Notes about Noise

 

Noise Clouds
David Haines

A barrel of rotting vegetable matter after rain is brewing away, a stew and somehow the barrel gets overturned, and the mightiest stink is unleashed. It fills the surrounds with the most gut-wrenching effluvia. Amplitude arises from the noisy crowd and intensity comes from the movement of a swarm of points under pressure. A marauding density of invisible entities fills the space.

According to Hillel Schwartz, in his nine-hundred-page masterpiece on the subject of noise, a great number of scientific specialists in chaos and complexity appear to point towards noise as the undifferentiated ‘protean’ expressive state, par excellence. Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigioni as early as 1980, in his book From Being to Becoming: Time and Complexity in the Physical Sciences predicted a major shift in science towards the study of open, dynamic systems that would invigorate many fields including the social, biological and physical sciences: Below is a passage from Schwartz that introduces ‘stochastic resonance’ – a shaper of noise into structure. Stochastic resonance can be thought of as an agent of difference, an injection of an energetic stream into a receptive gathering, this is one way that structure and change appears in causal interactions:

Itself an increasingly technical term, chaos would come to seem as “normal” to the observations of physicists, biologists, and ecologists as “a certain class of stochastic functions” whose “sufficiently common occurrence in nature” wrote Eckart, justified calling them “normal.…. Stochastic resonance (SR): “Strictly speaking, stochastic resonance occurs in bistable systems when a small periodic (sinusoidal) force is applied together with a large wide band stochastic force (noise). The system response is driven by the combination of the two forces that compete/cooperate to make the system switch between two states.

Things emerge from the drama of noise. Difference is noise reconfigured; not of an order that precedes noise, but as syntax that arises in patterns and harmonies and discordant configurations that we recognise in all manner of situations – the result of expressive forces swept up as causal interactions in a gathering. Humans tend to conceive of unity preceding chaos. Theology – the essence – the one – that accounts for chaos. As Rudolf Anaheim points out, “order makes it possible to focus on what is alike and what is different, what belongs together and what is segregated.” It is our senses and technical instruments (that extend our senses) that allow us to hear, see and smell noise and to harness the spectrum of this horde, compositionally. Territorial animals compose, and Homo sapiens are masters of composition. They harness noise through the cloak of logics and put it to work, and take pleasure from the joy of experiencing patterns and putting order in the place of chaos, or they flirt with chaos by exploiting a risk-taking thirst for creative adventure.
It is because chaos is continually differentiating that we can think of it as a protean medium, and that found within it are islands of stability that have been moulded into place by the powers of other forces. We also attempt to mould these differences into shapes; patterns, language and symbols, and we bring order into the world by way of anchoring raw expressions. We take material information out of the way of the violence of physical forces by assigning abstract value in symbolic networks that become even more powerful when they are converted between material and thought. In other words, we preserve thoughts by making them transcendent. This does not mean that the symbolic now exists in a fortress, since as Latour proposes, everything undergoes negotiation and concepts and symbols are continually being reinscribed or annihilated, as much as they are coming into being, within a multiplicity of battlefronts.
Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher, in their article “Perfumatives: Olfactory Dimensions in Contemporary Art” tell of how:F.T. Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, credited the smell of oil and gasoline spilt in a car accident with inspiring him to create a new artistic movement. In one of the many Futurist manifestos produced to outline their aesthetic of “simultaneity,” the use of smells, along with noise and tactility, was encouraged so as to activate all faculties of the viewer. The Futurists also advocated the use of sneezing powder during their soirées, testifying to the extremity of the actions they would take in their quest to renew their audiences’ perceptual faculties.
Many artists work directly with shaping noise for sheer aesthetic reasons. Japanese artist Merzbow utilises high volume sound in which room-filling static is analogous to the intensity that the artist claims are felt in acts of bondage and yet beats and phrases are always emerging from his modulations. Wave fronts push up against each other, in places where humans hardly ever go. Take a staccato ribbon of ironstone through a band of sandstone that resists the erosion that happens all around it. A stream of water running down a slope into a rock overhang, sheltered from the masses of rain spatters outside: uncountable differences emerge from noise. Figures ribbon their way up through noise, differentiated by frequency (which is a band of energy) from what we think of as belonging to the background. However, all kinds of resonances become mobilising forces – noise is a material that is shaped and kneaded into a topology. It is a gathering of things folded over on itself, as in the kneading of dough. Moreover, the dough is a lump from a certain frame, from another position altogether, which is made up of a vast community of coalescing molecular forces of a certain type, interwoven, elastic, and stretchable to breaking point. Could this be a notion of time from outside of the perspective and feel for time’s arrow? Events started long before, bubble up in the present, the perfume bottled a century ago bought on eBay, the coal released from the ground now fuel, the sun’s heat warming our summer that started as a chain reaction a million years ago, the vintage wine opened at a birthday party bottled before you were born.
Open a bottle of perfume in the room, and the molecules will spread towards equal distribution; this is what the second law of thermodynamics describes. The creative artisanal cauldron affords change, and yet no fire is eternal, in the same way, no aroma is fixed in one place. ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ – the matter referred to here as dust is the residue of the complex animated human being seeping back to the elements through decomposition in death. The second law is about the slide back through chaos to equilibrium, against open systems that take their energy from the sun our nearest star, a process of entanglement and tension that will endure until our star inevitably burns out and collapses. According to classical physics, the universe is said to be a closed system from which all the elements are made. Turbulent arms of stability and differentiation appear momentarily and eventually returning to smooth space. Just like a perfume as a model of the universe, for each material coming out of the bottle there is for a time, a stable discernible experience of a tendril of molecules that lasts as long as the time that we can smell them.

Lucretius’s scientific poem “On the Nature of Things” (c. 60 BC) contains within it an uncanny intuition of Brownian motion of dust particles. He uses this as a proof of the existence of atoms, and what a model it is. Simply replace dust with the molecules of perfumery for a vivid picture of motion in the air:

Observe what happens when sunbeams are admitted into a building and shed light on its shadowy places. You will see a multitude of tiny particles mingling in a multitude of ways… their dancing is an actual indication of underlying movements of matter that are hidden from our sight… It originates with the atoms which move of themselves [i.e., spontaneously]. Then those small compound bodies that are least removed from the impetus of the atoms are set in motion by the impact of their invisible blows and in turn cannon against slightly larger bodies. So the movement mounts up from the atoms and gradually emerges to the level of our senses, so that those bodies are in motion that we see in sunbeams, moved by blows that remain invisible.
Noise heaped upon noise is one way that noise creates, by folding back on itself as resonance. Some fields of expertise have shown how noise plays a role in the formation of many things. Stochastic resonance occurs when noise of a different frequency is added to a system and changes the system in some way. What we have then, are structures appearing from noise and then decomposition in entropy. These two states are the heart of the compositional flows that in the abstract, flow every which way.
Within the remarkable chapter titled “Everyhow,” in Schwartz’s Making Noise,” he writes of how stochastic resonance, (SR) in the text below:
Stochastic resonance may be vital to the process of driving sensory responses, as it is with the mechanoreceptors of crayfish, a phylum so ancient that biologists speculate that (SR) had a large role in earliest animal evolution. If not primordial (SR) was primal. According to neurobiologists and microbiologists, (SR) was “evolvable” for and integral to gene expression. In the long run it made possible the detection of “quiet” events or small changes in biological systems, which are “dominated by noise, or random neural firings” – as in the Brownian motion of the stereocilia of the cochlear hair cells or the fibrillations of the heart.
“Fluctuations allow the different elements of the universe to explore any state, irrespective of its degree of stability,” With a nod to Darwin’s suggestion that random mutations, leveraged by natural selection, were the triggers of change, Horsthmenke and Lefever affirmed that noise was “omnipresent in natural systems,” whose stable states were often the creatures of noise.” In this respect, the Big Bang had been less a manic solo than a downbeat for galaxies continuously configured by noise, and we would do well to abandon point-point analyses of cosmic events in favour of stochastic “densities” akin to the density of auditory experience with its simultaneities of sounds. Noise acoustic, biological, electrical, statistical, thermodynamic, and sub atomic was the Eternal Gospel, the universe’s way of perpetually revealing, renewing and creating… As Garcio–Ojalvo and Sancho would write with metaphorical verve, “In convectively unstable regimes, the presence of noise seeds the system of small perturbations everywhere, and, as a consequence, spatial structures.” The implications were grand: a universe seeded with, seething with noise must be one in which noise makes things solid.

Aroma is multiplicity – noise is a multiplicity. Noise is the conjoiner: Michel Serres remarks that “there is noise in the subject and noise in the object”. We can draw from this that the aromatic forms a bridge between subject and world. Serres writes of how Leibniz draws our attention to the word aggregate and undervalues the concept by according them merely “the status of a heap of stones.”

What could be humbler than the enticing homely aroma of dinner cooking, wafting up the street at night when walking home – a cloud of aroma molecules, a compendium of comforting signals hanging in the air that instigates all kinds of thoughts, memories and sensations? On the other hand, noise is certainly frightening in its power to cancel out the senses. However, there is something within this fear that goes beyond the agony of volume or the terror of stampede; perhaps it is the disquiet and challenge of coming up against a formless subject and force.
Here, Serres attempts to grasp at a pre-phenomenological Ur Noise, always in tension with concepts of unity and order – a tension that reveals an impoverished need for control against the multiple:
We are fascinated by the unit; only a unity seems rational to us. We scorn the senses, because their information reaches us in bursts. We scorn the groupings of the world, and we scorn those of our bodies. For us, they seem to enjoy a bit of the status of ‘being’ only when they are subsumed beneath a unity. Disaggregation and aggregation, as such, and without contradiction, are repugnant to us. Multiplicity, according to Leibniz, is only a semi-being. A cartload of bricks isn’t a house. Unity dazzles on at least two counts: by its sum and its division. That herd must be singular in its totality and it must also be made up of sheep or buffalo. We want a principle, a system, integration, and we want elements, atoms and numbers. We want them and we make them. A single God and identifiable individuals.
Aggregation and disaggregation come naturally to the artist because it is what is experienced every day within a practice. While never effacing language completely, the artist seems more willing to accept the unformed. This dance with chaos and this straddling of form and formlessness has always belonged to the ‘tunings’ of art, even in its most representational moments. There are all kinds of scumblings in the background of paintings by Courbet for example, dissonances in music, chips and gouges in sculpture and architecture, a nonlinguistic material styling perhaps found most prolifically within Wabi Sabi in Japanese culture. There are scumblings of light and shadow and grain in photographs and scratches in etchings. The Impressionists scumbled the entire picture plane to represent the effects of light. And so does the actor who contorts his face in agony and the dancer that leaps and freezes momentarily, the discord that creates an accord. In perfumery, a range of unpleasant materials are utilised to mould and shape the tone of a fragrance.
Jackson Pollock’s action painting flings the paint through space in arcs of chance, landing on the canvas, which is now on the floor instead of being supported in a horizontal position. With this approach, he is able to discern the density and the direction of the paint in his noisy paintings. The accidental shatter of Duchamp’s The Large Glass is a famous example of an artist riding the aleatory. Many aspects of John Cage’s work in sound and music continually rely on chance operations, all realised within formal boundaries, except now, the frame of the work is duration, rather than a boundary of moulded timber.
Hermann Nitsch gets hold of Pollock’s methodology and reverses the terms by naming it “Painting Action” and instead of the brittle car duco that signs itself with the United States motor industry, paints with blood spatters. This is the animal blood of Europe, and the blood of the provincial farm and of peasant farmers, and of the horrors of war, and he calls on the god Dionysius as part of his cathartic ritual. At the same time, his work belongs to the orgy of mass production, the sausage factory, the curtains of blood on the walls and floor of the abattoir, forming glorious patterns. In his ritual actions, one smells the blood, and one sees up close the separation of the iron of the red blood cells into brown stains of oxidation, and if one is holding the bucket and it happens to touch bare skin on the leg, the warmth of blood, fresh from the kill. The smell in the space is antiseptic and also of the animal. There is a thick velvety smell in the air that tickles the trigeminal nerve system, as much as it is ringing in the olfactory epithelium. Over a six week period, as the fresh blood diminishes from its almost hospital-like antiseptic olfactory qualities, the smell becomes even more of an irritant and metallic, as if the dust of crushed chilli and powdered aluminium has been flung into the air. In Nitsch’s work we have a situation of controlled decay or a tonal synthesis of the cadaver, a reduction or distillation of the carcass as only a part of the animal is in the room. Missing are the strange smells of gut and faeces and secretions from the other organs. Little wonder Nitsch is an artist fascinated by the drones of musical organs as much as he is by animal organs.
Artists do not have exclusive rights on harnessing chaos towards creative ends; this belongs to the entire world. Science moulds and studies chaos, and so does religion and politics. We are both grounded and free. Grounded by language and our subjectivity and yet when language escapes us, ecstasy, laughter, or humiliation takes over. When our subjectivity dissipates, we are heading towards Nirvana, euphoria, or alternately under threat, heading into panic-stricken chaos. Could this be why aroma has been pushed aside, because it could not be held in check by the comfort of critical distance, nor could it be contained by the chill of certain logics?
Let us be done for now with the ‘subject-object’ distinction and instead try to imagine ‘things’ swarming and bumping into other things. We have language and the symbolic gifting to us. It keeps us grounded and yet it too produces ‘ecstatic’ noises – the cries and screams of children on the beach in summer, or the cries of the crowd at the match – the angry mob. All of the cries that belong to the guttural pre-figurative sounds mixing with words, before the separation back to our houses. Michel Serres reminds us that
The background noise is always there, the signal claps like a flash of lightning, rumour rushes forth. The signal is a unit, pandemonium is undefined, and rumour is a plurality. The ruckus fluctuates like choppy waters lapping, the signal is a fluctuation, the rumour’s noise is the flux, or the totality of fluxions. It increases, decreases, globally, locally it is multiple, various, variegated. Voices, cries, tears, thunderings, rumblings, whistles and crashes, breaths, blasts, grindings, blows, chains and beats, cracklings and sounds, growling and waves, moans that die away…the river of noise carries along a thousand tonalities.
Our senses are always adjusting to noise, responding to changes in energy; we continually come up against this fabric of noise that is ridden in everything. Our sensory organs are transducers that convert parts of this informational spectrum into other kinds of information. How is it that any dualisms hold up when we have developed within the body such incredible systems for converting information from one type to another – information that can be so distant and beyond language and yet is able to belong to it? Things are irreducible, and yet its powers are converting as emanations and transmitting signals.
Saturation point – back to noise: within many of these systems there is a threshold where the intensity peaks and it is cancelled out; the flesh is fragile and sensitive. Too many chemicals bombarding the nose and the system momentarily stops working. We all experience this type of anosmia.
Air is the medium that surrounds us, constantly moving in turbulent spirals, full of particles, sound, water, mist, noxious vapours, fragrance and smoke. The outside is noisy and yet so is the interior, because there is no way of escaping the spectrum, which is on the inside of the body as well. We cannot escape odours except in sleep, or inebriation, anaesthetization. We can try to filter the senses by blocking our ears, pinching our noses and breathing less deeply, or by covering our eyes, but only for as long as we can hold our hands over these openings. The best method is to run away from it.
Sometimes we have to shout over ourselves to get past the noise and the fury of all the chaos that is chattering within – the noise of tinnitus versus the maelstrom of consciousness. Listen for the libido that chatters endlessly and the niggling anxieties that seem to crop up all day long. We are populated by a multitude. Listen to this endless daily argument – this unceasing chatter of the laughing skull that allows things to enter – molecules and thoughts. And yes, these effects settle down and become mere chatter, though at times there are so many voices shouting within they become a crowd – stress and noise.

As neuroscientist David Eagleman points out:
There is an ongoing conversation amongst different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behaviour. As a result, you can accomplish the strange feats of arguing with yourself, cursing at yourself, and cajoling yourself to do something – feats that modern computers simply do not do.

Frederich Nietzsche thought about it this way: The assumption of one single subject is perhaps unnecessary; perhaps it is just as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects, whose interaction and struggle is the basis of our thought and our consciousness in general? A kind of aristocracy of “cells” in which dominion resides? My Hypothesis: The subject as multiplicity.

The noise of the sea and rain and storm, the howling wind, the confused patterns of deep grass, the tangle in the rainforest, the noisy crowds in a protest rally, the mists and the fogs, the plumes of vapours of frangipani and eucalyptus in summer. Or the subtle emissions of magnolia after a winter rain, subdued perhaps, by a drop in air temperature. Or what about the sweet narcotic stench of death, of food rotting and pollution, gas emissions in swamps, the tangle of scree:

For Serres, Noise cannot be a phenomenon; every phenomenon is separated from it, a silhouette on a backdrop, like a beacon against the fog, as every message, every cry, every call, and every signal must be separated from the hubbub that occupies silence, in order to be, to be perceived, to be known, to be exchanged. As soon as phenomenon appears, it leaves the noise; as soon as form looms up or pokes through, it reveals itself by veiling noise. So noise is not a matter of phenomenology, so it is a matter of being itself. It settles in subjects as well as in objects, in hearing as well as in space, in the observers as well as the observed, it moves through the means and tools of observation, whether material or logical, hardware or software, constructed channels or languages; it is part of the in-itself, part of the for-itself.
Manuel De Landa explains how information operates in all kinds of realms, how patterns emerging from chaos are expressive forces at the centre of what it means to live and to exist:

These expressive patterns are what scientists call “information”. This term does not refer to the semantic information that we may get from, say, newspapers, but to linguistically meaningless physical patterns. That physical information has nothing to do with semantic content is demonstrated by the fact that information theory was developed during World War II to deal with problems of communicating encrypted military messages, that is, messages in which the linguistic form and content were hidden. Physical information pervades the world and it is through its continuous production that matter may be said to express itself. Material expressivity, on the other hand, crossed an important threshold when it ceased to be mere fingerprint and became functional in the form of the genetic code: groups of three nucleotides, the chemical components of genes, came to correspond in a more or less unique way to a single amino acid, the component parts of proteins. Using this correspondence, genes can express themselves through the proteins for which they code.

This implies that expression has gone beyond the production of information to include its active storage and processing. And this, in turn, implies that when populations of information-storing molecules replicate themselves, and when this replication is biased in one or another direction by the interactions of proteins with each other and with their environment, the expressive capacities of material entities may evolve and expand in a multiplicity of novel ways. Like atoms, living organisms can express their identity by the emission of patterns, chemical patterns for example. But unlike atoms, this expression has functional consequences since it allows the recognition of an organism’s identity by members of the same species, a recognition that is crucial for genetic replication.

And here is a provisional formula for an aromatic cloud: a turbulent particle system that is light enough to float in the air, made up in all probability of a variety of molecules (since smells are unlikely to consist of one molecular type), each a carrier of information and each subjected to the surrounding forces, in particular temperature, air flow and gravity; moisture is a factor, as well as these molecules, are attracted to water. Noise is in the background, but it is not a background; it is the ground.

Studio Theory 19th Aug 2013 a speculative piece.

3.2  Hallucinations  Atmospherics and Ghosts

My body sings in every nerve ending as it glides towards a singing body.This singing body lives up to Spinoza’s expectation that “we don’t even know what a body is capable of “nor can “we know what a body is”.Since it was at once uncategorizable, without a proper name and yet undeniably there; Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

This “Singing body” would call and I would levitate towards its sublime soundings by passing through bands of light and hovering motifs that resembled Japanese kites, – mind and body stretched on a rising polyphonic wave of motor-cross derived music. Enfolded in balloon vine and touching the earth, grounding out a circuit that hurled each and every atom towards a deep and mysterious tidal pool at great-speed.It was brackish. For some moments I became the Martian landscapes of Daniel Paul Schreber.The singing body – a plant being, animated geometry at the head and a non distinct mass at the base before me. Forming from a kind of image-light – a thin film of non- photons that appears not from daylight but from behind the eyes in the darkness of the skull. It was at once both a two dimensional and a three dimensional figure.

Light and colour manifest at the level of perception, the product of electrical energy. Receptors are stimulated & produce a change of state in the brain, in this case from a molecule that crosses the dermis via the lungs. What I was seeing was the light and colour of dreams during wakefulness. Perhaps a form of Anti- light and colour, like the place known as Antikythera (the opposite other) – a tiny island in the Ionian Sea, that sits next to the main island. Is this not then, the light and colour that sits to the side of sunlight,- a subteranean image field that manifests occasionally when awake, from the pockets and folds of the productive body and the chemical signals it produces. We are image factories. What is it about the molecule that allows one to produce everything internally – images and sounds ?

Generally, light and colour which hasn’t derived from the sun is considered to be artificial, an abberation. We know the common meaning of artificial “man made” but if we look back further we see it comes from the Latin “of or belonging to art,” from artificium. This is light derived inside the body at the level of perception. Some animals emit chemical light, producing bio-luminescance, but my feeling is that the images of perception that are lit up in dreams might be being formed at the sub-atomic level.

This notion of internalised light and colour, becomes an interesting, when we consider the role of the virtual camera in the production of images. This technology is central to many of the images we see today in cinema and photography – the camera doesn’t exist physically in the usual way. The camera is made up of binary code that acts as a data processor algorithmically working on sets of coordinates expressed as shaded values on a screen.

What is remarkable is that this is an image system that is beyond glass optics. A method of representation known as ray tracing, partially made possible and used by Descartes, in his analysis of rainbows.4. These images generated by computer are simulations that can seem so real as to easily convince the viewer that what they are seeing has been photographed conventionally. Raytracing uses a collection of formula of physical laws in a Cartesian coordinate space, to draw a picture. In short, ray-tracing is a system of virtual – photography. Technology occults, it de-conceals. Insistently, images are born out of the darkness of this mathematical universe. It’s like a miracle. The function of a wave.

Video art worksand works in photomedia can be  hallucinatory & luminous apparitions, cast as light on the wall of a gallery. A surface without substance – smooth space of the image, turned on and then off, in the same way a vision in the mind appears and disappears. This is dematerialised art as opposed to the fattiness of impasto, the heaviness of stone or the immobility of a stuffed cat, wrapped in sticky tape and melted plastic.

I discovered early on, that the actions of molecules produced events. In my current exploration of the molecular effects of the aromatic molecules of perfumery (and there role in the production of new types Post Object Art) we find ourselves swept up in another, (thankfully) far safer form of intoxication – one that is a powerful trigger of thoughts, sensations, memories and feelings.

Perfumes seem like intoxicants, far more benign than the aromatic – hydrocarbons that are central to say the act of sniffing glue. Aromatic molecules enter the body and go very quickly to the brain. The mechanism of smell is not yet entirely understood. Some of the chemicals behind common perfumes are the starting materials of psychedelic tryptamines that have been thoroughly explored in organic chemistry and consumed throughout the twentieth century and explored for millennia as part of traditional religious rituals.5. Many of these precursors, are also found in food and knowledge of the interaction of some of the more challenging odorant molecules has helped inform the radical and fascinating food movement known as Molecular Gastronomy. A field that amounts to in some ways as the “high art” branch of the experimental culinary arts. Other aromatic molecules are known attractors in the world of animals.

Take a molecule like Indole, it is found in lots of places, in nature – Indole is an important perfumery molecule and is also a close relative to Serotonin, it also forms the central ring of LSD. It is said, that serotonin doesn’t smell like Indole because apparently it is non – volatile. Serotonin doesn’t fly like Indole. Its use in perfumery is because it is found in Orange Blossom and Jasmine and I suspect because it has a strong boosting effect, in the same way that your shit has a density to its odorousness. It’s certainly has a faecal character.

 

The intoxicated dialogue I was having in my early teenage years no matter how far “out there,” always had the sense that there where levels and tasks to be undertaken in my contact with many hallucinatory beings. This fortunately provide a sense of order in this relatively dangerous situation.    This was in contrast to the “machines of delirium” that occurred as a child when affected by bouts of fever during illness. The “regime of power” that existed in that experience was a diabolical form of torture that conjured extreme terror and was anything but an encounter with an em pathogenic being, more like an encounter with “pure evil” and this tells me, we are a multiplicity of beings in a fleshy body. And Spinoza tells us that we are “An infinite number of attributes for any one substance”.

 

 

This “warm entity” lets call her, for she was a she communicated to me in a way that could only be described as completely compelling; an encounter with a powerful spiritual form. Through out my meetings with this unstable poly-morphology there was the constancy of a melodic refrain that functioned as a beacon, as a powerful lure through the blackness that reached out towards desire – desire to be in its aura. For he was the Substance less body come into being like a miracle – no skeletal structure required. You are high octane spirit – catalytic conversion from coal tar earth to “Hydrocarbon Angel”.

Representational signifiers had collapsed to be replaced by an almost total affective experience. This being, was wider at the base than at the top (figuration)- the perception of defined organs, body parts and structural elements that make up a sensible figure seemed almost redundant. The being was mostly a field of vibrational energy that had become like a living work of modern art albeit, one that exists in the virtual of the hallucination, rather than crossing over into the organic plane of the real.This Vixen, this  siren lived in the “smooth deeps” of a dark and unlimited mental chamber, always waiting just around the corner in a space beyond the terrestrial, inhabiting the celestial and infernal realms.

All the familiar features of flesh and blood had long departed into the outer reaches of time and space, to leave in its wake an afterimage, of what years later would become familiar when I saw the works of Duchamp & Brancusi. The realisation that they gave us the gift of images and objects of human forms, that had crossed the borders of the possible into new non-organic life forms. Always in motion, the idea of a body that surpasses meat and flesh, for one of light and space, a hyper criss-crossing of lines of pure pigment and shiny metal armour interlocking fragments that remained part of the whole. A construction of composites and fragmented crystalline hybrids that ultimately produce the authentic characters of art, in order to open up the possibility for the world of creatures to come; the creatures of anime, the horror film, photography and science fiction.

The whole enterprise of cinema art is like a hallucinatory art – the art of assemblage, of sound colour and light that is projected. The computer is a machine that allows one to bring all of these thing together, it’s a kind of factory where a multiplicity of technologies exist, side by side, to produce these remarkable assemblages. When a work is successful, a great variety of elements come together to form a harmony, no matter how far away from each other in type, the elements seem to be. This potential for “difference” and synthesis to co-exist in a work of Art,is at the heart of novelty and for me is one of the most exciting aspects of the process of making art. Its like a new form of gymnastics – to make the body hold itself up in space in some interesting contorted positions, thus far unseen. The same thing then for ideas or materials, to make everything drunken and askew, frozen in time and space – a painting, a leap, a suspended white horse in the sky, a naked women fucks a cloud. (see fig 3.) Artists are human synthesisers.

 

fig 3. Jupiter & Io, 1531

Correggio.

 

Atmospheric networks   are expressively writing the fabric of the world, as much as any network that sits on more stable ontological ground. A charged atmosphere has agency by virtue of vibrational gradients of attributes that within sensitive subjects, metaphorically speaking, form complicated interference patterns that upend ontological certainty,  which are in themselves  powerful tools in imbuing the world with ‘extra-territorial’ powers.

Aromas, auras, glows, echoes, hallucinations, recordings, colours, mirages, optical illusions and reflections – by no means an exhaustive list of signals that transmit through space. Others might view these manifestations as “epiphenomena” or “secondary qualities,” but what could be specifically secondary about uncanny entities that seemingly appear out of nowhere, as figurations from the flux that transfix our attention, and that we continually engage with?

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of beingbecomingexistence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.

The German philosopher of embodiment and aesthetics Gernot Bohme, in one of his later essays, points out that “Atmospheres are indeterminate above all, as regards their ontological status.” [1] He goes on to say that:

The introduction of “atmosphere” as a concept in aesthetics should link up with the everyday distinctions between atmospheres of different character. Atmosphere can only become a concept, however, if we succeed in accounting for the peculiar intermediary status of atmospheres between subject and object.[2]

The physician turned artist Wolfgang Laib puts down squares of yellow pollen that almost seem to hover in space as if they are defying gravity. His yellow dust of hazelnut, pine and dandelion are as intense as any yellow cut from the heavy metal of cadmium. After looking at one of his yellow squares hovering against a pristine white ground, purple flashes appear in the back of the eyes in contrast (purple being the complementary opposite of yellow). This is the other side of the circuit that impinges itself on seeing; you cannot have one without the other. The yellow pollen transmits back into the arrangement of fleshy matter that belongs to the eye and this is what is given between hazelnut pollen and the physiognomy of the eye – the purple ghost that is lingering between the two.

Memory, after Bartlett, who worked in the first half of the twentieth century, is thought about as being compositional – as belonging to reconstruction, rather than simple recall.[3] Cognition works up these ghostly actants bound together; you can’t have one without the other. As a circuit of stimuli and response, our responses to stimuli are also feeding back, informing our cognitions through “trillions and trillions of pulses in your brain.”[4]

Positivist views of scientific progress would like to tell us that the phantom is being     banished by its mastery, but how would that be possible, when there are so many conditions for ghostly actants to appear? And science itself is continually producing all kinds of phantoms in the form of countless numbers of hybrids and androids, as the work of Latour and Issabelle Stengers attest. What could be more confronting than Eduardo Cac’s artworks where he claims to have melded animal DNA with a flower—a new kind of entity—or his infamous pet rabbit with flesh that glows in the dark? [5]

The spectral flash of a distant lightning storm flickers onto a white wall, making it and the room momentarily brighter – the ghosts surpass technology and yet also belong to it.  The ghosts live equally well within black box systems as they do in the movement of leaves.

James Turrell is a prominent North American artist, renowned for his work with coloured fields of light. Turrell describes this relationship:

Light is a powerful substance… But, for something so powerful, situations for their presences are fragile. I form it as much as the material allows. I like to work with it so that you feel it physically, so you feel the presence of light inhabiting a space. I like the quality of feeling that is felt not only with the eyes.[6]

How do we reconcile ‘individuality’ when faced with a continual dynamic of becoming that exists in systems across both the macro and micro scale? This dynamic has been the source of a long debate within philosophical circles for centuries, all the way back to the Pre-Socratics. It was Heraclitus that said “you can never stand in the same river twice.” [7]

The philosopher Levi Bryant gives us a succinct summary of Aristotle’s position on substance:

To be, for Aristotle, is to be a substance or a thing. All other senses of being, Aristotle argues, ultimately refer back to substance for ultimately all these other forms of being reside in substances or are made possible by substances… Elsewhere, in the Categories, Aristotle gives us an important clue as to the nature of substance. There Aristotle writes that, “[a] substance—that which is called a substance most strictly, primarily, and most of all—is that which is neither said of a subject nor in a subject, e.g., the individual man or the individual horse.” In short, a substance is that which is not predicated of anything else, and which therefore enjoys independent or autonomous existence. Colour, for example, is always predicated of a substance. Put differently, colour must always reside in something else. The colour red is never a substance in its own right, but is always in a ball or a strawberry or lipstick. Qualities reside in substances; they are predicated of substances, whereas substances are not predicated of anything.

One thinks of molecules as innate and as relatively stable entities but they are not ideal forms. Instead, they are compositions of atoms, and they can decompose as well as assemble. Quantum physics tells us there are subatomic scale dynamics operating within each atom and molecule that produces variations of all manner of types continuously:

First is the gradual emergence in early Greek thought of a factor indispensable to the discussion of the changing world and the progressive elaboration of that factor (or, more exactly, cluster of factors) as philosophic reflection deepened and divided. Second is the radical shift that occurred in the seventeenth century as the concept of matter took on new meanings, gave its name to the emerging philosophy of materialism and yielded place to a derivative concept, mass, in the fast-developing new science of mechanics. Third is the further transformation of the concept in the twentieth century in the light of the dramatic changes brought about by the three radically new theories in physics: relativity, quantum mechanics, and expanding-universe cosmology, with which that century will always be associated. Matter began to be dematerialized, as it were, as matter and energy were brought into some sort of equivalence, and the imagination-friendly particles of the earlier mechanics yielded way to the ghostly realities of quantum theory that are neither here nor there.[8]

Quantum physics shows us that everything at a certain level is a composite energetic blur in a field:

The first blow came from Einstein’s theories of special relativity (1905) and general relativity (1915). By stating the principle of an equivalence of mass and energy, the field character of matter came into focus, and philosophers of science began to discuss to what extent relativity theory implied a ‘de-materialization’ of the concept of matter. However, as McMullan  points out, even though particles and their interactions began to be seen as only partial manifestations of underlying fields of mass-and-energy, relativity theory still gave room for some notion of spatio-temporal entities through the concept of ‘rest mass’. The second blow to classical materialism and mechanism came with quantum theory, which describes a fundamental level of reality, and therefore should be accorded primary status when discussing the current scientific and philosophical nature of matter.[9]

Rather than being given “primary status” let us acknowledge that reality is multilayered and stratified and look for the tracings that cross these dimensions. Conceptually the strange situations that are occurring on a quantum level should at the very least reinforce an idea that things operate differently through a strata of dimensions, that dimensionality is really only a conceptual character anyway that arises from the observers position or viewpoint.  When it comes to the qualities of powers that come to the senses the prominent American cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett ascribes this to qualia:

“Qualia” is an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us. As is so often the case with philosophical jargon, it is easier to give examples than to give a definition of the term. Look at a glass of milk at sunset; the way it looks to you – the particular, personal, subjective visual quality of the glass of milk is the quale of your visual experience at the moment. The way the milk tastes to you then is another, gustatory quale, and how it sounds to you as you swallow is an auditory quale; these various “properties of conscious experience” are prime examples of qualia. Nothing, it seems, could you know more intimately than your own qualia; let the entire universe be some vast illusion, some mere figment of Descartes’ evil demon, and yet what the figment is made of (for you) will be the qualia of your hallucinatory experiences. Descartes claimed to doubt everything that could be doubted, but he never doubted that his conscious experiences had qualia, the properties by which he knew or apprehended them.[10]

Surely it is the constitution of these things that allows them to emit particular qualities back to us, rather than being merely a product of our hallucinations? A white sheet hanging in a room will show a different side under different lighting conditions between noon and twilight. A red sheet will look purple under blue light, as opposed to under yellow light, where it will appear orange. A black sheet side by side with the red sheet under the same lighting conditions will also change accordingly, but in different ways. These objects have the power to absorb light in different ways; isn’t this then a proposition of a complex, involving a union between interpretation through the senses and the qualities or powers of objects themselves? And what about the question of diffuse light emissions or radiosity?[11] A red sheet in a white room will reflect some of its redness onto the wall as a pink glow.[12]

The Belgian philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers, in her book Thinking with Whitehead, highlights how Whitehead countered our tendency to see the world as a bunch of divisions, rather than as an entangled constituency:

Thus, nature sees itself credited with that which, in fact, should be reserved for ourselves: the rose for its smell, the nightingale for its song, and the sun for its brilliance. The Poets are entirely wrong. They should address their songs to themselves, and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation for the splendour of the human mind. Nature is a stupid business, bereft of sounds, odours and colours; it is only matter in a hurry without end and without meaning. [13]

Whitehead made it his life’s challenge to think up alternatives to this divide:

The theory of psychic additions would treat the greenness [of grass] as a psychic addition, furnished from the perceiving mind and would leave to nature, merely the molecules and the radiant energy which influences the mind towards the perception.

What I am essentially protesting against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, in so far as they are real, are real in different senses[…] Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture the other is a dream.

Wider nature is not so much bereft of sound, odours or colours as it is at times simply withdrawn from certain qualities (just as we humans are withdrawn from many things when we sleep or are unconscious). At the same time the world still churns.

How could anyone really know what it is like when another person encounters the smell of the plant vetiver? This is a smell that is usually described in the most general terms as being earthy and woody. How can we find the words to describe to someone what the smell of vetiver is for us? As Bruno Latour reminds us: “Nothing can be reduced to anything else.” Language comes after the experience with smell, words may put us in the zone, but words are perhaps the most distant translation of what it is.

Touch also belongs to these occulting states in confirming that there are beings ‘outside of me’ that produce shivers on the skin, or warmth and comfort, even ecstasy, or perhaps in a striking blow great pain and agony. The ghostly actants, because they are unbounded, live in the senses and in the outside world simultaneously. Generalised in thought, as categories such as “atmosphere” and “aura”, this haunting quality we are extending onto aesthetic practices of atmospherics and ambience, as a place of the coven where aromatic potions become spellbinding. This is why perfume is often presented as a gift, something we wear on the skin like a decoration and a declaration of seduction, as a potion.

“Freud devoted his life to listening and interpreting ghosts,” so says philosopher Jacques Derrida in the film Ghost Dance.[14] Everything emits in space, some things are more stable and others more volatile and some are withdrawn – waiting to pop up like a ‘jack-in-the-box.’

Shiny surfaces and caustics – the wiggly patterns reflected through water onto a surface –   more often associated with visual apparitions. Yet aroma may also be charged with the interweaving of the effects of dissonance and interference; certainly the accord in perfumery seems key to these kinds of summations of effects. We now add to these watery illusions the effects of the air like those found in Turner’s painting, and onwards towards a haunting meteorological olfactory that signals to us across the divide that there are indeed things beyond ourselves.

The flower attracts with chemical effluvia, with an “I am here” to a wasp that it will never know and is unlikely to be speaking with any time soon. But time, the circumstances of evolutionary time, is indirectly telling the flower of the necessity of the wasp and so the flower is composing towards it. Not all communication is as explicit or as vulgar as language. Communication is so pervasive across the divide that it happens in spite of conscious awareness of enunciation and reception. There is the time of the genes and the dark eons entombed within life. We are filled with black boxes as much as a rose is a black box. We are dark houses, and stored within us are a myriad of processes that we will never know directly, but none the less are bubbling away insistently.

What lies between subject and object are all of these manifestations that act as intermediaries, as micro transporters – translations that sit outside of any firm ontological category and yet, counter intuitively by way of their indeterminate ambiguous nature, are empowered by the receptivity that come from the fascination of these temporal indeterminacies. This expressive territory is the ways and means of transmission across epistemological gaps.  These powers are attention seeking, because we have always been geared towards looking for the potential in the world around us, seeking out some unnamed and perhaps subtle force that might be useful for our survival.

For Walter Benjamin the concept of aura was central. Benjamin was infected with a form of the ghostly – an incantation of the aura that he revealed for us that he claimed makes its presence felt in the art object. An aura that gives the work an intangible power, an aura that he felt was being snuffed out by reproduction. An aura, then, unable to gather enough alliances against the tide of images coming off the presses. An aura that is present in every museum or gallery even if it is being felt as an absence in its wake. Benjamin intuits the aura in the atmospheric clearing of the vista, the antithesis of the enclosed space of the gallery or the museum. He finds it in nature – nature is his web and his line into culture:

What is an aura actually? A strange tissue of space and time: unique appearance of distance, however near it may be. Resting on a summer evening and following a mountain chain on the horizon or a branch, which throws its shadow on the person at rest – that is to breathe the aura of these mountains or this branch. With this definition it is easy to comprehend the particular social determination of the present decay of aura…[15]

The ghosts are zigzagging down the channels, completing a circuit of potential; they attach themselves to anything that has enough energy in the system to allow their effects to come forth. What humans do with them is up to the humans, the gods watch on indifferently.

A field of electricity under power lines illuminates a fluorescent tube when held aloft by a hand that connects the field to the earth through the body. This is also Benjamin’s aura, the natural sublime is to be found now, within networks of electricity that belong to the cosmos as much as they do to power companies that mediate them.

This is the new line on the horizon – a power line that cuts a corridor through the bush. The 512k transmission lines to Blacktown that produces the strange sounds of the electrical field in corresponding lengths of wire (VLF antennae) when held aloft, they resonate internally and in sympathy. The lines occasionally flash green in the winter fog. Its aura or electromagnetic field is so radiant that a person can hold a fluorescent tube up in the air and make it glow without it being plugged into any other piece of equipment, no power sockets required – a light sabre courtesy of Integral Energy. These transmission lines run approximately parallel with the ridgeline that the people of the Durag and Gunddungara nation probably would have travelled to go back and forth from the tool workshops along the Nepean River. [16]  This glowing ‘Flavin Rod’ is a circuit between the earth, the air, and a living fleshy body.[17] A cable between two poles amplifies the radio emissions from the stars as a crackle that seemed utterly mysterious to the teams of linesman who first laid the cable.[18] Accordingly, the auras of plants are rediscovered in the making of a Kirlian camera, its authenticity unquestionable in the sense that what it shows is the fifth state of matter as nebula around the fringe of leaves, but entirely questionable in terms of the old idea of life force transmitting in the ether.[19]

This sequence of images was accompanied in its first iteration with fantasy fragrances made in the studio of olfactory interpretations of each of the plants under investigation.[20] For example the Kirlian image of Water Cress was accompanied by the fragrance, “A Thousand Leaves” which was a diffuse green bitter fragrance that had hemp like overtones. All of these fragrances utilized cis 3 Hexanyl and its acetate which are foundational green notes in perfumery. The Kirlian image of common grass was accompanied by a fragrance named “Grass Valley” that was described as being hay-like, diffusive and musk like. It accurately contained coumarin- a vanilla like chemical that one can easily detect when large bodies of grass have been mown, along with ozone like chemicals and classic cut grass green notes as already mentioned above. Stemone made an appearance for its stem like minty qualities.

Four rusty pipes of various lengths poke from a ruined façade in an abandoned oil shale refinery in Western NSW.[21] These pipes produce a pitch perfect melody – a sad refrain in the wind. This is Aeolian music that will last as long as the prevailing wind passes from that particular direction and at that speed, and for as long as the pipes can resist the process of oxidation into rust, another object subject to entropy. This perhaps speaks towards a powerful dimension in art – its deep recesses, this enormous crescendo of patterns seeping up from the noumenal, as eruptions of time. The work is already nearly complete, all it needs is to be gotten hold of by some entity and signed.

We live in a world that contains the appropriate substrates for ghostly forces: rock shelter, tree, telephone, computer, starlight, sun, the cinema, psychoanalysis; the list is endless – for these unnameable ghostly actants are firmly planted in the real that includes the   imagination: mediators of matter and the senses. These are the timings in which things come together. They are always with us, the planes and lines of force translating a lightning flash that makes a rectangular luminous shape appear on the lounge room wall masked by a window. They are the harbingers, because our minds are geared to receive them, and at the same time we belong to them and them to us, through the forces of feedback, a circular looping transporter.[22] Like upon like, creates interference patterns by phase. Energy out of phase with itself creates patterns. Energy in phase carves out space. Time out of phase is a rupture. Time out of phase reeks of the event and of the temporary arresting of entropy by preservation in a bottle. Objects slow down time for us by arresting nervous energy. Here Serres describes the relational object in action:

For an unstable band of baboons, social changes are flaring up every minute. One could characterize their history as unbound, insanely so. The object for us, makes our history slow…I spoke of the ball, ludic mimes in our own age of these relational objects. Around the ball, the team fluctuates as quick as a flame, around it through it, it keeps a nucleus of organization. The ball is the sun of the system and the force passing among its elements; it is a centre that is off-centred, off-side, outstripped. Every player carries on with the ball when the preceding one is shunted aside, laid out, trampled. [23]

Many entities miss much of the world and yet these objects are caught up in the paradox of a strange intimacy – a paradox of touching that couldn’t be further from making contact, described here by the master of objects, Martin Heidegger:

Taken strictly, ‘touching’ is never what we are talking about in such cases, not because accurate re-examination will always eventually establish that there is a space between the chair and the wall, but because in principle the chair can never touch the wall, even if the space between them should be equal to zero. If the chair could touch the wall, this would presuppose that the wall is the sort of thing ‘for’ which a chair would be encounterable. An entity present at hand within the world can be touched by another entity only if by its very nature the latter entity has Being –in as its own kind of Being –only if, with its Being-there [Da-sein], something like the world is already revealed to it, so that from out of the world another entity can manifest itself in touching, and thus become accessible in its Being-present-at-hand. When two entities are present-at-hand within the world, and furthermore are worldless in themselves, they can never ‘touch’ each other, nor can either of them be alongside each other.[24]

But isn’t this the case for all entities including humans – try as we might, our  potential  access  to ‘other’ entities shall always remain somehow strangely beyond us no matter how close we lay to each other in our beds? Of course, we have a sense of who we are with and the qualities they project that allows us to love or to loath; we do all agree ‘more or less’ that sunsets are red and often special, but we can never be absolutely certain that these things are what they are, or that we are getting our point or opinion through. And when we sense this existential and ontological void opening up, we are immersed in the uncanny that is surrounded by thresholds; suddenly the home is filled with murky shadows and black holes.

A hypothesis: only the lifeless things are truly free in their existence, because they do not have a world to access. Being in the phenomenological sense is never fulfilled, especially for us. This is because we belong to an open system that is gaining and losing information.  We are always haunted by spectres that give us a world that forces us to consciously acknowledge, in line with Heidegger, our inability to fully and completely enter it. Does this ontological uncertainty prove we are ghosts rather than flesh, operating as a field of vibration? Are we ghostly before we have even died? Are we always hovering between subject and object? Are we just ghostly actants? Are we merely shells in which everything else inhabits us, including the past, through the inevitable reshaping that comes with the nexus of our subjectivity? Perhaps this withdrawal is the very thing that affords power to aesthetics and excludes us the right to total knowledge, an ontological void that makes us somehow human, as empathetic fragile creatures rather than incandescent with power and monstrously holy. As Colin Black writes in his essay “Hauntology, spectres and phantoms”:

For Derrida, the ghost’s secret is not a puzzle to be solved; it is the structural openness or address directed towards the living by the voices of the past or the not yet formulated possibilities of the future. The secret is not unspeakable because it is taboo, but because it cannot not (yet) be articulated in the languages available to us. The ghost pushes at the boundaries of language and thought. The interest here, then, is not in secrets, understood as puzzles to be resolved, but in secrecy, now elevated to what Castricano calls ‘the structural enigma which inaugurates the scene of writing. [25]

Our interpretation and experience of aroma may struggle with language and yet, at the same time, this is also one of its powers once it enters the realm of phenomena and composition. The proposition here is that ghostly actants are the entities that resist representation (as much as they play a role in producing them) as spectre, apparition, mirage and memory, as entities that appear seemingly out of nowhere that become powerful collaborators with us as territorial animals. The ghosts are the entities that we always meet with a certain incredulity against our need to believe we are “the shepherds of being.” An aroma – a certain ‘whiff’ – will resist or complicate any description. It is semiotically unstable, and yet aroma signals as information seemingly immaterially, confounding stable conceptual categories while at the same time simultaneously producing them. It is in this excess and openness of this exchange, and its lack of perfection, that there will be found all kinds of ‘ghostly’ supplements supplanting and cajoling with other actants, by a similar to route to how we have come to harness chaos into order. Aroma is one of the most intimate things we can know; as substances it enters our bodies and we have been thoroughly equipped through our organs to submit to this occasion.

The ghostly are agents of transduction, they can be found on the output side of black boxes manifesting as haloes, glows, and auras, or inside the resonating wires of antenna or in the glowing ion channels beyond the receptor. The ghosts are found in the harmonic ring of a molecule’s stretch frequency and from the arrangement of its shape. One will smell of freshly cut grass and another of candle wax.

Perhaps by attempting to interrogate these so called indeterminate qualities under the guise of ghostly entities forming bridges and pathways, we might begin to develop a future taxonomy of fantastical new modes of thought in respect to what was once banished by the church and held in check by other gatekeepers. The affirmation here is aimed towards the occult tendencies of perfumery for a rising up of wondrous vaporous entities from the earth, rather than for the drowning of witches at the weighing station.

Fig 5: Kirlian Image of Mint from the Garden. The Phantom Leaves. 2010.

 

 

 

 


[1] Gernot Bohme, Atmosphere as a fundamental concept of a new Aesthetics (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993), 114.

[2] Ibid

[3] “For Example, in some of Bartlett’s most influential studies, subjects were asked to read a story to themselves (the most famous story being “The War of the Ghosts”); they then tried to recall the story later. Bartlett found that individuals recalled each story in their own idiosyncratic way. Jonathan K Foster, Memory A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford University Press 2009.) 12.

[4] Neuroscientist David Eagleman a specialist at Baylor College of Medicine at Houston Texas tells us “Your brain is built of cells called neurons and glia –hundreds of billions of them. Each one of these cells is as complicated as a city. And each one contains the entire human genome and traffics billions of molecules in intricate economies. Each cell sends electrical pulses to other cells, up to hundreds of times per second. If you represented each of these trillions and trillions of pulses in your brain by a single photon of light, the combined output would be blinding”

[5] See the artists website on this work the “natural history of the enigma” http://www.ekac.org/nat.hist.enig.html

[6] Victoria Lynne. Space Odysseys sensation and Immersion. (Sydney: Art gallery of NSW, 1999),   52.

[7] The quote from Heraclitus appears in Plato’s Cratylus twice; in 401located online http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0171%3Atext%3DCrat.%3Asection%3D401d retrieved,3/2/2012   

[8]  Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen, (2011-03-01). “Introduction: does information matter?” Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press), 13.

[9]Paul Davies and  Niels Gregersen and Niels Henrik. “Introduction: does information matter?”  Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press 2011), 2

[10] Daniel Dennett “Quining Qualia” Ase.tufts.edu 1985-11-21. Retrieved 18/05/2012.

[11] In 3d computer graphics radiosity is an algorithm used to visualise and take into account diffuse inter-reflections of surfaces bouncing off each other. The equation comes from thermal radiation but surfaces also radiate scattered light that has an effect on the illumination of objects in their surroundings.

[12] Levi Bryant, in his book The Democracy of Objects uses the example of a cup in a similar way.

[13] Isabelle Stengers, quoting Whitehead in Thinking with WhiteheadScience and the Modern World (New York: Free Press 1967), 54.

[14] A line of dialogue by Jacques Derrida in the film Ghost Dance, 1983. Director Ken McMullen.

[15]As quoted by Gernot Bohme in Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics Gernot Bohme  Thesis Eleven 1993; W. Benjamin, “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit”, 1st version, Gesammelte Schriften (Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1991)

[16]  A good background for this can be found in the book Blue Mountains Dreaming. The Aboriginal Heritage. By Eugene Stockton.

[17] “Flavin Rod” is a play on the work of American Artist Dan Flavin famous for his sculptures of fluorescent tubes and the ‘light sabre’ or staff as ceremonial rod.

[18] This description refers to two collaborative works with Joyce Hinterding – The Halo Field – published as a DVD that came with Art Monthly Australia 2010 and Hinterding’s field recordings, in particular Transmission Lines Series 512k to Blacktown 2009.

[19] David Haines. The Phantom Leaves – (premiered at Breenspace, Sydney 2010)

[20] First exhibited in the group exhibition curated by Lucy Bleach and Jonathon Holmes at the Plimsoll Gallery Hobart in the exhibition titled, Green. Then in a second iteration as part of the exhibition Cosmic Vapour at Breenspace in 2010 (not discussed in the text).

[21] This sound appeared in the collaborative art work “Black Canyon Earth Field” that appeared in the exhibition, Modern Ruins at Gallery of Modern Art Queensland Haines/Hinterding 2008

[22] Gregory Bateson was one of the first people to think about feedback. Noel Charlton in Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth (S U N Y Series in Environmental Philosophy and Ethics 2012), 15, explains it thus: “He was already seeing social and inter-societal interaction in terms of process and, during this work with the Latmul people, he first recognized (while puzzling over the fact that conflict and reciprocally aggressive behavior between groups of natives did not normally escalate into all-out war) the processes that would, in postwar cybernetics, become “positive feedback” and “negative feedback”-though at the time he referred to “symmetrical schismogenesis” and “complementary schismogenesis.”

[23] Michel Serres. Genesis. (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 1995), 13.

[24] Martin Heidegger. Being and Time. (New York: Harper and Row. 1962), 81-82

[25] Colin Black. Hauntology, spectres and phantoms (Oxford Journals Humanities French Studies Volume 59, Issue) 3Pp. 373-379.

Studio Theory: Camera Lucida

A nice article on the book by Roland Barthes here.

“A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.”
― Gilles Deleuze, Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Where is the studium here in the first image ?…and yet its  full of points, punctuation and punctum. And in the one below, many punctum – but where has the studium gone or is  there in some of the tiles,  reinsertion of another kind of punctum, namely time? I wonder does time act as a more diffuse entity than the points of the first punctum that Barthes identifies – perhaps its not a punctum at all, ( this second punctum) perhaps its a kind of time fog that sits just below the surface, or more curiously, is simply waiting to seep out towards (frame dependence) and there is a third kind one of recognition…hold on the modes are extending…barthes gives us some, but how many are there exactly ? Could there be twelve or twenty five ? Can you find others, is there not a whole taxonomy to be discovered in this new ontology of  photography ? What about the wya the image distorts or decenters space by changing how we see scale ??? etc are there others ?

Studio Theory: On the Sublime

Simon Critchley: art to wake us up

This appeared in the Brooklyn Rail in summer 2012.   The writer is a philosopher on the faculty of the New School.

Absolutely-Too-Much

by Simon Critchley

Contemporary art is an easy thing to hate. All the meaningless hype, the identikit openings in cities that blur into one long, banal, Beck’s beer fuelled anxiety dream from which there is no escape. The seemingly endless proliferation of biennials—the biennialization or banalization of the world. One begins to think that everything aspires to resemble the opening of a Frieze art fair and every culture wants its own cheeky Damien or spunky Tracey. Glamour, celebrity, business, and radiant superficiality blend together to give each location the patina of globality with just a frisson of local color. People talk excitedly of what’s hot and what’s selling for millions. Capricious and seemingly tyrannical übercurators wander around quickly with their assistants talking on cell phones. The sharp eyes of eager young gallerists track them like prey, waiting for the moment to pounce. Everyone is either on the make or wants to be on the make. Contemporary art has become a high-end, global culture mall, which requires very little previous literacy and where the routine flatness of the gossip allows you to get up to speed very quickly. People with the right connections or serious amounts of money or sheer stubborn persistence or who are prepared to do anything can quickly gain access to what has the appearance of a cultural experience. God, it’s awful isn’t it? And I haven’t even mentioned how this art system is fed by the seemingly endless proliferation of art schools, M.F.A. programs, and the progressive inflation of graduate degrees, where Ph.D.s in fine art are scattered like confetti.

It is difficult not to be cynical about contemporary art. Maybe the whole category of the “contemporary” needs much more reflection. Maybe it needs replacing. When does the contemporary cease to be contemporary and become something past? When did the modern become the contemporary? Will the contemporary one day become modern or will there, in the future, be museums of postmodern art: MOPMAs? Why not call contemporary “present art” or “actual art” or “potential art,” or, better, “actually potential art” (APA)? At least it sounds more Aristotelian. But, then again, why use temporal categories at all? Why not use spatial terms instead? Some have spoken of visual art as spatial art, which is an attractive idea. Whichever way one approaches it, however, the categories need to be seriously rethought through research that is historiographical, institutional, and anthropological. The problem with contemporary art is that we all think we know what it means and we don’t. As a consequence, the discourse that surrounds it is drastically impoverished.

But despite such confusions of reference and the horrors of the contemporary art business model—or perhaps even because of it—I want to defend contemporary art, up to a point. It is simply a fact that contemporary art has become the central placeholder for the articulation of cultural meanings—good, bad, or indifferent. I am middle-aged enough to remember when literature, especially the novel, played this role and when cultural gatekeepers were literary critics, or social critics, often from literary backgrounds. That world is gone. The novel has become a quaint, emotively life-changing, and utterly marginal phenomenon. The heroic critics of the past are no more. I watched this change happen slowly when I still lived in England in the sensation-soaked 1990s and recall, as a kind of cultural marker, the opening of Tate Modern in 2000 and immensely long lines queuing up to see a vast spider by Louise Bourgeois in the Turbine Hall. It was clear that something had shifted in the culture.

Even more, the contemporary artist has become the aspirational paradigm of the new worker: creative, unconventional, flexible, nomadic, creating value, and endlessly travelling. In a post-Fordist work paradigm defined by immaterial labor, artists are the perfect entrepreneurs and incarnate the new faux bohemianization of the workplace. Being a contemporary artist looks like a lot of fun, like being a rock star in the 1970s, except you get to live a little longer.

Perversely perhaps, what I admire about much contemporary art is the negotiation of its own relentless commodification, the consciousness of its capture by the circuits of casino capitalism. To work in a university is to be aware that money is changing hands, but the money is hidden and professors like myself can still give themselves the illusion that they are clean-handed, authentic educators and not money-laundering knowledge pimps. But artists do not have that luxury, which gives them a certain honest edginess and less chronic institutional dependency than academics.

The question is whether art is simply a symptom of the rampant capitalization of the mind or whether it can still engage a critical space of distance and even resistance. This might not be the autonomy of Greenbergian modernism, but is closer to what Liam Gillick calls “semi-autonomy.” Not fully free, but not fully compromised either. A space between critical abstraction and commodification. One thinks here of a project like “No Ghost Just a Shell,” by Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe from the early 2000s, which flaunts its commodified character with a manga character bought for 46,000 yen, but manages to subvert it as well. Maybe there is a certain dialectical inversion at work here, where the compromised character of contemporary art also occasionally permits the opposite to come into being.

One might also note the odd way in which the vocabulary of contemporary art, in particular those tendencies that one associates with the brand “relational aesthetics,” with its emphasis on collaboration, participation, and community, has crept into contemporary forms of radical politics. A friend of mine worked on a book about OWS that is prefaced by an aerial, two-dimensional plan of Zuccotti Park. Looking at it, I thought “Jesus, this looks like an installation.” More specifically, it looks like the kinds of wonderful transient structures built by Thomas Hirschhorn, complete with a kitchen, a media space, a library, a discussion space, and so on. So, if there is a rampant commodification of contemporary art, on the one hand, then there is also the bleeding of art practice into novel forms of sociality and politics on the other.

What might “contemporary” art be doing that it is not doing? I have a modest and uncertain proposal to make. Art should not be comfortable. It should be a blow to the back of the neck, as Bruce Nauman says. But what might that mean now? How might that blow be administered?

Let me shift briefly here into a more philosophical register. In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment, he makes a passing, but suggestive set of distinctions between the beautiful, the sublime, and the monstrous. The beautiful is the free play of the imagination and understanding, when everything seems to hang together, rather like driving a humming-engined expensive German car through the California desert. The sublime is what is refractory to the formal harmony of the experience of beauty, something formless, indefinite, and mighty, but still containable within the realm of the aesthetic. For Kant, the sublime is “the almost-too-much,” and is distinguished from the monstrous understood as “the absolutely-too-much.” That which is monstrous defeats our capacity for conceptual comprehension. Kant simply asserts that the monstrous has no place in the realm of aesthetics. The great aesthetic danger is the moment when the tamed terror of sublimity—the Alps or Mount Snowden for the English Romantics—might tip over into the monstrous. Indeed, in the founding text of philosophical aesthetics, Poetics, Aristotle makes an analogous gesture when he makes a distinction between the fearful (to phoberon), which has a legitimate place within tragedy, and the monstrous (to teratodes), which has no place at all.

To put this in other terms, we might say that a certain dominant strain in the history of philosophical aesthetics might be seen as trying to contain a dimension of experience that we might call the uncontainable. This is the dimension of experience that Nietzsche names the Dionysian, Hölderlin calls the monstrous, Bataille calls the formless, and Lacan calls the real.

But what might art be when it exceeds the relative comfort of the almost-too-much of the sublime or the fearful and moves toward the absolutely-too-much of the monstrous? What happens when the uncontainable can’t be contained? When art bears at its core something unbearable? At this point, art becomes anti-art and we experience discomfort—the Naumanian blow to the back of the neck. I would argue that this is what has been happening for the past century or so in various arts and media as a way of dealing with our presentiment of the unbearable pressure of reality, however we want to capture that experience—the shocking trauma of the First World War, poetry after Auschwitz is barbarism, or whatever—has been the experimentation with what we might call an art of the monstrous. Examples proliferate here, from Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, to Bataille’s holy disgust, to Hermann Nitsch’s blood orgies and the theatre of Heiner Müller, even through to that most jaded and overworked of academic tropes: the abject.

It seems to me that if we look back at much of what is most radical and interesting in the art of the last century, we can see that we are no longer dealing with the sublime or indeed with art as the possibility of aesthetic sublimation, but with an art of de-sublimation that attempts to adumbrate the monstrous, the uncontainable, the unreconciled, that which is unbearable in our experience of reality.

Here is my modest proposal: beyond endless video montages and the cold mannerist obsessionality of the taste for appropriation and reenactment that has become hegemonic in the art world, the heart of any artistic response to the present should perhaps be the cultivation of the monstrous and its concomitant affect, namely disgust. Disgust here can be thought of as the visceral register of a monstrosity that can no longer be excluded from the realm of the aesthetic, as it was for Aristotle and Kant, but should be its arrhythmic heart, its hot and volatile core. It is important to keep in mind the link to aesthetic judgments of taste orgustus, which gives us the “gust” in dis-gust, the ill wind in the soft-flapping sails of revulsion. Dis-gust is an aesthetic judgement of dis-taste.

What I am calling for, then, is a new art of monstrosity which is able to occupy a certain semi-autonomous distance from the circuits of capture and commodification. Art now must fix its stare unblinkingly at the monstrous, the unbearable, the unreconciled, and the insanely troubling. The disgust that we feel might not simply repulse or repel us. It might also wake us up.

It is a question of how we think through and deploy the essential violence of art, and perhaps understand art as violence against the violence of reality, a violence that presses back against the violence of reality, which is perhaps the artistic task, thinking of Hamlet, in a state that is rotten and in a time that is out of joint. I think of Francis Bacon. When he was asked to reflect on the purported violence of his painting. Bacon said,

When talking about the violence of paint, it’s nothing to do with the violence of war. It’s to do with an attempt to remake the violence of reality.

He goes on,

We nearly always live through screens—a screened existence. And I sometimes think, when people say my work looks violent, that I have been able to clear away one or two of the veils or screens.

Existence seems to me ever more screened and distanced. This is the risk of a shallow shadow-world whose ideological pancake patina is an empty empathy for a suffering that we do nothing to stop and everything to abet in our passivity, dispersal, and narcissism. None of us is free of this. Maybe art, in its essential violence, can tear away one or two of these screens. Maybe then we’d begin to see. We do not see as we are seen because we are wrapped in a screen. Art might unwrap us a little through its violence.

But what is it that disgusts us? Ay, there’s the rub. I remember giving a Halloween sermon called “How to Become God” in the Cabinet space in Brooklyn a couple of years back. I was dressed as a priest and my friend Aaron was clad as a kind of Satanic elf. We sat on 15-foot-high chairs while on a wall behind us a film of Nitsch’s blood orgies played in gory and graphic detail. Punters happily sipped their cocktails and smiled benignly as they gazed at the spectacle. There was even some playful heckling.

The problem with disgust is that it is a moving limit. What outrages one generation—Bacon, say—becomes slothful banality to the next. The problem here is that art, which is meant to enable or produce some kind of experience of the real in our pushing back against it, might finally be a protection against that experience and end up as a kind of decoration. Perhaps, then, art has to become the enemy of aesthetic experience. In which case, we should become the enemies of art in order to reclaim it. Here anti-art becomes true art in a constant war of position with the degeneration of art’s critical potential into the lethean waters of the contemporary.

-end-

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Studio Theory Photomedia Second Year: Focus Images.

Week 2- 16th of August: Camera Lucida – Roland Barthes.  

Week 3 – 23rd of August:Photo-history I.
Focus Artists:Alexander Gardner, Portrait of Lewis Payne, 1865, Nadar, The Artist’s Mother (or Wife), Daniel Boudinet, Polaroid 1979

Camille Silvy, Proof sheet of Madame Silvy, c.1865;

William Henry Corkhill portrait

Mayer & Pierson portrait of Countess de Castiglione.

Annie Leibovitz celebrity portrait.

Week 4 – 6th of Sep.Landscape as Hallucination.
Focus Photographers: Andreas Gursky,Edward Burtynsky,Ansell Adams.

Andreas Gursky, Dubai World.

Edward Burtynsky, Nickel Tailings No.34 1996.

Ansell Adams. Half Dome.

Week 5: Major Assignment research week. (no class)

Week 6. Photo-Journalism.
Focus Photographers:Eugene Smith; Stephen Dupont; Tracey Moffatt, Scarred for Life series; Sophie Ristelheuber, Fait series; Gilles Perez; Charles Green and Lyndall Brown war artist series

Eugene Smith.

Week 7: On the Street.

Focus Photographers: Brassai, Paris by Night series; Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Philip Lorca diCorcia; Robert Frank, Joachim Schmid, Eugene Atget, Luc Delahaye

Brassai, Paris by Night series.

Week 8: The Real Thing.
Focus Photographers:Nan Goldin (X2), Boris Mihailov, Dorothea Lange, Lewis Hine, Susan Meiselas; An-My Le; Donigan Cumming, Pretty Ribbons series; Ella Dreyfus Pregnancy series; Martha Rosler, The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems series.

Week 9: Diorama and simulation.

Focus Artists: Patricia Piccininni, Haines and Hinterding, Julie Rrap, Thomas Demand, Jeff Wall.

Week 10: The new Materiality.

Week 11: Heavy light: contemporary photography in Japan. 

Focus Artists: Daido Moriyama; Noboyushi Araki; Miwa Yanagi; Naoya Hatakeyama; Hiroshi Sugimoto; Mariko Mori; Yasumasa Morimura; Tatsumi Orimoto; Yoneda Tomeko; Isiuchi Miyako.

Tasumi Orimoto

Week 12: Reclaiming the Colonial Archive.

Focus Artists: Paul Foelsche; J W Lindt; Bishop Nixon; Baldwin Spencer; Brook Andrew; Christian Thompson; Destiny Deacon; Leah King Smith, Patterns of Connection series; Darren Siwes; Michael Riley.

Michael Riley

Art of Sound: Thursday 4 – 6pm.

 

 

http://youtu.be/adGyKkDxQuc


3.1 Noise Clouds d.haines (Draft)

A barrel of rotting vegetable matter after rain is brewing away, a stew, and somehow the barrel gets overturned and the most almighty stink is unleashed. It fills the surrounds with the most gut-wrenching effluvia. Amplitude arises from the noisy crowd and intensity comes from the movement of a swarm of points under pressure. A marauding density of invisible entities fills the space.

According to Hillel Schwartz, in his nine hundred page masterpiece on the subject of noise,[1] a great number of scientific specialists in chaos and complexity appear to point towards noise as the undifferentiated ‘protean’ expressive state, par excellence. Nobel Prize winner[2] Ilya Prigioni as early as 1980, in his book From Being to Becoming: Time and Complexity in the Physical Sciences predicted a major shift in science towards the study of open dynamic systems that would invigorate many fields including the social, biological and physical sciences:

First, irreversible processes are as real as reversible ones; they do not correspond to supplementary approximations that we of necessity superpose upon time – reversible laws. Second, irreversible processes play a fundamental constructive role in the physical world; they are at the bases of important coherent processes that appear with particular clarity on the biological level. Third, irreversibility is deeply rooted in dynamics. One may say that irreversibility starts where basic concepts of classical or quantum mechanics (such as trajectories or wave functions) cease to be observables. [3]

Below is a passage from Schwartz that introduces ‘stochastic resonance’ – a shaper of noise into structure. Stochastic resonance can be thought of as an agent of difference, an injection of an energetic stream into a receptive gathering, this is one way that structure and change appears in causal interactions:

Itself an increasingly technical tem, chaos would come to seem as “normal” to the observations of physicists, biologists, and ecologists as “a certain class of stochastic functions” whose “sufficiently common occurrence in nature” wrote Eckart, justified calling them “normal.” Normal and beneficial, for the Western Sciences operate in the best of all plausible universes, where what is normal is presumed solely by its prevalence to be of measurable and predictable value, the abnormal by its rarity to be heuristic. If there was to be unavoidable background noise as a posterior condition of the Big Bang or an axiom of thermodynamics and information processing, then it must have some earthly good, and scientists seem genuinely happiest when they can, like alchemists, transmute the pathological into the normal. Nowhere more so than, these last decades, turning the trick of noise.

Everyhow and in every which way, by resonance. Stochastic resonance (SR): “Strictly speaking, stochastic resonance occurs in bistable systems when a small periodic (sinusoidal) force is applied together with a large wide band stochastic force (noise). The system response is driven by the combination of the two forces that compete/cooperate to make the system switch between two states. [4]

Things emerge from the drama of noise.  Difference is noise reconfigured; not of an order that precedes noise, but as syntax that arises in patterns and harmonies and discordant configurations that we recognize in all manner of situations – the result of expressive forces swept up as causal interactions in a gathering.

Humans tend to conceive of unity preceding chaos. Theology – the essence – the one – that accounts for chaos. As Rudolf Anaheim points out, “order makes it possible to focus on what is alike and what is different, what belongs together and what is segregated.”[5]It is our senses and technical instruments (that extend our senses) that allow us to hear, see and smell noise and to harness the spectrum of this horde, compositionally.[6]

Territorial animals compose, and Homo sapiens are masters of composition. They harness noise through the cloak of logics and put it to work, and take pleasure from the joy of experiencing patterns and putting order in the place of chaos; or they flirt with chaos by exploiting a risk-taking thirst for creative adventure.

It is because chaos is continually differentiating that we can think of it as a protean medium, and that found within it are islands of stability that have been moulded into place by the powers of other forces. We also attempt to mould these differences into shapes; patterns, language and symbols, and we bring order into the world by way of anchoring raw expressions. We take material information out of the way of the violence of physical forces by assigning abstract value in symbolic networks that become even more powerful when they are converted between material and thought. In other words, we preserve thoughts by making them transcendent. This does not mean that the symbolic now lives in a fortress, since as Latour proposes,  everything undergoes  negotiation  and concepts and symbols are continually being eroded, as much as they are forming within all kinds of  battles.

Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher, in their article “Perfumatives: Olfactory Dimensions in Contemporary Art” tell of how:

F.T. Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, credited the smell of oil and gasoline spilled in a car accident with inspiring him to create a new artistic movement. In one of the many Futurist manifestos produced to outline their aesthetic of “simultaneity,” the use of smells, along with noise and tactility, was encouraged so as to activate all faculties of the viewer. The Futurists also advocated the use of sneezing powder during their soirées, testifying to the extremity of the actions they would take in their quest to renew their audiences’ perceptual faculties. [7]

Many artists work directly with shaping noise for sheer aesthetic reasons. Japanese artist Merzbow utilizes high volume sound in which room-filling static is analogous to the intensity that the artist claims is felt in acts of bondage and yet beats and phrases are always emerging from his modulations. In the 25 year journey undertaken by New Zealand experimental rock group The Dead C,   overdubs are said not to be utilized, as this form of composed layering would be anathema to seeking the collapse of musical structure. Each Dead C work seems to be on the threshold of collapsing into riotous chaos and within this maelstrom, structure is continually emerging in crashing crescendos and gentle murmurs.

Wave fronts push up against each other, in places where humans hardly ever go. The staccato ribbon of ironstone through a band of sandstone that resists the erosion that happens all around it.[8] A stream of water running down a slope into a rock overhang, sheltered from the masses of rain spatters outside: uncountable differences emerge from noise. Figures ribbon their way up through noise, differentiated by frequency (which is a band of energy) from what we think of as the background, however, all kinds of resonances become mobilizing forces – noise is a material that is shaped and kneaded into a topology.  It is a gathering of things folded over on itself, as in the kneading of dough. And dough is a lump from a certain frame, from another position altogether, which is made up of a vast community of coalescing molecular forces of a certain type, interwoven, elastic, and also stretchable to breaking point. This is perhaps what time looks like when we stand outside of the frame of time’s arrow. Events started long before, bubble up in the present, the perfume bottled a century ago bought on eBay, the coal released from the ground now fuel, the sun’s heat warming our summer that started as a chain reaction a million years ago, the vintage wine opened at a birthday party bottled before you were born.

Open a bottle of perfume in the room and the molecules will spread towards equal distribution; this is what the second law of thermodynamics describes.  The creative artisanal cauldron affords change and yet no fire is eternal, in the same way no aroma is fixed in one place. ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ – the matter referred to here as dust is the residue of the complex animated human being seeping back to the elements through decomposition in death. The second law is about the slide back through chaos to equilibrium, against open systems that take their energy from the sun our nearest star, a process of entanglement and tension that will endure until our star inevitably burns out and collapses. According to classical physics the universe is said to be a closed system from which all the elements are made. Turbulent arms of stability and differentiation appear momentarily and eventually returning to smooth space. Just like a perfume as a model of the universe, each material coming out of the bottle there is for a time, a stable discernible experience of a tendril of molecules that lasts as long as the time that we can smell them.

The Roman Lucretius’s scientific poem “On the Nature of Things” (c. 60 BC) contains within it an uncanny intuition of Brownian motion of dust particles. He uses this as a proof of the existence of atoms, and what a model it is. Simply replace dust with the molecules of perfumery for a vivid picture of motion in the air:

Observe what happens when sunbeams are admitted into a building and shed light on its shadowy places. You will see a multitude of tiny particles mingling in a multitude of ways… their dancing is an actual indication of underlying movements of matter that are hidden from our sight… It originates with the atoms which move of themselves [i.e., spontaneously]. Then those small compound bodies that are least removed from the impetus of the atoms are set in motion by the impact of their invisible blows and in turn cannon against slightly larger bodies. So the movement mounts up from the atoms and gradually emerges to the level of our senses, so that those bodies are in motion that we see in sunbeams, moved by blows that remain invisible.

Noise heaped upon noise is one way that noise creates, by folding back on itself as resonance.  A number of fields of expertise have shown how noise plays a role in the formation of many things. Stochastic resonance occurs when noise of a different frequency is added to a system and changes the system in some way.[9] What we have then, are structures appearing from noise and then decomposition in entropy. These two states are the heart of composition.

Within the remarkable chapter titled “Everyhow,” in Schwartz’s Making Noise,  after an expose on the ability of “pink noise” to dither and improve the quality and the “intelligibility of electronic communications and to even strengthen the coherence of audio,”  he writes of how stochastic resonance, (SR) in the text below:

may be vital to the process of driving sensory responses, as it is with the mechanoreceptors of crayfish, a phylum so ancient that biologists speculate that (SR)  had a large role in earliest animal evolution. If not primordial (SR) was primal. According to neurobiologists and microbiologists, (SR) was “evolvable” for and integral to gene expression. In the long run it made possible the detection of “quiet” events or small changes in biological systems, which are “dominated by noise, or random neural firings” – as in the Brownian motion of the stereocilia of the cochlear hair cells or the fibrillations of the heart.

“Fluctuations allow the different elements of the universe to explore any state, irrespective of its degree of stability,” wrote the physicist’s Jordi Garcia –Ojalvo and Jose M. Sancho in 1999, putting the most intrepid of spins on what had been the bane of chemical, mechanical, electrical and nuclear engineering and plasma physics… “Such newfound respect [for noise] was anchored in a review of “noise induced transitions” by Werner Horsthemke and Rene Lefever in 1984. The two physicists, situated on the opposite end of the spectrum from the continuing research on noise-induced physiological damage, had studied twenty years of experimental results in a dozen fields, starting with Radio engineering, all of which demonstrated that external noise could induce “more structured behaviour” in equilibrium systems. Through this “symbiotic relationship of order and randomness,” they heard the answer to a conundrum common to twentieth century science, philosophy and literature: how can long range macroscopic order “spontaneously appear and maintain itself in spite of molecular chaos and internal fluctuations”? With a nod to Darwin’s suggestion that random mutations, leveraged by natural selection, were the triggers of change, Horsthmenke and Lefever affirmed that noise was “omnipresent in natural systems,” whose stable states were often the creatures of noise.” In this respect the Big Bang had been less a manic solo than a downbeat for galaxies continuously configured by noise, and we would do well to abandon point-point analyses of cosmic events in favour of stochastic “densities” akin to the density of auditory experience with its simultaneities of sounds. Noise acoustic, biological, electrical, statistical, thermodynamic, and sub atomic was the Eternal Gospel, the universe’s way of perpetually revealing, renewing and creating… As Garcio–Ojalvo and Sancho would write with metaphorical verve, “In convectively unstable regimes, the presence of noise seeds the system of small perturbations everywhere, and, as a consequence, spatial structures.” The implications were grand: a universe seeded with, seething with noise must be one in which noise makes things solid. [10]

Aroma is multiplicity – noise is multiplicity. Noise is the conjoiner: Serres remarks that “there is noise in the subject and noise in the object”.[11] We can draw from this that the aromatic forms a bridge between subject and world.

Serres remarks on how Leibniz draws our attention to the word aggregate, and undervalues the concept by according them merely “the status of a heap of stones.”[12]   What could be humbler  than the enticing homely aroma of dinner being cooked, wafting up the street at night when walking home – a cloud of aroma molecules, a compendium of comforting  signals hanging in the air that instigates all kinds of thoughts, memories and sensations.

On the other hand, noise is certainly frightening in its power to cancel out the senses. However, there is something within this fear that goes beyond the agony of volume, or the terror of stampede, perhaps it is the disquiet and challenge of coming up against a formless subject and force.

A quote from Serres from the book that was originally meant to be titled Bruit in French, or ‘noise’ in English, instead became Genesis. Here Serres attempts to grasp at a pre-phenomenological Ur Noise, always in tension with concepts of unity and order – a tension that reveals an impoverished need for control against the multiple:

We are fascinated by the unit; only a unity seems rational to us. We scorn the senses, because their information reaches us in bursts. We scorn the groupings of the world and we scorn those of our bodies. For us they seem to enjoy a bit of the status of ‘being’ only when they are subsumed beneath a unity. Disaggregation and aggregation, as such, and without contradiction, are repugnant to us. Multiplicity, according to Leibniz, is only a semi-being. A cartload of bricks isn’t a house. Unity dazzles on at least two counts: by its sum and its division. That herd must be singular in its totality and it must also be made up of sheep or buffalo. We want a principle, a system, integration, and we want elements, atoms and numbers. We want them and we make them. A single God and identifiable individuals.[13]

Aggregation and disaggregation comes naturally to the artist because it is what is experienced every day within a practice. Whilst never effacing language completely, the artist seems more willing to accept the unformed. This dance with chaos and this straddling of form and formlessness has always belonged to the ‘tunings’ of art, even in its most representational moments. There are all kinds of scumblings  in the background of paintings by Courbet for example, dissonances in music, chips and gouges in sculpture and architecture, a non-linguistic material styling perhaps found most prolifically within the style known as wabi sabi  in Japanese culture. The impressionists scumbled the entire picture plane in order to represent the effects of light. And so does the actor who contorts his face in agony and the dancer that leaps and freezes momentarily, the discord that creates an accord. In perfumery, a range of unpleasant materials are utilised to mould and shape the tone of a fragrance.

Jackson Pollock’s action painting flings the paint through space in arcs of chance, landing on the canvas, which is now on the floor instead of being supported in a horizontal position. With this approach, he is able to discern the density and the direction of the paint in his noisy paintings. The accidental shatter of Duchamp’s The Large Glass is a famous example of an artist riding the aleatory. Many aspects of John Cage’s work in sound and music continually rely on chance operations, all realised within formal boundaries, except now, the frame of the work is duration, rather than a boundary of moulded timber.

Hermann Nitsch gets hold of Pollock’s methodology and reverses the terms by naming it “Painting Action” and instead of the brittle car duco that signs itself with the United States motor industry, paints with blood spatters. This is the animal blood of Europe, and the blood of the provincial farm and of peasant farmers, and of the horrors of war, and he calls on the god Dionysius as part of his cathartic ritual. At the same time his work belongs to the orgy of mass production, the sausage factory, the curtains of blood on the walls and floor of the abattoir, forming glorious patterns. In his ritual actions, one palpably smells the blood and one sees up close the separation of the iron of the red blood cells into brown stains of oxidation, and if one is holding the bucket and it happens to touch bare skin on the leg, the warmth of blood, fresh from the kill can be felt.

The smell in the space is antiseptic and also of the animal. There is a velvety thick smell in the air that tickles the trigeminal nerve system,[14] as much as it is ringing in the olfactory epithelium. Over a six week period, as the fresh blood diminishes from its almost hospital-like antiseptic olfactory qualities, the smell becomes even more of an irritant and metallic, as if the dust of crushed chilli and powdered aluminium has been flung into the air. In Nitsch’s work we have a situation of controlled decay or a tonal synthesis of the cadaver, a reduction or distillation of the carcass as only a part of the animal is in the room. Missing are the strange smells of gut and faeces and secretions from the other organs.[15]Little wonder Nitsch is an artist fascinated by the drones of musical organs as much as he is by animal organs.[16]

Fig 3. Working as an assistant to Hermann Nitsch in the 1988 Bicentennial Biennale.

Artists don’t have exclusive rights on harnessing chaos towards creative ends; this belongs to the entire world. Science moulds and studies chaos, and so does religion and politics.  We are both grounded and free. Grounded by language and our subjectivity and yet when language escapes us, ecstasy, laughter, or humiliation takes over. When our subjectivity dissipates we are heading towards nirvana, euphoria, or alternately under threat, heading into panic-stricken chaos. Could this be why aroma has been pushed aside, because it couldn’t be held in check by the comfort of critical distance, nor could it be contained by the chill of certain logics?

Let us be done for now with the ‘subject-object’ distinction and instead try to imagine ‘things’ swarming and bumping into other things. We have language and the symbolic and it gifts to us. It keeps us grounded and yet it too produces ‘ecstatic’ noises – the cries and screams of children on the beach in summer, or the cries of the crowd at the match – the angry mob. All of the cries that belong to the guttural pre-figurative sounds mixing with words, before the separation back to our houses.

The background noise is always there, the signal claps like a flash of lightning, rumour rushes forth. The signal is a unit, pandemonium is undefined, and rumour is a plurality. The ruckus fluctuates like choppy waters lapping, the signal is a fluctuation, the rumour’s noise is the flux, or the totality of fluxions. It increases, decreases, globally, locally it is multiple, various, variegated. Voices, cries, tears, thunderings, rumblings, whistles and crashes, breaths, blasts, grindings, blows, chains and beats, cracklings and sounds, growling and waves, moans that die away…the river of noise carries along a thousand tonalities.[17]

Our senses are always adjusting to noise, responding to changes in energy; we continually come up against this fabric of noise that is ridden in everything.  Our sensory organs are transducers that convert parts of this informational spectrum into other kinds of information. How is it that any dualisms hold up when we have developed within the body such incredible systems for converting information from one type to another – information that can be so distant and beyond language and yet is able to belong to it? Things are irreducible and yet its powers are converting as emanations and transmitting signals.

Saturation point – back to noise: within many of these systems there is a threshold where the intensity peaks and it is cancelled out; the flesh is fragile and sensitive. Too many chemicals bombarding the nose and the system momentarily stops working. We all experience this type of anosmia.[18]

Air is the medium that surrounds us, constantly moving in turbulent spirals, full of particles, sound, water, mist, noxious vapours, fragrance and smoke. The outside is noisy and yet so is the interior, because there is no way of escaping the spectrum, which is on the inside of the body as well. We cannot escape odours except in sleep, or inebriation, anaesthetization. We can try to filter the senses by blocking our ears, pinching our noses and breathing less deeply, or by covering our eyes, but only for as long as we can hold our hands over these openings.[19] The best method is to run away from it.

Sometimes we have to shout over ourselves to get past the noise and the fury of all the chaos that is chattering within – the noise of tinnitus versus the maelstrom of consciousness. Listen for the libido that natters endlessly and the niggling anxieties that seem to crop up all day long. We are populated by a multitude. Listen to this daily endless argument – this unceasing chatter of the laughing skull that allows things to enter – molecules and thoughts. And yes, these affects settle down and become mere chatter, though at times there are so many voices shouting within they become a crowd – stress and noise.[20] As neuroscientist David Eagleman points out:

There is an ongoing conversation amongst different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behaviour. As a result you can accomplish the strange feats of arguing with yourself, cursing at yourself, and cajoling yourself to do something – feats that modern computers simply do not do. [21]

Frederick Nietzsche thought about it this way:

The assumption of one single subject is perhaps unnecessary; perhaps it is just as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects, whose interaction and struggle is the basis of our thought and our consciousness in general? A kind of aristocracy of “cells” in which dominion resides? My Hypothesis: The subject as multiplicity.[22]

The noise of the sea and rain and storm, the howling wind, the confused patterns of deep grass, the tangle in the rainforest, the noisy crowds in a protest rally, the mists and the fogs, the plumes of vapours of frangipani and eucalyptus in summer. Or the subtle emissions of magnolia after winter rain, subdued perhaps, by a drop in air temperature. Or what about the sweet narcotic stench of death, of food rotting and of pollution, gas emissions in swamps, the tangle of scree:[23]

Noise cannot be a phenomenon; every phenomenon is separated from it, a silhouette on a backdrop, like a beacon against the fog, as every message, every cry, every call, and every signal must be separated from the hubbub that occupies silence, in order to be, to be perceived, to be known, to be exchanged. As soon as phenomenon appears, it leaves the noise; as soon as form looms up or pokes through, it reveals itself by veiling noise. So noise is not a matter of phenomenology, so it is a matter of being itself. It settles in subjects as well as in objects, in hearing as well as in space, in the observers as well as the observed, it moves through the means and tools of observation, whether material or logical, hardware or software, constructed channels or languages; it is part of the in-itself, part of the for-itself. [24]

Manual Delanda explains how information operates in all kinds of realms, how patterns emerging from chaos are expressive forces at the centre of what it means to live and to exist:

These expressive patterns are what scientists call “information”. This term does not refer to the semantic information that we may get from, say, newspapers, but to linguistically meaningless physical patterns. That physical information has nothing to do with semantic content is demonstrated by the fact that information theory was developed during World War II to deal with problems of communicating encrypted military messages, that is, messages in which the linguistic form and content were hidden. Physical information pervades the world and it is through its continuous production that matter may be said to express itself. Material expressivity, on the other hand, crossed an important threshold when it ceased to be mere fingerprint and became functional in the form of the genetic code: groups of three nucleotides, the chemical components of genes, came to correspond in a more or less unique way to a single amino acid, the component parts of proteins. Using this correspondence, genes can express themselves through the proteins for which they code.
This implies that expression has gone beyond the production of information to include its active storage and processing. And this, in turn, implies that when populations of information-storing molecules replicate themselves, and when this replication is biased in one or another direction by the interactions of proteins with each other and with their environment, the expressive capacities of material entities may evolve and expand in a multiplicity of novel ways. Like atoms, living organisms can express their identity by the emission of patterns, chemical patterns for example. But unlike atoms, this expression has functional consequences since it allows the recognition of an organism’s identity by members of the same species, a recognition that is crucial for genetic replication. [25]

And here is a provisional formula for an aromatic cloud:  a turbulent particle system that is light enough to float in the air, made up in all probability of a variety of molecules (since smells are unlikely to consist of one molecular type), each a carrier of information and each subjected to the surrounding forces, in particular temperature, air flow and gravity; moisture is a factor as well as these molecules are attracted to water. Noise is in the background, but it is not a background; it is the ground.


[1] Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise – From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond (New York Zone Books 2011.) 842,

[2] Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

[3] Ilya Prigogine, From Being to Becoming: Time and complexity in the Physical Sciences (Free University of Brussels and The University of Austin Texas 1980.), 190.

[4] Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise – From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond (New York Zone Books 2011.) 843,

[5] Rudolf Anaheim, Entropy and Art an Essay on Disorder and Order. (Los Angeles, London: University Of California Press, Berkeley.1971), 5.

[6] The four forces – the electromagnetic spectrum (which are frequencies of light only a band of which are visible) gravity, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force.

[7]Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fischer,  The olfactory Review The Official Publication of the Olfactory Research Fund V O L. V I I, N O. 1

[8] In the vernacular of rock climbers from the Blue Mountains, NSW these formations are known as dinner plates.

[9] See –“What Is Stochastic Resonance? Definitions, Misconceptions, Debates, and Its Relevance to Biology Mark” D. McDonnell1*, Derek Abbott21 Institute for Telecommunications Research, University of South Australia, Mawson Lakes, South Australia, Australia, 2 Centre for Biomedical Engineering and School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

[10] Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise – From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond (New York Zone Books 2011.),  843.

[11] Michel Serres. Genesis. Translated by Genevieve James and James Nielson (Anne Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995), 61.

[12] Michel Serres. Genesis. Translated by Genevieve James and James Nielson (Anne Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1995), 62.

[13] Michel Serres. Genesis. trans. Genevieve James and James Nielson (Anne Arbor: The University of Michigan Press,1995), 63.

[14] Trigeminal Nerves are the second part of the smell system that makes menthol cool and chilli hot and some smells astringent.

[15]  I worked with Hermann Nitsch for six weeks in 1988. In my library of molecules are a few nitriles that smell of fresh air and blood. All of that iron in the blood is possibly being converted into some kind of nitrogen molecule -all of the nitrogen based molecules smelt throughout this study (and there are not that many in aroma chemistry) have a blood note lurking somewhere within them.

[16] Nitsch is a prolific producer of audio recordings of minimalist high powered organ based drone music.

[17] Serres Michel. Genesis. Translated by Genevieve James and James Nielson (Anne Arbor: The University of Michigan Press), 65.

[18] S.Van Toller and G.H Dodd, Fragrance: the biology and psychology of perfume. (London and New York. Elsevier Applied Science 1991), 102.

[19] Strong enough smells can make one vomit or gag I know this from my own experience.

[20] One doesn’t have to be schizophrenic to hear this, if one listens during stress.

[21] David Eagleman, Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain (Melbourne: Text Publishing. 2011), 107.

[22] Frederick Nietzsche, Will To Power, (United Kingdom: Vintage, 1968), 490.

[23] A number of my friends and I once smelt a rotting cadaver, a man had died in the flat nearby. The air was saturated with a thick narcotic headiness – a perfume like wilting flowers. They say when the body decays it releases Indole which is an important componentry in perfumery because in heavy dilution it smells floral. See entry on Indole later in this chapter.

[24] Michel Serres. Genesis. (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. 1995), 13.

[25] Manual Delanda. “Matter Matters,”Domus, No 895, September 2006, pp. 262-63