Immaterial and Sonic Bodies

A few hours after writing yesterday’s post, in which I mentioned Lisa Blackman’s book Immaterial Bodies, I chanced across a video of her talking about some of the ideas she writes about. It’s a happy find because I wasn’t searching for anything particularly related to the book (I was looking for a video of Philip Glass’s music on Sesame Street, if you must know!). What makes it even better is that Blackman is joined by Julian Henriques, author of Sonic Bodies.


“This talk explores two examples of immaterial communication. One is sound waves, as the energetic disturbance of a medium. The other is automaticity as the sense a person has of being directed by someone or something else, human or non-human. Popular conceptions of the immaterial suggest that the imperceptible, the invisible and the ethereal are often aligned to the occult, supernatural and haunting. Ideas about sound are associated on the one hand with embodied affects, drives, entrainment, rhythmic compulsion, as well as on the other the sublime and the ethereal. The session is presented as a dialogue between Julian Henriques’ work on sonic bodies (2011) which draws on the ways of knowing of the Jamaican reggae sound system engineers, and Lisa Blackman’s work on voice hearing, suggestion, and telepathy (2001; 2012) which draws on imaginary media such as telepathy and hypnotism at the start of the 20th century. In line with the turn to affect, the talk will purpose the idea of the immaterial for a discussion of voicing, hauntings, the virtual, atmpospheres, the subliminal, or even transliminal.”


The Sound of Emotions

Collaborators Vaughan Macefield (an Australian neuroscientist) and Canadian arist Erin Gee are working on a venture that turns electrical signals from the brain into music. While the use of biosignals and biosonification in the creation of musical performance is hardly new, this is the first work I’ve come across that uses direct recordings of nerve activity in this way. The ‘data capture’ process sounds a little more invasive and unpleasant than that used in other performances I’ve seen. Macefield’s research team:

“injects a very fine microelectrode needle into a peripheral nerve in the body that allows researchers to record electrical signals emitted from the brain. Blood flow, heart rate, sweat release and respiration levels are also recorded.”

The data is then processed and converted into a range of bell-like sounds. Gee writes of the project:

“It takes these tiny bodily physical performances that happen when one is emotional and transfers these tiny beating hearts and fluctuations in breathing and nerve activity — and amplifies it through technology.”

I first read about this in Macleans On Campus. I’d like to read something a bit more technical/detailed though, so I’m going to have a root around on the ‘net. I’ll report back later.

[Publication] Interview with Vijay Iyer: “it’s about the music, brain and the body as one big thing”

Denver Westword Blogs have just published an interview with composer, performer and scholar Vijay Iyer. Iyer writes about the cognitive science of music perception. I first came across his work when I read his essay ‘On Improvisation, Temporality, and Embodied Experience’ in Sound Unbound. This isn’t an interview for an academic publication, but despite that – or perhaps because of it – it makes a handy three-minute introduction both to Iyer’s work and to some of the wider ideas and questions behind embodied cognition of music. Check it out!

New Group: Performance Philosophy

A new professional association and international research network
for the field of Performance Philosophy.

This new association is open to all researchers concerned with the relationship between performance & philosophy. It is free to join and anyone can become a member by visiting the PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY website at


Recent years have seen an intensification of research activity examining the relationship between performance and philosophy undertaken by researchers across the disciplines, in academia and in practice, in a number of different countries. The creation of PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY responds to this activity with a kind of performative deixis which points to the existence of a new emergent field of Performance Philosophy, at the same time as it calls such a field into existence. That is, the convenors of PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY contend that what is at stake is not just a ‘turn’ or trend within the discipline of Theatre and Performance Studies – and, as such, a one-way conversation – but the emergence of Performance Philosophy as a new field in its own right involving not just Theatre and Performance researchers but researchers based in Philosophy and a wide range of other disciplines.

And this new field is entirely open. What counts as Performance Philosophy must be ceaselessly subject to redefinition in and as the work of performance philosophers. Performance Philosophy could be: the application of philosophy to the analysis of performance; the philosophy of performance and/or the performance of philosophy; the study of how philosophers and philosophical ideas have been staged in performance or how ideas and images of performance have figured in philosophy; the theoretical or practical exploration of philosophy as performance and/or as performative; and likewise, experiments emerging from the idea that performance is a kind of philosophy or thinking or theorizing in itself. But it could also be much more besides. The ambition of PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY is to support the interrogation of this ‘more’, to facilitate researchers to create and question the nature of this open field.

PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY takes an inclusive, interdisciplinary and pluralist approach to the field. The network welcomes members concerned with any aspect of or tradition within philosophy, whether from the Continental or Analytic traditions, from a focus on Eastern or Western modes of thought, or from other areas including but not limited to Theology, Critical and/or Literary Theory, Cultural Studies, phenomenology, and post/structuralism. In the same way, PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY welcomes members working with any discipline or definition of performance, including but not limited to drama, theatre, performance, dance, performance art, live art, applied theatre, music, film and new media, as well as performativity and performance in/as everyday life. The only criteria for membership and participation are an interest in the field and an openness to the breadth and variety of different approaches to Performance Philosophy that the field encompasses.

Aims and Activities

The core aims of PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY are:
·      to nurture and develop the emerging field of Performance Philosophy internationally
·      to facilitate the exchange of ideas and practices related to Performance Philosophy between international researchers including students, emerging scholars, established scholars and practitioners.

We hope to achieve these aims through a range of activities, including via our
·      website
·      mailing list
·      conferences and events
·      PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY journal (tbc) and
·      PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY book series (tbc)


PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY is structured as a network, made up of
·      self-organizing research groups, and
·      a committee of core convenors

The research groups within the network can either be geographic or institution based (eg. the Brown group) and/or thematic or based on the work of a particular performance philosopher (eg. the Deleuze, Guattari and Performance group). Any member or group of members can apply to create a new research group via the website.

The role of the convenors is to oversee the functioning of the network as a whole and to lead on the development of Performance Philosophy projects such as the journal and book series. Nominations for new convenors will be invited from the membership after 2 years (in 2014).

For further information, please see the Performance Philosophy website or contact Laura Cull: l.cull [at] surrey[dot]ac[dot]uk.

Amplified Movements

Much of my recent research has been about musical works that sample the sounds of the body.  While my study has focused largely on electroacoustic music, I’ve also gathered examples from pop music, live and performance art, installation, and dance. Earlier today I came across another such dance piece: Onde de Choc, by Ginette Laurin and O Vertigo. The work, created in 2010, uses a long wooden box as a resonator for the sounds of the dancers’ movements. Microphones are used to capture these sounds for further electronic processing. The work also draws on internal bodily sound, especially the heartbeat.

You can read more about Onde de Choc in an interview with Ginette Laurin (in The Chronicle Herald). A short preview of the piece is available on YouTube.

Similar works include Garth Paine’s Escape Velocity (which uses dancers’ movements to trigger electronic and sampled bodily sounds) and Brandon LaBelle’s Notes Toward a Sketch of a Sonic Body (which I wrote about back in September).