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The Tone of Our Times

The Tone of Our Times: Sound, Sense, Economy, and Ecology

Frances Dyson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Tone of Our Times
    Book Description:

    In this wide-ranging book, Frances Dyson examines the role of sound in the development of economic and ecological systems that are today in crisis. Connecting early theories of harmony, cosmology, and theological doctrine to contemporary media and governance, Dyson uses sound, tone, music, voice, and noise as forms of sonority through which the crises of "eco" can be read. The sonic environment, Dyson argues, is fundamental to both sense and sensibility, and its delimitation has contributed to the "senselessness" of a world now caught between spiraling debt and environmental degradation. Dyson draws on scenes, historical moments, artworks, and artistic and theoretical practice to situate the reverberative atmosphere that surrounds and sustains us. From Pythagoras's hammer and the transmutation of music into mathematics, to John Cage's famous experience in the anechoic chamber, to the relocation of the stock market from the street to the computer screen, to Occupy Wall Street's "people's microphone": Dyson finds policies and practices of exclusion. The sound of Pythagoras's forge and the rabble of the market have been muted, rearticulated, and transformed, Dyson argues, through the monotones of media, the racket of financialization, and the gibberish of political speech. Informed by contemporary sound art, philosophy, media and sociopolitical theory,The Tone of Our Timesoffers insights into present crises that are relevant to a broader understanding of how space, the aural, and listening have shaped and continue to shape the world we live in.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32058-0
    Subjects: Technology, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Roger F. Malina

    Leonardo, the International Society for the Arts, Sciences, and Technology, and the affiliated French organization Association Leonardo have some very simple goals:

    1. To advocate, document, and make known the work of artists, researchers, and scholars developing the new ways that the contemporary arts interact with science, technology, and society.

    2. To create a forum and meeting places where artists, scientists, and engineers can meet, exchange ideas, and, where appropriate, collaborate.

    3. To contribute, through the interaction of the arts and sciences, to the creation of the new culture that will be needed to transition to a sustainable planetary society....

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Cents and sense, eco and echo: these homonyms offer sonorous coincidences that nonetheless indicate a common denomination, a “golden rule,” that, when elaborated, would show a more than coincidental relationship between things that we know as “money” and all of the meanings of “sense,”¹ between the two popular meanings of “eco”—ecology and economy; and between space, resonance² (as it’s generally understood), and sound. The fact that their integration seems coincidental shows just how deeply the connection between space, sense, and eco (meaning the management of a home and “ecology”)³ has been smothered under centuries of de-coupling, abstracting, separating what...

  6. 1 Endless Praise and Sweet Dissonance
    (pp. 19-32)

    In demarcating sound and the voice from vision, Nancy uses the term evocation:

    We should say that music [or even sound in general] is not exactly a phenomenon: that is to say, it does not stem from a logic of manifestation. It stems from a different logic, which would have to be called evocation. … Evocation: a call and, in the call, breath, exhalation, inspiration and expiration. … What comes first not the idea of “naming,” but that of a pressure, an impulsion. (Nancy 2007, 20)

    Evocation is a call, a summons, to the gods in Roman times, to the...

  7. 2 Acclamation
    (pp. 33-46)

    The paradox of glory, according to Agamben, is that, as integral to God’s being as it is, glory can neither be increased nor diminished, yet glorification through praise is what all creatures owe to God and what he demands from them. “From this paradox follows another one, which theology pretends to present as the resolution of the former: glory, the hymn of praise that creatures owe to God, in reality derives from the very glory of God; it is nothing but the necessary response, almost the echo that the glory of God awakens in them” (Agamben 2011, 21). The problem...

  8. 3 Infinite—Noise
    (pp. 47-68)

    As we have seen, dissonance, or “noise” in music, was a necessary although not always welcome component of the celestial harmony that liturgy enacted. However, there is another sense in which noise, dissonance, and discord contribute to the liturgical function in recent history. Although liturgy seems to have become less popular in worship, Kantorowicz points to an unexpected rise in the 1920s, revived by “theologians and musicologists at precisely the moment in which the European political scene was dominated by the emergence of totalitarian regimes.” (Agamben 2011, 196). This revival also coincided with the reemergence of Pythagorean cosmology in theosophy...

  9. 4 Disaffected Voices
    (pp. 69-92)

    The big bang not only announced that the universe erupted from noise, but its adoption as a quasi–tongue-in-cheek term became the rallying cry of twentieth-century moderns: “God is dead.”¹ The mathematization of music, the musicalization of sound, and the aestheticization of noise could, at one level, offer examples of the desacralization of the divine and the end of acclamation. There can be no devotion to the big bang because its onomatopoeic name and association with noise already foreclose the possibility that it could take the place of what used to be called the cosmos. But we could also pose...

  10. 5 Resonance, Anechoica, and Noisy Speech
    (pp. 93-116)

    Badiou’s ontology inserts a “decision” in place of the cosmos, or pure multiplicity, that might see power drift into the ether of virtuality.¹ The decision is ideological, and ideology, as Žižek explains, “exploits the minimal distance between a simple collection of elements and the different sets that form part of this collection” (Hallward 2003, 90). The organizational aspect of ideology results in a “structural repression of that part which … having no discernible members of its own, is effectively ‘void’ in the situation” (ibid., 89). In elaborating the role of ideology in Badiou’s ontology, Hallward uses the example of music...

  11. 6 The Racket
    (pp. 117-140)

    Previously I have argued that John Cage essentially had to adopt the position of the cyborg in order to hear sounds in themselves and that this pattern has been repeated via the use of audio technology by sound artists and theorists, who, I argued, developed “electronic ears” in order to make the inaudible audible.¹ Here I want to look at the environment required to hear sounds in themselves: the silence that needs to be imposed and the relationship that silence has to present political, physical, and social configurations. Let us return to this moment, in 1952, when Cage entered an...

  12. Conclusion: Echoes of Eco
    (pp. 141-156)

    As a way of highlighting some of the themes and questions raised in this book, let me return to sound poetry, experimental music, and sound art, considered in the broader network of technology, economy, space, sense, and resistance within which Stewart’s voice-that-is-not-a-voice, resounds. First, recall that in her noise works, Stewart eviscerates the voice in order to relieve it (her) of the burden of subjectivity; second, this de-centered subject forms part of an ensemble that is noninstitutionalized; third, the democratic ethos that Stewart and other improvisers uphold is in part realized via computer technology, which provides a focus and an...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 157-180)
  14. References
    (pp. 181-188)
  15. Index
    (pp. 189-196)