Monday, November 21, 2005


The pic below was taken by Michael Schmidt. It's one of my favorite images of Detroit, in part because you can't tell where it was taken! It's actually not a secret location; if you pay attention the next time you're walking around downtown, you might recognize it. I call it: "The Wedge."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Radiophonic ladies

I found my paper topic... At last! That is, for my Sonic Cultures seminar with Shaviro. My *other* paper, for Dr. Grusin will supposedly be a reading of Massumi's _Parables of the Virtual_. Wish me luck (on both). What I want to extract from the BBC ladies is what it means that women helped-- no, strike that-- what it means that women have indeed shaped the hisotry of sound (not just *helped*) and what this focus might teach us. I want to focus on Pauline Oliveros, Cosi from Throbbing Gristle. Kim Gordon, Jessica Rylan, Lindsay Karty, and many others. Oh, and the women who recently put together the installation Her Noise. Need to start a bibliography of some sort....The quote below is a tidbit from the website linked above.

"Radiophonics’ was a term adopted by the BBC (perhaps borrowed from Schaeffer’s "Essai Radiophoniques" in the early 1950s) to identify the nature of this new dimension in sound and music for radio drama. It referred to the collective endeavours of music composers and sound engineers who worked together with dramatic artists to optimise the stimulation of the listener’s imagination. Among them were three women, Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire and Maddalena Fagandini who all worked under enormous pressure to meet deadlines, in an environment where the only rule was to satisfy the drama producer, with no guidelines as to how that was to be achieved. In the absence of digital ready-mades, they designed and built their own filters, effects units, and synchronisers including a special oscillator, the ‘Wobbulator’and the ‘Crystal Palace’ a switching device that was used to create a chorus effect, and they devised their own unique composing techniques. Delia Derbyshire holds the record for the longest tape loop which extended beyond the studio walls and down the corridor. "

I am very tempted to write some cheesy feminist slogan here in response.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop

If you get a chance (like, say, if you happen to stop by my apartment some drear November eve) you (that's right, *you*) should really watch the documentary on the BBC's radiophonic workshop. The amazing Delia Derbyshire is prominently featured in this very quirky (i.e. British) film. I watched it with my musician friend Lindsay (aka Viki), and she was very inspired and it made me very happy. Read more about Delia's significant contributions to electronic muisc. The BBC, and in particular, Delia (or rather, Ms Derbyshire) were responsible for redefining and expanding the interactive space between TV visuals and sonic meaning. We don't know how much we owe to their experimentations.

The World of Automatons

This is a picture of an automaton built in 1773 by Pierre Jaquet-Droz and fils. He constructed several, I believe, of which only three survive. According to info I've been able to garner, they could be considered the ancestor of the computer. The three are: The Musician, The Writer, and the Draughtsman.
According to the one of the sites where I found info on them, they were also, perhaps, an inspiration for Mary Shelley's _Frankenstein_. This site, authored by a woman named Julie S. Porter, has some interesting info; she looks to be some kind of clock/watchmaker, computer sofware engineer, and overall Renaissance Fair enthusiast/participant. Bless her! Anyway, she claims that the term "android" was invented in order to account for these mechanical dolls.

Why does all this matter? What does it have to do with anything? Well, I'm in the porcess of trying to figure that out.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Trouble with Being Born

I'm sympathetic, in many respects, with Justin's post this week on Virilio. The "plethora of conservatisms" (love that phrase!) that Justin finds disturbing often do make for diffcult reading. But I don't think that one can really dismiss some of (a lot) of Virilio's claims by arguing that his text is not an "affirmative" one or that because it "seems like a romanticized desire for a return to a past auratic state where identity and order could still be discerned" we might not still, usefully, be able to discern and weigh what Virilio is actually trying to say on his own terms. Thus, while I do agree with Justin that it does indeed seem not only like Virilio wants a "return" to a past auratic state and that the "linking of Nietzsche to fascism" may indeed be a "simple and boring theoretical move" I want to try and tease out how and why, as Michael suggests, Virilio's "most central focus for ratio-techno-militarism is Nazi Germany." I'm also sympathetic to Michael's sense of "ambivalence" when it comes to any reading relationship to Virilio's text (and I want to note that Michael so effectively summed up Virilio that writing -- and perhaps reading -- this post feels more like a side-note than anything, but we must "press on"!) . Yet, the question I want to explore here, and that propelled my reading for this week, is not necessarily "what is it that Virilio is trying to "return" to? but, rather, "what is it that Virilio is trying to catch up with?

In the early section of Ground Zero that begins with a a discussion of the "father" of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, and the exclusive relationship ("impingement" as Wiener terms it) of science and religion, Virilio states: "If, as they say, the future torments man, it is from this congenital burden that the ideology of a totalitarian Progress aspired preventively to liberate Humanity, willingly or otherwise" (15). The fact that Virilio relates a long hisotry of scientific progress to a hatred of the human flesh as well as to a terroristic iconoclasm is, I think, crucial to understanding both his relationship to and critique of "ratio-techno-militarism" and to why this very "progress" has immobilized 'real" future progress as it obtains in the imperfect world humanity is "condemned" to. If man is "congenitally burdened" by a future that "torments" him, to what can we ascribe this torment? I think Virilio is suggesting that totalitarian ideology inaugurates death in order to relieve us of our future fears of it. In other words, the Freudian death drive is being actualized by the mechanisms of images and virtual spaces in which we are instantaneously satisfied; thus we are cut off from any future, possibly unfulfilled desires. This virtual fulfillment is a break from what real images provide, which would be an iconophilic relationship to the future in that the images promise us the assurance that they do indeed stand in for something "real." What Virilio importantly valorizes, to my mind then, is the uselessness and imperfection of the flesh, and this is what techno-iconoclasm wants to eliminate. The "utopia" and "uchronia" that Virilio points to is a negative form of liberation, a false form of progress that eliminates the possiblities of and in the imperfections and contingencies of "real" events. And it is a testement, I think, to his critique that we must now place the word real in quotes in order to preserve any vestiges of it.

This notion of "catching up" and the love of images can perhaps be connected to Virilio's term "dromology." First off, it is the facts of warfare that Virilio is hyper aware of and that, in our virtual age, we no longer have the dubious benift of actually seeing (at least in the West, that is). Since we are no longer able to see our future, communicate its potentials or difficulties with each other in actual proximiate times, or think the dimensions of the world we inhabit, dromology might be seen as an attempt at a study of how a politics can be formulated around real-time and real-place demands and possibilities. That said, I do think it might be a controversially mis-approproiated term from mathematics ( I recall Virilio's name being castigated in Alan Sokal's book Fashionable Nonsense, which takes numerous theorists to task for sloppy and unduly obtuse prose, which masks its lack of real scientific knowledge). I guess the "misuse" of a scientific terms either makes Virilio's critique of scientific progress ironic or clever depending on how you look at it. It might also mean that his ostensible rejection of progress and his negative evaluations are not so simply retrograde as one might think. For, Sokal's criticisms aside, the re- or even mis- appropriations of scientific thinking always entails a future projection and thus a future politics. Virilio's dromology then, even as it thinks a future is attempting a critique to a certain extent from within science, while stepping outside the sense of progress provided by a linearized and hyper-rational (at the service of a mythic irrationalism) forward movement that leads inevitably toward the uselessness and therefore meaninglessness of human bodies. I think we need to recall that Virilio studied phenomenology with Merleau-Ponty in order to properly situate his seemingly old-fashioned humanism and Catholic conservatism, since that phenomenology is also a critique of Enlightenment progress and its attendant values . I'd like to further explore how Merleau-Ponty's notions of perception influenced Virilio's iconophilia. It might more fully connect the important relationship between how dromology is an intertwinement of ideas regarding vision and temporality, along with the importance of imperfection as inherent and necessary for any future possibilities, an intertwinement of concerns operating at the heart of Virilio's text. Perhaps another day....