the hauntology of liz mitchell (a long way from home)

This video is one of the things I treasure most on Youtube – it gives me chills every time. It’s a recording of Liz Mitchell of Boney M performing “Motherless Child” live with the Les Humphries singers in the early 1970s. It’s incredible how Mitchell seems to be singing about her removal from herself via recording, its simulacral persistence beyond her existence in that moment… And the wavering picture also speaks of analog decay, arrested and mummified by its digitisation from analog video and (again lossy) upload to Youtube. And then, of course, the song’s origins in slavery and dispossession. So many degrees of loss, so many layers of noise.

brian kane – sound unseen – acousmatic sound in theory and practice (2016)

sound unseenSound 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 Zizek, 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.

You can get it here if you have $27.95.

louis moholo’s 4blokes, live at straight no chaser, cape town (15 january 2016)

It’s weird how the recording industry warps experience. We can sometimes forget that every recording is only one iteration that was captured and set in stone as “The” Definitive Performance, when really it just happened to be captured that particular time among many, many other possible times. Records, like photos, pluck moments out of time and concretise them… And they are the only thing we’re left with later to glimpse a whole era. That’s why densely detailed archives such as Ian Bruce Huntley‘s, where there were many recordings of the same bands made during the same era, are so interesting. I’ve posted here, and in the preceding post, recordings of the same band on two consecutive nights.

One of the lovely things about everyone having a camera in their pocket on their phone is that this is not something that is rare anymore, and the democratisation of shared experience is a very powerful and positive thing. One of the horrible things is that there is just such a volume of recorded stuff (much of questionable quality) being generated that the brightest nuggets of wonder can be drowned in the dross… Too much recording and we have a shaky, pixelated backup of every moment kept on hard drives, that no one ever has time to live through twice, to the extent that everything melts into undifferentiated, indigestible “big data” and can only be apprehended as statistics. I feel very ambivalent about it.

I think it’s really important that, whenever possible, we still have experienced photographers, videographers and sound recorders assigned to do this stuff, so that in years to come what we are left with are some beautiful and considered recordings, and not just a haunted avalanche of muddy glimpses.

first sounds – humanity’s first recordings of its own voice (1857- )

Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville was the first person to record his voice and send it into the future. David Giovannoni recounts how First Sounds discovered and played back these recordings 150 years later. This is a fascinating documentary! Goosebump-inducing.

breathless: sound recording, disembodiment, and the transformation of lyrical nostalgia – allen s. weiss

How sound recording’s uncanny confluence of human and machine would transform our expectations of mourning and melancholia, transfiguring our intimate relation to death.

Currently sitting with this book in my reading queue… i.e. trying to wait until I have read the stuff I need to prioritise before diving into it, but having peeped the PDF I’m struggling to!

Breathless explores early sound recording and the literature that both foreshadowed its invention and was contemporaneous with its early years, revealing the broad influence of this new technology at the very origins of Modernism. Through close readings of works by Edgar Allan Poe, Stéphane Mallarmé, Charles Cros, Paul Valéry, Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Jules Verne, and Antonin Artaud, Allen S. Weiss shows how sound recording’s uncanny confluence of human and machine would transform our expectations of mourning and melancholia, transfiguring our intimate relation to death. Interdisciplinary, the book bridges poetry and literature, theology and metaphysics. As Breathless shows, the symbolic and practical roles of poetry and technology were transformed as new forms of nostalgia and eroticism arose.

breathless

“By suggesting that sound recording changes the very notion of textuality at a key inflection point in Modernism, Weiss literally turns the field of cultural studies on its ear.” (Gregory Whitehead, co-editor of Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde)

“The extremely important, cogent analysis adds immeasurably to our knowledge of cultural production in the critical years between early modern lyric and our own post-modern, post-lyric age.” (Lawrence R. Schehr, Professor of French, University of Illinois)