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Rhythm & Event: The Aesthetico-Technical

October 6, 2011 1 comment

I am giving a talk here:

The London Graduate School, Kingston University, presents a one day symposium on Rhythm & Event, Saturday 29 October 2011, King’s Anatomy Theatre and Museum.


Can a concept of rhythm, understood as a vibrational, irregular, abstract-yet-real movement, lurking at the unknown dimensions of the event, bridge the gap between actual & virtual, analog & digital, spatial & temporal, as well as between theories & practices of sound? The purpose of this symposium is to elaborate a philosophy of rhythm as an appropriate mode of analysis of the event, and a method with which to account for the process of change and the production of novelty in contemporary environments.

Plenary speakers include, Matthew Fuller (Goldsmiths College) & Andrew Goffey (Middlesex University), Angus Carlyle (LCC, CRiSAP), and Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art/ University of Southampton). The event will conclude with an electronic audiovisual performance and wine reception.

For details and registration, please visit this link: tiny.cc/rhythm-lgs

 

And my talk at the event, at least an approximation of this summary:

The Aesthetico-Technical Rhythm

Despite the insistence on the objective materiality as a grounding for technical media culture, a key realization that framed also technical media was that of rhythm – or more widely vibrations, waves, rhythms, and patterns. From the 19th century discoveries concerning Hertzian waves and Fourier transformations, Helmholtz and Nikola Tesla to mid 20th century research into brains and brain waves mapped and modulated through EEG (W.Grey Walter and the British Cybernetics), and onto contemporary digital culture of algo-rhythms (Miyazaki 2011), this talk maps a short genealogy of rhythmic technical media. The talk focuses especially on the epistemological mapping of sound words by the Institute for Algorhythmics (Berlin), and argues for an aesthetic-technical connection to think through the sonification of non-sensuous digital worlds. Referring to Wendy Chun’s (2011) ideas concerning the invisibility-visibility pairing in digital culture, the talk addresses not code, but rhythm as the constituting element for technical media.

Whitehead into media theory

February 8, 2011 7 comments

Complementing the biomedia-theme of the conference (Response:ability) of this year, the final panel of Transmediale 2011 featured two important writers in media theory and arts: Marie-Luise Angerer and Mark B.N. Hansen. Angerer was very interesting in her presentation that focused on the notion of affect, talking about Massumi, the disappearing half a second in registration of sensations, and dance, but I want to mention here especially Hansen (partly because of the selfish reason of having been recently occupied with the idea of time-critical media, and microtemporality).

Amusingly introduced in the programme as the other Mark Hansen – who teaches statistics at UCLA – this Mark Hansen at Transmediale is of course the author of New Philosophy for New Media and Bodies in Code; both important, interesting books in embodiment and the media artistic cultures of perception. As was pointed out during the session, partly by Hansen himself, his theoretical trajectory has moved in new directions during these years: from a very strong phenomenological focus influenced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, to a much more Gilbert Simondon influenced Bodies in Code, and now he is framing his project through A.N.Whitehead. This is interesting, as it shows yet another contemporary cultural and media theorist moving in that direction. Well known are the Whitehead writings of Massumi and Manning in Montreal, and of course the recent Whitehead writings of Steven Shaviro, the debates around object oriented philosophy that take a lot aboard from Whitehead, and naturally the ideas of such pioneers as Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour. So Hansen as well has joined this crew enthusiastic about the superject instead of subject, and the distributed field of prehensions instead of the primacy of the human body and sensory system as the focal point in aesthetics.

Hansen’s current project is more generally framed as a move from objects to processes. Hansen argues that so much of media theory (including his own work) has been focusing on objects as the primary, uhm, object of media theory. Instead, contemporary culture of distributed ubiquitous media environments demands something else. The presentation itself was packed full of theoretical arguments that are hard to unpack in a good brief way, but I just want to point towards some key concepts.

Hansen argues that this new media culture demands new concepts – a new culture of media processes has to be complemented by a specificity paying attention to how it happens on such levels that are not always directly registered on the human sensorium. Interestingly, he pointed towards Guattari as well, even if not so strongly as talking about Whitehead. In short, the indebtedness to Guattari could be summarized through the idea that machines talk to machines before talking to us. Hansen takes this concretely, in a similar manner to Wendy Chun, and pays attention to how much happens in our media machines (take smart phones that all the time are connected due to the GPS system etc) before we actively use them. The sensibilities inherent in such regimes of software cultures are indeed beyond the normal accounted for 5 senses that media theory has traditionally recognized. And here kicks in Whitehead.

Instead of the body focus of previous (new) media theory, Whitehead offers ways to rethink embodiment. The body is in such a theoretical frame “a vast set, a society of sensibilities.” Similarly Whitehead complicates the notion of perception by two important specifications: perception as presentational immediacy, as it has been understood in so much of history of philosophy and perception as causal efficacy. Without me being able to go into enough detail here, causal efficacy points towards the way Whitehead wants to take into account the way actual entities in the world are created through their relations to other entities, preceding them, and in midst of which entities are determined. It points towards the processual nature of perception being born – not the end result, but the “sensory processes leading up to and informing perception.”

When Shaviro asked the question of how would contemporary cultural theory look like if we had focused more on Whitehead, instead of Heidegger as the 20th century philosopher, Hansen seems to ask: how could we bend Whitehead into a media theorist? Whitehead hardly wrote anything related to media or technology per se (even if writing lots on science which we can argue of course being of huge importance to any understanding of media culture). For Hansen, the key point is how Whitehead’s perspective affords us to think about nonperceptual sensation. It gives agency to the environment instead of the focal subject effected and affected by that environment, and offers the perspective of the superject for media theory: how the individual is the end result of the environmental datum prehended by this focal point.

This in a way pairs up with the nature of the processual environments – that when we need to talk about processes as the central “object” of media studies, we need to see this both in the sense how e.g. Whitehead can offer such theoretical perspectives (causal efficacy) as well as how the distributed, ubiquoitous software environments are processes, unfolding in their nature. This is where Hansen’s perspective ties together with the recent debates concerning time-critical perspectives that especially the Berlin Humboldt media theorists have promoted (again, see Axel Volmar’s Zeitkritische Medien, 2009, as well as Wolfgang Ernst’s writings). Yet, there is an important difference as Hansen seems to argue that it’s only the recent new media has made the processual approaches crucial. But is this not already the case for such earlier media as wireless, cinema even, and for example television? Hansen does not fully address why the earlier media of signal processing of various forms does not qualify for the microtemporal ideas he is arguing for, where the circulating nature of the electric, electromagnetic, and then electronic signal is processual. I would argue that here some media archaeology should step in and offer a broader perspective concerning technical media and time, affect of technological relations, and process.

Time-Critical Media – a short reminder of a book that deserves attention

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment

I have flagged in many contexts my interest for new materialist cultural analysis, and how it should be articulated together with a new sense of temporality. When I say “a new sense” it’s a bit misleading, but I mean the rigorous rethinking of temporality that we find across the board from Delanda to Whitehead-inspired accounts and so forth. Whereas Grossberg already pointed towards a non-signifying accounts as a mode of spatial materialism, we need to develop similar approaches that stem from radical temporality; that the world outside the human being is too dynamic, unfolding, temporal; that temporality is itself folded together with the various material assemblages of the world; that temporality is a crucial non-human force we need to articulate to understand the molecular, as well as the long durations of nature (not least in the midst of our eco crisis).

One key context for my interests comes again from Germany, and has been recently been “summed up” as a book. Axel Volmar as the editor of Zeitkritische Medien (Time-Critical Media, Kadmos Verlag, Berlin, 2009 ) has done a good job in collating together recent trends in German media theory, and approaches to the very peculiar, but even more so exciting version of media archaeology that they have been developing in the Media Studies department at Humboldt University, Berlin. Under the guidance of Professor Wolfgang Ernst, the notion of “time-criticality” and an eye towards temporal processes as a key to understand modern technical media we find a brand of media archaeology that extends not so much historically into past media but towards the microscopic workings of media machines; and how they modulate time, and the structuring temporal processes of societies.

By digging into the “microtemporalities” of media machines the introduction and the chapters try to excavate how such micro-layers are articulating the perception of reality. This means extending the media studies agenda (not surprisingly as we are in the territory of German, Kittlerian inspired media theory after all) to non-human agents and processes that however structure the phenomenological worlds of our perception and reality-effects as well. This leads furthermore to the realisation of the new realms of relations between machines themselves — no link to the human is always needed in the age of automated processes and machines communicating between themselves before they talk to the human (Guattari — who however is missing as theorist from this volume).

Paul Virilio who is well used in this book has argued for the importance of time and speed for war (and hence a link to media as well), but this book extends this to a very meticulous technical excavation into the dispositifs of how actually time gets articulated and articulates media. Technophobes beware! This brand of German media theory is not afraid of getting its hands greasy, whether we are talking of analogue media or digital algorithms (or algorythmics as Shintaro Miyazaki extends the concept in his chapter). This is where Virilio’s ideas gain real strength, or a new context when by systematic and rigorous steps machines and technologies are opened up from the logic of bitmapping (Peter Berz) to the problems of noise and signal-transmission (Hirt and Volmar).

It would be crucial to see more work of this kind in English in order to really start rethinking fundamentals of media studies. This is happening already, partly due to a Kittlerian influence, and other new waves coming e.g. from Italy (post-Fordist thought), France (e.g. Latour, Guattari, Deleuze of course) and onwards to e.g. games (Pias) with an amount of chapters that with ease move between visual media, the sonic and computational platforms. But definitely new German media studies and archaeology has a lot to say to the problems of materiality of technical media. It would benefit itself from a more elaborated discussion and joining of forces of some other similar approaches that come from different directions. Ideas of temporality have been developed e.g. in materialist feminism (Barad) and e.g. Whitehead inspired radical empiricism (Massumi, Mackenzie,etc.) and through creations of new circuits for circulation of ideas, we could have soon something really exciting on our hands. Well, the previous sentence was not to mean that all this stuff is not already that — exciting. Just that developing such creative clashes might be seen as a good method for movement of thought. Of course, its not the Germans who are the only ones doing this work; recently I have been following the stuff coming out from Utrecht direction as well whether in terms of some of the feminist work in the wake of Braidotti but also the great ideas from the New Media and Digital culture programme who also address materiality with historical, temporal methods.

Anyhow, media studies is developing into a great articulation of the interlinks between science, art and cultural analysis/philosophy, and we need to keep this movement alive with more translations and engagements. Such are the directions where UK media studies field should turn its attention to.