Mark Peter Wright

The following text is reproduced from handwritten notes that were found within a dilapidated structure. They appear to detail the last known traces of an as yet unidentified wildlife sound recordist.

I will do my best to recall the circumstances that have led me to this point. I stand amongst a scene I can barely believe. My reflection no longer belongs to me. Soon I fear it will be too late to even speak.

I arrived here a week ago to record the sound of cicadas. Conditions were sweltering from the start. I spent days out in the long grass under burning heat, capturing the sounds of neocicada hieroglyphica, cacama valvata, tibicen canicularis, tibicen resonans and many more. I would sit in the field for hours happily listening to the high frequency buzz of insects. The work required stillness and quiet on my part, as to not encroach upon the recording. I tried to be invisible and inaudible. I was a silent listener immersed in a world of nature I have now come to fear. 

I took what was essentially a hobby very seriously. My recordings were frequently deposited in archives and used for research or artistic purposes. With the days work done I would return to my makeshift home-studio, have dinner and hurriedly begin the playback and cataloguing process for the duration of that evening, archiving and grading each recording one by one in order to preserve the sounds for future use.

It was systematic work done in the dimly lit confines of my purpose built abode. I broke up the monotony of cataloguing by manipulating and layering certain sounds into compositions. Nature was as musical as it was scientific. I would listen to my animal orchestra until I drifted asleep. How I long for those nights amidst the wreckage of my current mind state. 

This routine went on. Long days in the field with immersive nights listening back to recordings. My memory is cloudy now, but I remember things began to change one evening when I awoke from a nightmare. The dream was unique in that it appeared to contain sound alone. An unidentifiable heavy breathing crackled and howled in the most terrifying of ways. It produced an abysmal feeling of solitude in me coupled with an overwhelming presence of someone, or something.

Gasping out of sleep I sat up in bed and noticed a patch of dry blood on the pillow. I panicked and checked my body but nothing, not even a scratch. I ran my hands over my face and stopped as I touched a clotted knot of hair near my temple. I got out of bed and walked haphazardly to the mirror. The blood seemed to be coming from my left ear. “Strange” I thought, “how on earth could that have happened?” It was extremely painful to touch and felt as though something had been gnawing at my cochlear. After rinsing my hair and cleaning the blood away I managed to ignore the throbbing pain and gradually drifted back to sleep. 

Dawn came and blistering heat pierced through the windows. After coffee and a quick bite to eat I picked up my equipment and opened the door for another day of recording. I didn’t notice at first but gradually, as I made my way towards the site, just 100 feet from base, I realised something was missing. “Where had all the cicadas gone?” I couldn’t hear their usual incessant noise. I clicked my fingers next to my ears. There was nothing wrong there. I sat for hours on end waiting for the cicadas to stridulate. The heat became more and more pressing as the fatigue of waking from the nightmare took over. I drifted in and out of sleep amongst the gentle sway of the breeze. 

I came too with a sudden exhale; my ear began to cause huge irritation. Raising my hand, I felt a sticky, puss-like liquid on the lobe. I pressed a finger into the ear cavity and jumped out of my skin as a high screeching sound ricocheted around my skull, releasing a pain that registered in my teeth. Startled and anxious I hurriedly packed up the equipment and made my way back to my lodgings where I fell into another deep slumber.

I awoke in the dark, unsure of the time. Feeling disorientated, I decided to listen back to recordings from the previous day, hoping they would reassure my confused state. I set up the laptop and played a file at random. No sound was there. I played another file and again, no audible sign of the cicadas. My ear burned as I clicked on wav file after wav file. I couldn’t hear the sounds I knew I had captured from previous days. I frantically switched views and begin to analyse the visual spectrogram. None of the usual hi staccato imprints that epitomized cicada song were apparent. There was however, a ghostly marking throughout the recording. The cicadas may not have been there but something certainly was. I began isolating frequencies where I thought the inaudible content existed and boosted the volume, moving my chair closer towards one of the speakers. 

A faint, slow rhythmical sound filtered through the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I placed my good ear gently against the speaker cone membrane and then suddenly amongst the hiss of amplification I realised what I could hear – it was the sound of my own breath. 

Fear streamed through my veins like never before. Panic swirled around me. I stumbled backwards from the speaker. Both ears now throbbed as a breath, my breath, emanated outwards, growing louder and louder. I felt a sharp piercing pain pour through my left ear again. I ran to the laptop to stop the file but it wouldn’t end. I unplugged the power and all I could hear was my breath pulsing louder and louder in a terrifying cascade that swamped the room. I began hyperventilating as I noticed the speakers seemed to be physically swelling with every pulsating breath. I crashed into a box of notes sending them spiraling through the air and I as turned, struck my head on the glass light bulb that dangled from the ceiling. 

I don’t know how long had passed before I came too, drenched in sweat. There was no sound and I was glad. Daylight splintered its way through the window. I picked myself up and walked towards the small refrigerator for some water, trampling over broken glass and paper notes. I felt a tug at my ankle and fell to the floor. For a brief moment I was sure something began dragging me backwards. Sat upright I raised a tired laugh as I fathomed audio cable had spiraled around my leg. Tripping me up yes, dragging me back, surely not?

Over the following days strange incidents continued. I walked outside and again, no cicada sounds passed through the air. Had I done something to affect them? During the nights I couldn’t bring myself to listen back to the recordings for fear of hearing that dreadful noise. 

Things began to escalate. A microphone momentarily grafted itself into my hand; I had to tear it away, breaking the skin of my palm. I woke up with cables wrapped around my legs. They became impossible to remove. In my growing delusion I cut one that was attaching itself around furniture and to my horror, a strange liquid oozed from it. Exhaustion grew. I lost everything. Sleep, dreams, heat and utterances took over. Life became a waking nightmare; my sanity escaped the room. I stopped going outside for fear that something was going to take over my body. Now I know that it was already here, in this room and in me, all this time. 

{Five pages torn haphazardly from the book. The only words visible in the severed margins appear to be: I, laughter, who, patterns, transparent, noise}

I have no idea what day it is or how long I have been here. I am tired and the pain is now unbearable. The last time I looked in the mirror my body began to pixelate and blend into the background. When I squeezed my arm a noise shrieked from everywhere. I stared at myself for minutes, shimmering and flickering with the room. Slowly, and with frozen fascination, I moved the pixels of my face and blanked out.  

{Two empty pages with faint lines drawn on them}

Last night I placed headphones on in one last attempt to find sanctuary in listening, but felt a tension between my ears. The pressure became so much that I ripped the headphones away and as I did so, cicadas spilled into the air in a horrifying slow-motion dance. In a fit of auto-destructive rage I demolished equipment and smashed hard drives into pieces. Exhausted, I pummeled microphones onto walls and across the floor. 

What is happening? My body is changing; my voice distorting; everything is alive!

{Long break in the page, scratches and torn pieces of page}

These last few hours, or days, I’m not sure how long, have brought a deterioration that bears no words. I have lost my voice. When I try to speak there is only shrieking feedback. Language now swims in a sea of metallic waves. I spend my day in noise, unable to move for the unbearable feeling that something is listening to me; thousands of things in fact are listening to the tiniest sounds of my every move.  

All equipment is destroyed but somehow it still manages to whirr into operation every night. My computer screen flickers on, speakers begin to swell and the sounds of my breath, my feet, my shuffling recorded body fills the night air. I am immersed in the horrifying noise of myself. 

{Smears of blood and matted grey fur stuck to page}

Both ears are now completely covered by abscesses. Everything sounds from within a muffled chamber. I can hear my heart beating loudly. I tried to run but couldn’t get out of the door. Thousands of cicadas moved across the window. I felt a microphone underfoot. Picking it up I was shocked to see legs squirm from under it, like an insect flailing in the air. I threw it against a wall. 

Grey fluffy material appears to be growing out of my skin. Sound continues to sink more and more within itself. I can hear my respiratory system crackling and wheezing; every step triggers a chain of echoes, reverberating up and down my spine. I cannot write much longer. As I grapple to form these words I’m becoming translucent. Like a pixelated image my skin is cubed, it morphs effortlessly into the environment. I am camouflaged from myself. 

{The notebook was discovered open at this point}

Mark Peter Wright

Lucía Hinojosa

crevice or, space that opens 

*

polyphonic pulse

*

What is a sound. A sound is two things heard at one and the same time but not together.

—Gertrude Stein

Rhythm refers not only to vocal emissions or to the sound of acoustic matter, but also to the vibration of the world. Rhythm is the inmost vibration of the cosmos. And poetry is an attempt to tune into this cosmic vibration, this temporal vibration that is coming and coming and coming.

—Franco Bifo Berardi

I’d like to make a metaphysical stroke over the body-machine which is trying to breathe and that hasn’t only been (even more) suffocated in the past months, but is utterly lost in the abstraction of fear, in an insecure, confused and repressed condition controlled by the undeniable structural global violence that permeates our contemporary paradigm. 

I don’t want to add more layers to the texture of uncertainties, accumulated in waves of overwhelming information, usually distorted, covered-up, and edited, regarding our fragile immune-social condition, the economic crisis, the reality war. Rather, I’d like to reflect on two concepts as vehicles that can reactivate our bodily experience, that will help us position and think ourselves in-relation, as bodies: sound and breath. If we perceive sound as materiality in continual vibration, and breath as the universal witness of a collective pulse, acting as a filter for ordinary experience and finally leading to an ideological, cultural, and socio-political experience of the world: how does a body breathe? I ask myself if our respiratory experience has also been oppressed as it becomes more and more involved with a structural rhythm of control. 

The vibration of sound and breath could work as instruments for a more profound ontological investigation regarding our current condition. If we perceive their agency with more attention, we could notice that they act as the evidence, the registry, of dynamic strokes over the body-machine, those which are apparently intangible, but that work as the essential rhythm of generative states within the body-machine. 

Parting from Franco Bifo Berardi’s premise, we can meditate on the presence (and absence) of the breath’s flux as a psychosomatic metaphor and a social symptom within physicality, visualizing the experience of these circuits traversing our bodies like residues in loop that are trying to synchronize—from the agency of the body’s subjectivity—with the context’s conditions, with its reality. I think it’s important to meditate intensely on this during this crisis that wants us to remain in an anti-respiratory state, in a continuous sensorial detachment from bodies-in-relation.

*

chaosmosis

*

Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.

—The Kybalion

Recently, I made a list of the etymologies of the word ‘chaos’. The evolution of its meaning is fascinating and, in a way, all of these descriptions have been enmeshed in today’s reality, like a constellation of infinite abysses:

+ kháos o cháos = the unpredictable

+ elemental confusion

+ a mass of matter without form  

+ vacuum occupying a hole 

+ from the Indo-European root gheu, it means being open

+ it means to yawn, or to open from a cavern

+ a random behaviour governed by complex principles, sensitive to its conditions

+ vacuum framing the rest of existence 

+ confusion of absolutes, disorder 

+ crevice or, space that opens 

+ the original state of matter

Berardi says that today’s notion of chaos lies on the absence of semiotic measurements in order to comprehend the flux of information and phenomena. It is the inability to attribute a “logical order” to a series of complex events that become unpredictable, and then, this indeterminacy extends into a very confused ambiance that is impossible to decipher through the frames of reality we have within reach. In other words, the semiotic frame that had been collectively integrated in order to perceive “order” is trapped within its own limits of reality. What we thought society or civilization was is falling, because the actual semiotic flow is going too fast and, at the same time, it has broken with the temporality and structure that we thought, illusively, was holding this model. Guattari’s term chaosmosis, and which Bifo eloquently recuperates from the standpoint of poetry and breath, refers to the synchronic rhythm between cosmic chaos and singularities, and more precisely, with subjectivities. It is “the process of rebalancing the osmosis between mind and chaos, with the osmotic evolution of chaos in itself.” In this sense, this stance opens up and generates an infinity of possibilities that enter into a cosmic rhythm that, for Berardi, happens through the flow of respiration, through breathing. Breath in this sense, is the ultimate measure of relation, overcoming the limits of an established semiotic rhythm and reality, subtly auto-generating from a vibratory re-modulation between subject and experience. Berardi says, “when we say chaos, then, we mean two different, complementary movements. We refer to the swirling of our surrounding semiotic flows, which we receive as if they were “sound and fury.” But we also refer to attempts to reconcile this encompassing environmental rhythm with our own intimate, internal rhythm of interpretation.”  

In this sense, the sound of drone music could be perceived as matter without form, which is governed by complex principles, as the unpredictable mass of experience: the open state of chaos. Our bodies, our materialities, are part of the vacuum that occupies a space where the rest of existence is framed, but they can find their own rhythmic scale to connect with this open state and enter into an osmotic condition from a continual, subjective exploration, an internal interpretation, and not from a prosthetic semiotic limitation, a rhythmic control: a model that erodes singularities. 

Eliane Radigue, Jetsun Mila, 1968. (Composition inspired by the Tibetan poet and yogi Milarepa). 

The vibration of the drone, characterized by sustained repetition of sound and notes, will work as an allusion to observe the relation between our bodies and the sphere of an unlimited semiotic flux. The drone maintains a complex, penetrating sonic reality, and we could say that, as opposed to a traditional musical composition that produces sound in calculated intervals, creating a harmonic narrative “starting from zero, from silence,” the drone is a generative organism that is alive, and that is “always there” as potential mass, already holding an infinity of sound permutations and variations. This effect is released and can happen over our sensorial surface, in an osmotic act, within the physicality of our bodies: the drone happens with the body, in-relation: the body is the vacuum where vibrations can be held. 

Eliane Radigue, L’ile Resonante, 2005. 

Drone and minimalist music activate a reality principle that is radical. Its conceptual and practical design is fluid and paratactic, avoiding a dual, tautological loophole. For instance, the traditional principle in Western music starts with the idea of silence. Notes and frequencies are added over silence from a linear perception in order to construct something from an apparently blank, clean space, creating a composition through a sequential notational system that “did not exist before.” This way of ordering reality responds to a hierarchical model. Drone music takes its principles from Indian classical music, from the sustained sound of the tambura. Drone music and Indian music sound very different, but they share the same model in a structural, practical sense. This premise is based on the idea that “sound is always, already there” happening through a field of continuous electricity, and the body can tune in with that other sonorous body-mass in order to create a new state of singular synchronicity. In a way, it turns into a collaborative act between vibration and individual. 

Jung Hee Choi, RICE, during the exhibition The Third Mind, Guggenheim, 2009.

The body must listen attentively to the accumulation of vibratory frequencies in order to tune into the sonic continuum and, from that place, articulate its own experience. There is no a priori imposition or an anticipated idea, or desire, for new measures to be composed “over” space, there is only relation and interaction with frequencies that are already permeating every space, every aspect of sound. As the Italian artist Caterina Barbieri mentions, “the sound of the drone is the most penetrating archetypal gesture.” In this sense, there is no aspiration to create a new semiotic limit or a measure. The most penetrating vibration is already there, within us, between sound and bodies. 

La Monte Young, The Well-Tuned Piano, 1987.

*

circuits

*

We need to visualize the subject as a transversal unity that encompasses the human. 

—Rosi Braidotti

The dissolution of the limit and the production of resulting tones and cosmic vibrations are central to the phenomenon of resonance.

—Ben Neill (Pure Resonance, La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela).

What is the experience of subjectivities? Where and how do they happen? Guattari and Deleuze put forth that the subject identifies with the centre because it lacks the capacity to observe the circuit of intensities and living states that it forms part of. But, the subject is being constantly reborn from the state that is experimenting, this is what determines it. In this sense, the subject within the body is actually impossible to locate because it is in perpetual movement and never in the centre, rather in its peripheries, moving. Therefore, the subject produces and is produced as residue, defined by the states that it experiments in a vital oscillation. 

Respiration traverses, affects and is affected by all of these subtle circuits, and maybe the attention to our breath could reveal the tempo, the rhythm of these routes where the subject happens, generating a temporality frame that could be interpreted subjectively and intimately, in relation to other tempos and other breathing circuits. 

Our anti-respiratory paradigm is gradually suffocating our sensorial awareness, with the promise that, if we wear our masks, we’ll go back to the norm, to our normal reality, where it was already impossible to breathe. If we think of the circuit of intensities and states that Guattari and Deleuze put forth, there’s really no before and after, but a continuum of exhalations and inhalations that are clearly informing us, as we lose touch with our intimate rhythm and vital subjectivity, about our psycho-social condition. The political and economic paradigm that insists on sustaining its “rhythm” generated by the politics of isolation, that leads us more and more to the terrors of an egotistic individuality and self-absorption, structural violence and inequalities regarding racism, class and gender, labor exploitation, ignorance and ecological abuse, and the ever omnipresent media garbage, promoting a frightening state that is not only asphyxiating but overtly anti-contact, anti-touch, irrevocably reveals itself by lifting its veil and showing us a structure that only works as it subtracts our breath, our air. But, in exchange of what? This is the essential ideological trade model, the effect of semiocapital’s power, as Berardi would put it. 

It is essential to feel and probably even think through the body’s agency and information, and only from there, to try to pierce into social, political and cultural fields in order to interpret and affect the model through different semiotic possibilities. To find the localities of our rhythmic patterns and think about these drives and flows—where do they come from and why? We could even differentiate and intervene with the circuits where our subjectivities are oscillating. Berardi talks about the word conspiration, which means breathing together, but I like the evolution of its meaning, the idea of a secret agreement, a plan. The agreement to observe the unseen, the hidden strokes and traces of our bodies’ intimate breathing.

I celebrate the circuits that produce new respiratory paradigms and that can tune-into frequencies of possibility in order to sustain other vibratory articulations and even produce echoes and resonance in other bodies, traversing to other respiratory fields: the poetic-political actions, the re-articulation of human rights movements fighting gender and racial violence, alternative study groups and feminist collectives, spaces for social and artistic experimentation; but above all I celebrate the complicities of friendship and rhythmic solidarity that are opening new routes based on open-ended, perhaps unfinished principles but that are able to articulate respiratory variations and multiplicities, creating a synchronicity that is possible because it is open to semiotic mystery, producing subjects that experiment themselves in-relation. 

Caterina Barbieri, Fantas, 2019.

References:

 Patrick Farmer: Azimuth, The Ecology of an Ear. SARU, 2019.

 Franco “Bifo” Berardi: Breathing: Chaos and Poetry, Semiotext(e), 2018.

 Los Tres Iniciados: The Kybalion of Hermes Trismegisto, Editorial EDAF, 1978. 

 Rosi Braidotti: The Posthuman, Polity Press, 2013.

William Duckworth, Richard Fleming: Sound and Light: La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela, Bucknell University Press, 2012.

Lucía Hinojosa

Thomas Martin Nutt

DETACHMENT / TOLERANCE

we exist neither for one thing

or for the other

but to prepare the way

Ronald Johnson. ARK 75, ARCHES IX

 

Event scores (also known as text scores or verbal scores) are usually brief, usually text instructions for creative action. This could be subtle or vivid. They were central to the Fluxus method, such as one could be defined, from the late 1950s, and through the 1960s and 70s. Their variety defines their intangible actuality. I framed lockdown by familiarising myself with Fluxus largely through active participation with these event scores. I didn’t anticipate that it would unfold like this.

Ontologically speaking, is there anything to be gleaned by actualising Fluxus Event Scores alone, at home, in lockdown?! Allan Kaprow wrote about the ‘poignancy’ of non-theatrical performance being contextualised in an ‘ongoing world, undisturbed and hardly caring.’ Considering the indifferent nature of a viral pandemic this sentiment took on a new significance. We didn’t anticipate that it would unfold like this.

PLURALITY

In 1958, around the time of Fluxus’ inception, psychiatrist Klaus Conrad coined the term ‘apophenia’ to describe a tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things. At its extreme this might manifest in a belief in fallacies familiar to gamblers or conspiratorially minded people. So called mild cases of ‘apophenia’ are not a disorder, but a part of the human condition and are even woven into our cultural fabric. For example, we are likely familiar with the ‘man in the moon’ to explain the geographic features visible on the moon’s surface, but if you were raised in East Asia, you’ll probably be more familiar with the ‘rabbit pounding rice cakes.’

In 1963 Fluxus’ first major publication, An Anthology of Chance Operations, formalised a blurring of the boundaries between poetry, music and dance, that a burgeoning of Fluxus events and performances had previously inaugurated. The Duchampian notion of the viewer completing the work of the artist was interrupted by performers simultaneously extending the scope of the artist, and the role of the viewer. It became possible to hold multiple vantage points at the same time – composer, performer and listener. The externalised cognitive processes of considering a text score, while listening to an actualisation invited new shared experiences, different to that of the hitherto formalised relationship of a distal audience enjoying the final aesthetic of an artist’s labour and their genius, or their sensibility. 

EXISTENCE

Words are different to actions. A text score might be opaque. Similarly, an actualisation might be oblique. Both can be enjoyed at face value. To present the score and the actualisation together is to invite the viewer to triangulate on a directed territory of meaning. The more people observe something, the more perspectives are invited and therefore the more equally relevant interpretations – separate, overlapping or layered – can be expected. Our private conscious experiences are exposed as multi nodal interpretations of an event, a moment in time and/or a place – similar to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s anthropomorphic Noosphere or Jakob von Uexküll’s more inclusive Umwelt. We are invited to encounters with the composer, encounters with the performer, encounters with the environment and encounters with ourselves, ineffably unfolding before our very eyes and ears. A complex of connections and a myriad of relations is unveiled. There is no outside-text score.

REGRESS

Questions regarding plurality of meaning were common place in the 1960s. In 1967’s Death of the Author, Roland Barthes proposed that, “to give a text an author”, thus assigning a single, corresponding interpretation to it, was to impose a limit on that text.” His assertion was that the essential meaning of a work depends more on the impressions of the reader, as opposed to the “passions” or “tastes” of the writer. He noted, “a text’s unity lies not in its origins, but in its destination.”

Language that is susceptible to different, perhaps even incompatible interpretations might suggest an asymmetry between audiences. The language to explain the phenomenon requires a language to explain it. Infinite explanations on how to read the explanations; of how to read the score, and further explanations about how an actualisation was rendered may be required. As such, we draw maps to navigate maps with legends to explain their legends. But rules for interpreting rules provide little help because they themselves can be interpreted in different ways. In Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein noted that “any interpretation still hangs in the air along with what it interprets, and cannot give it any support. Interpretations by themselves do not determine meaning.” 

We are reminded of the anecdote about a person who, upon being asked to clarify on what the tortoise stood, if their assertion that the world stood on the back of a giant tortoise were true, rebuffed, ‘My dear, it’s no good asking, it’s tortoises all the way down.’

AMBIGUITY

Anne Carson notes in If Not Winter, her complete translation of the incomplete fragments of Sappho, that the poet was complemented on her talent for using the impossible gracefully while simultaneously being criticised for flattering the ear shamefully. A tension between sympathies seems inherent to language. 

Ambiguities are debated and contended, perhaps now more than ever. We are prone to defend our understanding as to question our assumptions is to destabilise us. People’s arguments are often hobbled by a tacit faith in an oversimplified understanding of the principal of bivalence. In most cases this becomes conflated with good and bad, or more problematically with right and wrong. 

Not everything is polyvalent in character, but during the 1960s, post-structuralist thinkers were trying to leverage apart troublesome semantic binaries which at their extreme were exposed as problematic. It was suggested that there could be a wholeness to binaries that is greater than the sum of the two separate but related extremities. The echos of these considerations are still audible. 

Sidestepping the debate about whether maths was created or discovered, floating point numbers opened a window onto the infinity between 0 and 1. There are areas of life that suggest a greater resolution of meaning could satisfy our sympathies, if only our understanding could resolve in tandem. 

DEFINITION

Lexicographers engage in a form of field recording. Dictionaries are essential to communal sense making. The complexities inherent to defining terms can be  demonstrated where The Oxford English Dictionary currently lists two definitions for the noun, ‘definition’, while the Merriam Webster lists four. 

Etymologically, the Latin dēfīnīre meant ‘to mark out the boundaries of something and while the meaning of that core verb remains, the boundary defined bydefinition’ has been redrawn. The Latin dēfīnīre shares a root with the verb ‘finish’ (Latin fīnīre)- ‘to put and end to or, bring to a close’. From Latin, through Anglo-French and Middle English to its current form, ‘definition’ continues to metamorphose, to be defined, not away from its original meaning, but outward from it, drawing and redrawing the limitations of its boundary line, and discovering its definition.

TRANSLATION

We use tools to make our tools. We think about thinking and we describe language. We are continually circling in on the illusive central tenet of our arguments in a universe where angular motion is an intrinsic property. Meaning is still available in the warped beauty of poorly translated English on cheap t-shirts and ¥100 stationary. It works greatly in every scene including outdoor. All over the physical iconic power, even the world is eminent. You are freer than whether to use with what kind of use. Yesterday, today and probably tomorrow, today is today too. As Jim Jarmusch notes in Patterson, “Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.”

POETRY

All words are metaphorical territories with their denotative meaning being situated somewhat centrally while sounds, connotation, associations and affect demarcate an amorphous field. The boundaries can be breached and the field trespassed upon to varying degrees of pleasure (and its opposites).

Listening to children form language, we remember how sound coalesces and is moulded around meaning. Depending on our exposure to certain experiences, these semantic mouldings develop at different stages in our maturation. Language is sculptural. Meaning is malleable and our sensibilities determine whether or not ours are apt to harden, or if they relain pliable. Poets keep their clay warm.

POSTMODERNISM

Philosophy, science and art are emergent properties of life that mirror reality and attempt to explain experience. All aim to understand and represent. Language is a tool that binds them and explains their connections. In Philosophy and Desire, Alain Badiou posits that postmodernism “…installs philosophical thought at the periphery of art, and proposes an untotalizable mixture of the conceptual method of philosophy and the sense-orientated enterprise of art.” We might share some of Badiou’s concerns about postmodernism, but if philosophical thought is installed within the sense making fields of art (hasn’t it always been?), it must be portable, and it is pessimistic to suppose that it isn’t similarly installed elsewhere, in other sense making fields – including its own thriving philosophical lineage. 

We all share the same stable foundations. When approached with intellectual honesty, philosophy, science and art ultimately contribute towards the same sense making project. A syncretic erasing of what we might consider as departmental horizons can be beneficial to discovering meaning through a shared pursuit. Questions towards meaning can compliment classical questions of truth. As physicist David Deutsch notes, “That the truth consists of hard-to-vary assertions about reality is the most important fact about the physical world. It is a fact that is itself unseen, yet impossible to vary.” 

CERTAINTY

Certainty of meaning is sought in reference literature. Nuance is avoided in manuals. As text scores similarly employ language to communicate what an actualisation should entail, abstraction seems antithetical to the straight semantic representation one might assume is essential. After all, a score is usually thought of as instructions where effectiveness is measured by their clarity. Simplicity of language can be a means to reduce the error of misunderstanding. Paradoxically, an economy in text can broaden the interpretative range. A score written using the more established format of semiotic pitch marks on a stave is similarly open to uncertainty. Wittgenstein noted that “There is a gulf between an order and its execution. It has to be filled by the act of understanding. Only the act of understanding can mean that we are to do THIS. The order – why that is nothing but sounds, ink marks.” 

MEANING

Perhaps the most obvious of the pandemic’s many paradoxes is that we are being asked to participate by not doing things. There is an urgency in non-participation. Seemingly innocent activities have taken on new and sometimes threatening connotations. To shake hands has been one of the first such actions to undergo a stress test. It’s not hard to imagine that shaking hands might become synonymous with pre-covid insouciance. Meaning is reformed under different conditions.

As such, a text continues to evolve.Poets and writers whom I admire, using the accepted lexicon of their age, have left unsavoury traces in their work. Sylvia Plath. Wallace Stevens. Roland Barthes’ clumsy otherness that permeates Empire of Signs. How many others might there be? Terms can spoil the passages around them. As Barthes understood, every work is “eternally written here and now” with each reading, because the “origin” of meaning lies exclusively in “language itself” and its impressions on the reader. We understand how language personifies a collective mind and embodies the sympathetic resonance of a collective heart. 

PRECISION

Like the strings of a piano, our sense making apparatuses are not always set in unison. We may be vulnerable to slippage that necessitates calibration. But even tunings change over time. We now understand that the fundamental frequency of A is 440 Hz. But A has not always been defined in this way. In his 2018 installation Continuum, Ryoji Ikeda utilised the work of philologist Alexander John Ellis; tracking the drift of A from 1715 to the present day. 

The tuning fork was invented in 1711 by English lutenist to the court, John Shore. At that time his  tuning fork registered A at 419.9 Hz. Even as late as 1879, a Steinway and Sons tuning fork registered A at 457.2 Hz. It wasn’t until 1955 that The International Organisation of Standardisation declared the concert tuning of A, or ISO 16 to be 440 Hz. This surprising fact might be matched when we consider that in Europe there is still some dispute between the period instrument movement and baroque and classical maestros that can lead to a 4Hz variation in A. In the age of quantum precision our sensibilities can still challenge our reasoning.

SINGLUARITY

A graphic score still employs language as we have to make sense of what we are seeing by describing it. In La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #9, a black off-centre horizontal line printed on white card stock is contained in an envelope. Instructions for reading the score lexically outnumber the score itself. On the envelope is written, ‘the enclosed score is right side up when the horizontal line is slightly above centre.’ It would be possible to actualise the score without opening the envelope.

Scores usually have a latitude and a longitude, an X/Y axis suggestive of a location. If we consider that a point is mappable in space then a line is inherently time based. Thanks to our established writing system, it is natural for us to equate a movement from left to right with the passing of time. Text on a page is time based. Reading a text is performative. As such a graphic score such as Composition 1960 #9 represents something singular occurring in time. But paradoxically it is open to infinite interpretations.

PHYSICALITY

An experiential basis for our linguistic metaphors is hardly surprising. Languages are grounded in the same spatial understanding of the world that we are all subject to. Height is apparent in pitch. Low pitch tones – a drop of the shoulder, we’re feeling down or feeling low. High pitch – straightening of the back, feeling good, up at the crack of dawn to watch the sun rise. 

Our sagittal planes demarcate directional opposites. They are suggestive of place or location in space as well as time, and locate us centrally therein. Our notions of harmony tend to follow the same principals of balance. Consider the purity of a sine-wave, equal along an axis, or the beauty of the Rose Windows of Notre Dame – the symmetrical ideals of attractive features. 

When considering the suspended existence of Jellyfish, as Astrida Neimanis does in Bodies of Water, she notes that “buoyancy would have given rise to an unthinkably different metaphysics.” If only we could do away with the distractions of our bodies, to liberate existence and be as pure thought! Think of the associations we might be free to make outside of these Rorschach inkblots that define our modes of perception.

SUSPENSION

But we are living suspended existences. We are suspended in the middle of infinite continua. Time, space, sound and knowledge are just four potentially infinite continuums for which we are only partial to one small window. Between directional orientations, we are the physical boundary between up and down, forward and backwards and temporally between what came before and what will come after – our memories, our expectations. The infinite complexity of our exterior is matched by the mysteries of our interiors. Our sense making apparatuses are limited to suspended operational windows.

These central thresholds aren’t passive. They aren’t boundaries between opposing terms, as was challenged by the post-structuralists, they are more equivalent to effervescent event horizons, simultaneously drawing in matter and expelling light. Similarly the boundaries between disciplines are fertile. Like a reef, where the cool waters of ‘philosophy’s conceptual method can meet the warm waters of ‘the sense-orientated enterprise of art.’ As Jean Luc Nancy noted in his 2016 Four by Three magazine interview, “To appropriate what is outside of ourselves – bodies, exteriority – would be to strip them of their outside and thus of their independent nature, foreign to all assignment of property. It would be to appropriate the expropriation with which thought begins.”

DETACHMENT

We sense the etymology of the name Fluxus. It is a Latin verb meaning to flow. Before engaging with these text scores, I imagined flow to mean flowing past like a river. When considering the Balkanization of thought processes that is currently destabilising our communal sense making, to flow like a river seems too close to its etymological cousin, ‘rival’. I have come to suppose that flow needn’t suggest conflicting binaries – rival banks of the same stream. Thanks to this prolonged engagement with Fluxus event scores I have come to appreciate that flow is more akin to springs, flowing outward from intangible central places, to intangible thresholds elsewhere. 

Fluxus event scores expand our understanding of our relationships to a text. This may be extended indefinitely. Meaning may never be definitively decoupled from the written word. The meaning within a text is less important than the action it enkindles. The variety of Fluxus event scores and their actualisations define their intangible actuality not as a multiplicity of separatenesses but as a wholeness.

I have been considering the painting, Eukelade by Boo Saville as a better articulation of what I have been trying to say. Boo’s patient technique involves gently erasing thinly applied layers of paint to create mesmerising colour fields. At the beginning of August, Boo tweeted the following unattributed quote,

Detachment is not the absence of emotion, it is the process of becoming one with the Oneness that is the Universe. To be detached, is to realise that the fullness of all there is, is too much to react to with just one emotion, one thought, or any bias.

Thomas Martin Nutt