Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice

Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice

Brian Kane

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 0190632216

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Sound coming from outside the field of vision, from somewhere beyond, holds a privileged place in the Western imagination. When separated from their source, sounds seem to manifest transcendent realms, divine powers, or supernatural forces. According to legend, the philosopher Pythagoras lectured to his disciples from behind a veil, and two thousand years later, in the age of absolute music, listeners were similarly fascinated with disembodied sounds, employing various techniques to isolate sounds from their sources. With recording and radio came spatial and temporal separation of sounds from sources, and new ways of composing music.

Sound Unseen: Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice explores the phenomenon of acousmatic sound. An unusual and neglected word, "acousmatic" was first introduced into modern parlance in the mid-1960s by avant garde composer of musique concrète Pierre Schaeffer to describe the experience of hearing a sound without seeing its cause. Working through, and often against, Schaeffer's ideas, Brian Kane presents a powerful argument for the central yet overlooked role of acousmatic sound in music aesthetics, sound studies, literature, philosophy and the history of the senses. Kane investigates acousmatic sound from a number of methodological perspectives -- historical, cultural, philosophical and musical -- and provides a framework that makes sense of the many surprising and paradoxical ways that unseen sound has been understood. Finely detailed and thoroughly researched, Sound Unseen pursues unseen sounds through a stunning array of cases -- from Bayreuth to Kafka's "Burrow," Apollinaire to Žižek, music and metaphysics to architecture and automata, and from Pythagoras to the present-to offer the definitive account of acousmatic sound in theory and practice.

The first major study in English of Pierre Schaeffer's theory of "acousmatics," Sound Unseen is an essential text for scholars of philosophy of music, electronic music, sound studies, and the history of the senses.

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of the hidden and most genuine part of the 156 C onditions person. Is it a bodiless you that listens to a bodiless voice? In that case, whether you actually hear it or merely remember it or imagine it makes no difference.94 Calvino’s sentiment is far less thetic and self-assured than in Cavarero’s reading, for the statement that the “voice comes certainly from a person, unique, inimitable like every person” appears in the midst of a rapidly shifting series of hypotheses, queries, and worries.

the arts of eloquence, flattery, and poetic recitation. The “little linguistic trick” of the shifter is employed to ascribe all kinds of subjective states to the speaking machine. It refers to its honor, pleasure, and duty; it acknowledges and respects its maker, Edison, to whom it owes its being. Consequently, it is not unlike Jacquet-Droz’s writing automaton. In both cases, to understand the meaning of the machine’s statements (whether spoken or written), we must take the “I” to be a sign of

reduction by itself does not dismiss this possibility—it still allows for the identification of sources and causes—but it bars access to visual and tactual means to satisfy this goal. Indexical listening is still available as a possible modality. However, the acousmatic reduction disorients and redirects listening by reducing sounds to the field of hearing alone. “Often surprised, often uncertain, we discover that much of what we thought we were hearing was in reality only seen, and explained, by

authentic and inauthentic recipients of the encoded message. The method of linguistic encryption is soft-pedaled in favor of addressing the techniques of reception that distinguish the various grades of disciples. Iamblichus’ deployment of the literal veil emphasizes the act of reception. Such an emphasis jibes well with the particular exigencies of Iamblichus’ own political and religious situation. For Iamblichus, who comes from a Neoplatonist tradition that had already canonized Pythagoras as

the mythic use to which the veil has been employed in the Schaefferian tradition and disallows any phenomenological claims about the veil as initiating the originary experience of acousmatic sound. In ­chapter 3, I investigate the second context, the word acousmate. Again, I pose a simple question: Where did this word come from and how does it relate to the Pythagorean tradition? After describing the context in which the word was coined and first used, I demonstrate that the word originally had

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