Christoph Cox: Keynote lecture

I’m at the “Sound, Art, Auditory Cultures” conference in Copenhagen at the moment.

One of today’s highlights was Christoph Cox’ Keynote “Sound Art and the Ontology of the Audible”.

More pictures here:

Following are some rough notes from the lecture, all of you who were there as well: please let me know if you have any comments or more detail about it!

Cox states that with the exploded interest in sound art in the US since about 2000 there has also been growing criticism that this is just repackaging of electronic or contemporary music for the art market. Cox opposes this criticism in developing an ‘ontology of the audible’.
He starts off with deconstructing the absolute relation of sound and signal, and rethink it as a relative relationship, using Leibnitz, Deleuze, Serres amongst others. In an everyday and science point of view, noise is understood as unwanted in relation to signal; it needs to be eliminated. Cox aims to define noise as the primary stuff that is needed for music to come into being and understands noise as as reservoir that makes signal possible.

One one hand we have noise as empirical, actual, signal, speech and music; on the other hand we have sound as transcendental (not in a Kantian way), virtual (Deleuze), as the hubbub of everyday, background, always there. This latter forms for Cox the condition of possibility for sound to come into being. Each signal actualises, pulls into the foreground one aspect form this virtual domain of the never-ending hubbub of noise. He uses Deleuze to introduce the idea that one can conceive of sound as a continuos acoustic flow, and that musicians appropriate some of this flow. For Cox, the difference between sound art and music, is that music relates to the actual, empirical realm, whereas sound art relates to the virtual realm.

Cox names some key moment for the project of sound art and his ontology: Edison’s Phonograph, Pierre Schaeffer, Cage’s 4’33, Max Neuhaus’ Times Square (Which I couldn’t find earlier this year: LINK), and Kubisch’ Magnetic Headphones.

For Cox, sound art explores the conditions of audibility. Sound Art inhabits a rich domain, that is distinct though the virtual dimension of sound is its subject of inquiry.

Cox’ argument reminded me a bit of the way Gauntlett (Creative Explorations: New Approaches to Identities and Audiences (2007) talks about us as being narrative-producing engines. From the constant and non-linear multiplicity of draft narratives we constantly and subconsciously produce; one of these draft narratives in pulled into being, becoming part of our identity by being ‘told’ to ourselves or others. I used this argument in my own presentation at this conference, where I discussed the methodological implications of appropriating creative, visual methods for researching sound.


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