Re: Immersive soundscapes and theory

Subject: Re: Immersive soundscapes and theory
From: Eliot Handelman (
Date: Tue Oct 26 2004 - 13:34:33 EDT

andrea cornell wrote:

>Hello to all the peoples of the list!
>I am in need of some aid....
>I wish to locate theoretical texts that discuss issues
>of immersive sonic environments, or more broadly,
>immersive artistic practices/experiments. As I am
>mock-curaing an art exhibit that revolves around
>immersive sonic environments, some of which are
>interactive, and I need a theoretical or historical
>foundation for my critical analysis of these works
>that i am mock-curating.
The word "immersion" means "to plunge into," and may or may not have a
connotation: it certainly evokes the Berlitz method. As applied to music
it should mean,
I think, something much more than surround sound -- it should indicate a
kind of
involvement that is brought about in the listener. In particular immersion
connotes for me perceptual adaptations -- which you could think loosely
of as a
kind of localized reorganization of data pathways in the brain. The
model for this
is, or relates to, VR, so you could see whether Michael Helms has said
you find relevant (he thought that Leibniz provided the relevant
intellectual crutch
through Leibniz and monads). You could also see whether Brenda Laurel's VR
theater book still seems to be saying anything at all worth thinking
about. From that
period -- early 90s -- I attempted to theorize immersion through
psychiatry and
schizophrenia, but in part that may have been a way of rteproaching the
of feminist cyborg theory. At that tiome I felt Kristeva's conecpt of
the "semiotic" --
which she uses in a rather special way, not to be confused with the
Umberto Eco way --
tied to ideas like Mallarme's posit of rhythm as a space wherein a
subject is created and
negated. I felt that post pavlovian psychologists such as Evgeny Sokolov
were doing
a much better job at proividing a theortical model of how this could
come about
through habituation of the orienting relex.
Ryoji Ikeda's music is a good contemporary specimen of "immersive" music
-- it
has to do with the effect of sound on the mind and body, if only to create
interaural beats and other such effects as have been rigorously explored by
Maryanne Amacher, who has created truly immersive environments.

Many things are called to mind, but I'm not sure whether I have the
energy to unfold them
just at present. It's critical, however, if you intend to use the word
in some powerful way,
that you make a very sharp distinction between that way and "surround
sound" -- a
simplistic living room utoipia descended from mid 60s consumer
fetishism. Consider,
for instance, the distinction between being "immersed in music" and
"immersed in
sound." The first reflects my own engagement -- my active involvement.
I can
be immersed without hearing a thing. The second just describes a speaker
setup which we
all experienced that time when we mistakenly were let into a disco
playing a loud version
of "I'm your honeybee." They later threw us out when they heard that we
were studying
12-tone music.

On the other hand, there is also a notion of the "sonic envelope" -- a
lacanian-style idea
which someone whose name I never remember recently wrote about. I never
remember his name
because his book was stolen right out of my car! This "envelope" is like
a womb made of
sound and thus offers many "hmms" and "please go ons." You might try
qurying the emacs
doctor for more on this subject.

-- eliot


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