Sonic Somatic

Published at the end of last year, Christof Migone's Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body is a scrupulous exploration that casts a fresh gaze at the sphere of contemporary art centred on sound.

Christof Migone, Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body , Errant Bodies Publishing , Berlin 2012 (pp. 296; €21,00)

Published at the end of last year by Errant Bodies, Christof Migone's Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body is a scrupulous exploration that casts a fresh gaze at the sphere of contemporary art centred on sound.

The embodiment of Informe and interdisciplinary by vocation, Sound Art covers a series of experiments intrinsic to acoustic phenomena and auditive perception that require active audience participation and test people's ability to understand and process the experience.

In his dissertation, the author explains the focus of his research as an artist and theorist of Sound Art in all its complexity, reviewing a broad case-history of applications/implications related to sound. His starting point is a very specific one — the body — and the boundaries are immediately traced. Sound envelopes life, it is a phenomenon that accompanies our existence and is as unavoidable as it is ineffable. Sound is born with humans and everything is punctuated by an incessant and developing rhythm. Far from that produced by Musica Universalis — part of a harmonious world and ordered by perfect mathematical proportions — sound events are now primarily somatic, desublimated and pressingly material.
Christof Migone, <em>Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body</em>, Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Top: Cover. Above: Page detail
Christof Migone, Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body , Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Top: Cover. Above: Page detail
Sonic Somatic has four chapters plus an appendix on the current condition of Sound Art, with a division criterion that is less chronological and more thematic. The title of each chapter is the product of a combination of three words, the first of which — sound — remains unchanged throughout the book. Composed like linguistic ready-mades, the titles ring-fence the conceptual sphere addressed by each chapter; equally, their shared prefix suggests a continuity that indissolubly binds the book in every part.

It begins with Soundmutesilence, in which sound is seen as an "air disturbance", a primarily physical event with the joint-participation not only of what normally is defined as such but also the whole realm of unsound, a term adopted by the author to define both silence and noise, seen as equally active concepts in the sphere of sound art.

It all originated with John Cage , way back in 1934, when he visited the anechoic chamber of Harvard University with a specific idea in mind: to listen to silence. Cage was disappointed. In a state of total isolation and concentration, the American composer caught himself listening to the sound of his nervous and circulatory systems at work. The result was a realisation that absolute silence is impossible to find. This episode constituted a crucial moment in the evolution of Sound Art, an event in which silence and emptiness become noise and plenitude, and that has given rise to many experiments centred on this upgraded concept of silence.
Christof Migone, <em>Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body</em>, Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
Christof Migone, Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body , Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
Chapter Two — Soundbodymouth — enters more into the crux of the matter and looks at the sounds made by the body before these are organised within a consistent linguistic system. A sort of primeval cry, a sign detached from its referent but that is still significant. From the Catalysis IV performance, in which Adrian Piper wanders aimlessly through the crowd with a towel pushed into her mouth, to Marina Abramovic's Rhythm 0 , in which the artist surrends her naked body to the will of the spectators, this chapter speaks of matter become the orchestration of a silent cry expressing the sentiment of a human condition tormented by the impossibility of manifesting itself in its true essence.

The interpretational analysis is further expanded in the last two chapters, Soundtimeslanguage and Soundspacebeyond, which explore themes introduced in the previous pages. The concepts of time, language and space in relation to Sound Art are, here, probed starting from a reflection on disorders involving language, primarily those afflicting stutterers, seen as a metaphor of the somatic overcoming the intellect.
This volume is both a philosophical and theoretical investigation of one of the most complex spheres of human aesthetic expression
Christof Migone, <em>Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body</em>, Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
Christof Migone, Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body , Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
Alvin Lucier's composition I Am Sitting in a Room serves this end as the point that brings together the three elements mentioned above, which necessarily recur in every performative event. Created in 1969, the composition centres on an audio recording made over approximately 40 minutes. The artist is alone in a room with two tape recorders, a microphone and a speaker; the only sound is that of his own voice repeating exactly the same words 32 times:

"I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but, more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have".
Christof Migone, <em>Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body</em>, Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
Christof Migone, Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body , Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
The artist himself indicates the aim of this performance: to smooth out his linguistic defects. The original text thus superimposed is no longer intelligible but the general meaning is magnified as what was a simple statement has evolved into a piece of melody. The shift from the prosaic to the musical register enables the artist to question the current concept of place. Normally considered inert, the mere surroundings in which an event occurs, the place then becomes an active and indispensable player in achieving the purpose of the performance. Alvin Lucier is one of the first artists in the history of Sound Art to evaluate the acoustic properties of architecture and explore its limits with different expedients.
Christof Migone, <em>Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body</em>, Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
Christof Migone, Sonic Somatic: Performance of the Unsound body , Errant Bodies Publishing, Berlin 2012. Page detail
Sonic Somatic is both a philosophical and theoretical investigation of one of the most complex spheres of human aesthetic expression. Determined by the fact that he is a Sound Art artist, critic and curator, Migone's speculative method develops simultaneously on several fronts, drawing in manifestations that only marginally have to do with its sphere of investigation. The pluralist positions are, nonetheless, carried forward with great consistency and method. Conscious of the fact that the sonic does not lend itself to easy categorisation or narrow schematisation, the author bases his examination of it on the empirical form of the phenomenon before then reaching an ontological conclusion. Silvana Fiorese

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