Inaugural Special Issue Vol 1, No. 1 (Dec 12, 2012)

Listening to the Soundscape And The Necessity of Double Description

Citation

Listening to the Soundscape And The Necessity of Double Description

Citation


Dunn, David. "Listening to the Soundscape And The Necessity of Double Description ." Moebius Journal 1 (2012): 1. Accessed Dec 21, 2014. http://moebiusjournal.org/pubs/16.

Important: Before using this citation in formal writing, please consult the Chicago Manual of Style.

David Dunn
2010

Abstract

The cultural and explanatory modes of art and science are examined in the light of the concept of cultural violence and described as complementary aspects of metaphoric and mechanistic language use. An earlier precedence for such thinking is shown as is its current manifestation as part of the contemporary theory of “autopoiesis.” A natural history of such linguistically productive use is proposed and linked to an even larger history of evolving frames of environmental and musical auditory perception. 

1) Cultural Violence in Art and Science
2) Metaphoric versus Mechanistic Language
3) Listening to the Soundscape and Environmental Hearing 

 “Without such metaphors for meditation, as correctives for the errors of human language and recent science, it seems that we have the capacity to be wrong in rather creative ways—so wrong that this world we cannot understand may become one in which we cannot live. But it is important to remember in this context Gregory’s commitment to the principle of double description. The richest knowledge of the tree includes both myth and botany.”1

Mary Catherine Bateson on her father, Gregory Bateson

1.) Cultural Violence in Art and Science

 
Decades ago a basic conflict became evident as the environmental movement came to foreground attention at a global scale. The political split that formed was between environmentalists and the advocates of third-world development. Radical “greens” saw all economic growth, even in the most impoverished nations, as a threat to the environment. Development favoring governments tended to believe that people must be the priority and that environmental destruction was largely justified. By the 1980’s it became evident that neither side of this debate was succeeding. Little economic development was happening in the most vulnerable places and environmental degradation was quickly accelerating. Both sides were failing in a manner that revealed how environmental health and social justice are inseparable. An impoverished environment and crushing human poverty cannot be isolated from each other. 
 
There should be nothing surprising in this insight except the scale to which human society can now impact the planet as a whole. All living organisms both create and poison their world and there is no such thing as an invariant environment separate from the life that creates it.2 Extinction is the norm and the vast majority of unique forms of life that have occupied this planet no longer exist. While knowing such truths should make us more circumspect about our own chances for survival, they also tell us that we not only continuously change a world that is already in constant flux but we can have some choice—and responsibility—in how we change it. What is new is the realization of our capacity to do this at a global scale. The assumption that the rest of the natural world was too large to be affected was a grave and potentially fatal error.  
 
At this global level of conflict, the individual too often becomes a disposable element. To paraphrase peace theorist Johan Galtung’s characterization of both Marxism and capitalism, the one is willing to sacrifice a couple generations towards the manifestation of a future utopia, while the other is willing to sacrifice a couple social classes for the security of the upper class. As Galtung states it: “Any self-other gradient can be used to justify violence against those lower down on the scale of worthiness.”3 Galtung has formulated a conceptual triangulation that articulates three levels of violence. Together they form a dynamic force, each level not only defining a more subtle and hidden variation but unfolding in different time domains: 1) the repression and killing of direct violence occurs as an event; 2) the exploitation of structural violence as a process; and 3) the propaganda and thought control of cultural violence as an invariant. This overall dynamic of violence can refer to both the treatment of humans by other humans and the human exploitation of the natural world.
 
Galtung defines the subtlest level:
 
“By ‘cultural violence’ we mean those aspects of culture, the synthetic sphere of our existence—exemplified by religion and ideology, language and art, empirical science and formal science (logic, mathematics)—that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence.”4
 
The phenomenon of cultural violence remains opaque to the extent that we hold certain cultural values and institutions in high esteem without critical evaluation. Despite a near total dependency upon the fulfillment of corporate, government, and military interests, “big” science claims to functionally transcend these pressures and maintain objective standards for research. The official art world—meaning the interests of major commercial markets centered in Europe, North America, and Asia—continues to promote itself as the major force of counter-cultural social critique. In both cases, the truth is more complex than to merely assert that these are false representations. Like all human endeavors, these cultural sectors are the result of good intentions, cynical or enlightened self-interest, creative ambition, self-delusion, greed, sincerity, and strategic thinking all in collision.  Sometimes they are what they claim to be and sometimes they are not. 
 
The essential modernist dilemma for art has been the seemingly perpetual series of end game experimental provocations intended to subvert the traditional privileged status of the aesthetic process. From the initial 20th century questioning of representation, through the embrace of abstraction, to the dematerialization of Conceptualism, there has been this constant anti-art challenge to the forces of the art market as the cultural status quo. Ironically, the legitimation of “anti-art” status has come from the very institutions that artists have claimed to challenge. No artistic gesture has been capable of resisting its commoditization. The result has been the almost total transfer of legitimizing power from the autonomy of the artist to that of the institutional agent, whether curator, critic, dealer, or collector.
 
F.E. Rakuschan makes a similar observation:
 
“Buying works of art requires considerable resources. The usual hefty sums are spent by people wishing to display their elevated status over the less privileged social classes. What they get is known as distinction gains. …With this going on, all the talk about artistic freedom amounts to nothing but profound contempt for both creative artists and their public, considering that the social justification of art mainly rests on the emergence of flourishing markets and that the role of artistic genius is just some ideological wrapping around the product called art.”5
 
This art of the cognoscenti is only the latest chapter in that aspect of Western art practice to reify forms of cultural violence that help hold in place forces of social injustice. Recent attempts at artistic intervention into political and media hegemony—whether functioning under the banners of Conceptualism or Community Art—will no doubt have to make peace with the contradictions of institutional legitimation as even more savvy strategies emerge for the commoditization of actions that were originally intended as radical social criticism. 
 
Given the sense of confusion that the contradictions of the art world seem to engender, a return to a reassuring scientific rationalism now seems more attractive than ever to many seeking a stabilizing force immune to elitist agendas and the forces of cultural violence. Unfortunately this is hardly within our grasp. Science is a deeply social enterprise and as such it is largely a profound participant in sustaining the interests of those who hold or are seeking power. Science is also vulnerable to the processes of legitimation. The autonomy of the scientist has—like that of the artist—been transferred to institutional forces. Once upon a time, art was what artists said it was (Schwitters: “Everything the artist spits is art.”) and science was what scientists said it was (Varela: “Something is scientific only when scientists call it scientific. It is not more or less than that.”). Ever-burgeoning social and economic institutions with their own agendas, priorities, and expectations now increasingly define both.
 
Beyond its institutional constraints, science has been prone to exhibit cultural violence in a subtler guise. While its historical claim to being the ultimate arbiter of objective truth—and having a special intellectual status—may be questioned by even many scientists, it uses this conceit to garner influence and assert authority when needed. Medical practice is the example par excellence. There is also a persistent naïve belief amongst too many researchers that the ever-proliferating specializations of science constitute a unified worldview. As Paul Feyerabend was fond of reminding us: “Science does not contain one epistemology, it contains many…being constructed in different ways, different scientific knowledge claims cannot be easily combined and that the idea of a coherent ‘body of scientific knowledge’ is a chimera.”6
 
The problem is not with the rationalist basis of science per se. In too many quarters of contemporary life the rational faculty is in short supply and science is often our only grounding influence and responsible guide. The problem is that the rational mind alone has never been enough and in other situations, no guide at all. While it so often expands our world and provides powerful insights for changing our world to our survival advantage, it can also flatten our experience and delimit our sense of connection to the enormous possibilities that surround us, what Feyerabend referred to as “abundance”.
 
Bateson also comments upon this dilemma:
 
“…mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream, and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life; and that its virulence springs specifically from the circumstance that life depends upon interlocking circuits of contingency, while consciousness can see only such short arcs of such circuits as human purpose may direct. 
 
That is the sort of world we live in—a world of circuit structures—and love can survive only if wisdom (i.e., a sense or recognition of the fact of circuitry) has an effective voice.”7 
 
This “recognition of the fact of circuitry” is very close to what Gandhi was referring to through his unity of life and unity-of-means-and-ends axioms: all life is sacred (human and non-human) and taking care of the means allows the ends to take care of themselves. Galtung has stated that the embrace of Gandhi’s axioms leads to a doctrine of synchrony where action must be taken on all issues simultaneously.8 For example, there must be a synchrony between efforts to address problems of social justice and environmental health since each is part of a larger pattern of inseparable connections. 
 
In the light of this understanding there is an unavoidably pessimistic view. As the field of sociobiology has framed it, human beings are at root a carnivorous tribal species that seems incapable of identifying the unit of survival at a planetary level. We self-identify through multiple group affiliations that are almost always at a tribal level and seem willing, given any excuse, to violently defend those memberships. How quickly we can learn to transcend this apparently innate condition, and in sufficient numbers, is an open question.
 
A much more optimistic view has recently been put forth by Paul Hawken through his project to archive and database the emergence of grassroots organizations across the planet. He claims that there are approximately 1.5 million organizations in the world now dedicated to environmental conservation and social justice. Hawken believes that this is the largest movement in human history and it does not yet even have a name. It has been completely self-organizing and largely independent of governmental support or interests. The metaphor he uses to think about this movement is that it constitutes an emerging planetary immune response to the disease of planetary violence. It would also seem to be a profound example of Galtung’s doctrine of synchrony, a mass simultaneous concerted effort to solve our deepest problems, albeit arising as a self-organizing and largely unconscious response. The question that concerns me is how can the traditional cultural sectors of art and science become further congruent with this emergence?9 
 
Perhaps one place to start is by no longer giving credence to the various modernist endgame scenarios and instead seek to recognize some common social goals that might draw the worlds of art and science closer together, goals that strive to move us closer to Bateson’s circuits of contingency, Gandhi’s dual axioms, and Feyerabend’s sphere of abundance. This cannot be done by assuming a priori what art or science should be—like the fatal stupidity of totalitarian prescriptions for how they might serve the state—but by mapping out how they contribute to the creation of reality in distinct but overlapping ways that balance our need for both rational understanding and creative renewal. 
 
Metaphor and mechanism are intractably interwoven with categorical difference intact. Our problem is not of a superiority of one category of explanation over the other; it is in thinking that either category alone is sufficient and in confusing one category for the other. Both artists and scientists strive to understand their world through the creation of artifacts and they create these by using both forms of explanation. As science strives to understand phenomena through the lens of rational thought, art strives to understand phenomena through the lens of perception. Each can provide insight into what the other delimits. There also seems little value to either culture simply learning to ape the other’s form of cultural violence. To avoid this, practitioners must understand how each actually functions, not just as ideals in the world, rather as social institutions. This inherently necessitates a critical posture, not to negate but to understand.
 

2.) Metaphoric Versus Mechanistic Language

 
william blake newton
Figure 1. Blake’s Newton
 
To many scientists, William Blake’s illuminated engraving of Newton represents the heroic cosmic geometer dissecting nature’s laws. Most of the artistic and literary references to the engraving see it as Blake’s pejorative attitude to Newton’s worldview, a depiction of fixated analytical vision.
 
Each tradition sees what it needs to see.  Newton is unquestionably physically idealized as the personification of the power of human perception and creative action. While Blake did reject Newton’s philosophy, he read him deeply. But why has Blake placed him at the bottom of the ocean? Looking back from our post-psychoanalytic point in history, it is irresistible not to feel that Blake is pointing to the fixated quality of Ego-consciousness, surrounded by the oceanic unconscious. The human capacity for analysis and quantification was for Blake a dangerous trance if merely left to its own devices:
 
“May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s sleep!”10
 
Blake’s multi-media visions are becoming more and more apprehensible to us because they turned so many of the accepted assumptions of his time inside out and upside down—in ways that seem prophetic of our own experience. Blake’s ultimate goal was what he called his Four-Fold Vision: the return to Eden through the unification of Wisdom, Art, and Science, all in service to human creativity. It is Blake’s concept of creativity and imagination that is the foundation of all his thought and one that was a true challenge to his contemporaries and a premonition of our own attempts to reconcile the ontological confusions that bridge his time and ours.
 
“WHAT IS MAN?
The Sun’s Light when he unfolds it
Depends on the organ that beholds it.”11
 
Blake was against the 18th century concept of an external invariant and idealized nature that was separate from human perception: “But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.”12 He was struggling to describe an ontological middle path where neither desire nor reason—separate from the other—or a split between mind and nature was sufficient. It is an understanding that we can now philosophically embrace: perception cannot be separated from action. Neurophysiologist Francisco Varela has called this—borrowing a line from Machado—“laying down a path in walking.”13
 
For Varela this shift of understanding from a representationist model in neuroscience to one of operational closure—an emphasis on the autonomous coherence of a system instead of the mere correspondence of the system’s behavior with its environment—is fundamentally the basis for an epistemological revolution. At its core is his theory of autopoiesis as an explicit mechanism of identity that characterizes the organization of a living thing. It also characterizes the transition of non-life to life and accounts for life’s essential condition of autonomy. Other forms of organization can also give rise to autonomy—such as the nervous system or language—and he refers to these other, more general, forms of identity and autonomy mechanisms as operational closure.14
 
Underlying the scientific formulation of Varela’s ideas is a simpler descriptive metaphor. Living organizations, at various hierarchical levels, are autonomous and they arise through a kind of emergence that is self-organizing—a type of ontological bootstrapping. They are not the mere product of an external environment but, instead, their own coherent worlds, perturbed by and structurally coupled to other organizational structures. They are neither existing nor non-existing but both at the same time, participants in an emergent network that is immanent.
 
At the biological level of autopoiesis, you must have the necessary structural components and boundary membranes that define operational closure. At the level of linguistic interaction, you have instead a closure of orientation for action through language acts such as agreements, requests, and commitments. Language exists through the action of languaging as a generative plenum and, therefore, we all have the status of language participants rather than creators per se. To this extent it can be said, “language speaks us.”15 
 
From within this fabric of linguistic and physical coupling emerges a pattern that we recognize as a sense of self. It is a suspended pattern that comes and goes, emerging from and falling back into a non-linguistic background of consciousness, a web in which the operational closure of language can live. Within this background, the transition from non-linguistic to linguistic structures, and the full range of language itself, are an immense diversity of forms of coupling that must have their own natural history of bifurcations. Figure 2 shows just a few of these possible bifurcations.
  
An Evolutionary Tree of Human Language
Figure 2. An Evolutionary Tree of Human Language
 
Obviously this is not the dichotomy of the sign (signifier/signified) of Ferdinand de Saussure where its historical implementation is considered insignificant. In fact, it is somewhat—like that of post-structuralism—the turning of Saussure’s linguistic structuralism inside out to emphasize the historical permutations of language use and to couch them in “evolutionary” terms.
 
This chart of a spectrum of language bifurcations includes those forms of coupling that precede the more definite properties of fully formed and complex linguistic structures—more loosely organized proto-linguistic utterances—and the nimbus of corporeal manners of expression that do not include words per se. Further up the tree, the bifurcations include the coalescence into more tightly bounded structures that we have traditionally associated with the properties of assigned reference. And so it goes to greater levels of narrowed abstraction and meaning that allow for the purposive focus of rational thought. What is essential to remember is that these bifurcations are not exclusive, and like the evolutionary branching within other forms of operational closure, proto- and paralinguistic expression are carried forth into the more abstract and specific modes of language through such things as gesture, tone of voice, singing, glossolalia, crying, moaning, and laughter. We are all capable of manifesting a rich range of coupling across this full spectrum and do so in everyday communication.
 
Each of these bifurcations represents another autonomous domain—operational closure nested within a larger domain of operational closure—sometimes arising as a purposive attempt to establish its autonomy as a new category of description. This is certainly true of the further bifurcations of language usage that define the creation of new scientific disciplines.16 The evolution of human language and knowledge is not only inseparable from the emergence of new nested levels of descriptive autonomy but also from the capacity to cross couple these nested levels (i.e., the creation of song form or symbolic logic).
 
The search for traces of what could be called a natural history of human language has largely been within the purview of the fields of linguistics, physical anthropology and cognitive ethology. Experiments in primate to human communication, and dolphin to human communication, have both yielded fascinating insights into the capacity of non-human life to possess language. Linguists are, of course, deeply concerned with the issue of how language may have evolved. Quite recently this search has taken a strictly hominid focus that is more resonant with the chart shown in Figure 2. Steven Mithen has built upon the work of linguist Alison Wray, whose ‘holistic’ theory of proto-language evolution has gone against the larger tide of ‘compositional’ theories, to assert that early hominid proto-language was a root communication modality from which both human speech and music bifurcated.17
 
In compositional theories of proto-language the emphasis is placed upon the concept that early hominids used a lexicon of words that were related to mental concepts but without real grammar. The result was a high rate of ambiguity and a low rate of flexible productivity since combinations of these words would have been mostly arbitrary. From this point of view, it was the evolution of grammar that allowed for the emergence of true language from proto-linguistic communication.
 
Wray’s theory parts company from this theoretical perspective by proposing that early hominid communication consisted of multisyllabic utterances that were uniquely associated with arbitrary meaning as messages and not words. In this theory, language evolves from proto-language when these larger message utterances become segmented and therefore capable of a greater range of combinations and infinite productivity. Rather than words comprising the original building blocks, they evolve much later through this process of segmentation.
 
What is particularly intriguing about Mithen’s contribution to this debate is his belief that this proto-linguistic form of communication must have had attributes of both speech and music. Through marshalling evidence from fields as diverse as linguistics, paleoanthropology, archeology, neuroscience, primate studies, psychology, and musicology, he has built a powerful argument that Neanderthals, and other early hominids, communicated through a kind of proto-linguistic music-speech, what musicologist Stephen Brown has recently termed musilanguage. Rather than dismissing music as having no evolutionary significance, Mithen and other researchers believe that the evidence shows a deeper relationship between music and language. They exhibit too many inherent distinctions for either to have evolved from the other. And they share too many features to have had completely separate evolutionary trajectories. The most convincing possibility is that they both evolved from a proto-linguistic precursor that exhibited the characteristics shared by both language and music, as we now know them.18
 
Figure 2 shows this basic sequence for bifurcation of music and language from this musilanguage precursor and lists some of the general attributes that we associate with music and two of the further bifurcations of speech: metaphoric versus mechanistic language. While the divergence of musilanguage into language and music was a structural bifurcation, the categorical divergence between metaphoric and mechanistic language has been a functional one. I’ve chosen to use a single word, metaphor, to embody what has been traditionally regarded as a much larger aspect of the operational closure of language. My use conflates the traditional binary opposition of metaphor versus metonymy to use the term metaphor as suggestive of an older—more comprehensive—domain of operational closure that is rich and inexhaustible. 
 
An example of the possibility that this kind of proto-linguistic communication may still be partially alive in the world is suggested by the linguistic fieldwork of Dan Everett amongst the Brazilian Pirahã tribe. The Pirahã language is unrelated to any known extant language and exhibits such extraordinary properties that, according to Everett, it constitutes a serious challenge to Noam Chomsky’s concept of a universal grammar. The language has just eight consonants and three vowels but an amazing array of ancillary tones, stresses and syllable lengths. Much of their communication does not involve the consonants and vowels at all but rather singing, humming and whistling. Apparently they have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no terms of quantification. Most importantly the language appears to have no property of recursion, what Chomsky believes to not only be a universal trait of human language but the single most important thing that distinguishes human language from animal communication behavior. Even though the Pirahã were first discovered by Europeans in the 18th century, they have steadfastly remained monolingual and continue to reject nearly everything from the outside world.19
 
This evolutionary intimacy between language and music suggests a profound spectrum of abundant ways that we have, and still can, structurally couple between humans, and between humans and the non-human world. One possibility is that our inheritance of musical perception from our proto-linguistic consciousness is a conservator of archaic ways of observing and understanding, carrying forth the non-verbal myths, which balance our desire for a mechanistic power that progressively locks us down and away from a somatic relationship to the earth. 
Music is one of the best means we have for “thinking” about and describing the fabric of mind that resides everywhere but nowhere. It is one of the most direct methods we have for experiencing and practicing participation in a larger system of mind, redefining the boundary of self to include larger pathways of coupling with other autonomous worlds. While music evolves with us—and is without doubt a measure of what makes us human—it may also be a measure of how we can remain connected to larger patterns of life and mind, and a measure of what we have yet to imagine ourselves becoming.
 
The embrace of the full range of how we might structurally couple our own autonomous world to those of others, suggests a basic insight. The specification of an exclusive mechanism—primarily the condition that largely defines contemporary science—is that aspect of language that makes something effective. It is what gives us the real potential for altering the nature of reality through its foundational substrates. Metaphor brings us back to the full spectrum of possibilities to remind us of the fullness of reality and just how vulnerable that reality is to the limited knowledge of immediate purpose. 
 
By learning how to be more “ambidextrous” in how we move between these rich domains of explanatory categories—the worlds of art and science—we begin to walk the middle path of double description where perception cannot be separated from action. We can also begin to define some larger essential goals and guiding questions. How do we use both our rational and aesthetic perceptual faculties to guide us in recognition of the interlocking circuits of contingency that define both mind and substance? How can we begin to adhere to a doctrine of synchrony that embraces the abundance that surrounds us?  How do we pursue an ontological middle path where mind and substance—or self and other—are not engaged in combat with each other?  
3.) Listening to the Soundscape and Environmental Hearing
 
In order to provide a historical framework for how the preceding ideas are more specifically linked to the cultural traditions of music and sound based art genre, I put forth the following propositions. While these concepts are intentionally meant to be provocative, they also provide an alternative to the conventional views of musical aesthetics dominated by those of 19th century Romanticism.
 
Proposition 1
 
Music is a form of operational closure defined through sonic patterns as a parallel way of thinking to the visually dominant metaphors of human speech and written symbols. It is also a kind of conserving strategy for ways of communicating that are closer to how other forms of life may communicate and only tangentially related to human linguistic structures. It may therefore be a traditional means for structurally coupling to nonhuman living systems. The fact that we have yet to discover a human society without it says something significant, as do recent discoveries about the ability of music making to alter the hardwiring of brain development. As this vast terrain of human activity and inheritance of our species, music may provide us with important clues to our future survival. 
 
Proposition 2
 
Assumptions about values of musical authorship, communicative intention, emotional expression and musical genius are, in evolutionary terms, short-term aberrations. Despite the beauty and entertainment value that such assumptions afford us, they may even be distractions from a more profound significance for music. From an environmental viewpoint, music has been a means through which humans structurally couple to the larger systems of mind that comprise our natural and social environments. Discussion about the integrative and spiritual aspects of music is largely a recapitulation to the experience of music as a communicative source with a living world.
 
Proposition 3
 
The meaning of music does not reside within the structure of notes as semiotic referents. There is no simple point-to-point correspondence of communicative intent and reception. The failed attempts to identify objective content of expression within the musical object are merely post-Kantian confusions that try to assign mind to a specific locus. Music is a distributed network of signification where meaning emerges from an infinite set of superabundant associations and uses. Unfortunately, most of our assumptions about music are determined by our culture’s cherished belief in the ideals of self-expression, emotional content, intentionality and authorship. We also tend to assign cultural value to music by identifying musical experience with these same beliefs. What might be left of music in the absence of these assumptions? 
 
Music not only primarily consists of the perception of sound in time but it is the perceiver that is engaged in both organizing that perception and assigning it meaning. As composer Elaine Barkin says, "Listening is primary composition."20
 
The historical events that have led Western music to this realization are summarized by Sean Cubitt: "Music and information dominate the hearing of the twentieth century, and their dialectic has only recently begun to evolve a third mode of hearing, the soundscape. Music from Russolo to Cage strips itself of inessentials—melody, harmony, counterpoint—to encompass all hearing, transferring the musician's mode of listening to the sounds of the world."21
 
This capacity to hear the soundscape as music is simultaneously one of the most archaic ways of listening and the most modern. Music is both an intuition to a future communication modality and a conserving action for keeping alive a mode of communication similar to non-human forms of cognition. 
 
Given the superabundance of how music as a human activity has been used, what do I consider to be its fundamental functions?
 
Simultaneously:
 
1) to evolve our capacity to structurally-couple with our environment through our aural perception, and
2) a significant force for defining the boundaries of group affiliation, affirmation of cultural status, and to give voice to an evolutionary heritage of an abundance of other coupling modes that are greater than the rational mind alone.
 
Music has reflected several historical changes for how we focus our aural perception and ground these in a few apparent physiological truths. The following chart parses Western music history as changing modalities of physiological focus and response. Each new level conserves aspects of previous levels:
 
Changing Modalities of Hearing
Figure 3.  Changing Modalities of Hearing
 
Changing Modalities of Hearing
 
Environmental Hearing 1: hearing the soundscape as meaningful signification for survival through direct communication with the physical environment. 
 
Arithmetical Hearing: number as pattern made audible. Pythagorean mysticism forms the basis for number theory as ancient science. The ancient Greek concept of harmony (armonia) signifies the arrangement or ordering of sounds with respect to melodic relationship between their pitches (a scale or mode expressed in numerical ratios). 
 
Spectral Hearing: articulation of Rameau’s “Sonfundamental” gives rise to the notion of “common practice.” Rameau’s insight derives from the idea that there are harmonic partials present in any musical tone. This understanding becomes the basis for the familiar triadic-tonal harmonic theory of the common practice period and inspires its formalization in Fourier’s physics. 
 
Technological Hearing: ascendancy of the scientific mode of listening through instrumentation that predominantly begins with Helmholtz. The specification of an acoustical basis for the perception of consonance and dissonance arises through an emphasis upon beats and timbre. By the mid-20th century there is a growing emphasis on the unique spectral qualities of all sounds and the eventual emancipation of noise as musical resource.
 
Environmental Hearing 2: the aesthetic innovations of Cage and others solidify the idea of hearing the soundscape as music. The emancipation of noise continues with new manipulative electronic audio tools and the expansion of scientific modes of listening such as bioacoustics and sonification that recapitulate hearing the soundscape as meaningful communication.

References

  • 1. Bateson, G., and M.C. Bateson. 1987. Angels Fear, Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred. New York: Macmillan.
  • 2. Lewontin, R.C. 1991. Biology as Ideology. New York: Harper Perennial.
  • 3. Galtung, Johan. 1990. Cultural violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27 (3): 273-289.
  • 4. Galtung, Johan. op. cit.
  • 5. Rakuschan, F.E. 2002. Art and Repugnance: Form as Anti-Form, Art as Anti-Art, Market as Anti-Market. Transversal-EIPCP Multilingual Webjournal, European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies. http://eipcp.net/transversal/0601/rakuschan/en.
  • 6. Feyerabend, P. K. 1999. Conquest of Abundance. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • 7. Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • 8. Galtung, Johan. op. cit.
  • 9. Hawken, Paul. 2007. Talk presented at the Bioneers Conference, Santa Fe, NM.
  • 10. Kazin, Alfred. 1974. The Portable Blake. New York: Viking Penguin Inc.
  • 11. Kazin, Alfred. op. cit.
  • 12. Kazin, Alfred. op. cit.
  • 13. Varela, F. J. 1987. Laying Down a Path In Walking. In Gaia: A Way of Knowing, ed. W.I. Thompson, 48-64. Great Barrington: Inner Traditions, Lindisfarne Press.
  • 14. Varela, F. J. 1988. Personal communication with the author.
  • 15. Mann, Chris. 1980. Personal communication with the author.
  • 16. Latour, B. 2008. The Netz-Works of Greek Deductions. Review of The Shaping of Deduction in Greek Mathematics: A Study in Cognitive History, by Reviel Netz. Social Studies of Science, 38 (3): 441-459.
  • 17. Mithen, S. 2006. The Singing Neanderthals, The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • 18. Mithen, S. op. cit.
  • 19. Colapinto, J. 2007. The Interpreter. The New Yorker, April 16.
  • 20. Barkin, Elaine. 1988. Personal communication with the author.
  • 21. Cubitt, Sean. 1996. Online Sound and Virtual Architecture. Paper presented at the seventh International Symposium on Electronic Art, September, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.