the radio. . . . It is remarkable that walking listeners are capable of localizing zones of radio-wave disturbance so precisely. . . . We are referring in this case to a topographic knot, in other words, the interference point between media listening and architectural space. . . . A 'communal' relationship occurs when the walking listeners are linked to each other by a community of behavior and territory that has not been outwardly expressed.
(336-337) Finally, listening to headphones establishes strange connections between the visual and the musical landscapes. . . . These cultural associations between sound and image are undoubtedly largely influenced by stereotypes found in film and television productions. This extract illustrates a phenomenon of aesthetization of the visual environment through music. . . . We refer to the visiophonic knot to designate this convergence point between the audible and the visible, a discovery of synchronized intersensorial sequences.
Thibaud: close to Serres quasi-objects.
This analysis is close to the definition of 'quasi-objects'
provided by Michel Serres:
'This quasi-object is not an object, but it is one nevertheless,
since it marks or designates a subject which without it wouldn't be'
(Serres 1980). The Walkman is a third term to be situated at the
level of the man-milieu relationship, it is on one hand inseparable
from the perceived subject (of the user) and nonetheless distinct
The Interstice of Lived Itineraries
(338) If both listening to music and walking involves time, the typology that we are offering underlines various kinds of spatio-phonic procedures. We may distinguish six types of walking practices that often overlap.
(338) The 'route' consists in choosing a musical itinerary that goes from one place to another.
(338) The 'stride' consists in minimizing occasions for stopping and in encouraging continuity of the walk. . . . The stride substitutes the musical listening temporality over the one of the public environment.
(338) The 'gait' consists in establishing variations of walking speeds, and modulating the step according to the music.
(338-339) The 'style' consists of composing figures through the help of gestures, putting movements into form in a way that makes them aesthetic. . . . The street becomes an urban scene in which an improvised choreographic scene takes place more or less exhibited and remarked.
(339) The 'detour' consists in increasing the travel distance in regards to the most direct route going from one place to another. . . . By indirectly or directly taking paths linked to headphone listening, the walking listener retraces his own urban cartography, he demonstrates it as he maps it out.
(339) The 'short cut' consists in shortening effectively or subjectively the time of the walk, in taking the shortest route to get from one point to the next. . . . By concentrating on the experience of the Walkman listener's sonic time, the shortcut miscounts the clocklike time in favor of musical dynamies.
(339) This typology makes it possible to specify the resources available to the Walkman listener to show others how he appropriates and redefines urban territory in terms of headphone listening.
The Sensibilization of Urban Life
A Space-regulating Device
(340) This technical mediation guarantees a diversity of perspectives, a moving off center of the self.
A Mobile Operator of Configurations
(340-341) Through his meanderings, his stride and his gait, the walking listener shapes the urban space without necessarily providing a reason for his actions. . . . The difficult problem of the relationship between sensoriality and intelligibility is introduced.
How Many Movements?
Th Ground Wher u Walk
(344) Mobiles play a part in the production of contemporary space. They also play a part in the production of contemporary subjectivity because to ask how the connections mobiles make are produced, maintained, reproduced, and understood is also to ask how this kind of technology might allow the negotiation of new forms of subjectivity.
The 'Incarceration Vacation'
(344) Back in the 1970s, in the Practice of Everyday Life, the French theorist Michael de Certeau contrasted the embedded perspective produced by walking in the city at ground level with the strategic viewpoint from on high, a view usually enabled by technology (De Certeau, 1984).
(345) The penetration of the old spaces of the everyday by mobile phone users now largely goes unnoticed; routine and habituation mask what is an extra-ordinary shift. . . . I find new perspectives, and not only because I can be reached on my mobile phone but also because I can use it to reach out.
(345) Today, mobile phones are at once a new symbol of a particular kind of contemporary freedom to move and act in multiple spaces, and a symbol of 'always on' accountability/surveillance. Now that we have this new symbol it is evident that the priority the visual is accorded in De Certeau's economy of spatial power and his sense of the automatic connection between the strategic and the scopic needs thinking about.
How Many Movements?
(346) First, I explore mobile telephony in relation to questions of attention, drawing partly on Jonathan Crary's account of the suspension of perception in modern culture (Crary 2000).
Bassett: Crary gives us imaginary virtual of Zizek; use these two concepts of Crary and Perec to refute a sloppy pronouncement by Manovich.
The second approach I make is centered on the inventory and here I
begin with the concept of the inventory as developed by Georges
Perec, another French theorist of the everyday. . . . For Perec the
inventory offers a means by which to codify experience and thereby to
recall and record various aspects of everyday life. In his hands,
however, the inventory is not ultimately a reductive codification but
rather an expansive narrative
Attention and Imagination
(347) The capacity to switch attention from one space to another is very evident in mobile phone use, because this has honed considerably our ability to engage/dis-engage from particular stimuli, and from particular kinds of spaces – and has expanded the times and places when we can perform these rapid switches.
(348) Because it involves investment, attention clearly also involves a form of selection. . . . Free or not, as an individual's capacity to pay attention is limited, any selection is made at the expense of other objects/spaces. . . . Below I ask how and why mobile space tends to give it more attention, looking at this in relation to modes of perception, and in relation to sensation and affect.
Modes of Perception?
(349) Bull's account is compelling and clearly speaks to other kinds of mobile media. However it is also clear that something slightly different is also going on in the case of mobile phones – not least because most mobile interactions do not pack a powerful aesthetic punch.
(349-350) The key here is to consider not the content of the phone call but the process of making or receiving the call. What makes this kind of space compelling, is not what it contains, but what communicational experience it offers the user.
Obvious extension to world wide web surfing movement. Any relation to complex narrative frames permitted by walking in the Symposium?
(350) That is, with a mobile the user can move at (communicational) speeds that neither walking, riding nor even flying, can accommodate, even though they have come to seem natural. In these spaces the user is also produced as a highly mobilized subject, as somebody able to keep up with contemporary life.
(351) Overall, what is being fetishized here (rather than aestheticized, in fact) is not a particular form of content, (a particular kind of sound, for instance) but rather a particular form of life: a life operating at a particular speed and intensity, but one that can also be controlled.
The Collective Imaginary
(351) It should by now be clear that the spaces into which we shift our attention (and those from which we shift our attention) by way of mobiles, are not purely technological spaces. To some extent they are imagined.
(351-352) To some extent we become a 'patchwork of dis-connected states' (Crary 2000: 1). . . . When I switch my attention into my phone, I leave some part of myself behind. As a consequence I have some part of myself to return to: to reconcile with.
Space as Inventory, Self as Experience
Bassett: narrativizing inventory challenges Manovich claim of ontology of unordered database.
(352) Manovich argues that the database represents the world as an un-ordered list of items, whereas narrative produces trajectories of what seemed unordered. . . . I want to suggest here that the concept of the inventory can be used to challenge the claim that the logic of the database is always dominant.
Bassett: mobile phone as mnemonic operator: rethink with smartphones?
(352-353) Our hoard of detritus is also our life's treasure because it is key to our identity over time, the key to who we are. The inventory, in other words, is the hook upon which is hung experience over time. Perec's inventories thus function as mnemonics, examples of the art of memory, or artificial memory (see Yates 1966); they are reminders of who we are. . . . I note here that, like all forms of artificial memory, the mode of inventory is a mode of encoding and decoding, of compression and decompression. Today, the mobile phone functions as a mnemonic operator. In this case, however, the mnemonic operation is not performed in order to recall a past life. Rather the mnemonic operation, the mode of inventory, describes some of the ways in which users operate in a world that demands that they operate in many places at once.
Bassett: decrease in percentage of database usage that terminates with a human operator as intraprocess and interprocess communication short circuits the computer-human symbiosis; as Manovich and Kittler say, software takes command.
(354) However all database use also involves a process of decompression or translation – and this is a process in which the user is implicated, a process that does not end with a technical operation. Many kinds of databases tend to become inventories when they are accessed. . . . In short, the inventory makes it more feasible to consider narrative processes even in the fractured conditions within which we operate.
Bassett: the mobile phone structures space like a map, dream, prayer.
(354) The mobile phone is an(other) example of the dialectic characteristically operating around information technology – which offers us more freedom and simultaneously exerts over us more control. This dialectic might be opened up precisely by exploring the numerological production of a space – not as a technological space only (one operating according to the rules of logic) but rather by reading this technological space as a material social construction. Regarded as a practice of space, and as a practice that makes space, the mobile phone draws up the cultural conditions under which it itself is made – all the species of space – into itself: like a map, a dream, or even like a prayer might do. . . . [These private bubbles] can be viewed as collective constructions. They are socially symbolic.
Soundscapes of the Car: A Critical Study of Automobile Habitation
(359) Jacobson's metaphor of the garden lavatory is instructive: the car as a private, traditional immobile space of habitation. . . . The aural privacy of the automobile is gained precisely through the exorcizing of the random sounds of the environment by the mediated sounds of the cassette or radio.
(360) I suggest that the historical turning point between 'dwelling on the road' and 'dwelling in the car' can be located in a very specific technological development: the placing of a radio within the automobile.
Sounding out Experience
Sounding out Automobile Habitation
(362) Music or recorded sound is both colonizing and utopian, according to Adorno, as it increasingly fills the spaces of 'habitation' in everyday Western culture.
(363) Increasingly, for critical theorists, the technologically produced products of the culture industry, in all its forms, becomes a substitute for the subject's sense of the social, community or sense of place.
(363) Music, for Adorno, increasingly fills the gap left by the absence of any meaningful sense of the experienced social.
(365) The privatized aural space of the car becomes a space whereby drivers reclaim time, away from the restrictions of the day. . . . Listening to music/radio enhances the drivers' sense of time control/occupancy.
Is this really true?
(366) Radio programs or music listened to in the car do not repeat patterns of domestic consumption.
in the Car
(368) The sound of music together with the sound of their own voice acts so as to provide a greater sense of presence as well as transforming the time of driving.
The Aural Management of Space and Time in the Car
(371) The aural habitation of place and time becomes a way of re-inscribing the ritual of everyday practices with the driver's own chosen, more meaningful set of 'rituals'.
(371) Following Sennett, the automobile might constitute one of the last, albeit problematic, refuges of a retreating public subjectivity.