“Online Sound and Virtual Architecture (Contribution to the geography of cultural translation)” presented by Cubitt


Presentation Title:

  • Online Sound and Virtual Architecture (Contribution to the geography of cultural translation)



  • Abstract

    Long Paper

    The aesthetic heart of the debates on internet communication concern the two architectural models, proposed in the terms highway and web. At its crudest, the debate comes down, in a global info-ecology, to delivery versus dialogue. For both, the issue arises of translation: in and out of English, of course, hegemonic tongue of the net; but also at a deeper level, of translation between cultures –between artistic and technological, atheist and Islamic, whatever. I want to argue that this is possibly the single most fruitful challenge faced in interface and communications design, and that it is in artists laboratories that the real work is being done. The use of sound, repressed partner in most areas of audiovisual space, is a particularly fruitful place to start thinking about art at the interface. The idea of online soundscape is being split between A] communicative, instrumental use of voice to deliver data (telephony: talk, you listen; turn-taking) B] musicalized sound in a tradition stretching back through Stockhausen and Cage to Russolo, music as incidental background or organization of time. So the divisions of the soundscape into instruction and mood-enhancer are part of its subordination to the textual-visual. What I want to do in this paper is to point towards some emergent practices among online musicians, among sound and radio artists, film recordists and aestheticians — which may have lessons for us in how to explore the multidimensionality of sound. The reliance on the visual for interfacing is extremely limiting, especially in the form of the one-on-one, personalized and individuated screen: sound offers the possibilities for large-scale and SOCIAL interfaces, collaborative practices which occupy a space between what we currently have and the possibilities which constitute any possible future. Here the notions of architectures and geographies of sound are useful: how to inhabit, move through and share n-dimensional spaces created in sound. Reversing (deconstructing) the filmic relation between sound and image makes possible a genuinely new media formation.


    The unit of humanity is the community. Anything human is communal, whether it be a village, a society or the global complex in which we find ourselves today. We are born not only prematurely, but incompletely, our presumably genetic disposition to language and mentation (reason, emotion and so on) is a disposition to commune. Steven Pinker explains that ‘Rather than selecting for a completely innate grammar, which would soon fall out of register with everyone else’s, evolution may have given children an ability to learn the variable parts of language as a way of synchronizing their grammars with that of the community’ (Pinker 1994: 243), offering as example, the babbling stage of acquiring speech, during which babies ‘must be sorting sounds directly, somehow tuning their speech analysis module to deliver the phonemes
    used in their language’ (Ibid: 265). The peculiar bias of cognitive psychology towards individuals – a concentration on the brain (even extended through the nervous system to the whole body) – necessarily correlates with an ideology of individualism. But the same evidence can lead to
    an opposite conclusion: that the function of the language instinct is precisely to socialize the species.

PDF Document: