Thursday, 1 July 2010

Ontology of Vibrational Force

Taken from Steve Goodman "Sonic Warfare - Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear" MIT Press, 2010

"An ontology of vibrational force delves below a philosophy of sound and the physics of acoustics toward the basic processes of entities affecting other entities. Sound is merely a thin slice, the vibrations audible to humans or animals. Such an orientation therefore should be differentiated from a phenomenology of sonic effects centered on the perceptions of a human subject, as a ready-made, interiorized human center of being and feeling."(p81)..."An ontology of vibrational force objects to a number of theoretical orientations. First, the linguistic imperialism that subordinates the sonic to semiotic registers is rejected for forcing sonic media to merely communicate meaning, losing sight of the more fundamental expressions of their material potential as vibrational surfaces, or oscillators." (p82)... "Rather, it is a concern for potential vibration and the abstract rhythmic relation of oscillation, which is key. What is prioritized here is the in-between of oscillation, the vibration of vibration, the virtuality of the tremble. Vibrations always exceed the actual entities that emit them. Vibrating entities are always entities out of phase with themselves."


"If we subtract human perception, everything moves. Anything static is so only at the level of perceptibility. At the molecular or quantum level, everything is in motion, is vibrating. Equally, objecthood, that which gives an entitity duration in time, makes it endure, is an event irrelevant of human perception." (p83)

This is one of my favourite chapters in Steve Goodman's Sonic Warfare, where he also quotes one of my favourite ideas of Eshun's Sonic Fiction ("Far from needing theory's help, music today is already more conceptual than at any point this century..."). By bringing the discussion sharply away from the normative anthropocentric discussions on sound, such as the subjectivity of (auditive and other) human perception, such as "Sound Anthropology" is based upon or indeed how academic studies of music and also acoustics function, Goodman reduces sound to a mere "slice", a crossover between vibrational force and human perception. By entering this "quantum" or "molecular" level of analysis where everything is constantly in motion, it gives his concept of "unsound" an extra level of sorts. Unsound as "sound that cannot be heard" has already been defined as one of his three definitions of "unsound", but similarly to Eshun's statement about music vs theory above, where music exists and develops independent of theory (contrary to the beliefs of many theorists and critics), vibrational force is given its own autonomy independent of human perception, more or less contrary to our everyday human perception of sound. The result of this, as Goodman asserts, is importantly to reassess the semiotical attached to perceptions or at least be aware of this "linguistic imperialism".

In a way he creates in chapter 15 of his book a break, a jolt and a kind of philosophical drop and an anti-cultural studies stance which at least momentarily subjugates the dominance of human (auditive and other) perception as our basis of knowledge, a vital phenomenological paradox.

Not that I think Goodman is suggesting that removing human perception from his discussion on sonic warfare and sonic cultures is a feasible methodology, but this part of the discussion is critical in at least momentarily subtracting human perception from the analysis to examine the subject in its pure physicality. "Sound" as we perceive it, is vibrational force which existed in the same way it did in 13.7 Billion BC as it does today. To reach this endpoint in the middle of the book is important in sketching out the domain of the discourse of "unsound", critical for both the politics of perception (Virilio) and for the politics of frequency (Goodman).

The presentation of this phenomenological paradigm is attractive as it highlights critical problematics of the methodologies of cultural anthropology and some approaches within cultural studies regarding sound, where the conceptual framework of media studies is perhaps better equipped to deal with (for example Shintaro Miyazaki's "Algorhythm"). This is one of the merits of the concept of "unsound", exposing experiences of perceiving sound as just merely those vibrations which occur between 20Hz and 20KHz and considering vibrational force within its own autonomy.

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