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Norie Neumark

In February 2008, the Music.Sound.Design Symposium at the University of Technology, Sydney invited academics and practitioners, who are working at the intersection of sound, music, and design, to wend their way through the complexities of this relation. It soon became clear that if the relationship between sound and music has been both porous and cacophonous ever since John Cage blurred their boundaries in the mid twentieth century, adding "design" to the mix has ramped up the volume.

When we approach sound and music through the lens of design, technique and technology emerge as crucial factors. Although technique is commonly said to be a response to a pre-existent object or technology, it actually helps to construct the object and to shape the technology. Michel Foucault's work has been crucial here, studying ways that bodies, techniques, institutions, discourses, and social space intersect. His approach has influenced work on sound technique and technologies ?including, for example, the work of historians (Alain Corbin and Emily Thompson) and media and cultural studies (Michael Bull and Jonathan Sterne).

A recurrent theme in the Music.Sound.Design Symposium was the potentialities and complexities of the relationship between sound and vision, with many looking to Michel Chion's idea of synchresis: "synchresis (a word I have forged by "combining synchronism and synthesis) is the spontaneous and irresistible weld produced between a particular auditory phenomenon and the visual phenomenon when they occur a the same time. This join results independently of any rational logic." (Chion, 1994: 63) Vastly differing emotional and aesthetic effects hinge upon the way that this "join" is made ? through culturally determined aesthetics and techniques, on the one hand, and through professional and artistic logics brought to bear in the maker's designing it and in the audience's interpreting it, on the other hand. A number of papers in this issue address these possibilities ? from art to commercial audio-vision, from film and video to installation. Another key researcher (often implicitly) underpinning work here is Rick Altman, who elaborated the effects of the techniques and technologies of miking and sound mixing in film and how these produced cinema's audio-vision and the viewer's relationship to it.

Crucially underlying most of the articles in this issue is the relation of practice to research. Some of the articles are best understood as practice ?based research, where knowledge is embodied in the work that comes out of a practice; others fall more into the category of practice ? led research, which is concerned with the nature of practice itself. In her book Practice as Research Estelle Barrett usefully points us to Martin Heidegger thinking about "praxical knowledge," and argues for "artistic practice [to] be viewed as the production of knowledge or philosophy in action. . . . a new species of research, generative enquiry that draws on subjective, interdisciplinary and emergent methodologies that have the potential to extend the frontiers of research." (Barrett 2007: 1) In examining their own process, as artists, composers, designers, and researchers, the authors in this issue provide valuable pointers to the effects of techniques of design and production across a range of sound and music practices.

The participants at the Symposium ranged across the philosophical, aesthetic, and social implications of sound and music design strategies -- including for soundtrack, installation and radio. The papers below exemplify the range of these contributions.

Ian Andrews places 21st century audio visual performance work, arising out of VJ culture, in an historical context ? examining particularly absolute cinema, expanded cinema, optical music and kinetic art and structural film. In relation to the aesthetic debates about the relation of sound and image to each other, to technology and to the senses, Andrews looks to Chion's synchresis to understand how AV intensely couples sound and image. He contends that AV is unique because of "the contracted focus on specific media tools and technologies which function as demarcating material limits."

Stephen Barrass presents a series of case studies of his sonification research that build up a new theoretical approach to sonification through practical experiments. Sonfication techniques have interested scientists and interface designers for over a decade and are increasingly of interest to sound artists and musicians, who want to work with its aesthetic potentials. "Sonification is the use of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data." ( While most sonification initially worked with musical metaphors based on pitch and loudness of instrument channels, Barrass has been investigating auditory figure/grounds known as "streams" that expand both the informational and aesthetic potentials of sonification.

Philip Samartzis examines how field recording techniques can shape our experience of locations, using examples of his own work where he uses recordings of natural environments in evocative and emotive art installations. He provides careful detail of the techniques of capturing and manipulating the sound ? and how these relate to his own political and social concerns of making things audible and perceptible in new ways. Each choice of microphone, technique of miking and post production gives a different perspective -- just as each way of listening in the environment gives a different perspective. These are all aesthetic/political choices and demonstrate the relationship between technique, technology, aesthetics, and social/political concerns.

Darrin Verhagen examines both his own practice and that of other sound designers and composers to elaborate various ways that audio-visual relationships work ? for the maker and for the audience. Verhagen works with Christopher Koch's figure of "?Zombie Agents'? routines, based on past experience, which can run, unnoticed, in the background whilst we're paying attention to other things." His article examines audiovisual relationships not just from the point of view of the sound designer and composer but also elaborates ways in which audiences process them. Looking at the relationship between these two points of view ? making and reception ? Verhagen asks how composers and sound designers can work with these "cognitive mechanics." He explores what he argues is an "elasticity of audiovisual alignment," giving rise to a "range of potential responses that can occur when preset frames of reference are violated."

Danielle Wilde presents her practice-based research into body-sounds generated by interactive sound works. She explores how extending the body with technology in ways that magnify, amplify and extend its processes, focuses attention on them. Following Dada and Surrealism's development of defamiliarisation, Wilde understands this framing of perception as a process of making strange that enables us to experience our bodies in new and fresh ways. Her work not only enables new perceptions of the body through sound, but also of sound through the body.

In the Information Section, two artists present their work. Kirsten Reece gives three examples of "cross-disciplinary works that expand and combine the forms of installation, composition and performance." Jim Denley discusses outdoor places to make audio art in Australia. He suggests that "when we talk about acoustics, a focus on rooms and buildings is not particularly relevant to this continent."


The Music.Sound.Design Symposium 2008 was presented by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (now FASS) and the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building in partnership with the Centre for Media Arts Innovation ( Though not reflected in this issue, the Symposium also involved generous discussions of pedagogic issues as part of the planning process for a new BA degree planned for 2010.


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Altman, Rick (1992) "The Material Heterogeneity of Recorded Sound" in Rick Altman, ed, Sound Theory, Sound Practice, New York and London: Routledge

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UTS Music.Sound.Design Symposium 2008