I’ve been away on holiday for the last couple of weeks, and it’s given me a chance to look at how French people engage in a different form of sociability than back home in the United Kingdom. In this podcast I explore some ideas and suggestions for future discussion in the new podcast series I’m going to be working on in the Autumn.
Politics, it is often said, is a battle between ideas and the conditions for living. Political idealists believe that they can secure power by articulating an ideology of one sort or another, or a sense of general optimism that tomorrow will be a better day. Political pragmatists, however, are more inclined to assume that voters will only give credit and political power to the representatives who are seen to keep the buses running, the hospitals queues down and the pavements free from obstruction.
Following this second adage there is certainly clear grounds for political opportunists to fight a pragmatic campaign in Leicester’s West End about the state of the pavements around here. In the time I’ve been living back in Leicester, just over a year, I’ve resolved to try to shop locally, supporting local businesses and traders. But even my patience is severely tested in the torrential rain we had this weekend. The pavements along Narborough Road are impassable in places, and are sever trip hazards in others.
There is also the plethora of signs and pavement displays that one has to negotiate, along with the usual wide variety of street furniture and cars parked erratically. The challenge of walking along Narborough Road doesn’t seem to get any easier. I wonder what any forthcoming local election campaign would make of this?
We 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.
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.