In blind sight. On new media and sound | GIOVANNI TUSA

The «potentia» as a potentiality that creates a common space interwoven with
«the plural-oneness» is radically distinct from the «potestas» as a logic of power.

Christine Buci-Glucksmann



Sound, space

The French architect and philosopher Paul Virilio remarks the fact that new technologies detach the present from its ‘here and now’, opposing the real time of telecommunications not to the past, but to the very actuality of the present: a “commutative elsewhere”[1] that is not more our present, actual location, but an intermittent telepresence, and the limits of what he calls “horizons of visibility” are just a matter of light, of relative intensity of speed. Our horizon shifted from our naked eye’s sight to what is perceptible electronically at the speed of light.

In his monumental work on modern ocularcentrism, Martin Jay has surveyed the dominance of the eyes in Western religious and philosophical traditions, especially during the Enlightenment and its aftermath: modernity is seen as totally visual, and from Renaissance, perspective has been used in painting as a technique able to organize thought and perception along linear lines. Marshall McLuhan argued that this habit of organizing the world in a sequential fashion is related to print technologies and print culture, and that it is the way of perceiving which characterizes what he called the ‘visual self’, who lives in a visual space

A space where different objects, seen as isolated points, cannot be superimposed, they are systematized by a subject, which organizes reality in perspective, along a progressive line, given the fact that, for McLuhan, after the great Greek oral tradition, Western civilization has elaborated a picture of the universe as a limited container in which all things are arranged according to the vanishing point, in linear geometric order.[2]

In McLuhan’s opinion, the emergence of electronic media is causing a shift in contemporary perception of reality, removing the visual’s hegemony and giving way to an immersive experience in which the aural senses would play a central role in shaping our perceptive experience; a new ‘acoustic space’ contrasts with the visual space organized by an objective coordinate grid that simultaneously produces an apparently coherent individual subject who maintains control over a unique point of view.

On the contrary, Eric Davis proposes, “acoustic space is capable of simultaneity, superimposition, and nonlinearity, but above all, it resonates. ‘Resonance’ can be seen as a form of causality, of course, but its causality is very different than that associated with visual space, because resonance allows things to respond to each other in a nonlinear fashion”[3]. This simultaneity of events, rather than being an organic totality organized by a subject, is a ephemeral combination of perceptions that occur at the same moment, “our thoughts and perceptions can tend towards this simultaneity: we sense many things at once, and combine them into a coherent if fragmentary whole.”[4]

The organization of space has always been strongly related to the visual; and in particular, architectural space was always strongly connected to the idea of visual planning: modernity is seen as totally visual; and space, in this ‘Cartesian paradigm’, is an optical fixed plane of coordinates, a grid observed and planned from a sort of ‘helicopter’, but the fact that it is connected to sound is as evident as saying that is associated to light and vision. Sound contaminates space and architectural organization with temporality; it modifies our sensation of our place within time, ‘here and now’, and sets up temporal structures and processes that dynamically affect how we perceive the present.

In the last years many projects explored the acoustic dimension of spaces augmented by digital information: spaces that interact with the environment in real time, ephemeral structures which change ceaselessly, allowing different forms of assembling, contributing, intervening, perceiving. Acoustic space, being capable of simultaneity and nonlinearity maintains the paradox of the simultaneous differences that not are not just pacified into a consonance, an organic unity, and it proliferates, making the space an event of continuous variation, a continuous process of de-territorialization, of changing, a sort of multilinear system, where everything takes place at once, which changes interactively in relation to use and to external influences, permeated by temporality, momentary assemblage.

For many of these project has been used the general definition of ‘sound art’, and undoubtedly there has been a increasing curiosity of the public about sound art, but many times artists and curators still conceive sound under the hegemony of the visual, and many exhibition which include sound art, as Cristoph Cox remarks, are “centered on the image, focusing attention on screens, photographs, and drawings that occluded sound by standing in for it, much in the same way that the mute but visible score came, within modernity, to circulate as the musical work itself.”[5]

This approach to sound art, just seen as an augmentation of the visual, or as some kind of musical, technological avant-garde, limits the real consequence of a revaluation of the acoustical sphere.


Becoming, sound

A Body without Organs instead of an organism and organization. Perception in it is based on symptoms and evaluation rather than measures and properties. That is why smooth space is occupied by intensities, wind and noise, forces, and sonorous and tactile qualities, as in the desert, steppe, or ice.
Gilles Deleuze


The concept of body is central into the concept of space and in the concept of architecture, but as architecture is often understood as static, as a way to freeze space, the body is traditionally seen as a closed entity, a skin-enveloped volume. Rather, architectural spaces are also places of staying and places of going, and the body, by moving, listening, feeling, negotiates its place in space, given that place is the moment-to-moment relationships between different elements of a network, always in flux and subject to change.

Interactive spaces are relational spaces, their geometry is not only based on the optical vision: an affective synaesthetic way of perceiving is experienced in digital environments, where the analogue body is ‘opened’ by machines, and the digital merges with the affective analogue dimension of the experience, in a relation of resonance, of mutual exchange, rather than in a dialectical opposition. As the posthuman thinking claims, reflecting on the complex interplays of the collaborative interaction with other systems, it would be necessary that the human is no longer seen “as the source from which emanates the mastery necessary to dominate and control the environment. Rather, the distributed cognition of the emergent human subject correlates with […] the distributed cognitive system as a whole, in which ‘thinking’ is done both by human and non-human thinking.”[6]

According to Hayles, as long as the human subject is seen as an autonomous self with well-known boundaries, there could be only fear if this boundaries seem to be broken, “by contrast, when the human is seen as part of a distributed system, the full expression of human capability can be seen precisely to depend on the splice rather than being imperiled by it”[7]. The digital redistributes spatial and temporal relations, affecting our capacity of experiencing space through an occurrence of virtual nearness, that is exactly the opposite of a sense of the disembodiment; and digital modes of production in some way de-territorialize our analogue perceptions, provoking an affective experience.

In the sound installation “Pneumatic Sound Field”[8], realized by Edwin van der Heide, wind, pressure and sound create a ‘breathing’ architecture from sound structures. Sound and wind cross a field of valves mounted over the heads of the audience, with differing speeds, directions, and intensities. A space that interacts with the environment in real time, ephemeral structures which change ceaselessly, allowing different forms of assembling, contributing, intervening, perceiving.

About his work Edwin van der Heide, a sound artist and musician who already collaborated with the Dutch architect Lars Spuybroek, for the realization of the project Son-O-House, wrote in his website: “in the installation Pneumatic Sound Field a continuum is being created between rhythmical perception of sound, spatial perception of sound and the perception of pitch. A horizontal plane of pneumatic valves is used to produce wind, pressure and sound. The result is a breathing sound environment above the audience.”[9]

Space, in this case, is really constituted of passages and becomings, continuously re-configured by momentary relations, in an intensive process of transformation, where all changes are internal changes, are not external to the process, but they happen in material forms and structures: a virtual space in the sense of space for the new, the not-already, not-yet formed, the unformed.

Brian Massumi emphasizes the importance of an architectural space  which is as modulatory as a body complicated into its own virtuality, its potential. Body that doesn’t perceive through a cognitive vision, but in a synaesthetic experience, a resonant interaction of all senses

In his Parables for the Virtual, he uses the term biogram to describe this kind of synaesthetic, ‘more than visual’ event-perceptions that associate “senses, tenses, and dimension on a single surface”[10], a non-intentional lived apprehension: an experience of an event of change, open to what exceeds the abstract reality of vision, the ‘rest’ of the actual body. In this sense, an interactive, ever-changing space, complicated, doubled by a generative sound, becomes an affective space, a virtual space, a space where we can experience an affective experience, because “affects are precisely these nonhuman becomings of man, just as percepts – including the town – are nonhuman landscape of nature. […] We become universes. Becoming animal, plant, molecular, becoming zero.”[11]


[1] Virilio, Paul (2000)  A landscape of events, translated by Julie Rose, MIT Press,  Cambridge  Massachusetts, London,  p. 46.

[2] McLuhan, Marshall (1989) The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century, with Bruce R. Powers, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

[3] Davis, Erik (1997) “Acoustic Cyberspace”, available online

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cox, Christoph (2005) “Lost in translation”, ArtForum,  Oct., available online

[6] Hayles,  N. Katherine (1990), Chaos bound: orderly disorder in contemporary literature and science, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., p. 290.

[7] Ibid., p. 290.

[9] Edwin van der Heide on “Pneumatic Sound Field”,

[10] Massumi, Brian (2002), Parables for the Virtual. Movement, Affect, Sensation, Duke University Press, Durham & London,  p. 187.

[11] Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Felix (1994) What is philosophy?, Verso, London and New York, page 169.