This is the second in a series of posts concerning the theories of what Jonathan Sterne would call ‘sound students.’ This is my humble attempt to grasp the (no-longer-so-)budding field of sound studies and develop a theory of sonic affect.
A few weeks ago, Steve Goodman visited Copenhagen to talk about Sonic Warfare and his work as Kode9. His talk was largely based around the militarisation of sound – whether through LRADs, sonic booms over the Gaza Strip or the ‘ghost army‘ deployed by the US during WWII. Reading Sonic Warfare has showed me how an investigation that on the surface seems to deal with examples of sound as weaponry can move much further than that. Goodman tackles Deleuzo-Guattarian politics, Massumi’s theory of affect, Kodwo Eshun’s afrofuturism, Whitehead’s speculative materialism and more.
Augoyard & Torgue argue that the sonic effect is an open concept that constitutes a new paradigm of analysis. The ‘effect’ lies between cause and event. It is not an object in itself – sound does not physically change in the Doppler effect, as when an ambulance drives past. The only change happens in the relation between the observer and the emitting object. Thus, the object and subject emerge out of this relation – this ecology of vibrational effects. The sonic effect is what lies between physical sound and the subject’s ‘internal soundscape.’ However, instead of an ontology of vibrational effects, we should approach the (sonic) world through an ontology of vibrational affects that account for our mediatised, environmental and machinic coexistence. It is here that Augoyard & Torgue’s research is helpful to Goodman’s project, in that it positions the body and a transducer of vibration rather than a detached subject.
In the same sense, affect theory replaces the fluid nature of meaning for a more materialist approach. Steve Goodman writes; “If affect describes the ability of one entity to change another from a distance, then the mode of affection will be understood as vibrational.” (Goodman 2010: 83) This concept of change based on sonic vibrations presents novel modes of analysis of sonic arts that move away from the multiplicity of meanings deduced by methods lifted from the visual and textual arts. This vibrational force – or affective tone – then becomes a way to modulate not only mood, but materials and the socio-aesthetic realm.
To develop his ontology of vibrational force, Goodman refers to Whitehead’s speculative materialism as a way to describe how all things flow and no objects ever exist in themselves; objects are simply amalgamations of qualities (red, hard, sweet, crunchy). Therefore, according to Graham Harman, objects are useless fictions. This flow and malleability of objects is central to how Simondon and Whitehead both see living things and complex systems as striving for change. And perhaps this is what creativity is – change and novelty.