Sean Cubitt on Sun, 8 Mar 1998 21:35:02 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Anxious Loves (Part 2 0f 2)

growing awareness of the democracy of sounds. The struggles between
sound and image have reached no similar plateau. Here is Jean Renoir,
interviewed in 1961 by Jacques Rivette: 'Accepting dubbing means
accepting that the dialogue is not a true dialogue; it means refusing
to believe in the kind of mysterious connection between the trembling
of a voice, the expression . . . in short, it means that we have
ceased to believe in the unity of the individual' (Renoir 1989: 149).
Renoir is absolutely right: a cinema premised on the integral
individual must refuse dubbing, and probably, if it is to respect the
integrity of the world, it must refuse incidental music too. The
alternative is to start from a premise of schizophrenia as the common
state of hybrid identities whose elements are not blended or fluid but
in conflict. At issue then is not just the relation of sound to image
but more crucially still the relation between sounds as they relate to
the relations between shots, a cinema of relationships rather than

Chion argues, against Arnheim, that there is no distinct soundtrack
apart from the film as long as it cannot be heard and comprehended as
a separate entity, suggesting that even the experiments of Godard and
Duras are experiments in the dependency of sound on image, the montage
of sounds onto the image. Even sounds which receive no visual
justification, 'sounds which are called autonomous', can only derive
their autonomy 'from the absence of justification in the image . . .
[they] are appreciated in the same way as diegetic sounds, and their
non-belonging to the action is the only criterion for their being set
apart. If that is not to define sound according to criteria of
visualisation or non-visualisation, and so always in relation to the
field of the screen, what is it?' (Chion 1972: 79). This mutuality
need not, Chion makes clear, be restricted to the construction of
diegetic space in realist or classical modes. And Chion is right
again, if not of the audiovisual text, then of the audience's relation
to it: up to a certain point, audiences will compose a gestalt, a
wholeness out of even the most disparate elements. But that 'certain
point' may be the point at which the audience's sense of self
undergoes sea-change. For what we have now is a cinema which
nostalgically re-presents as whole a subjectivity which, in other
ways, is already fragmented and increasingly open. What is missing
from this part of his analysis is the audience itself, the other sound

In order to understand our relationship with the audiovisual, we have
to understand first of all the silence with which we greet them: their
lack of response to our attempts to dialogue with them; our
acquiescence in that silence as we shush our neighbours in order to
hear what will not be repeated for our benefit (not, at least, without
further payment). The first challenge of digital multimedia should be
to undo that acquiescent silence. Secondly, Chion is interested in the
creation of a virtual space in the sound cinema, and I have tried to
show how that virtuality is premised on the absence of the audience,
or at least their fictionalisation. What is missing is an art of
mutual dependency, which can only be achieved by reengineering
multimedia devices away from the lone user. If we consider a complex
sound event like carnival, with its mixture of professional and
amateur, performance and playback, amplification and direct sound,
music, talk and noise, and recognise in it the mobility of the
audience as its constitutive factor, we can perhaps begin to
understand what an audiovisual art form might be that was not anchored
to the integrated individual, and which was prepared to develop
aesthetically along the lines of social evolution. Chion is correct to
observe that within the framework of the traditional cinema, with its
screen, loudspeakers and seating, sound can only be anchored in the
image or subversive of it without ever being able to break free. The
silent audience is also sedentary: this is the price of spatialising
the virtual environments of neo-classical cinema. The challenge for
multimedia is to mobilise the audience in both physical and

The design of our machines is too definite to allow for evolution
towards that social space of mobility and sound-making. What is there
to hope for but serendipity, the primal soup of evolution? Ren=E9 Clair,
discussing the advent of the sound film in 1929, catches the
desperation and the necessity of this hope. His editor at the magazine
Pour Nous, Alexandre Arnoux, reporting on the new technology from
London, had asked whether he had participated in a second birth of
cinema, or at its death. Clair responded: 'If chance -- a few grains
of sand in the industrial machine -- does not come along to foil the
plans of the financiers of the cinema, we must place our wager on
death, or at least a long sleep that resembles it.' (Clair 1972: 129).
We look anxiously -- as anxiety is a positive thing -- towards the
digital arts to break out from the agendas of the profit motive, to
destabilise the apparent givenness of our machines, and to research
and develop a more complex interaction among our media than their
entrapment in the industrialised dialectic of desire, stasis and
mobility has produced so far: an art in which the love of sound for
image and image for sound might recognise both their infinite
separation, and their finite proximity.

Such forms are emergent in installation work, where the image is
spatialised, and in the architectural music of Xenakis, who quite
simply discovered that turning the loudspeakers outwards into the
world, rather than inwards to the individualised listener, could break
through the stasis and loneliness of listening. Frequently criticised
for the eclecticism and dispersal of his immense microtonal chords and
the distraction of his architectural use of light, Xenakis' work
exemplifies music's continuing ambition to produce beauty, even out of
the shards and fragments of  a soundscape now without unifying
principle. beyond Xenakis, other artists have engaged with the aural
in a way that his totalising music environment cannot. The local is
addressed directly in Miroslaw Rogala's 1997 interactive sound
installation Electronic Garden Naturealization, installed in a park in
Chicago renowned for its soapbox orators, with historical samples and
samples of speech from residents and local figures associated with the
free-speech movement like Studs Terkel (cf Rogala 1997). The multiple
samples are motion-activated in a skeletal pavilion, providing a
counter-soundtrack to the square's ordinary inner-city soundscape, and
to the deliberate or accidental triggering of one or many samples. By
standing close to a single loudspeaker, the words of any one sample
can be distinguished, but the piece produces also a pool of sound, a
fountain of human babble, whose elements perform a kind of local and
utopian freedom.

On a far different scale is Knowbotic Research's Anonymous Muttering
of 1996, another outdoor, open-cage structure, this time linking
lights and multiple speakers to sound-generators triggered by a
combination of movement within the structure and net interventions.
The openness to the environment and the interaction with other people
it shares with Rogala's piece. But the net connections give it another
dimension, a geographical sense of the particularity of the space one
occupies here and now, and its place on the edge of a vaster,
inhumanly-scaled activity of communication on a planetary scale. The
intense engagement with the local material experience, the necessity
of interacting with others, the refusal of closure, architectural or
temporal, and the sense of connectivity too in Mutterings suggest ways
out of the organicist impasse of the total artwork, whether it be the
colonial ambitions of music, or the controlled environments of
Universal Studio Tours. The history of cinema, as the experimental
ground of multimedia, has been one of displacements, most of all the
displacement of inter- and intrasubjective dialectics onto the time
and the space of the screen. As we learn to live with our own
fragmentation, the necessity of endlessly reproducing new symbolic
formations of unity is gone, and we can perhaps return to explorations
of the real.

Until multimedia make a radical break with the older audiovisual
media, they will be unable to escape their hierarchies and teach us
new ways to be social. The alternative is the 'ride' movie, the
accentuated form of spectacular and near-zero-narrative films used in
adventure rides and IMAX spectaculars, in which the worst aspects of
the artificially-resolved dialectic of sound and image will continue
to reinforce a hyperindividuated subject for accelerated capital,
afraid to love and in flight from death -- the anxious subjects of the
denial of reality. Our anxious loves must be enacted in the relations
between sounds, and between sounds in their relation to images. The
day of the image may also be over, as we lose the anxiety that ties us
to the endless dialectics of indexicality and representation,
discovering that the purposes of culture are not to give us objects
and accounts of objects, but relationships with others. Indeed, the
most impressive works of the present are more interested in light than
images: one imagines an art composed of colours, digitally fragmenting
and recombining, in the same democracy that music has fought and
fights for.  Only then can multimedia take up the utopian task for
which we have invented them.


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=46ilms, Oxford University Press,New York, reprinted by Athlone Press,
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projects, trad   Sylviane Moss=E9 et Andr=E9e Robel, Cahiers du
Cin=E9ma/10:18, Paris.

Sean Cubitt
Screen Studies
Liverpool John Moores University
Dean Walters Building
St James Road
Liverpool L1 7BR
T: 44 (0)151 231 5030
=46: 44 (0)151 231 5049

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