Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Looking VS. Listening

a friend made the observation that the term "communication design" means visual design, while human communication itself arguably has more to do audio. also in the education of children, looking is focused on as a means for knowledge to enter the brain, while hearing is more or less ignored.

other sound-artists I've talked to have sometimes complained that sound and music are not something the public and the (art) establishment, take nearly as seriously as visual art. music is entertainment for the most part, while "art" is deemed a more profound, significant, and indeed almost religious, experience.

and it's true, only in recent years have sound been *kind of* taken seriously, with the popularity of artists like Christian Marclay. while famous observations such as "sculture is more suited for the medium of sound, because you can perceive 3 dimensions simultaneously; and with an object you have to walk around it" (who said that again?) have been uttered many years ago. so in this light perhaps the concerns of something like cubism can be easier realized with sound rather than collage or sculpture.

would you agree that in general our societies and cultures seem to (unjustly, arbituarily) privilege the eyes over the ears? and if you do, where do you think this prejudice comes from?

my knowledge of western philosophy is limited, but i vaguely think this has something to do with the enlightenment and the materialism which followed -- sight would seem to be a more concrete measurement of the physical universe - after all seeing is believing, and sound is just so abstract, intangible, and ephemeral.

any of you smarties out there care to elaborate?

3 comments:

nono said...

Could some of it be that sound - when removed from language - seems lacking in concepts? That sound for most is 'merely' sensation, without being supplemented by ideas and thought (which in retrospect may be to its benefit)?

Would some of it be technology as well - technologies for recording, reproducing, and transmitting sound were quite limited until recently (the exception being the limitations of the musical score), whereas they have been abundant for vision for a long time? That records are the first popular musical technical medium, which is why Christian Marclay is such a central sound artist?

If you're up for some reading, you should check out the chapter "Invention of the Mind" in Richard Rorty's famous "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature," where he investigates the thematics of the mind as an eye and mirror in Bacon, Descartes, and other Enlightenment thinkers, showing how occular metaphors conceived of truth as a reflection of a true essence, which would support your conjecture at the end of your blog, kind of. You might also be interested in Martin Jay's "Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought," which inverts your ideas, showing how the whole flock of french philosophers were pretty paranoid about vision, iconophobes in general, which would make some sense since so much of that philosophy was anti- or a critique of enlightenment ideas.

nono said...

Oh, and I should have added, your blog pretty much parallels McLuhan, who strangely claimed that the invention of the printing press didn't so much privilege the word over the image, but rather introduced a whole visual regime of rigid, hierarchical thinking and existing. Having to wade through his style, many people don't notice that McLuhan associated the new electronic culture, which he was so famous for promoting, with a new auditory culture that would be more fluid. He hope that the ear would come to replace the eye in the global village.

zhao said...

RE: sound lacking conceptual dimension

but sound can be just as "representative" -- field recordings for example or the sexualized moan of the pop singer); and also just as narritive -- rising action-climax-conclusion is a structure found in both classical symphonies as well as techno; and of course song and story are synonimous but that adds the dimension of language.

RE: occular metaphors conceived of truth as a reflection of a true essence

good stuff there! thanks for recommendation.

RE: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought

the critiques of the gaze by the french theorists are a part of what i'm on about. i don't think they were paranoid: vision is indeed very loaded; it is our entry way into the symbolic order; it is the primary method of indoctrination. there is an exploitative dimension and power dynamic in the relationship between the looker and the looked upon. to be suspicious of vision and list the ways it is tainted by ideology i suppose is the logical next step after questioning reasons for its priviledge in our society.

RE: the ear would come to replace the eye in the global village

that's pretty cool. a re-submergence in a pre-symbolic, pre-linguistic imagistic ocean of unimpeded imagination.

sound surely can facilitate this. but if vision was somehow liberated from civilization and its discontent...
to see the world as an animal would - direct and undistracted by the meanings of shapes or words.