Sonicity

During his talk last year at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal, Wolfgang Ernst mentions the concept of sonicity. This was the first time I’ve heard Ernst mention aspects of sound (aside from the few passages in Digital Memory and the Archive) and it got me excited. Especially since Ernst was a big influence on my MA-thesis about new media art archives with his media archaeological and deconstructive approach to (computer) archiving.

With the announcement of his new book Sonic Time Machines (date of publication set for 2016), I am excited to see how Ernst will combine two great interests of mine; archives and sound.

Yet after watching the talk, I am left with a tame feeling that this idea of sonicity is not the novel idea I was hoping it to be. Ernst starts to discuss what he means by this concept at 46:55; “There is an implicit sonicity in computational architectural silence. A sounding latency. Like a gothic cathedral waiting for the organ.” By this definition, sonicity is little more than a way to describe the oral/aural history of objects. How even an unplugged modem still contains within it the croaking and wheezing clicks, whirrs and beeps we remember so vividly. As interesting as the archived object’s potential for sound is, I fail to see what academic insights can evolve from this? Doesn’t it seem kind of.. old.. to you?

Later, in talking about the magnetic tapes on which archives used to be stored, he takes another stab at defining sonicity, as the sounds coming from these tapes. (49:03) “If we listen to computing, we are not listening to content but to memory itself.” The sounds of the archive itself. So now we’re not talking about the sound of the objects, but the sound of the collections holding the objects? In a sense, what I think Ernst is trying to get at, is a acoustics of computational architecture. The resonance or reverberation of software – the rhythm of algorithms.

And just as he seems to be tapping into intriguing territory, he shuts down and starts talking about computer architecture again. Ernst covers a lot more sonic ground in his talk, but it lacks focus and he keeps trailing off about silence (temporal, culturally negative), sound-as-signal/noise (Kittler) and other slightly dusty ideas.

Maybe I’m being too harsh here. I do think that Sonic Time Machines will hold the academic clarity and rigour needed to explore what I hope will be the vibrations of software. A rhythmanalysis of the algorhythms of digital architecture.

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