The Sound of Cosmopolitics

I’m still trying to unpack everything that is Isabelle Stengers’ Cosmopolitics I, Part I: The Science Wars, so this post is going to be brief with a few links.

A friend posted a TED Talk with artist Honor Harger titled “A History of the Universe in Sound.” She describes a bit of history about radio waves from outer space and how they have been picked up by scientists and others here on Earth. During the talk, she plays sounds recorded from the Sun, Jupiter, and the leftover cosmic rays from the big bang. An interesting history to think about in light of Stengers’ arguments about the existence of phenomenon and our relationship to their “discovery”; do we have “the power to talk about the world independently of the relationships of knowledge that humans create”? (Stengers 8)

Honor Harger’s collaborative project with Adam Hyde r a d i o q u a l i a, is an exploration of sound, radio, and other media in artistic practices. Their ongoing project Radio Astronomy allows listeners to hear outer space by using

radio technology to convert data collected by radio telescopes into sound. It then broadcasts this astronomical audio over the internet and on FM radio. Created in collaboration with astronomers, engineers, and radio stations worldwide, the project enables listeners to tune into different celestial frequencies, hearing planets, stars, and the constant hiss of cosmic noise. It aims to reveal the sonic character of objects in our Universe, and in the process make these phenomena more tangible and comprehensible” (radioqualia.net).

Even though Stengers isn’t necessarily talking about outer space in Cosmopolitics, I like the idea of listening to the bodies in space while reading her.

David Moré: Normal Bias

I went to Green Lantern Gallery this afternoon for the final day of David Moré’s exhibition Normal Bias.  For the exhibition he was offering to make portraits of gallery visitors and passersby.  Though, he was not drawing or painting these portraits, he was making them in sound.

I entered the gallery and he was in there.  I told him that I had come for my portrait sitting.  He told me, like for any other portrait, to sit in a chair that he had placed in the gallery.  He told me that he was going to play for 7 minutes: 3.5 minutes per side of the tape he was recording on to. Then, he pushed record and started to play.

The chair that I was sitting in for my portrait was in a corner of the space and all of his “idiosyncratic and unconventional instruments” (to quote from the exhibition catalogue) surrounded me as an installation.  He first started playing what seemed like a copper wire running along the length of one wall connected to a styrofoam box and some coils with a bow.  It sounded not too unlike what a bow instrument, like a cello, would, but with a different quality.  He then moved to a cymbal placed atop another styrofoam box, but before sitting down, shuffled a spring across the floor that rolled towards me and stopped right at my feet.  He put his keys in the cymbal and started to play it with his bow while manipulating the angle of the cymbal.  The sound started to get really big. The sound, not quite a drone, mesmerized me and I started to drift into another place – but then the tape stopped – side A had filled up.

For side B, he switched to a a dj stand looking set-up that had some electronic equipment.  He started to play and then came out from behind and moved a speaker on the floor out from underneath a slinky hanging from a speaker contraption.  He went back to playing.  The speaker on the floor started to vibrate and something inside it started to dance, jumping with every vibration: it was cinnamon.  I watched the cinnamon fountain up out of the speaker and then recede.  I could smell it becoming stronger.  Then, I closed me eyes and listened.  I was using all senses: I could smell the cinnamon and almost taste it; my body was reverberating with the sound; I was listening fully to the instruments; I could watch Moré perform with the instruments and their movement. Side B then ended and so did my session.  He gave me the tape to take with me.

So much of what I loved about this performance was the fully body experience.  The portrait made for me was an embodied portrait, not a purely visual likeness of me.  I wonder what to do with the tape now.  If I played it for someone who could not see me, would they be able to tell what I looked like?  Would hearing it provide an embodied experience of me, one that is not just optical?