Three New Books: On Acousmatic Sound, Sonic Continuum and Orality

books

Here are three books I’ve been exploring recently and strongly recommend. All of them have been written by well-known sound theorists and were released in June/July. In general, I’d say the texts are dedicated to explore different aspects of sound, mainly featuring a philosophical/practical approach towards listening and its related topics, but each represents a journey to very interesting aspects of the sonic manifestation. Let’s read!

Sound Unseen – Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice

By Brian Kane (Hardback) – Oxford University Press / Amazon

9780199347841_450Sound 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 concrete music 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.

Sonic Possible Worlds – Hearing the Continuum of Sound

By Salomé Voegelin (Paperback / ebook) – Bloomsbury / Amazon

9781623568009Inspired by its use in literary theory, film criticism and the discourse of game design, Salomé Voegelin adapts and develops “possible world theory” in relation to sound. David K Lewis’ Possible World is juxtaposed with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s life-world, to produce a meeting of the semantic and the phenomenological at the place of listening. 

The central tenet of Sonic Possible Worlds is that at present traditional musical compositions and contemporary sonic outputs are approached and investigated through separate and distinct critical languages and histories. As a consequence, no continuous and comparative study of the field is possible. 

In Sonic Possible Worlds, Voegelin proposes a new analytical framework that can access and investigate works across genres and times, enabling a comparative engagement where composers such as Henry Purcell and Nadia Boulanger encounter sound art works by Shilpa Gupta and Christina Kubisch and where the soundscape compositions of Chris Watson and Francisco López resound in the visual worlds of Louise Bourgeois.

Lexicon of the Mouth – Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary

By Brandon LaBelle (Paperback / ebook) –  Bloomsbury / Amazon

9781623561888“Lexicon of the Mouth surveys the oral cavity as the central channel by which self and surrounding are brought into relation. Questions of embodiment and agency, attachment and loss, incorporation and hunger, locution and the non-sensical are critically examined. In doing so, LaBelle emphasizes the mouth as a vital conduit for negotiating “the foundational narrative of proper speech.” Lexicon of the Mouth aims for a viscous, poetic and resonant discourse of subjectivity, detailed through the “micro-oralities” of laughing and whispering, stuttering and reciting, eating and kissing, among others. The oral cavity is posed as an impressionable arena, susceptible to all types of material input, contamination and intervention, while also enabling powerful forms of resistance, attachment and conversation, as well as radical imagination.

Lexicon of the Mouth argues for the revolutionary promise of the laugh, the spirited mythologies of the whisper, the schizophonics of self-talk, and the primal noise of gibberish, suggesting that the significance of voicing is fundamentally bound to the exertions of the mouth. Subsequently, assumptions around voice and vocality are unsettled in favor of an epistemology of the oral, highlighting the acts of the tongue, the lips and the throat as primary mediations between interior and exterior, social structures and embodied expressions. LaBelle makes a significant contribution to currents in sound and voice studies by reminding that to hear the voice, and to consider a politics of speech, is first and foremost to assume the mouth.”