Introduction to From Sound to Waves to Territories

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From Sound to Waves to Territories
Dowload PhD thesis / chapters


This dissertation undertakes a quest for a poetics of responsibility in the age of the Anthropocene. I aim to extend the concept of a poetics of responsibility beyond the literary discussion, where it was originally coined by ecocritical theorist Greg Garrad. My thesis does so by tracing sound and radio waves from outer space, to the inside of the human body, and along cross-species boundaries to the deepest depths of the ocean. With reference to the theoretical work of Michel de Certeau, and media arts practice under the wider label of tactical media, I argue that critical reflections of political media arts practice occurring at the nexus of politics and technology can make an important contribution to the quest for a poetics of responsibility. In making this argument, I draw on works that incorporate sonic and radio related practices from the early 20th century radio amateur movement as well as work of contemporary media arts practitioners including Natalie Jeremijenko, Marko Peljhan and my own. My argument is epistemologically informed by philosopher Jacques Rancière’s theories concerning the political dimension inherent in the aesthetic and vice versa, and the work of media theorist Geert Lovink, a key figure in establishing the concept of tactical media. In order to understand the merger of creative practice and theory in tactical media, I employ the notion of fluid thinking in waves — depicting art making as the tactical pondering over aesthetic experience, technological possibilities and political context. Based on my own artistic exploration in a series of works titled unrelated relatedness, I suggest that the combination of technological and sensory perceptions in media arts practice can extend and refine the human sense of situated awareness and shift how we as humans understand our position on this planet.

[Download PhD thesis as PDF]

0. Phd Thesis Introduction

The chief role of creative intellect is to hold society together. – Nicholas Humphrey (1976, p. 308)

[Download Introduction as PDF]

Prior to undertaking my PhD research, the focus of my art practice as radio maker and media artist revolved around issues concerning the role of communication at the nexus of media, politics and subjectivity. This focus evolved with the PhD research – practical and theoretical – as I will discuss in this thesis. This change resulted from and in turn shaped the research in the context of my growing concern with ecological issues, thinking and artistic practices. My initial point of departure for my artistic inquiry has been my desire to explore the relationship between inner and outer worlds. Also central to this was the role that media play in this relationship, and the relationship between how we communicate and how this structures the way we relate to the environment around us. During the research process and my expanded understanding of ‘environment’, I came to understand these relationships through the poetic notion of unrelated relatedness. This notion conveys for me the sense of a mental confusion, a grappling on an individual level with an understanding of ecological interconnectedness, while at the same time, as a species, we keep pushing beyond the limits of planetary boundaries. It was this poetic notion that would hold together the series of art works in this thesis – works which helped to guide the theoretical research. As a result, my PhD, looking at communication from an ecological perspective, moved on from my earlier works investigating modes of communication within a more urban context. I became focused on phenomena such as the interrelatedness of ecosystems, which I explore as a shared space between humans and non-humans beyond the local.

The poetic notion of unrelated relatedness became, then, the leitmotif for structuring the writing of this thesis and the title of a series of three works that form the artistic output of my practice-based research: My City is a Hungry Ghost, Nature in the Dark and planet ocean, which are discussed in Chapter 3. It was, though, actually only after completing the Nature in the Dark project that followed the My City is a Hungry Ghost installation that this understanding crystallised — as this is often the case with practice based research.


Supervisors & Research Panel

related posts:
From Sound to Waves to Territories

Human perception and virtual realities (H. Maturana)

related post:
Introduction, From Sound to Waves to Territories
Biology of Love (Maturana & Verden-Zoeller)

The cognitive biologist Maturana Romesín and the psychologist Verden Zoeller stress “that for us human beings nothing that we live in flow of our emotioning, whether consciously or unconsciously, is irrelevant or “virtual” in our living.” Humberto Maturana Romesín further expands on his approach to human perception and virtual realities:

“Our nervous system is continuously changing along the flow of our living, and it does so in a manner that is moment by moment contingent on the course of our living, both in our conscious and unconscious, external and internal, relational psychic space. As a result, all that we live, regardless of what kind of living we live, arises in us modulated by the history of our psychic existence regardless of whether this takes place through our living in what an observer might call a virtual or a non-virtual reality. … In other words, as we live them repeatedly, realities that were initially virtual progressively stop being virtual. As features of our culture, they become part of our biological manner of living and, hence, of the non-virtual reality that we live. The problem with virtual realities, then, if there is any, is not how they occur, or if they occur at all, but whether we do or do not like the psychic manners of existence and the cultural transformations that we generate through them. Virtual realities are never trivial, because we always become transformed as we live them according to the emotioning of the psychic space that they bring about in our living, and this is so regardless of whether we like it or not. If we care about what happens to us and to other human beings through what we do through virtual realities, then it is our responsibility to act accordingly.” (Maturana Romesín 2008)

Humberto Maturana Romesín, The Biological Foundations of Virtual Realities and Their Implications for Human Existence,biological–epistemological – biology of cognition, (paper) 18 November 2006

This paper is comprises two appendices from the book “The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love” written in 1994 by Humberto Maturana Romesín and Gerda Verden Zöller (edited by Pille Bunnell). The appendices were written by Hunberto Maturana Romesin in the years 1996–1997. The book is in press with Imprint Academic, and was published 2008.

Schizophonic (R. Murray Schafer)

related post:
Introduction, From Sound to Waves to Territories

The Canadian scholar R. Murray Schafer voiced a critique by describing radio as source for ‘defamiliarisation’ from the everyday environment. Identified as a sensual alienation by Schafer he portrayed this media experience as schizophonic’. When Schafer coined radio as schizophonic, he criticised the perceptional split of sounds. To him, when recorded, sounds are brought out of the context of their original environment and are broadcast without any further spatial reference to their origin.

“When I originally coined the term schizophonia in “The New Soundscape” I said it was intended to be a nervous word. Related to schizophrenia, I intended it to convey the sam sense of aberration and drama. … A character in one of Borges’ stories dreads mirrors because the multiply men. The same might be said of radio. As the cry broadcasts distress, the loudspeaker communicates anxiety. … Modern life has been ventriloquized.” (Schafer 1973)

This mediative process turns these schizophonic sounds for Schafer into a symbolic-only and dream-like meaning and consequently leads to a sensual alienation.

While I do not agree with all of Schafer’s arguments particular in relation to how he comes to terms with an actual moral judgement of a sensual experience from an ecological point of view. Nevertheless his term schizophonic is interesting to me, because I do consider that a split is taking place in the amplification process of mediation in general but to me this is taking place on a social, political and / or cultural level. Schafer underpinned his critique with a proposal for an alternative format for a ‘radical radio’ (Schafer, 1987). His radical radio calls for a radio that lets nature be broadcast in a field recording manner and beyond any further manipulation in terms of format or aesthetics.

“The plan was to put microphones in remote locations uninhabited by humans and to broadcast whatever might be happening out there; the sounds of wind and rain, the cries of bird and animals – all the uneventful events of the natural soundscape transmitted without editing into the hearts of the cities.” (Schafer 1987)

And although I share sympathies for Schafer’s proposal for a new and radical radio. I would shift here as well the focus away from the media aided representation of the environment to the aesthetic side of human communication and a possible ‘defamilarisation’ in communication.

R Murray Schafer (1993) ‘Radical radio’, Semiotext(e)16: Radiotext(e), no. 6
R Murray Schafer (1977) The Tuning of the World, Knopf, New York

Responsive phenomenlogy (B. Waldenfels)

related posts:
Introduction, From Sound to Waves to Territories
Interview with Bernhard Waldenfels

In his book “Grundmotive einer Phaenomenlogie des Fremden” German philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels addresses the phenomenon of the strange / alien

The strange has a very specific position which is extraordinary or beyond the order or organisation or more precisely in between the borders of different orders. Waldenfels therefore very philosophically wonders how we can approach the strange or alien while not already neutralising and denying its challenges and demands through our manner of approaching it.

If you ask me, I would think that is a very good question but it also ties in with the second aspect of my PhD work the idea of imaginative leaks. It is also interesting to compare it with the be-a-friend trends in social media.

Bernhard Waldenfels, Grundmotive einer Phaenomenlogie des Fremden, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M, 2006

Radio series (Wolfgang Hagen)

related post:
Introduction, From Sound to Waves to Territories

Series as radio format

According to Wolfgang Hagen, German media scholar and director of the national radio Deutschlandradio, was the format of the series born in the early North-American amateur radio as a practical result of its time and technical condition.

The radio amateurs movement in the US grew too big to be regulated by the Congress right away. A few frequencies were shared by several parties including naval emergency calls, therefore the act of transmitting did always include the listening out and relaying of others. Technical it was based on the principal of call and call-back and in terms of legislation it was more understood as wireless telephony.

The North-American situation for example was completely different to the European situation, where its was top-down state affair. Although back in the day every receiver could easily could be turned into a transmitter. Something Bertold Brecht was very aware of. And back then already a legitimate reason for house searches by the police.

Source: Serialisierung des Radios – Serialisierung von Radio-Kunst? (last access: 8. August 2011)

Schizophrenia (Barbara O’Brien)

related posts:
Introduction, From Sound to Waves to Territories
the-other-me (radioplay)

BARBARA O’BRIEN, author of Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic

On Schizophrenia
“There is an amazing lack of accurate knowledge among laymen concerning the effects of schizophrenia upon its victims. The most prevalent current notion is that, when the mind is split in schizophrenia, the individual becomes two people, two distinct personalties, or even multiple personalities—that the subconscious mind, rebelling against the repressions imposed upon it, has declared civil war, deserted the conscious authority; and that in the resulting schism, the new personality which emerges periodically is composed of the parts of the personality which the individual has consciously, deliberately, persistently repressed.

In infrequent cases, this appears to be just what does happen. The unconscious has rebelled, assumed control, created the person it wishes to be, forced the conscious controller into a small, tightly closed box where it cannot even see what is going on, and then taken over the floor of the conscious mind.

In most cases of schizophrenia, however, the unconscious appears to prefer not the techniques of the actor, but those of the director. It does not create a new personality but, instead, stages a play. The major difference is that the conscious mind is permitted to remain, an audience of one sitting lonely in the theater, watching a drama. on which it cannot walk out.”

BARBARA O’BRIEN, Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic, ARLINGTON BOOKS Cambridge 1958, page 5

Cityness (Saskia Sassen)

related post:
Introduction, From Sound to Waves to Territories


by Saskia Sassen, Centennial Visiting Professor, LSE and Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago:

“Urban agglomerations are very often seen as lacking the  features, quality and sense of what we think of as cities. Yet, urbanity is perhaps too charged a term, charged with a Western sense of cosmopolitanism of what public space is or should be. …

The same thing applies to this question of cityness as a way to capture forms of urbanity that do not necessarily correspond to our more Westernised eye, who knows what morphing is going on, even in these very rigid structures. …

Partly this is an empirical question but, coming back to this notion of stripping urbanity from its Western richness and trying to use cityness as a tool to detect urbanities that may be constituted in very different ways, I would say that one issue that cuts across all of this is if the gaps between the differences, between component parts that belong to slightly different worlds, if those gaps cross certain thresholds, to what extent do we actually lose the possibility of cityness?”


Download the pdf Cityness in the urban age (Urban Age project, LSE and the Alfred Herrhausen Society) from here

Four evolutionary processes (Maturana, Verden-Zoeller)

related posts:
From Sound to Waves to Territories, Introduction
Biology of Love (Maturana, Verden-Zoeller)
Human perception and virtual realities (H. Maturana)

from: Biology of Love (paper), By Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zoller, Opp, G.: Peterander, F. (Hrsg.): Focus Heilpadagogik, Ernst Reinhardt, Munchen/Basel 1996. [pdf]

The authors state:
We humans are the present result of these four basic processes. But there is more to our human condition than what is apparent in these reflections, both in the richness and range of being animals that live in conversations:

  1. the expansion of childhood and the expansion of the emotioning of the child/mother* relation
  2. the expansion of female sexuality
  3. language
  4. intelligence and consensuality

The four basic processes in the evolution of mankind

  • Some five to six million years ago, the lineage of primates that gave origin to us began in a trend of continuous expansion of childhood in a manner that has progressively extended to involve now practically our whole life span. This is a frequent evolutionary phenomenon, and is called neoteny (extension of childhood), and occurs as a systemic conservation of a manner of living, in the terms that we described above. This process entailed in the history of our lineage not only the conservation of child like body and physiological features into adulthood, but also, and above all, the expansion of the emotioning of the child/mother* relation as a relation of total mutual trust in body acceptance into the adult life. The result was the constitution of a lineage whose evolutionary history was centered on love as the basic emotion in community relations, not aggression or competition as has happened with other primates like chimpanzees. Mammals are loving animals in general, and this can be easily seen in how they become like children when they live in close relations of love with humans, but not all of them live in love along their whole life as the center of their manner of living that defines their identity. The identity of a species in terms of its manner of living is not genetically determined or conserved, but it is determined and conserved systemically in the relation, organism/medium. The genetic constitution determines a field of epigenetic developmental possibilities in a living system, while in the realization of its ontogeny and phylogeny, living system and medium change together congruently in the systemic conservation of a manner of living. And this is precisely what has happened in our evolutionary history in which the conservation of the relation of love in mutual trust and care proper to the mother*/child as a life habit into adulthood, has been the peculiar feature of the manner of living in which both organism and medium have changed together congruently constituting the peculiarity that defines our lineage as a particular primate lineage.
  • Some four million years ago the females of our lineage began to live an expansion of their sexuality that went from a yearly cycle of desire for sexual intercourse and pleasure in the intimate body proximity of the other, to a continous desire that matched the continuous sexual desire of males. We think that this must have happened as a feature of the neotenic trend of our lineage. Sex has to do with body acceptance in mutual trust in the joy and pleasure of the nearness and contact of the body of the other whether male or female. The first most basic consequence of this process was the separation of sexual intercourse from reproduction as a feature of the course of living, and the establishment thereof, of sexual pleasure as the most fundamental manner of relation between the members of a group. The second basic consequence was the arising and development of permanent intimacy in tenderness, sensuality, and individually oriented sexuality, as the source of stability and joy of living together that resulted in a manner of living in small family communities of four to seven individuals.
  • Some three and a half million years ago, language, to live in language, must have begun as a manner of living in consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of behavior conserved generation after generation in the learning of the children of the small families in which our ancestors lived as a result of the expansion of the sexuality of the females. In fact, what must have begun then, must have been living in the braiding of languaging and emotioning that we call conversations, and with that what began then was human living as a living in networks of conversations, so that everything human takes place in conversations as a flow in consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations of behaviors and emotions.
  • The evolutionary history of our lineage as a history of the conservation of a neotenic trend in the biology of love, is a history of social life also centered on consensuality and cooperation, not on competition or aggressive strife. As such our evolutionary history is a history of expansion of the capacities for consensuality, and, hence, of expansion of intelligence. Intelligence has to do with consensuality, intelligence is not primarily the capacity to solve problems, but it is the capacity to participate in the generation, expansion, and operation in consensual domains as domains of coordinations of behaviors through living together. Problem solving takes place as an operation in a domain of consensuality already established, so it is secondary to consensuality, not prior to it. Languaging, indeed, living in conversations as we humans do requires such an enormous capacity for consensuality, that we humans are all essentially equally intelligent, and the differences in intelligence that seem to exist between humans are not due to differences in their capacity for consensuality, but in their emotioning. In fact, due to the nature of intelligence as a relational biological phenomenon, different emotions affect it differently.Thus, ambition, competitiveness, anger, envy, aggression and fear, reduce intelligence, because they restrict the domain of openness for consensuality. This is acknowledged in daily life with popular expressions such as: he or she is blinded by anger or ambition. Only love expands intelligence, because love as the domain of those behaviors through which the other arises as a legimiate other in coexistence with oneself, opens us to see and to enter in collaboration. To live in love, in the biology of love, in the conservation of collaboration, in the acceptance of the other and in the acceptance of the conditions of existence as a source and not as an opposition, restriction or limitation, has been the fundament for the evolutionary trend of conservation of the continuous expansion of intelligence in our lineage. We humans are the present result of these four basic processes. But there is more to our human condition than what is apparent in these reflections, both in the richness and range of being animals that live in conversations.

* mother can mean both male and female as it is understood as a caring function

Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerden Verden-Zoeller, The Origin of the Humanness in the Biology of Love, Imprint Academic, Exceter, 2008

The Living Systems (Maturana, Verden-Zoeller)

related posts:
From Sound to Waves to Territories, Introduction
Human perception and virtual realities (H. Maturana)
Biology of Love (Maturana, Verden-Zoeller)
The four basic Processes in Evolution

from:  Biology of Love (paper), By Humberto Maturana Romesin and Gerda Verden-Zoller, Opp, G.: Peterander, F. (Hrsg.): Focus Heilpadagogik, Ernst Reinhardt, Munchen/Basel 1996. [pdf]

The authors state:

The Living Systems

That we are living systems means that we are structure determined systems, that we operate at every moment according to our structure at that moment, and that nothing external to us can specify what happens in us as a result of our interactions in a medium. External agents can only trigger in us structural changes determined in us. Moreover, the structure of a living system is not fixed, it changes according to its own internal dynamics and following the course of the structural changes triggered in it by its recurrent interactions in the medium.

The Evolutionary Process

In this evolutionary process, living systems and medium change together in a systemic manner following the path of recurrent interactions in which their reciprocal dynamic structural congruence (adaptation) is conserved. The result is that a living system of a particular kind lives as long as its living contributes to create the conditions in which its particular manner of living is realized and conserved, or it dies as a living system or the manner of living that defines it, stops being conserved and a new kind of living system arises.

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