Varèse on a GPS sound walk

I was just re-reading some texts in Audio Culture (Cox&Warner 2005),

amongst others “The Liberation of Sound” by Varèse. It struck me how much Varèse’s thoughts resonate with today’s GPS sound walk and audio mapping projects when he uses metaphors of cartography to describe spatialisations of sound. Of course, he was not imagining to place electronic or computer-generated sounds in physical landscapes. In fact, Varèse describes the idea of using timbre ‘like the different colors on a map separating different areas’ (Varèse 2005:18). Todays’s digital landscapes or network landscapes with its overlayerings of physical and digital landscapes and networks allow artists to take Varèse’s ideas one step further. Software such as Mobile Bristol’s mscape, for example, where maps can be imported and then visually annotated with colour areas on screen, referencing media files (e.g. sound) that are being played to the people walking the indicated zones in the annotated area via mobile media devices. This, such as all visual sound interfaces are to be approached with critical distance as it distracts from the sonic and as all software shapes what is possible and what artists can do and imagine to do with it, as Teri Rueb reminded me in an interview I did with her recently after experiencing “Core Sample” in Boston.
Varèse’s metaphors for describing the spatialisation of sound are from a lecture given in 1936:
‘Moreover, such an acoustical arrangement would permit the delimitation of I call “zones of intensities”. These zones would be differentiated by various timbres or colors and different loudnesses. Through such a physical process these zones would appear of different colors and of different magnitude, in different perspectives for our perception. The role of color or timbre would become completely changed from being incidental, anecdotal, sensual or picturesque; it would become an agent of delineation, like the different colors on a map separating different areas, and an integral part of form. These zones would be felt as isolated, and the hitherto unobtainable non-blending (or at least the sensation of non-blending) would become possible. ‘ (Varèse 2005:18)

Cox, Christoph and Daniel Warner (eds.) (2005), Audio Culture. Readings in Modern Music, New York: Continuum)
Varèse, Edgar (2005), ‘The Liberation of Sound’, in Cox, Christoph and Daniel Warner (eds.), Audio Culture. Readings in Modern Music New York: Continuum), 17-21.


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