Sunday, April 4, 2010

that was

How different or same are recording environmental sound and taking photos, and then listening to it and looking at it respectively? The differences may be many...then what is the relevant difference?
Reading Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida, I came up with an idea that what he calls the punctum found in photos lacks in taped environmental sound. The Punctum refers to details of a photo that denaturalize itself, a kind of dissonance, something autonomous from the narrative the photo tries to deliver (which may be called the studium by him, if I understand correctly). In his book Barthes obsessively plays this game of finding such details, such as a boy's bad teeth, a girl's finger bandage, a man's crossed arms, and so on.
I can listen to the details of the environmental sound and can find them strange or funny or disturbing: I can listen to an air-conditioner generating Dm7 or my own bag hitting my back. But these do not come across as the punctum to me:these are not autonomous from the whole set of the sound-scape.
Though finding the punctum in photos is more active way of seeing than the conventional way of seeing, it may still be passive, compared with my listening to environmental sound. In my view, the punctum is not what I have to try to capture it, but what I'm inevitably captured by it. It comes across as a surprise, and in order to be surprised I have to be passive. When listening I'm more active, so the details do not come as a surprise: I have to grab them with an anticipation.
This may sound counterintuitive, since the sense of hearing is deemed less active than the sense of seeing: for instance, when I faint I first lose my sense of seeing, and then my sense of hearing. The body needs less effort to retain the sense of hearing. But, I think it is because of this, I have to be more active when listening.
I'm attracted by the punctum. It is subversive. And I'm a bit disappointed by the recorded environmental sound, because it comes across to me as too natural. There might be a trick in order to denaturalize it.
And also, I note that the recorded environmental sound has no strong studium: for instance, I cannot distinguish the sound of the beach in Tokyo from the one of the other beach in, for example, De Haan, unless I can hear the language the people speak. Of course, there are sounds that show the characteristics of a certain city. But, generally speaking, the studium is weaker in the environmental sound than in photos.
Having said that, I like the subtlety of the environmental sound, even though the tension between the subversiveness of the punctum and the platitudes of the studium is much weaker in the environmental sound. Therefore I oscillate between the sense of hearing and the sense of seeing: between the subtlety and the subversiveness.
The sound is not chatty, but the silence is. As Jacques Rancière puts it:
But the semiologist who read the encoded message of images and the theoretician of the punctum of the wordless image base themselves on the same principle: a principle of reversible equivalence between the silence of images and what they say. The former demonstrated that the image was in fact a vehicle for a silent discourse which he endeavoured to translate into sentences. The latter tells us that the image speaks to us precisely when it is silent, when it no longer transmits any message to us. Both conceive the image as speech which holds its tongue. The former made its silence speak; the latter makes this silence the abolition of all chatter. But both play on the same inter-convertibility between two potentialities of the image: the image as raw, material presence and the image as discourse encoding a history (The Future of the Image, p.11).
The oscillation between "the image as raw, material presence and the image as discourse encoding a history" interests me. My problem has been that, if I only work with the sense of hearing, I cannot express this oscillation. I want to deal with the studium "as discourse encoding a history," even though I was trained to deal with the sense of hearing.

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