The “Vocal Discords” symposium at The RCA, London, 7 March 2014, featured a Rorschach Audio lecture-demonstration – including discussion of the dramatist John Dennis and illusions of thunder, see earlier post – alongside presentations by Sophie Scott, Brian Dillon, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Nina Power and David Toop. Thanks to everyone who came along, and special thanks to David Crowley for the invite…
In March 2002 I wrote an opinion piece for “Sound Projector” magazine (issue 10, page 138, published May 2002), which was largely inspired by a cache of documents that had, to my surprise, come to light among my dad’s possessions – namely a book and information sheets relating to The ICA’s “Cybernetic Serendipity” exhibition, and 3 catalogues of the “Anti-University of London”, which opened in February 1968, more-or-less equidistant between the site of a much later, now much-lamented bar and art-space called The Foundry, on the corner of Old Street and Great Eastern Street, and Iniva’s Rivington Place gallery, just round the corner. As the first catalogue explained – “The Antiuniversity of London has been founded in response to the intellectual bankruptcy and spiritual emptiness of the educational establishment both in Britain and the rest of the Western World. It seeks to develop the concepts and forms of experience necessary to comprehend the events of this century and the meaning of one’s life within it, to examine artistic expression beyond the scope of the usual academy and to promote a position of social integrity and commitment from which scholars now stand aloof. The Antiuniversity of London of London will be a meeting ground for discussion, discovery, rediscovery and revelation. It is intended as an ongoing experiment in the development of consciousness and will be related to other revolutionary experiments in universities, communities, communes and direct action now taking place in Europe and America”.
If the words of that opening statement sound, by today’s standards, somewhat of-their-era, it’s sobering to note how many Antiuniversity lecturers were, or were to become, acknowledged as experts and even world-leaders in their fields. Among many others, “Psychology and Religion” was taught by the radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing. “Psychology and Politics” was taught by David Cooper. Courses were taught by “Black Jacobins” historian and cricket-nut C.L.R. James, by The ICA director Michael Kustow, and by art-science pioneer John Latham. Stuart Hall (see earlier post) is often primarily thought-of as having been a sociologist and cultural-theorist, however he was also an important communications theorist and peace campaigner, who went on to become the back-bone of that most socially-idealistic and pragmatic of institutions, The Open University. Visiting Faculty included William Burroughs, Hans Enzensberger, Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Henri and Carolee Schneemann.
The 2nd catalogue advertised Pop Art pioneer and former electrical draughtsman Richard Hamilton, as giving 2-hour lectures on the art of Marcel Duchamp, and International Times founder (now cultural historian) Barry Miles as lecturing on “Underground communications theory”, and Yoko Ono as lecturing on “The Connection” (reserving however “the right to interview and choose a limited number of students before the session begins”). In relation to the general subject matter of the “Rorschach Audio” project, it’s also interesting to note the 3rd catalogue advertised (medical doctor and peace activist) Rachel Pinney as offering courses in “Creative Listening”. John Keys was lecturing on… (one word)… “Everything”!
Of particular interest here however was the involvement of the artist and campaigner Gustav Metzger, who I’d briefly met through mutual association with gallerist David Clegg, when David curated the first Disinformation sound-installation into the “Sound Proofs” exhibition at The Museum of Installation gallery in London in July 1997. I was extremely grateful for the abrupt but very encouraging comments Gustav made about my work, and (particularly in light of the self-annihilating and nuclear-flash related imagery produced by the Disinformation exhibit “The Origin of Painting”) was then stunned to read the Antiuniversity catalogue entry describing Gustav Metzger’s talks. “Auto-destructive art is an advanced form of kinetic art. Metamorphosis, destruction and creation are the central features. Instead of painting a scientific view of the universe in ceaseless flux, the artist presents phenomena that are undergoing constant physical change, and is obliged to use advanced technologies to do this. Auto-destructive art mirrors reality; it is clearly related to capitalism in decline. It is also a weapon of social change. Large self-destructive sculptures, made with the latest technologies, that rot and fall apart in public, can modify the attitude of many people to war, waste and destruction, and undermine a suicidal faith in the benefits of technology”. A biography adds “Metzger comes from Germany, and is now stateless. First auto-destructive art manifesto, 1959. Founder member of Committee of 100, 1960. Initiated DIAS – Destruction in Art Symposium, 1966. Exhibition in Filtration Laboratory Swansea University, 1966, featured atomized water, compressed air floating structures, liquid nitrogen, electronically controlled liquid crystal phenomena.”
Special thanks to Colin Banks
Joe Banks, 26 Feb 2014
Gustav Metzger, myself and Stewart Home were interviewed on Resonance FM, 24 Feb 2003 - http://www.youarehear.co.uk/shows.html (scroll down through page)
One of the more perplexing notions, effectively an urban myth, that circulates, hitherto more-or-less unchallenged, in certain sections of the sonic arts milieu, is the idea that because humans have no ear-lids, and can’t therefore shut-off hearing in a way that’s directly equivalent to how we close our eyes, the sense of hearing must therefore be somehow “passive”. As discussed in the “Rorschach Audio” book – pages 177 to 185 – psychoacoustic processes enable the mind to exercise a great deal of editorial control, analysing and selecting those sounds it wishes to bring into or exclude from conscious attention. We all know for instance that after a few days living next to a flight-path or railway, or working next to a monotonous machine, we begin to selectively tune-out sometimes even quite loud sounds, and, as the book says, at a much more basic level, listeners can and do actively control hearing by the frankly obvious mechanisms of turning towards or away from different sounds, and by putting our hands over or fingers in our ears, to compensate for lacking ear-lids.
In context of such obvious facts, statements quoted from the musicologist, philosopher and critical theorist Theodor Adorno, that the sense of hearing is “unconcentrated and passive” and “dozy and inert” come across as autobiographical to say the very least (refer to the book for the source). Just the other day I was re-watching film director George Lucas and sound designer Walter Murch’s extraordinary “THX1138” (see earlier posts) – a special feature on the DVD describes the noted motor-racing enthusiast George Lucas as someone who can diagnose faults in a race-car by listening to the engine for just a few seconds… so much for hearing being “dozy and inert”!
Another successful “Rorschach Audio” demonstration was co-produced by the sonic arts organisation Overtoon to complement the exhibition by artist Erik Bünger at the Argos Centre (for art and media) in Brussels. Erik Bünger presented his “Lecture on Schizophonia” the day after the “Rorschach Audio” event at the Liverpool Biennale, and a video version of Erik’s lecture is exhibited at Argos. In his video installation “The Girl Who Never Was” Erik Bünger quotes Theodor Adorno as stating that “male voices can be reproduced better than female voices… the female voice requires the physical appearance of the body that carries it, but it is just this body (that) the gramophone eliminates, thereby giving every female voice a sound that is needy and incomplete”. On that basis Adorno asserted a case for operatic tenor Enrico Caruso’s “uncontested dominance”, and “The Girl Who Never Was” cuts to a scene from the film “Fitzcarraldo” which shows a Caruso LP playing-out from a gramophone across the Amazon. The notion of an amniotic sound-world is handled very differently in context of the Disinformation exhibit “National Grid” ; however Erik’s response to Adorno states that “with woman, the male philosopher thinks, there is always too little of something, too little body, or too little spirit”, adding that “there was a time… when the male philosopher was living inside of a woman, and would hear her voice singing to him from all around, when her voice and his flesh was one”. Erik discusses the translation of Freud’s use of the word “Unheimlich”, and while I couldn’t make-out what mishearing the chant “Deshi Basara” as “this is awesome” has to do with Adorno, I guess some of the video’s slightly tongue-in-cheek. The work is beautifully produced, intriguing and thought-provoking.
 “Foetal and infant hypnagogic sense-memories” in “Disinformation – The Analysis of Beauty” (exhibition catalogue) Arts Council National Touring Programme 2003, page 37 (quoting a text originally published in 1996).
Special thanks to Aernoudt Jacobs and Ive Stevenheydens, and many thanks to everyone who came along to the talk.
Language-use… operating within a framework of power, institutions and politics… The audience is not a passive recipient of meaning… Distortion is built into the system…
“It is possible for a viewer perfectly to understand both the literal and connotative inflection… but to determine to decode the message in a globally contrary way…”
The next “Rorschach Audio” presentation takes place at Argos (centre for art and media), Brussels, Thurs 13 Feb 2014, organised as a co-production with the sonic arts organisation Overtoon. The talk coincides with the exhibition “Written on Tablets of Flesh” by Erik Bünger (who participated in the EVP event at The Liverpool Biennale in 2012).
In addition to the comparison between perceptions of ambiguous sounds and Rorschach ink-blot tests, and in order to further demonstrate links between ideas about sound recording, the role of “perceptual hypotheses” in audio perception, and equivalent mechanisms of visual perception, this talk also focuses on the Kinetic Depth Effect illusions created by “The Analysis of Beauty” video installation (most recently screened at the Rio Cinema in Dalston – see earlier post).
7.30pm – Thurs 13 Feb 2014
Argos [centre for art and media]
Werfstraat 13 rue du Chantier
Special thanks to Aernoudt Jacobs for the invitation. Belated thanks to Resonance FM for plugging this website on Facebook!
“Rorschach Audio” travels to Oxford for the Café Scientifique on 8 April 2014 -
As one illustration of the role that forms of perceptual creativity, including creative mishearings, can play in specifically artistic creativity, the “Rorschach Audio” book speculates on the influence that Japanese author Hirai Tarõ’s choice of the pen-name Edogawa Rampo (aka Ranpo) – phonetically “Edgar Allan Poe” – may have had on the author Kimitake Hiraoka’s choice of the pen-name Yukio Mishima (refer to page 130 of the book for the full explanation). As the book says (and as depicted elsewhere on this website) Rampo and Mishima certainly met. In fact, albeit after Rampo’s death, Mishima wrote the screenplay for (“Battle Royale” director) Kinji Fukasaku’s movie “Black Lizard”, which is based on Rampo’s story of the same name. Mishima also appears in the film, playing a taxidermic human exhibit in the Black Lizard character’s art museum, and, in real life, Mishima was (at that time) romantically involved with the drag queen and social activist Akihiro Miwa, who plays the lead role in “Black Lizard” (and who’s still working, voicing characters in “Princess Mononoke” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” and regularly lambasting Japanese politicians on TV chat-shows, Miwa’s recordings “Yoitomake no Uta” and “Me Que Me Que” are object-lessons in the politics of listening, and it’s interesting to contrast Miwa’s pioneering LGBT activism with Mishima’s descent into moronic and suicidally destructive Fascism).
However, in terms of what the “Rorschach Audio” book says about the superficially meaningless wartime radio messages, parodied by Jean Cocteau in his film “Orphée”, being designed to transmit illusions of meaninglessness, “Black Lizard” contains similar radio messages, which are striking not least in their similarity to the kind of messages EVP researchers hear in recordings of stray radio chatter. So, where the radio in “Orphée” describes how “just one glass of water lights up the world”, “silence moves faster when it’s going backwards” and “the black crepe of little windows is a real sunshine meal” etc (screenplay translated by Carol Martin-Sperry), the operator in “Black Lizard” transmits messages which describe how “monkeys adorn the cows with candles” and “the pomegranate’s rind is shattered” (DVD subtitles), while EVP researcher Konstantin Raudive’s book “Breakthrough” describes messages which relate how “our father, lilac again, here Pastor Diko” (“Breakthrough” page 92) and “let the pipe be, are you going to dance, stupid?” (page 139), etc.
Amusing as that all is, the flip-side of the socially-inclusive and democratic idealism inherent in the “Rorschach Audio” book’s argument that all perception is inherently creative, and that all of us are therefore (to greater or lesser extents) creative artists, is, first, since we’re all artists, there can be no special “artistic” defence for trying to con people, second the equally sobering truism that (paraphrasing Jean-Paul Sartre) anyone can write bad poetry, likewise anyone can make bad art. Further to that the main difference between the deliberately nonsensical messages depicted in “Black Lizard” and in “Orphée”, compared to those perceived by Raudive, is that the movie scripts were meant to be a send-up, whereas (on page 12) “Breakthrough” quotes Peter Bander as stating that that in importance EVP is “equal to nuclear physics”.
Copyright © Joe Banks, 8 January 2013