[ISEA94] Paper: Frances Dyson – A Philosophonics of Space: Sound, Futurity and the End of the World


• In Silence John Cage refers to sound as a “transmission in all directions from the field’s center.”‘

• Stockhausen cites St. Thomas, who speaks of “The exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal bursting forth in sound.”‘

• Edgard Varese remarks that he likes “music that explodes.

• For critic Herbert Ruscoll, it is no surprise that the era of electronic music should coincide with the atomic age.

There is a common trope beaming through these representations of aurality, and that is the trope of radiance. Radiance is a wonderfully synthetic metaphor – providing a bridge between sound as an individual, organic phenomenon present in the minutae of the world and sound spread out across the vast expanse of imaginable and fictive space. This union between the micro and macrocosm, also combines differing and at times opposing ontologies. Radiance offers the security of the object, long held as the foundation of being and knowledge.’ At the same time, it suggests the fluidity and ephemerality of the event. By providing a compromise between the object and the event, radiance connotes a sense of organic process, of movement, change and complexity – the presumed essence of vitality itself – whilst maintaining a sense of identity and individuality. In an age where rigid structures are being replaced by malleable forms, where the borders of the object are beginning to bleed, sound, with its eventfullness, familiarity and security, becomes a very appropriate medium for the renogiations of time and space integral to such massive transformations.’ In contemporary discussions of the body in space, of information highways and virtual realities, radiant sound establishes a ‘ground’ in the discourse of the future – be it utopian or dystopian – built from sound’s long history of transmission (telephony, radiophony) and ‘spirit’ (electrified by composers such as Cage, Varese and Stockhausen). This ‘ground’ has also been adopted to some extent by the contemporary philosopers Derrida, Baudrillard and Lyotard, who use aural, spatial and incinderal metaphors to raise questions about being, technology, and the future. Thus radiant sound becomes a figure in different but related cultural fields: as a trope for many of the great modernist reconciliations, its history in organicism, romanticsm and individualism, provides a model for the individual dispersed across the electronic field. However, in the less beatifically inclined era of postmodernism, the representation of sound as radiant contains a strong cultural ambivalence towards the twentieth century, with its massive technological upheavals, its utopian promises and failures and its shameful record of war. In this context, the radiance of radiant sound is filled with darker connotations – for just as atomic warfare records the human form as shadows on a wall, the technological inscription and transmission of sound across space is seen to leave deathly traces of the body and of nature in the disembodied sound it produces.

  • Dr. Frances Dyson is a practising media artist and theorist who specializes in sound. She has exhibited, lectured and published widely in Australia and overseas, most recently at the Kawasaki Museum in Tokyo for SoundCulture Japan, and the “Art and Virtual Environments” symposium at The Banff Centre for the Arts. Currently she is lecturing in Media Arts at the University of Wollongong

Full text p.74-82