The urban and the sound are very much one and the same. Noises and tweets, squeaks and bangs, whispers and rattle are constantly present and play an important part in the shaping of the environment. consciously or unconsciously we are attracted or repulsed by certain sounds in specific configurations. But how is it interlinked with time and space, how does it tie in with time and certainly space, the much talked focus in the urban discussion.
In this interview we want to discuss these questions with Salomé Voegelin, an artist and writer who is concerned with the practice and philosophy of sound. Her work has been shown in the UK and Mainland Europe. Most recently her work "Barry Echo" has been included in Playing with Words, the Spoken Word in Artistic Practice, Cathy Lane ed., UK, CRiSAP and RGAP, Cornerhouse Publication, 2008. In 2007 she was commissioned to produce an urban pod-cast for RADAR in Loughborough, UK, and to realise, in collaboration with artist and writer David Mollin, a site-specific work for the Bregenz Kunstverein, Magazin 4, Austria. She is the curator of Clickanywhere, an online sound exhibition featuring sound work that focuses on the voice, http://clickanywhere.crisap.org/. Her published writing includes 'Sonic Memory Material as "Pathetic Trigger" ' in Organised Sound international peer-reviewed journal, Cambridge University Press April 2006, and 'Völlig Losgelöst', a chapter in Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment, Angus Carlyle ed., published by Double Entendre in 2007. And a chapter on long duration on the radio for the book ‘Nachtschichten’, Jörg Köppl ed., edition Fink 2008.
Her book Listening to Noise and Silence: Toward a Philosophy of Sound Art
was published by Continuum Press in May 2010.
Since we are talking sound, we wana make use of sound and ditch the predominately visual approach, so turn the volume up and/or put on the headphones.
urbanTick: Is it important to be on time?
Salomé Voegelin: Of course I think it is impolite not to be on time, but I have become rather used to everybody always being late since living in England. However, I have been reminded of the importance of being on time by my son’s Kindergarten teacher, who, to stem off the slow trickle of late pupils every morning, keeps on telling the parents that if we want our children to learn to appreciate being on time we need to bring them to school on time.
urbanTick: We are discussing here three key words with very strong and evocative characters. They can be arranged in sort of a definition triangle, with each being used to describe the next one, let’s try this. What’s the sound of time and what’s the sound of space?
Salomé Voegelin: I want to bring these two questions together, which in many ways also answers the next. In the tradition of Western Philosophy there is a great dialectical urge to keep things apart, to see them as conflictual, defined against rather than through each other. Which is by the way a very visual “deducticism” in the sense that the meaning and status of the one is produced by deducing it from that of the other, rather than through the experience of itself. And so time and space are understood to cancel each other out, negate each other or use each other to the end of their own realization; and they are defined by their purpose rather than their experience. It is the function of the space by which I measure it rather than its experiential time, and it is the purpose of the time by which I read it rather than the experience of its space. Time and space thus exist in a purposeful conflict that seeks a resolution in a higher order synthesis, a better space, a better time, outlining a progressive understanding rather than a place to be. Thereby hinting at continual improvement that renders time and space vehicles only, to propel the subject, who passes through their a prior existence, onwards and upwards, towards always yet another such conflictual place.
Sound, a sonic sensibility, challenges the possibility of such a dialectical differentiation and the consequent imagination of their relationship as necessary progressivity. It sounds space in time and time in space and produces a place that is neither oppositional nor deductional. Instead it presents space and time as extensions of each other, where they exist in a critical equivalence: not the same but not combative either; an agonistic play that defines them both, but never for long in the same shape, inviting the experience of fixedfluidities and fluidfixities that are permanently differently now. Such time and space is a moving realm that changes in the continuous presence of perception. This realm is not functional however, but playful, and neither is it relative since it is generated through the listener’s experience where time and space find their particularity and contingent hold.
This proposition is based on the experience of sound as an invisible formless thing that is not there before its encounter, as is the assumption in a visually orientated philosophy, but is generated in my perception of it, always now.
urbanTick: You remove the dash between time-space in your book, can you explain this and how this relates to sound?
Salomé Voegelin: The dialectical conflict that is born from and leads to this progressive imagination of place is based on the idea of time and space as two autonomous entities (Gesamtheiten). It is, almost paradoxically, their exclusivity that allows us to pitch them malevolently against each other rather than focus on their playful interaction. I call both together through the notion of time-space, but remove the dash to call them timespace in order to avoid the possibility of exclusivity and immanent antagonism. In this way I aim to highlight the need to keep them together while also stressing their equal difference: They are elements of equal significance, they are neither the same nor opposed to each other but are generated through each other in the effort of perception.
urbanTick: Is there a past and a future in sound or is there only the here and now?
Salomé Voegelin: The term timespace allows not only for the imagination of a present place, as produced in the playful agonism between a present time and a present space, but also brings to perception the notion of an over-there and of another-time that are not opposed to or outside this moment of now but that constitute it in its extensionality. What I mean by this is that the now of a sonic timespace is durational. It is a thick slither of now, again a seeming paradox, but an imaginative possibility. Listening is extensive, it generates space in the temporality of its material. And it builds this temporal space not only from what we hear but also from what that audition produces in terms of a generative possibility. Sonic possibilities and memories trigger the present perception and also rush into this present moment to extend its space, which we prise open in the time of our listening to inhabit as place. This thick place of a present timespace allows us to inhabit the now, and at the same time it is our effort of perception, inhabiting that now, that produces the extensity of its place.
This extensity is of course not exclusive to the sonic perception, but a sonic sensibility has the ability to imagine it. In sound we inhabit our perception, we are always part of it; our sounds are as much part of the soundscape as those we perceive to be over-there. And it is this sensibility of simultaneity with one’s surroundings that enables the imagination of an inhabited, agonistically playful and thick now rather than of an exclusive, conflictual and functional now.
Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Lovely.
urbanTick: You are characterising the experience of sound as the here in sort of a thick slither of the present and as evocative. To what extend can we imagine the sound? Almost as in the secondary school physics example, where the excited teacher demonstrates with some fireworks how the light, the smoke, travels faster than the sound, the bang. From experience we’ll already be awaiting the sound as we see the little firecracker blowing up.
Salomé Voegelin: Sound is never an a priori, it is not there before its experience, but is generated in our audition and this audition is what extends its present moment to include all that could sound as well as what does. There is an anticipation to listening, which is particularly forceful when we are in silence; an almost breathless waiting for what might eventually sound. This anticipation is my agency of listening as a pull to generate the heard. Unscheduled radio is a good way to experience this: the formless invisibility of its sound means that our anticipation never leads to the fulfillment of one’s expectations but to the production of the heard, and this heard involves the imagination of ourselves at the moment of its production, inhabiting it. We do not imagine the sound but produce it, as imagined, in our auditory imagination.
urbanTick: In your book you mention Doreen Massey's description of space and time as conventions, as matter of perception as well as believe. To what extend does this conception apply to sound.
Salomé Voegelin: Massey’s ideas of space and time not as dialectically opposed absolutes but as constituted in perception and therefore dependent on the inhabiting subject, has very crucially influenced my own thinking about time and space in sound. Her articulations are in many ways a critique of the theorizations of time-space compression in the networked age where fluidity is generally articulated as crisis and fixity seen as providing the certainty of place. She re-assesses these absolutes and makes any judgment dependent on the subject’s social and political narrative instead.
In sound too the reality, the timespace, of a situation is not absolute but depends on the perceiving subject. Sound does not provide us with representations of a priori situations, but forces us into its timespace place, to inhabit its material and generate it in this inhabiting simultaneity. There is then in sound too not one sensibility of time and space but a multiplicity of possibilities, which reflect back on the particularity of their perception rather than on a stable and absolute reality.
This is a very interesting starting point also to consider sound and a sonic sensibility in relation to art and the acoustic environment not only in terms of its aesthetic appreciation, but also in terms of a political and social consequence of a sonic subjectivity, a sonic community, etc.
Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Oblongs in Square Spaces.
urbanTick: Practically everything has a sound to it. Be it the clicking of the keyboard while typing a text, the whistle of the water boiler or the beep of the scanner at the supermarket till. Would it be possible to classify different sounds according to time?
Salomé Voegelin: Putting aside the notational control over time in conventional music production and its learned appreciation, for me the interest in considering the time of sonic occurrences does not lie in the duration of the sound but in the duration of its perception, and this recalls my answer to your last question, how it involves the aesthetic, social and political situation of the perceiving subject. In other words my interest lies not in classifying sounds as autonomous and abstract entities, but to engage in the time of their perception understood as the moment of their inhabited generation. These moments are not bound to clock time but generate our individual sense of it, as well as the sense of ourselves as sonic subjectivities inhabiting that formless time.
The discussion of this perceptual time and self in sound could grant us access to the reality of the world as a multilayered thing, illuminating “possible worlds”, whose spatiotemporal formation is formless by itself, dependent on the generative perception of its inhabitants, and mirroring their own formless possibility.
urbanTick: Is sound timeless?
Salomé Voegelin: It is not timeless but its time is full of space. It produces space from its time and invents the time of its space. Together they create the thick and complex slither of now that is our listened to environment and it is in listening, through an auditory imagination, that we appreciate the complexity and reciprocity of its time.
urbanTick: Do you think different times exist, take place or could be constructed?
Salomé Voegelin: The sense of now as a thick timespace invites the idea, mentioned already in response to your earlier question about the time of things that sound produces, of “possible worlds”. The suggestion that listening, the auditory perception, is not a receptive mode but a generative effort, which produces the now as a thickset thing that we construct and inhabit in our subjective particularity, might lead us to argue that there is not only the one, visual, world, which we pragmatically refer to as the real world, but that, there are many other, possible worlds that we thus generate. And, in extension that it is through sound, a sonic sensibility that we gain access to those other layers of reality, those possible and even impossible or at least improbable worlds. These other worlds do not cancel out or negate the “real” world, but extend and augment it. These worlds might or might not be indexically linked, thus no causal connection might exist, but inevitably, the imaginative perception of such possible worlds expands the way we experience the “real” world.
As a consequence of the idea that space and time are produced as timespace, and that this timespace is a thickset thing of present, past and future, of an over-there and of other-times, and the related idea that the world, experienced via a sonic sensibility produces possible worlds, we could imagine that equally there are different times, possible times and maybe even impossible times. They are a matter of perception, of invention of experience, but not less real, as it is our perception that generates them, and our subjectivity that guarantees them.
Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Skating.
urbanTick: These soundtimespaces of individual experience and timing, how can we make them sharable as important elements of interaction and social existence?
Salomé Voegelin: Sonic sensibility, in its insistence on contingency and experience rather than permanence and recognition questions the possibility and authenticity of the linguistic exchange. Instead of building on the certainty of language, a visual set of signs and symbols, it suggests a much more fragile and formless exchange. It suggests that communication is founded in principle on misunderstandings with exceptional moments of understanding, “moments of coincidence”, when our worlds overlap momentarily. This is not as frightful as it might sound. It simply means that we have to work harder to be understood and to stay in communication. That we cannot take communication for granted simply because we have the tool, language, to communicate, but that the actual moment of exchange needs my agency of speech, understood as the development of my agency of listening into language, to coincide with your willingness to share in that exchange. Sound elucidates the responsibility of listening and speaking as the basic condition of communication. A sonic exchange is based on the desire to share the heard rather than on a shared order or lexicon.
urbanTick: New media and technologies have questioned the definition of location with real time communication; the physical location of the body might no longer be the only indicator of the local. Did this change timing in sound, across different places?
Salomé Voegelin: Sound in many ways precedes and makes thinkable virtuality long before the technology enabled the production of digital places, virtual communication and multi-locationality of bodies and things. Sound’s invisibility and formlessness engenders an imagination that is not dependent on the reality of places and things but produces places and things and consequently invites us to invent our location in relation to those places and things. The body in sound is always the indicator of the local as it is its inhabiting that generates that local, however, what that body and what that local is, is a matter of imagination rather than of certainty in sound.
urbanTick: This year has seen a number of projects recording sounds to preserve them. On one hand this is part of the technology hype and we do it because we can, but on the other, is there a history of sounds?
Salomé Voegelin: I am fascinated by phonography and aural history, which, in terms of documenting, narrating and extending time and space are closely related, since both, in their own way, play with notions of the “real”. They both use sound to renegotiate reality, how it is constructed and told; what is real time, what is real space. And ultimately both invite us to generate our own sense of time and space.
Aural history of course has been around for a long time and listening to people describing their personal histories of the second world war, say, makes it apparent how very personal, individual and full of stories rather than realities and truths history, its times and places, is.
Phonography used as a strategy to garner material for composition of the patently composed, or to make us aware of the different facets of a visual reality, is very interesting in terms of how it problematises and plays with our ideas of a real space and a real time. Phonography is highly experiential. I am sure we can try to read a phonographic work as much as we read a photograph, but I doubt we would succeed to neatly summarise it. Rather phonography invites a constant re-telling of the scene recorded, a filling-in of the invisible space that is left by the microphone, constantly re-generating it with our own thick and expansive sense of time and space, producing our own timespace place from the heard.
urbanTick: Thinking of everyday practices and experiences, does sound tell the time?
Salomé Voegelin: I don’t think sound tells the time but it fills time, not in the sense of making it pass more pleasantly, functionally or usefully, but in the sense of making it thick with experiential stuff - a clump of sensation - senseable, in the sense of available to sensation, not however as a certain and shareable clock time but as a much more personal pulse by which we generate the world we inhabit at that timespace moment.
urbanTick: Time is often generally thought of as clock time, the continuous ticking sound of the counting of identical units. Is sound linear?
Salomé Voegelin: This personal pulse, which generates the timespace moment, which I mention in answer to your last question, is not linear at all. It draws the past and the future, the over-there, and the other-time and all sorts of things into its space not as a linear construct but as a fragmented constructing that fragments the listener too.
Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Hänsel und Gretel.
In an interview series urbanTick is looking closely at meaning and implications of time in everyday life situations. In the form of dialogs different aspects are explored, with the idea to highlight characteristics. The main interest is circling around the construction and implementation of different concepts of time between independent but related areas of activity, such as leisure and work, private and public, reality and virtual. This interview series will not be continuous, but more adhoc, so you might want to use the interview tag to catch up with the rest.