Location Environmental Performance: Some Dimension Theory and Considerations of Practice - Dallas Simpson(Some of these themes are also explored in article I have recently written for the SAN Diffusion journal)
The "dimension theory" which I have been evolving for some years now arose out of some in depth conversations with artist China Hamilton in the early 1990's. Both of us felt that quantum mechanics was a remarkable achievement in that a mathematical model had been devised in order to describe entities / realities which were in some respects abstract or "dimension-like" in nature. Human perception (observation) is also remarkable in that we see in things abstract qualities and attributes, in fact the remarkable thing about human perception is the fact that we _can_ perceive abstract qualities when observing fixed immutable physical objects.
Current science is quick to dismiss such observations as "emotive imaginings", not "real" and not "the truth" and hence unobjective. I suggest that nothing could be further from the truth. Objective logical truths are bounded and have limits of reality and expression. Abstract cognition (whilst having its own set of rules) opens up perceptions beyond the logical boundary and may be regarded both as a facilitator of spiritual understanding and a major component of free will.
When the components of abstract cognition are annealed with the fruits of creative expression great works of art are generated.
In human perception sound occupies a special place. It is the only sense (save touch, which is limited to the body surface) which allows total periphonic (all around) sensing through binaural hearing. It has both "wave / particle" realities which are easily appreciated and observed. The wave propagation of sound is well known, it is transmitted through any rarefied fluid and excluded from the vacuo. Transformed into an electrical or optical reality it is curiously silent and potential without a suitable converter / transducer. Yet we also recognize the physical (particulate) source from the nature of the sound we hear. (the bottle tapped, the footstep, the voice, the door slamming...) Furthermore the quality of the space in which a sound is expressed has a signature which affects the sound itself such that the quality of the space determines the nature of the expressed distinction within it.
For those of us working in sound we have access to a unique medium with unique potentialities...
part 2This approach is dedicated to the evolution of a high level abstract model which is not purely dedicated to "sound" or "sound art" or "phonography", if it is a good generalized model it should certainly be applicable to these, but also to any other observation / activity.
I need to establish a bit more background. The mathematical discovery / invention of quantum theory to explain certain paradoxical aspects of the behaviour of matter opens up an exciting extension of science in dealing with what I referred to as "dimension-like" phenomena. It is my contention that all abstraction and abstract or "abstract-like" realities are really aspects of dimensionality. From this perspective we have a link between the truth of observable quantifiable matter and the realm of abstract perception, cognition, ethics and spirituality. This truly encompasses the arts, sciences, ethics and spiritual / religious knowledge, hence its importance for the future is that it can establish a unified view for an ever advancing civilization. A view especially where science and technology are more subservient to the aims and objectives of a value driven economy, rather than purely to the aims and objectives of a financially driven economy.
In simple terms it establishes a unified view of all reality as abstraction, perhaps best summarized in the mystical concept of "the Oneness of all things". From this standpoint of abstraction we note that abstract analysis tends to unify through abstraction, whilst logical analysis reveals minute "errors of difference". Logical analysis is error sensitive(more pedantic), while abstract analysis unifies or ignores differences (more loving).
The results of giving greater, or equal emphasis to abstract models of reality is to create a greater sense of unity, to remove the ravages of prejudice and ignorance(through emphasis on differences) and to offer a vision for the future incorporating the fundamental principle of "unity in diversity".
A consideration of the role of art and the nature of artistic practice is central to this paradigm. The whole point of creating an abstract model of "truth" is that meditation and consideration of such a model may influence the quality of our working practice as artists and enable us to have "quality influence outcomes" through the individual and collective practice of our art. It should also influence our collective behaviour towards one another and towards our environment, hence an appropriate consideration of the value of the abstract attributes concerning spirituality and ethics are again central to our practice.
Our sense of collective custodianship of the planet devolves upon us the duty that we all take some responsibility in tackling the exigencies (urgent needs) of the age in which we live.
In the case of phonography, we need to individually evaluate our roles as phonographers (musicians, artists and sound artists) and, perhaps more importantly, consider the value outcomes of the practice of our art.
In the next part I shall focus on that.
part 3Phonography, literally "drawing with sound", is currently involved with natural sound sources as its raw material. In a technologically driven era it is, for my part, somewhat revolutionary to engage in an otherwise highly technological art with the specific intention of making the technology entirely subservient to an abstract (dimensional) vision. For me it is the broad celebration of the "art of art", rather than the more focused pursuit of "the technology of art"
(note: those pursuing a more technological approach should not feel threatened by the above statement. I shall explore a dimensional analysis of the technological approach when I deal with a consideration of value outcomes through the application of attribute analysis.)
For many phonographers central to our work is a consideration of the soundscape - the environment of pure acoustic sound at any location. The sound at any location is an integral of many process, living and physical (material), historical and contemporary, political, social, cultural and spiritual, economic, ecological, geographical and meteorological. Furthermore our actual presence in the soundscape is a central feature of the acoustic ecology, both in terms of our perception of the soundscape and our contribution to it. If there is no one to listen, sound occurs, but there is no perception, no appreciation, no evaluation and certainly no value judgment of that soundscape. If we are there we may do all of those things, and we also contribute to the acoustic ecology in a multiplicity of ways.
In dimensional (or attribute) analysis we adopt a "top down" approach working from a visionary set of ideals towards more specific means and processes to achieve those ideals. It is also possible to analyze real and virtual situations (realities) in terms of qualities and attribute outcomes.
Soundscape art(phonography) as has some unique qualities. It is universally accessible throughout the world and generally "free" (private locations excepted), save the effort required to travel to a particular location. The experience of environmental sound is much more universally appreciated, unlike the myriads of musical genres which evoke extremely strong reactions of personal taste, soundscape art is universally accessible largely transcending the value judgment prejudice of personal musical tastes. It also involves universal participation - all who have ears to hear participate in it and can offer their own responses to it. Focusing on listening has social implications too.
The practice of phonography offers many unique opportunities for attribute outcomes.
Let me backtrack at this point and return to some fundamental aspects of dimension theory. There is a complex interplay between "realm" and "expression of distinction of reality", or we may say:
"the quality of a "space" (realm or dimensionality)) determines the nature of the distinction of reality expressed within it"
The principle of potentialities recognizes the conditional expression of potentiality across a variety of non-local or complex realms (attributised dimensional matrices) such that the nature of the expressed potentiality may be different in each realm.
The above is difficult to grasp without some examples:
Shut your eyes. From the sound perception point of view the only reality is sound. All objects around you which are silent are acoustically invisible - unexpressed potentialities. The sounds you hear are acoustically visible - expressed potentialities.
If you are listening in a room (as opposed to outside)then the "quality of the (room) space determines the nature of the (sound) reality expressed within it" - It has a room acoustic.
You hear the sound of a moving vehicle pass outside the room. The recognition of that vehicle occurs _only_ in the realm of your conscious perception. as a car enthusiast you recognize the vehicle as (your favourite car). But your friend, also in the room, who knows nothing about cars, has no idea what kind of car it is. In this case the quality of each of those individual's mind spaces (complex realms or attributised dimensional matrices) determines the nature of the distinction of the perceived reality (vehicle sound) - favourite car; unknown vehicle. Also note that both the physical sound and those two different perceptions are non-local - dimensionally isolated, unless the two individuals communicate their individual perceptions. Yet all expressions of the distinctions of the vehicle sound arose from one single source expressed in three different attributised dimensional matrices, the physical room and two different "mindspaces". In both the human perceptions there was a transformation of the potentiality of the physical sound into two different cognitive realities - the favoutite car and the unknown vehicle.
In the next part I would like to invert the analysis and consider a visionary approach to phonographic creativity, as opposed to a dimensional analysis of phonographic perception.
"the quality of a "space" (realm or dimensionality)) determines the nature of the distinction of reality expressed within it"
part 4As a prelude to part 4 I would like to respond to a quotation cited by HarS on the phonography discussion forum. It was quoted in a review of a Kim Cascone CD that used as 'its handle' a Xenakis quote, stating that 'the quantity of intelligence carried by the sounds must be the true criterion of the validity of a particular music'.
The concept of "the soundbody" arises from the principle that in the realm of pure sound all realities are and must be sound alone. All sounds are therefore expressed potentialities, all other realities are unexpressed. So when we hear "the sound of" a car, from the point of view of sound perception - it _is_ the reality of the car, it _is_ the car. Now the sound of a car may mean different things to different people, so the single car "soundbody" may elicit a host of associative memories from within the mind of the listener. So the car soundbody may carry a host of "intelligence" - extra information, to the listener. So the "soundbody" is the sound reality of any object from which a sound originated, or is stimulated to make a sound. It contains a signature of the physical reality of its origin and all the hidden associative unexpressed potentialities which may be elicited from it in different contexts (realms).
There is also the issue of narrative and context and this relates directly to the art of composition for all the arts, not just phonography and music. Music is a classical example of a realm where the expressed potentialities are transformed by context. Instrument sounds are contextualised in rhythmical and tonal (or atonal) forms which relate to musical aesthetic. So we hear the "music" rather than a collection of sounds made by particular identifiable acoustic instruments or electronic synths. However we can focus our perception to identify the actual instruments if we wish. Temporal sequencing, juxtaposition and dynamics also carry information in narrative composition and the "meaning" of sounds suggested to the listener can vary, or be controlled to some extent by the artist / composer according to these factors. Perhaps we may consider aspects of these factors applied to composition (phonographical or musical) as an aspect of the intelligence if the work.
The principle of "a realm where the expressed potentialities are transformed by context" is also analogous to the principle of emergence of higher order qualities of attributes through increased complexity. A single isolated short note on a trumpet is "someone playing a single short note on a trumpet", get several trumpets to play a related set of notes and we have the appearance of the complex attributes of chords and melodies (which are incidentally played by trumpets). Sampling and processing opens up a whole new virtual realm of transformation of potentialities and emergence of previously unexpressed potentialities as new qualities hidden in sounds.
> From a phonographic point of view I frequently seek out objects in locations in which I work that may express tonal sounds, or objects which I can use rhythmically or protorythmically (chaotic rhythmic fragments). In Saturday Night (car park) Fever, recorded in a car park in Northampton (UK), I found a set of metal grilles which were wonderfully "tonal" when scraped, in Notes of Dereliction, recorded in a burnt out derelict cottage near Radcliffe on Trent, Notts, UK, I found a series of rusty metal nails in window frames and on wooded panels which offered tones when plucked. A large part of "The Kindergarten Suite" <www.emit.cc> features the use of children's playground apparatus to elicit jazzy musical forms. The transcendence of material "non-musical" object into a musical form through environmental performance I personally regard as having a high degree of "intelligence".
Yet there are other aspects of "intelligence" in composition.
The flow direction of information (information vectors) in performance and composition is an important aspect of "value" or quality assessment. "Garbage in, garbage out" is a well known phrase in some circles. The question I ask here concerns the purpose of the composition. Is the composition an end point or a starting point or a "mid-point"? Is the composition purely "a repository of aesthetic virtuosity", i.e. a place where the artist can show how skilled he/she is, or is the composition (for instance) a humble offering of perceptions and responses to an object of inspiration or reverence?
In phonography these factors are often quite subtle.
Much phonography is pure documentation - aural snapshots of soundmarks or soundscapes and the recordings are presented unedited. In this case there may be no intention of the phonographer other than to record the sound as a record for presentation. It is a celebration of the pure joy of listening to the enchantment of an infinite plethora of sonic curios and delights!
Collecting interesting sounds for further use implies some compositional intent from the phonographer. Sounds may be edited and / or processed as discussed above.
But I would now like to turn to my own form of phonographic composition through environmental performance to illustrate the application of some of the theories and ideas expressed above.
First I must stress the importance of location performance. It relates directly to the concept of expressed and unexpressed potentialities, the creative transformation and incarnation of sonic potentiality, the human presence as central to the perception of the acoustic ecology and an acknowledgment of the human presence as part of that acoustic ecology, the act of performance as a spiritual offering of communion and devotion and the liberation and embedding of qualities and attributes within the composition which require active listening for them to be revealed.
The concept of _location_ performance challenges the whole tradition of performance itself. Here we have liberated performance both from the confines of any physical auditorium and have at one stroke removed live performance from the necessity of audience. The performance is intimate, a unique evolving communion between artist and environment, it requires astute observation, patience and acute perception in order to engage sympathetically and with creative "intelligence". And of course, like all improvisation the results of the encounter are not always entirely successful...
part 5One of the key functions of my approach to environmental sound art has been to try and evolve a vehicle for artistic expression which allows spiritual development and maturation. Central to this process is the creation and observation of attributes (qualities). In this (essay / rant) I have attempted to use a language which shifts the focus of our activity towards an appreciation of these qualities. Qualitative knowledge and qualitative truths affect the way we think, our perception and the way we behave.
In a sense I accepted the challenge that, given only a universe of sound as my creative palette, how can I communicate narratives, metaphors and spiritual / abstract qualities, which transcend the boundary of purely physical phonography - a simple recording of a physical soundscape? And without using any personally spoken narrative. And without having to resort to additional electronic processing and manipulation.
The elucidation of an underlying qualitative theory in this work has been an attempt to establish a common thread, a common conceptual base, a form of language, which links certain aspects of current scientific knowledge, like quantum mechanics, through a consideration of abstract and dimensional realities as a metaphor relating to deeper fundamental principles, and to the higher realms of spiritual attributes and qualities. The resultant "unified theory" is intended to open up the validity of wider conceptual possibilities, rather than to offer material, mathematical, quantitative solutions.
In my opinion the behaviour of sound and our perception of it communicates very potently certain principles of dimensionality which are found at a fundamental level in the quantum behaviour of matter and described so accurately in the mathematics of quantum mechanics. In addition a metaphoric understanding of these fundamental relationships reflect important aspects.
My method, like all serious art, includes some extensive preparation. Even for an "unprepared" encounter in the physical sense, that is, going to a location I have never been to before and doing an environmental performance as a real time continuous one-off single take, there is some mental and spiritual preparation. I contemplate the significance of the location, its ecology, history, its social significance, its beauty or otherwise. Throughout a process of meditation and prayer I contemplate on the potential attributes and qualities of the location or the narrative i wish to incarnate. This preparation may occupy hours, minutes or days. But I have no idea in practical terms how I am going to do it at this stage. This is trust, this is faith, this is humility.
Before I start I wash, clean my ears, carefully prepare the binaural mic installation, do the recording checks and set off.
I always include a recorded "walk-in" to the location. This conveys the principle of "the independent search for Truth". I have made an effort to find this location, but it also symbolizes the dynamics of the encounter - it is a moving soundscape which includes my growth process as I develop a relationship with the environment.
Note the radically different approach. The information vectors, the expressed qualities and attributes, flow very much out of me, rather than simply from the surrounding environment into the recorder. It is not about simply recording the soundscape it is about me establishing a relationship with it.
An observation phase involves my perception of the total soundscape at that location. In this case I am only aware of the expressed sonic potentialities of the soundscape and information flows into me, of course I am able to use all my senses.
A performance phase involves sound improvisation with found silent objects. Here I am transforming elements in the environment from a state of preexistence to sonic existence. I am increasing the information flow from the environment into the sonic realm and I am creatively active in sequencing and choreographing that information. Note that the creation of sounds through my presence and performance may involve acts which could be destructive or polluting, therefore I am forced to adopt an ethical consideration of my actions. This aspect is extremely important as a spiritual growth exercise.
In the Placard Improvisation (2003) I removed a number of artifacts - plant material, stones, water - from lambley Dumble in order to prepare some sound objects for the improvisation in London. Following the improvisation these materials, including the water, was returned to the location from which they were taken. At a physical level this has no significance, at a sonic level, in respect of the performance, this is irrelevant, but _spiritually_ I had a duty of honour to respect the environment that had given me those materials and to return them from whence they came.
The spatial choreography itself may carry attributes through spatial metaphor. In some works, for instance, I perform "The Adoration" - the physical act of bowing low to an element in the physical environment. This symbolic act of humility has the result that for the listener the sound rises up over their head - symbolically sound is placed in "the heavens" and is often used to indicate the Divine Origin of Divine Presence as a spiritual metaphor. Placing sounds below, rotations and other movements and perspectives, proximal or distal, may serve to encode deeper metaphors in the work thus increasing the attributisation, and hence layers of complexity, of the sonic realm.
Also, percussion of objects to create rhythmic and protorhythmic forms shifts the soundbody into the realm of musicality thus de-emphasising the physical origin of the sound and creating a more abstract narrative. This also occurs when using any means by which the actual physical source of sounds produced is obscured.
If qualities such as echo or reverberation is required I am forced to seek locations which have this natural property. Again the creation of the artwork requires some serious effort from me and it is this process of search and discovery which helps to establish a mature bond between me and the environment.
And now we come to the final phase. In offering these works as recordings to listeners I am inviting others to share in my process of exploration and discovery, I lead the listener along a path of both pictorial and metaphoric narrative and offer the listener an opportunity to change their way of listening.
Furthermore in creating new works I am forced to consider the attribute outcomes of the work, the kind of qualities I am offering to the listener and whether they are appropriate. Increasingly I am having to consider the validity of simply having an egocentric "romp" in a location simply because it is entertaining. Does the resultant work inspire, elevate the soul or massage egos???
Dallas Simpson, September 2003. First distributed on the Phonography discussion web board.