The presence of the body in the contemporary sonic environment

The political economy of noise. Sound as a dark precursor

More than colors and forms, it is sounds and their arrangements that fashion societies. With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion. In noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among men. Clamor, Melody, Dissonance, Harmony; when it is fashioned by man with specific tools, when it invades man’s time, when it becomes sound, noise is the source of purpose and power, of the dream–Music. It is at the heart of the progressive rationalization of aesthetics, and it is a refuge for residual irrationality; it is a means of power and a form of entertainment.” (Jacques Attali, Noise, p. 6)

The human body in the work attempts to give ear to the significance of sound in modern society and the cultural and historical contexts in which it resonates most strongly. Nothing more than you can imagine.

The immaterial sound, the substance is then meant as objectivity and tridimensionality, of the presence and the vision, of the hearing.

  • As opposed to sound as text, the dimension explored here is that of sound as force. Seductive and violent. Abstract and physical. The sound energy as a dark precursor arrangement that fashion societies.

The sonic event is a phenomenon of contact

  • The performativity of sound is examined within a range of acoustic (an)architecture to modulate the physical, affective, and libidinal dynamics of bodies, of crowds. Before the activation of causal or semantic, that is, cognitive listening, the sonic event is a phenomenon of contact and displays, through an array of autonomic responses, a whole spectrum of affective powers. Sound has a seductive power to caress the skin, to immerse, to sooth, beckon, and heal, to modulate brain waves and massage the release of certain hormones within the body.
  • At the same time discussion of the physiological affects of sonic weaponry has usually centered on intensity (acoustic power), the ultrasonic or the infrasonic. Need we be reminded that noise, like anything else that touches you, can be a source of both pleasure and pain and that beyond a certain limit, it becomes an immaterial non lethal weapon.

The shifting ecology of a non-conscious activated threat.

The state of body when idle/immobilised in the performative space.

  • The body in the act of performance lives in a spectral threat where the effect can become autonomous from the cause. The body is warding of the danger’s arrival in negative anticipation. Preemption positively actualizes the future in the present. Or at least the effects of events yet to come, to the extent that the cause of the effects, that is, the event, need not necessarily happen. The effects are real, a real and present danger, while the event as cause, or quasi-cause is virtual, a real and future-past danger. That the effects are real compels security to act on the level of virtual threat, responding to the actualization and perpetuating an ecology of fear.
  • Spinoza’s term appetite refers to the body’s behaviour as future facing and always in conjunction with the body’s relation to a shifting ecology, its open-ended relationality. A body’s effort/tendency to persist in its power to affect and be affected, its potential. Whereas instinct usually denotes a closed, preprogrammed system with no room for change.

The first seconds of contact

  • For Brian Massumi (Ontopower: War, Powers, and the State of Perception), the sonic activation of the affective sensorium produces a basic autonomic response.
  • The immediacy of visceral perception is so radical that it can said without exaggeration to precede the exteroceptive sense perception. It anticipates the translation of the sight or sound or touch perception into something recognisably associated with an identifiable object. In our case the public recognises the body as the object.
  • In this example of visceral perception initiated by the sonic vibrations, the plunging stomach marks the beginning of the line of flight, its pre-acceleration. Here also the threat, active non-consciously in advance is backed up by the shivering surface. In the sense identified by William James in his psychology of fear, autonomically the body makes the decision to act, with the emotion and conscious decision to act being merely a retrospective description of the feeling of the body’s decision.

In the onset of the subsonic flow field

The sense of audition is before the cognitive appropriation.

The shifting ecology of fear and threat is a virtual factory for the production of existential anxiety.

In a condition of sonic dominance often thrives on the scrambling of instinctual responses: “Your fear- flight thresholds are screaming, it’s like your whole body’s turned into this giant series of alarm bells, like your organs want to run away from you. It’s like your leg wants to head north and your arms want to head south, and your feet want to take off some-where else. It’s like your entire body would like to vacate. Basically, you want to go AWOL (absent from one’s post but without intent to desert), from yourself. But you can’t, so you stay.

  • In the onset of the event, the body-environment acts as one, with an immediate continuity of the extensive movement of the body and the intensive affect of fear.
  • The event bifurcates. The action takes place in the vortical blur of anxious movement in  the objective space, scanning for potential body effects or to retrospectively attribute causes to effects.
  • Meanwhile the affect continues to unravel further, becoming distinct, finally as a feeling of fear. Coming from an experience of being imminent to the fearful event, to the fear as emotional content of the experience.

Human reactions and the Infrasonic experiment

One study has suggested that infrasound may cause feelings of awe or fear in humans. It also was suggested that since it is not consciously perceived, it may make people feel vaguely that odd or supernatural events are taking place.

A scientist at the Sydney University Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory stated that there is a growing evidence that infrasound may affect a few people’s nervous system by stimulating the vestibular system and this has shown in animal models an effect similar to sea sickness.

[…] In the second experiment, a 17 Hz undertone was produced. The presence of the tone resulted in a significant number (22%) of respondents reporting anxiety, uneasiness, extreme sorrow, nervous feelings of revulsion or fear, chills down the spine, and feelings of pressure on the chest.

In presenting the evidence to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Richard Wiseman said, “These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound.


  • When we don’t see the cause of an event then the human brain enters a blurred zone of perception, a shifting ecology where the body produces non-conscious behaviours.
  • The immaterial sound becomes the objectivity through the body’s presence.
  • The body becomes the political comment of the work.
  • Without the body, there is no meaning.
  • …the body is present…

© Lambros Pigounis Athens 2016