Critical Annotation

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Approaching the end of my third semester within the MFA program, I have been working to distil my broader interest concerning the voice within art, down to a more focussed enquiry into how disembodied voices always refer to an implied body. This relationship between the voice as a sonorous material (phone) and the body may on the surface seem a niche subject, however I believe that it’s rich territory with significant implications. It’s a relationship which highlights the contingent nature of perception. When phantom bodies can be conjured so easily, it then begs the question – to what degree can we claim that any bodies are inherently stable and clearly demarcated?

For the practical purpose of organising the blog’s posts I’ve continued to use the following four categories, which are accessible from the dropdown menu –

The newest category – artifice, collects precedents in which the mechanics of representation are laid bare, often integral to the work. Examples include Tacita Dean’s Foley Artist (1) for the distance it allows between the suspension of disbelief and its exposed support structure. Are they experienced simultaneously? Are they separated spatially in the gallery? Is time-lag used to separate the two? These questions a crucial for my own work as I attempt to refine its presentation over the coming months.

The second category and by far the broadest – processed voice, continues to draw together examples where the voice has been extended, either through digital or analogue processing, or in in some cases simply technique. This includes works such as Mamoru Oshii’s – Ghost in the Shell (2), where a sound Spatializer (cutting edge technology at the time) was liberally applied to the film’s dialogue, in order to continually shift its relationship to the body.  

The third category – Transhuman, refers to those works in which mediated voices call into question what we consider to be human, or how our collective understanding of the human might be transcended. Here the voice is often used as the marker to regulate both difference and resemblance within expanded representation of the body. One such included example is Hideaki Anno’s The End of Evangelion (3), in which the body’s drastic inflation is simultaneously anchored through the dense placement breaths, stutters and hesitations.

The final category – Voice as Material, takes it names from Simone Schmidt’s essay The Material Value of the Voice in Art (4) and collects works in which the voice operates outside of, or at least tests the threshold of language. One such example is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (5), in which non-verbal sounds of the body are foregrounded throughout the film, deliberately abstracting and confusing its fleshy borders.


(1) Dean. T. (2009). Foley Artist. [Artwork]. Accessed 22/09/2019 here: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dean-foley-artist-t07870.

(2) Ghost in the Shell. [Film]. Dir. Oshii. M. Pro. Mizuo. Y, Matsumoto. K. Iyadomi. K, Ishikawa, M. (Shochiku, 1983). 82 minutes.

(3) The End of Evangelion. [Film]. Dir. Anno. H, Tsurumaki, K. (Toei Company, 1997), 85 minutes.

(4) Schmidt. S. (2017). The Material Value of the Voice in Art. Retrieved 27/08/2019.academia.edu/36571280/The_Material_Value_of_the_Voice_in_Art

(5) Videodrome. [Film]. Dir. Cronenberg. D. Pro. Héroux. C, David. P, Solnicki. V. (Universal, 1983). 89 minutes.

LUCY MCRAE – BODY ARCHITECT

Lucy McRea

Body Architect

2019

Exhibition

Visiting and then reflecting on McRea’s exhibition, Body Architect seems an appropriate way to finish the semester. Walking through the show, I was overwhelmed by the proficiency (for lack of a better word) of her practice. She makes the whole enterprise look so obvious! Find your subject matter and research the hell out if it. Find the formats which best convey this. Work to develop those into a highly original and sophisticated audio / visual language. Build on that language until you create a kind of world building meta-fiction. In doing this, Body Architect doesn’t bother with trying to uncover truth in the world, it accepts from the outset that truth is forged in the furnace of cultural experience.

On a more subdued note, how the work is presented was useful to consider in relation to my own project. All of the images (except one, which seemed comparatively naff) were presented on screens rather than as prints, giving the overall impression that these were being broadcast to us from multiple distant futures, rather than existing as real-world objects. Images unashamed of their own fiction.

McRea. L. (2019). Body Architect. [Exhibition]. Melbourne, Australia: NGV. 30 Aug 19 – 9 Feb 20.

Images: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au

Categories: Transhuman / Artifice

STELARC – EAR ON ARM

Stelarc

Ear on Arm

2008

Body Modification

A recurring theme within Stalarc’s body plasticity, is that of a body shaped by culture (in this case, the world of contemporary art). An act which simultaneously pushes against, but curiously also re-enforcing certain essentialisms concerning the borders of the body. In the work’s description, he lays out in great detail the medical complications arising from the operation and it’s interesting how the body seems here to have a trajectory of it’s own, one which doesn’t include these extra ears.

Here maybe my own interests differ slightly from Stelarc’s work, in that I believe the body is already a volatile patchwork of biology, technology and culture – without intervention. To hold a microphone is to wield an extra ear, a form of prosthesis already, without the necessity of having it surgically implanted into the body. I do however accept that holding a microphone and calling it prosthesis, is far less engaging than undergoing such a drastic transformation. If art only required discourse, we’d call it philosophy.

Stelarc. (2008). Ear On Arm [body modification artwork]. Melbourne, Australia.

Image: https://stelarc.org

Categories: Transhuman

Haroon Mirza – The Construction of an Act

Haroon Mirza

The Construction Of An Act.

2019

Exhibition – ACCA, Melbourne.

I would say the most interesting element of Mirza’s show, The Construction of an Act – was the various ways the artist used the available space of the gallery. The challenges associated with sound in a white cube such as reverberation and bleed were here made integral to the works, all of which sounded continuously through an overlapping sequence across the three different rooms.

Following on from my post regarding Tacita Dean’s Foley Artist, Mirza’s work here also addresses the idea of a constructed sonic event, laying bare the mechanics of the audio’s own production. But what I found limiting about this show was how this idea of construction had nothing to push up against. A shower head spraying into a plastic garbage bin looked and sounded exactly like you would expect. The abrasive electric tones of an analogue synthesiser were mind-numbingly dull. Through the whole exhibition I was looking for a counterpoint, somewhere for a perceptive gap to open – instead, as a listener all I experienced was the sonic equivalent of single item venn diagram.

Mirza. H. (2019). The Construction Of An Act. [exhibition]. Melbourne, Australia: ACCA 14/09/2019 – 17/11/2019.

Categories: Artifice / Processed Voice

Hideaki Anno – The End of Evangelion

Hideaki Anno

The End of Evangelion

1997

Animated film

Following on from my previous post regarding Cronenberg’s Videodrome, the animated film The End of Evangelion is another example of the body being inflated to breaking point, while at the same time remaining recognisably human through the use of the non-verbal voice. In this instance the pre-verbal breaths, stutters and hesitations of the protagonist – Shinji are increasing foregrounded as the film progresses. When the plot finally reaches fever pitch, their placement seems to suggest the film’s entire world (literally planet Earth in this case) being swallowed whole, ingested into Shinji’s own interior space.

This has prompted me to consider how when using disembodied voice to conjure an abject bodily presence, once that perceptual link has been established it’s actually fairly robust and perhaps I could push it much further.

The End of Evangelion. [Film]. Dir. Anno. H, Tsurumaki, K. (Toei Company, 1997), 85 minutes.

Categories: Voice as Material / Transhuman

David Cronenberg – Videodrome

David Cronenberg

Videodrome

1983

Film

Cronenberg’s 1983 film uses human breath throughout to render a world in which the body’s borders are ambiguous at best. Video cassettes wheeze, TVs groan and hand guns hiss – all becoming extensions of the human, while the actors themselves become non-characters, vacant bodily sites of pure potentiality. The use of breath is so all encompassing here (sound design and score) that not only does it conjure limitless bodies within the film, but the film itself as an object becomes a kind of queasy pornographic animal, both human and un-human.

As Philip Brophy has pointed out “As cinema spends much care not to advance or promote the non-linguistic utterances of the mouth (breath, gasps, drips, sniffles, groans, burps etc.), it leaves pornography to be the sonic realm that celebrates and fetishises the mouth running at its pre-verbal fervour. Listening to Videodrome can be like hearing pornography – or, in accordance with the plot’s themes – picking up interference deliberaely being broadcast from an Other dimesion(p. 247)

The film has provided some useful ideas as to how my own project could use the voice as material – not only to conjure phantom bodies, but that non-verbal utterances can also be used to convert any thing or space (gallery) into a type of body.

Videodrome. [Film]. Dir. Cronenberg. D. Pro. Héroux. C, David. P, Solnicki. V. (Universal, 1983). 89 minutes.

Brophy. P. (2004). 100 Modern Soundtracks. London, UK: British Film Institute.

Categories: Processed Voice / Transhuman / Voice as Material

Jean Baudrillard – The Procession of Simulacra

Jean Baudrillard

The Procession of Simulacra

1983

Text

A recurring theme within my project has been that the body is (at least in part) is an effect of perception, intuited through the voice. At the very least it’s borders are porous and always shifting, rather than discrete and stable. In attempting to trace where this thinking originates, I have been reading the work of Jean Baudrillard which is relevant in its argument that representation (at least in our contemporary condition) precedes the real. That a perception of the real arises from a cascading series of untethered representations.

“Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” (p. 3).

The voice as used within contemporary pop-music is a prime example, where it’s no longer arranged and mixed so as to refer to sense of real world performance and by extension – labor (breath is commonly removed all together), but instead only refers to other musical codes.

Baudrillard. J. (1983). The Procession of Simulacra. In: Art & Text (11). Translated by Paul Foss & Paul Patton. Melbourne, Australia: Art & Text pp. 3 – 47.

Categories: Artifice / Transhuman

Nathan Gray – Pt. 1 – Our Voice

Nathan Gray

Pt. 1 – Our Voice

2019

Podcast [headphones recommended]

Drawing on Douglas Kahn’s concept of the “deboned voice”, Nathan’s agonisingly boring podcast (not a problem as this seems a deliberate part of his schtick) uses binaural recording techniques to sonically illustrate the difference between the way in which we hear our own voice (both through the skull and acoustically through air) in contrast to the voice of others (only through air). Kahn’s concept of the deboned voice is significant in that it emphasises the rupture which took place as a result of Edison’s invention of the phonograph. A moment in which that major binary of interiority vs exteriority – was utterly transformed.

Kahn, D. (2001). ‘Noise, Water, Meat. A History of Sound in the Arts’. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Gray. N. (2019). Pt. 1 – Our Voice [Podcast]. Retrieved 24/09/2019 https://soundcloud.com/themeniscus/i-will-listen-with-your-2

Categories: Processed Voice / Voice as Material

Tacita Dean – Foley Artist

Tacita Dean

Foley Artist

1996 

Sound Installation

While I have no direct experience of this work (only a description from the Tate’s website), Tacita Dean’s Foley Artist interests me in the way it simultaneously offers representation, while also undermining that representation through a foregrounding of artifice. In particular, it was the detailed description of how the different components were spatialized within the gallery, suggesting that for this to be effective there needs to be some distance kept between the constructed experience and the mechanics of that constructed experience.

The artist intentionally prevents the foleys, working in real time on video, being viewed at the same time as the dubbing chart, a synthesis of sound production separated visually into its multi-track artificiality, by specifying that the video monitor and the light box should be mounted on opposite walls.‘ – tate.org.uk

Manchester. E (2009). Foley Artist. [Artwork]. Accessed 22/09/2019 here: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dean-foley-artist-t07870

Image: tate.org.uk/

Categories: Artifice

Nathan Gray – The Voice Actress

Nathan Gray

The Voice Actress

2019

Sound work

Nathan Gray’s anecdotal attention to the voice as material (phone), in contrast to the voice of language (logos), sets up what is actually a refreshingly messy experience, one in which these two sides of the voice (often falsely considered distinct) are both allowed to be experienced simultaneously and without conflict.

It reminded me of Robert Ashley’s Automatic Writing in which the narrator recounts an intense sexual experience, where as a listener it’s impossible to escape the understanding that the mouth here is both a carrier of language, able to produce the anecdote and all its associated metaphysics – while at the same time, a site of embodied experience.

Gray. N. (1019). The Voice Actress. [sound work]. Accessed here: http://www.nthn.gy 22/09/2019

Ashley. R. (1979). Automatic Writing. [LP]. New York, USA: Lovely Music.

Categories: Voice as Material / Artifice / Processed Voice

Homer Dudley – Teeth Sibilant Sketches

Homer Dudley

Teeth Sibilant Sketches

1939 (approximately)

Roughly the same time that Karlheinz Stockhausen was formally dividing speech according to tones (vowels) and noise (plosive consonants), and Pierre Schaefer was working towards a general classification system for recorded sound, Homer Dudley of Bell Labs was also developing a methodology for breaking the human voice into constituent parts. The recent arrival of recording and transmission techniques had drawn attention to the materiality of the voice. A voice located firmly in the material world. While this kind of essentialist thinking has since come into question, pioneering work such as this provided the foundation for all synthetic speech to come afterwards. Its close attention to the properties of the body (teeth, tongue and throat in particular) provide a clue as to why synthetic voices today still imply or even conjure a bodily presence.

Categories: Artifice / Processed Voice / Voice as Material