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

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

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

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

Joan La Barbara ‎- Tapesongs

Joan La Barbara

Tapesongs

1977

LP

The metaphor on the cover of La Barbara’s 1977 album of extended vocal music is wonderfully simple. A cloak of sound, or a kind of sound-skin. A protective sonorous outer layer. But this is also magnetic tape – sound which has undergone some fragmentation and abstraction, small pieces of audio which have been cut off from a prior context and recombined to form new constellations of meaning.

Lauri Anderson who was also making extended voice works at that time in the USA, has spoken at length about her own use of audio voice-masks. Both through the deployment of pitch shifting techniques – to muddy representations of gender, and also through the use of quotational style lyrics – to muddy subjectivity and authorship.

La Barbara’s voice masks from this period work entirely differently, instead through forms which are highly idiosyncratic. Not quite music, not quite linguistic and not quite animal – they instead suggest a peculiar logic all to their own. A logic which is not directly accessible by the listener, but is there regardless.

La Barbara. J. (1977). Tapesongs [LP]. Pennsylvania, USA. Chiaroscuro Records.

Categories: Processed Voice / Transhuman / Voice as Material

Mamoru Oshii – Ghost in the Shell

Mamoru Oshii

Ghost in the Shell

1995

Anime, 82 minutes.

One of the most striking ways in which the human voice is rendered within Ghost In The Shell, is the use of what was then cutting edge technology – the spatializer. Throughout, dialogue is processed to depict voices which are both outside of the body, or within the metaphysical internal space, or occasionally channeled from other entirely synthetic spaces.

Going back to Derrida’s Grammatology, where he talks of the implications of this internal / external vocal dichotomy,

‘The system of “hearing (understanding) oneself speak” through the phonic substance which presents itself as the non-exterior, nonmundane, therefore nonempirical or noncontingent signifier – has necessarily dominated the history of the world during an entire epoch, and has even produced the idea of the world, the idea of world-origin, that arises from the difference between the worldly and the non-worldly, the outside and the inside, identity and nonidentity, universal and nonuniversal, transcendental and empirical” (p. 8).

As a major theme within the film is that of the individual subject being superseded by the network, it’s interesting how crucial this internal / external treatment of the dialogue is in depicting a splintering of the post-enlightenment individual.

Derrida. J. (1976). ‘Writing before the letter‘. In: Of Grammatology. Translated by G. C. Spivak. Baltimore & London. John Hopkins University Press. pp. 1 – 87.

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

Accessed 20/09/2019 https://biblehub.com/1_corinthians/13-12.htm

Categories: Processed Voice / Transhuman / Voice as Material

Kate Brown – Title Unknown.

Kate Brown.

Title Unknown.

2019.

Extended Voice Performance.

As part of Liquid Architecture’s satellite events surrounding the Ventriloquy show at Gertrude Contemporary, Sydney artist Kate Brown performed an extended voice work at the Melbourne Meat Market. Using a stripped back setup of contact mics and talk-box, the performance masterfully undermined naturalist and stable representations of the voice and its associated body. While the concept of a prostheticised, distributed and outsourced self certainly speaks to our current condition, it was interesting how through costume Kate was able to viscerally draw in historical references to 19th century gothic horror, a genre in which the voice’s relationship to a rightful owner was often stretched to breaking point.

Brown. K. (2019). Title Unknown [Extended Voice Performance]. Melbourne, Australia. 09/07/2019.

Images: https://liquidarchitecture.org.au

Categories: Processed Voice / Transhuman / Voice as Material

F. Marion Crawford – The Screaming Skull

F. Marion Crawford.

The Screaming Skull.

1911.

Fiction.

Following the historical thread of voices which appear in science fiction as synthetic, disembodied, hallucinatory, channeled and conjured – has lead me to the genre’s predecessor, 19th century Gothic Fiction. This tale from F. Marion Crawford (1854 – 1909) was posthumously published slightly later in 1911, with the author quite literally communicating from beyond the grave! What interests me most about this literary period, is that we can see the voice begin to detach both from the body and also from the world of language; themes which would become central to both science fiction and experimental music in the following century.

It’s interesting to consider the way in which this period (roughly speaking) also saw the invention of the phonograph. Firstly as this invention provided a direct way in which the voice could be mechanically detached from a body. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, while the phonograph was originally described as a speaking machine, an unintended consequence was that it captured not only language, but all sound – splitting the voice into existing simultaneously both as a carrier of language and as a material value.

Crawford. F. M. (1911). The Screaming Skull. In: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. London, UK: Hammond, Hammond & Co. pp. 381 – 404.

Categories: Processed Voice / Transhuman / Voice as Material

Frederic B. Perkins -Manufactory.

Frederic B. Perkins.Processed VoiceFrederic B. Perkins.

Manufactory [In: Devil-puzzlers : and other studies].

1877.

Fiction.

This Victorian era tale from Perkins reads as a kind of premonition of both the science fiction and post-structuralist thought. It serves as a cultural link between the god fearing superstitions of early gothic horror, and the technological re-interpretation of the human during the 20th century.

The story describes a factory where speaking machines (based on Joseph Faber’s non-fictional talking machine) are assembled and programmed, part of which includes loading them with pre-written religious and political texts, which then orally form their identity. It’s like a satirical take on Foucault, 90 years in advance!

Similar to my previous post – The Screaming Skull, Perkins’ story is importantly published the same year in which the phonograph is presented to the public, and subsequently we can see within this work interesting questions around authorship, artifice, trans-humanism and simulations beginning to emerge.

Perkins. F. B. (1877). Manufactory. In: Devil Puzzlers. New York, USA: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. pp. 43 – 92.

Categories: Voice as Material / Avatars / Transhuman / Processed Voice.