de l’objet incertain
de l’objet sonore
The question the sonorous object poses is: where in the continuum of sound do the limits of the object actually lie? This is because, while trying to isolate individual sounds within a sound-scape, the perceptual object can change, revealing identity one moment and the flows of duration the next. How we hear something, including which objects we identify, then depends greatly on our how we listen.
In his essay Acousmatics, Pierre Schaeffer claims it is “listening itself that becomes the origin of the phenomena to be studied,”(1) that is to say, the sonorous object is as much the listener as the sound itself. The contemporary sound object would then simply be one created by contemporary modes of listening, which are in turn created by contemporary technology. One example of this was the advent of the tape loop, where for the first time a sound could be heard again and again, which Schaeffer claimed would allow “attention to be paid to aspects of the sound possibly ignored the first time.”(2)
While it might be possible to move freely between different modes of listening–appreciating timbre one moment and rhythm the next–this cannot be done simultaneously. As Michel Chion, who greatly expanded Schaeffer’s work points out, “the descriptive inventory of a sound cannot be compiled in a single hearing. One has to listen many times over, and because of this the sound must be fixed, recorded.”(3) What tape loops revealed, was sound’s power to induce a state in the listener making them receptive to recognising particular objects. Chion called this relaxed, yet highly attentive state ‘reduced listening.’(4)
de l’objet incertain
For this piece I decided to draw on the sonic language of the ASMR genre, and Fran Reed’s work with the Buchla 200e, specifically due to their overlap with Schaeffer and Chion’s projects—albeit with a few key differences.
Both ASMR and Reed’s music are designed to induce relaxed states in the listener, but neither uses loops to do so; Reed’s music is electronically generated–it’s own form of ‘fixed’–and ASMR relies primarily on acoustic sound sources. Schaeffer claimed the identification of the source would distract from the true sonorous object, but Reed seems proud to identify her instrument, and ASMR often explicitly describes the source of the sound heard: nails tapping, paper crinkling, etc. My goal then became that of blurring the boundaries between fixed and non-fixed, electronic and acoustic, in order to open a space to explore exactly what threshold different objects emerge.
Ultimately the possibility of grasping a complete idea of the sound object, as a ‘basic ontological quanta’ of sound, is impossible; as modes of listening change the object in situ. However, as a kōan or paradox, the sound object contains an important function that forever allows the listener to reinterpret and reassemble the world.
(1) Pierre Schaeffer, “ Acousmatics, “ in Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, eds. Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004), 77.
(2) Schaeffer, Acousmatics, 78.
(3) Michel Chion, “ Three Listening Modes, “ in The Sound Studies Reader, ed. Jonathan Sterne, (London: Routledge, 2012), 50.
(4) Chion, Three Listening Modes, 51.
Jake Moore is a multi-media artist, sound designer, and composer living in Melbourne, Australia. His work deals with problems of scale and threshold, where he uses arbitrary positions to collapse overly-rigid binary perspectives.
As well as releasing and performing music under the name Obscotch, Jake has worked on a number of short films and music videos, presented talks on subjects such as Noise, Rhythm, and Entropy, and contributed both sound and sculptural work to group exhibitions and online publications.
He is currently completing a Bachelor of Fine Art at RMIT.