Tag Archive for 'ideas'

Audiotheque Development Concepts

wpid-DSCF3144-2013-01-3-15-10.jpgWe live in a world of images and signs. We are experts in imageology. These signs are both visual and aural. Our judgements take the form of readings and assessments between semiological differences that are measured in minutiae, though to the outsider these differences are negligible.

The world of appearances prefigures and depends on the surface and its corresponding gaze. These surface images have no depth. They are a mask. They depend on the performance of the interlocutor to make them feel authentic within a corresponding economy of signification. It is performance that contextualises the sign.

Meanings are determined and derived within a system of meanings, an economy of signs, a grammatology of performance.

The aural sign is less easily divisible than the visual sign. Aurality does not have the same degree of mimeticism, though like all media, it can be listed by constituent physiological components. The aural sign is tempered with significance that can only be comprehended in the flow of aural exchange and environment in which it is produced. The aural sign would be alien if exposed to abstraction and de-contextualisation.

Aural significance is achieved in time. Aurality cannot exist without time as it is modulated in flows of energy that sustain and decay. Simply put, audio is a primary medium of exchange and reproduction; a medium that is fluid and ever present (silence being impossible).

Our world provides a rich, constant flow of sound that can only be manipulated through the instigation of control mechanisms that would exclude the extraneous and the impromptu. Mechanical mechanisms for reproducing sound are invested with the capability to isolate and to encapsulate, but never to extract.

All is babble and noise unless otherwise determined through a process of generation, addition and blending.

We live within a series of sound-worlds. These worlds are imbued with many complex systems of meaning. Once mechanically reproduced these systems of meaning are made strange and are reborn as the soundscape of another planet – a planet that is similar and from which it draws resonance, but which can never be reproduced in its performance. Much like the map is not the territory.

Past sounds are only something that can be evoked, hinted at or intimated. Past sounds can never be given complete fidelity. Those who master the art of reproduction know that fidelity goes beyond the performance and is transformed by the process of listening.

The attentive ear is an accomplishment that depends on investment and practice. In a world of inattention we are too often satisfied with the instantly gratifying. Anything that takes time to experience and comprehend, and which depends on the physicality of listening rather than simply hearing, becomes culturally insignificant.

Intimation is much more difficult to grasp than aggrandisement. Because we can hear does not mean that we should talk.

The addition of complex digital techniques of reproduction, emulation and synthesis have compounded the urge to experiment with sounds. The mastering of technique, though, is often mistaken for the constitution of meaning. Because we can does not mean that we ought.

Simply employing a reproductive technique does not mean that we will find some significance in the system of meanings. Indeed, the more that we reproduce – or emulate or simulate – the less significant it becomes.

The urge to mass-produce, and to understand only in the context of mass production, is a tyranny. The consumerist mode is only one form of understanding and thinking about the world. It is not the only means of thinking or system of meaning. Because we can consume does not mean that we ought to consume.

Reaching beyond the consumer ideal, into parallel worlds of significance, those states of thinking and being that cannot be exchanged or officially sanctioned in the marketplace or as part of a the civic process of aggrandisement, is an act of resistance.

A resistant act that is emotionally discordant with the majority and which leaves the perpetrator beyond the ebb-and-flow of prosaic normalisation – the tyranny of the normal!

It takes a genuine act of performance to articulate a distillation of voices and sounds. It takes a concentrated act of will to articulate soundscapes (narrative or other), in the employment of offering or evoking that which is meaningful.

It is a wilful act of resistance to engage with sound through performance and through technique alone. Sound is the constant sense, and so it is the forgotten medium.

Sound is ever-present and the world from which we are reluctant to escape. Sound is either a torture or an expedient. We have developed strategies to manage the contingencies of our sound world, both in order to survive and in communicate – either biologically or culturally.

The audiotheque is simply a response to the problem of establishing a equilibrium in a world of sonic-disequilibrium. The audiotheque lacks pre-determination. It is a place perhaps physical, perhaps virtual, often indeterminate, in which meaning making is encouraged beyond the transactional and beyond the formulaic – though it may deploy both in it’s attempts to find equilibrium.

The audiotheque is a collection, a place of intersections. It is both the recorded and the performed. It is both discursive and expositionary. The audiotheque makes no claims to expertise or unique perspectives, only that it is an experiment, an unfolding through performance in a search for meaning.

Parallels of Charter 77

How do we live a life in the ‘truth’? How do we shape a civic culture that freely allows for the individually determined expression of our ideas and opinions? How do we reiterate the morality of our social relationships at a time when there is a growing impulse towards bureaucratic control?

Vaclav Havel wrote about these issues during the 1970′s. At a time when the oppressive state regimes of the Easter Bloc were enforcing conformity of thinking on a major scale across citizenships in Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, and many other satellite states in the Soviet Union.

As a prominent ‘dissident’ of the Charter 77 movement, Havel questioned the ideology and politics of oppression that drove thinkers and people of conscience underground. This was a time when a play could be banned, and anyone who circulated a handmade reprint of that play, could be sent to prison, have their livelihoods taken from them, and their families social standing materially diminished.

Havel argued that this post-totalitarian form of state power was obsessed with appearances. Czechoslovakia wasn’t short of proclamations and conventions that enshrined and celebrated the rights of citizens. Under the Czechoslovak constitution the state recognised free agency and individuals as holders of respected human rights.

None of which stopped the state apparatus, the police, the employers, the universities, the culture and arts networks, the broadcasters, the media, the factory owners and shopkeepers – the willing neighbours – from bearing-down on those individuals and groups who wanted to express ideas of their own. Views that originated from a moral standpoint and that were not dependent on official approval or on political connections became a threat to the social order.

The world of appearances is an obsession in the post-totalitarian society. Under the post-totalitarian regime all there is to worry about, according to Havel, is what things look like or can be made to look like. In this determination anyone who calls attention to the game that is being played becomes a threat to society and has to be controlled.

It is a case of the Emperor having no clothes, and so, Havel argues, anyone who points to this fact, that the Emperor is indeed naked and that a game is being played by those who insist that he is otherwise clothed, is being antisocial, heretical, and is acting against the moral integrity of the leaders of the regime.

The leaders of the regime are able to maintain their authority as long as no one challenges the world of appearance. This is the spin process that obsesses the modern politicians. That they are in control, that they are shaping events, that the population has a sense that our leaders are ahead of the game and not merely playing a game.

Leaders in the post-totalitarian regime enforce observance to this appearance precisely because they are not ahead of the game. They are not in control, and they are not able to shape events. The leaders of the post-totalitarian regime are themselves subject to the whims of the more-powerful, and so when any regime changes, and regime change is inevitable, the change does not take place without tanks being lined-up on the streets.

This was over forty years ago, and yet to read the words of Havel and others from the Charter 77 movement today, brings forward immense echoes and questions. Is this a historical account of a society that is just a memory? Are we genuinely free from this kind of this ideological control? Are we certain that the supposed liberties that we presently hold dear and cherish, and which are enshrined in our own constitutional proclamations, are able to be practiced freely and openly?

It is ironic that with the rise of social media, we are now, perhaps more than ever, at increasing risk from the ‘informant’, the ‘surveillance officer’ and the ‘bureaucrat’. These servants of power see it as their role and duty to police how people should think and express themselves. Only what is alarming is that this can now be done on an industrial scale that could only ever be dreamt in the age of the typewriter and the stencil copier.

Being arrested and imprisoned for comments made in a hand printed pamphlet is one thing – very 1970′s. Being harassed, arrested and imprisoned for comments that are made on social media is a growing practical and political risk for all who post online and who wish to challenge the orthodoxies of the atrophying British social order, with its reinforcements of privilege, class and social status.

Because social media records the traces of our past actions, it is also increasingly likely that those actions may haunt us in perpetuity. Maintaining a clear separation between our individual and our public lives, therefore, is increasingly challenging.

Whether it is a job application or a funding application for a project, we worry that someone might be running an online search about us. We worry because we are all human and they may find information that can be construed to incriminate us.

Google and Facebook can track faces. What if you take part in a demonstration against unnecessary cuts to pubic services, which are a result of low tax payments by major international corporations that are skewing the tax-pool?

You work for Starbucks, or Amazon or Google? What happens when your face is tagged by a friend, or even automatically when you attend an anti-cuts protest? Do these corporations have the right to insist that you can’t take part in these public debates and discussions?

Can we give up our moral independence when we feel the urge to question the social responsibility of profit-making and public service organisations? Is the corporate governance of major employers a private and internal matter? Is any public discussion by employees, customers and stakeholders to be eschewed because it has the potential to challenge a corporate reputation?

The ability of modern corporate organisations to silence dissent and opposition is becoming ever more pernicious, especially when the values of ‘brand management’ and ‘spin’ clash with the expectations of independent thinking people, fostered by internet and social media activism. Do we need to look again at the debates of Charter 77? Do we need to question the role of ‘reputation management’ and ‘spin’ in contemporary working and civic life? Do we need to test if social media has become a self-imposed instrument of oppression and control once again?

Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless”

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Vaclav Havel

If there’s one article worth reading this summer it’s Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless”. Its an “expansive political essay written in October 1978 by the Czech dramatist, political dissident and later politician, Václav Havel.”

Havel describes the nature of the ‘post-totalitarian’ regime, and how it’s ideology is maintained as ‘appearance’.

It’s well worth reading again today, but instead of thinking of a failing communist dictatorship, think about how ‘spin’ and ‘reputation’ are managed by companies and public bodies these days, as a way of controlling dissent and alternative thinking:
“In a classical dictatorship, to a far greater extent than in the post-totalitarian system, the will of the ruler is carried out directly, in an unregulated fashion. A dictatorship has no reason to hide its foundations, nor to conceal the real workings of power, and therefore it need not encumber itself to any great extent with a legal code. The post-totalitarian system, on the other hand, is utterly obsessed with the need to bind everything in a single order: life in such a state is thoroughly permeated by a dense network of regulations, proclamations, directives, norms, orders, and rules. (It is not called a bureaucratic system without good reason.) A large proportion of those norms function as direct instruments of the complex manipulation of life that is intrinsic to the post-totalitarian system.Individuals are reduced to little more than tiny cogs in an enormous mechanism and their significance is limited to their function in this mechanism.”

Reading this essay has got me thinking about how community media is an attempt to develop an alternative to the mainstream commercial or public service ideologies that dominate and permeate Western culture. This second culture, a parallel culture, that Havel describes, is in itself a dissident act and one that calls into question the game that is being played by the dominant forces and groups in society.