Some images from Saturday afternoon, July 4th: David Stalling, Anthony Kelly, Mick O’Shea and Danny McCarthy surrounded by Canova’s casts of classical statuary in the Vatican collection (a feature of Cork cultural life since Lord Listowel intervened on the burgeoning commercial city’s behalf in 1822).

I jotted down some notes on the day and have appended them to this post.

All photos, again, by Irene Murphy.

The Dead Christ is by John Hogan.

Between a drunken faun and two models of female purity, Danny McCarthy.

Soundcast 4/7: notes

Materiality of meaning

The space between the classical statuary is filled with manipulable sound. It flows and shifts and alters our sense of the object – in the same way verbal or other meaning would ordinarily emanate from the statues. The four ‘engineers’ manipulate the changing field of ‘meaning’ in which the statues appear.

Evocation / summoning

The wash of sound – which doesn’t really have a shape and therefore has to begin and end in such a way as to give a sense of emergence or recession – an always present background noise being brought to perception – i.e. arbitrarily but never abrupt – has, as art, a sense of ‘evoking’ something – creating a field in which something might manifest itself – even prompting or rehearsing that appearance – with tappings, soundings, strokings, alarms, sudden intrusions, climaxes etc.

Concentrating and attending from the beginning as you would attend to a piece of music or performance (theatre, etc.) soon leads to a headache – there is no formality to the shaping of meaning – i.e. anticipation does not lead to resolution – in fact, anticipation at any particular moment is pointless as there is nothing in particular of which this is an anticipatory part. In other words, the mode of attention is one of slight distraction as one is immersed in a changing but unitary cloud – it simply ‘moves about’ as time changes.

In another sense, however, the whole thing is anticipatory, but ‘of course’ nothing arrives. But this is neither Godot nor post-structuralism’s endless deferral. It is related to technology – and perhaps horror films. Evocation again: it has a ritualistic aspect – the technological environment suggests meanings by its aesthetic dimension that are separate from its use value, which is what technology is purely supposed to consist of (ignoring commercial design, which is either stripped away here by the artists’ DIY gutting and reconstruction or by the out-datedness of the design). There is an intimation that some unknown affair must exist in this environment, something to which the aesthetic surplus corresponds. The aesthetics of the utilitarian ‘evoke’ some kind of presence, some immanent meaning (this brought to the fore by the statuary). Which is where the non-arrival of a transcendent meaning comes in – and the materiality of this meaning. Such a ‘presence’ of the excess has no place within the rationalistic horizons projected by the technological. We are left with a material event, but one in which we cannot discount the emergence of extra-material meaning either. The fantastic space of the horror film (or negative science fiction) short-circuits this tension – it jumps to a real scenario where technological advance precipitates an encounter with an alien or a monster – issuing from a pit, a prehistoric monument, outer space or the depths of a radioactive ocean. It is appropriate that the London poet Seán Bonney should be hosting a screening of Quatermass and the Pit on Tuesday night (Films in the Mezz, the National Sculpture Factory’s contribution to The Avant).

This art, and the experience of electric-industrial society from which it issues (flourishing in the thirties and fifties?) – happens as a hinge between the complete materialism that the technologised environment suggests – including the materialisation of the human supra-material, ideational affairs that we inherit (e.g. the meanings implicit in the classical statuary) – and the meaningful excess of the technologised environment as we experience it. It ritualistically evokes something that does not arrive, but always might, and it realistically fills the residual space of meaning with material sounds, thus at the end of the history of extra-material meaning.

Aeolian Harp

Elsewhere I’ve written that sound art is a kind of Aeolian harp for the blowing through of chaotic possibilities of meaning. I don’t think that what I’m noting here is fundamentally different: I am just stressing the joint between the possibility and the meaning. This meaning is evoked by the ‘harp’ of noise and its sounding of possibility, but is not sounded itself. Instead, it always threatens to fully arrive, to achieve presence. I am also stressing how the virtual space between the statues is materialised by the ‘harp’, in such a way that it obstructs the arrival of historical meaning.


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