A Sound Projectile Behind the Light


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became light (from the Gospel of St. John)

1. Sound and the Moving Image: Foundation

The moving image is always accompanied by a chaotic or organized sound. In terms of acoustics, the image reflects its form of life, its direction and its intervention on the world’s surface through sound. The matrix of this agitation is always sound. The fact that this agitation is the foundation of life in each observer indicates not only the fluid and invisible form of sound but also the territory from where it starts and through which it passes. The central dilemma in the first two decades of the 20th century on the issue of sound and image was especially constituted in the relationship between cinema and art and in cinema as a visual representation of the event, i.e., as a narrative that approaches everyday narratives that can be either individual or collective. The transition from silent to sound films or the insertion of sound into a moving image, music or natural sounds, deviated film from the constitution of another point of view on the real and erected the urban or rural quotidian to a fictional narrative. But for this to happen and for it to be immersive, that is, for it to create an illusion or metaphor that the event had occurred or is occurring, it had to move closer to life, and this, as we know, is sound. Sound is then thought, in its synchrony with the image as the vital element of construction of this simulation, through its tangibility to life and immersion, which is the quality of any sound. Hearing differs qualitatively from the vision on that quality: how the waves propagate and expire obstacles produces in each listener the spectrum of the form, including its volume. The sound object is therefore immersive, by affecting us and making us focus on the event being listened to. The initial foundation is the same that leads to the capture and reproduction of 3D images.1It is in the 40s and 50s of the last century - still far from the technology capable of performing this action - that the first 3D tests in film began. And just as it happened with the inclusion of sound, the idea here was also rejected by undermining the notion of spoken film. An example: 3 D Film and Cyclopic Effect, by Gunther Anders-Stern, published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 15, No. 2. (Dec., 1954), pp. 295-298. Stereoscopy wants to produce not only immersion but some kind of interaction in the event.

The root of this problem in constant technical resolution, ever since technology was constituted and especially since the 18th century, was the ideology of eliminating that which separates the subject from the world and the reconstruction of the modes of how to access that subject. We can find this ideology with greater force with the invention of recording and sound reproduction equipment, such as the phonograph and the gramophone. The possibility of listening to the past, i.e. the possibility of listening to the event in the present, erects new layers of access to the real and bounds it to the subject. The event becomes a time without the indication of being past but of something that is happening. Of course this is only realized while we listen, through immersion, by distancing ourselves from the sound source that we could only “recognize” through the appearance of recording and reproduction devices. The narrative time is precious here, because when we talk about sound we must also speak about time. However, time here is not a linear time but composed of different layers. If we listen carefully, it was not only film that has changed with synchronization, but all images and, especially, literature. The great works of the first half of the 20th century reflect this twisting of time and this ability to rebuild the event in the present. Listen, for example, to À la recherche du temps perdu by Proust, Ulysses by James Joyce, Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin, or The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner, just to name a few. In these works what we find are not linear times, from a point in the past up to the present or future, but layers of time that succeed one another and that we as readers access as if they were extensions, passages and, therefore, living things. What these authors did in literature also happened in other arts, and continues to happen, now constituting the fragment as an aesthetic category.

2. What Sound Prompts Us to See

Unlike the image or its representation that is positioned in a field for “harvesting” lines of visibility and, in these, objects, sound potentiates an aggregation of territories with objects to rebuild or create sound masses. The separation between the lines of field and sound in “mute” film, since sound was carried out in a room through live music or the absence of it, constituted an impasse to the recognition of visual perception, and of what we understand as real, the place of experience and existence. From the 1920s onwards everything changed: the desire to make the moving image as an analogy of existence and not a metaphor or metonymical artistic reference, is grounded in the early work of Edison on the synchronization of image and sound. Synchronization is nothing more than uniting, in the same space of utterances, the time that is simultaneous to a given action and its sound production.

In the passage from the 20s to the 30s in the past century, there was a growing interest in listening and in the ear, that is, they became themes that did not disregard the technical advance in these areas. The first causes may be the radio, as a medium, and new technology was understood as a mutant within the communities, as well as the “soundtrack” now linked to film. Several philosophers or scientists who continued to be interested in listening and music published the first texts on the subject. Those that stand out are Adorno, Gunther Anders (as well as Stern) and Georg von Békésy2Theodor W. Adorno: "On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening" (1938), in Essays on Music, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Gunther Anders: Philosophische Utersuchungen zu musikalischen Situationen (Philosophical Inquiries into Musical Situations), 1929-1930, quoted in Veit Erlamann, Reason and Resonance, (New York: Zone Books, 2010), pg. 308 and following pages; Martin Heidegger: Sein und Zeit (Being and Time); Georg von Békésy: "Zur Theorie des Horens: die Schwingungsform der Basilarmembran" (1928), Experiments in Hearing, (New York; MacGraw-Hill, 1960)., just to name a few. The central issue originated in the phenomenological element of the sound object, which was also important for the progress of the synchronization of image with sound: the immersion caused by music, in itself, constitutes a landscape that is “exterior” to the world. This concept of the landscape unrelated from the world was important in handling sound as an image since it was important to associate the soundtrack to not only natural sounds or the scene but also to music. The first would constitute identity reactions, thereby avoiding a subjectification over musical listening that would make the general meaning chaotic. Thus, word resonance becomes important here, as it was understood by Veit Erlmann, in its relationship with reason: “resonance was inextricably linked with presence – the presence of an idea, emotion, or object”.3Veit Erlmann, Reason and Resonance - A History of Modern Aurality, (NY: Zone Books, 2010), pg. 311. For Erlmann, Gunther Anders’s response to a question formulated decades later by Peter Sloterdijk (also linked to another important question by Hannah Arendt: “Where are we when we think”, in The Life of the Mind), “Where are we when we listen to music” will be: when listening to music we are out of the world and in music4Ibid, pg. 312., or “the indication of the place remains vague; it is true that you can never be completely in the world when one is listening to music”.5Peter Sloterdijk, O Estranhamento do Mundo, (Lisboa: Relógio d'Água, 2008), pg.179. All translations from non-English sources are my own, unless otherwise noted. This means that the subject is founded, from an early age, in his ability to listen to himself and therefore to constitute an inner voice, that secures his or her identity.6Sloterdijk, in the same article, actually calls on the notion of audible cogito in order to found the being with the existing. A cogito that coerces with the Cartesian cogito of logic. We have therefore a double situation derived from listening to sounds: a subjectification from listening to music, and an outlet from this interior space to the world from other sounds that have a general hermeneutics, based on predefined mappings. In light of this confrontation of situations, the moving image could only make progress if there was a balance between the aesthetic ear and the ethical ear (as a political ear or agent). Any theory on listening, as a theory of experience thus appropriates itself of the modes of human reception and reaction to different sounds, without forgetting silence. We should, however, introduce the situation of man at that time: if on the one hand man began to think about the world from technical reproduction (the famous text, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, by Walter Benjamin appears in its 1st version in 1936), on the other hand, these devices began to modify the notions that we had of space and time: it is a distinct experience of objects from their exposure on the world’s surface, the experience of objects reproduced, as it happens with sound. And it is above all, in this case, that space which gains “visibility”: space is a “body” in expansion, ubiquitous not from itself but from devices such as the radio. For this reason, film would sooner or later have to introduce these notions of space and time and this could only have been done from the synchronization of sound with the moving image. The being of ubiquity is ontologically distinct from the use and reception of playback devices. And it becomes more “evident” when sound, music or noise is pasted on a strip of celluloid or on a disk (vinyl or other support). We all feel that we are finally ubiquitous when we can access applications and means of communication in a particular place (which remains unchanged at the time) that bring us closer or make us fall into other places, making us omnipresent or related to multiple layers of time and space. The qualities that founded these new perceptions of the real and which are also in the area of synchronization are the same as those we find in new entertainment and communication devices: deterritorialization, the real presence of the distant and the dissolution of physical and material structures as well as meaning (such as the move of the book to hypertext).

3. Sound, Voice and Media

3.1 Critical Elements

Two critical elements that have always been linked to sound are raised here either separate or together: music and voice. In fact what unites these elements in constant dispersion is sound which, as we have seen, founds the being with an active object. But sound in human creation, in film or in music, wants to be more than an agglomeration of waves coming from a sound source on its path to an ear. It wants to be the sign of an experience with meaning or the founding of an experience with meaning. The first situation makes a sound object the activator of a memory, in the opinion of Freud, and the second transforms sound into an active meaning that regulates the hermeneutics of the image. If in the first instance sound or a sound expression (voice, music, or both) can only be considered as a process of involuntary knowledge, since it is outside of the intentionality of the subject but not the “author” of the work; the second by a voluntary process, or not, founds the meaning for the image, conducting a priority meaning to a possible hermeneutic of visibility. The unlikelihood of communication is here the domain of memory or of experience, as sound affection can trigger “phantom images” that were not foreseen at the outset. This effect is only eliminated when sound, properly tested, is always projected in certain emotions or situations that have already and actually been experienced.

There is an old dilemma in western civilisation between sound (voice) and image: you hear it in St. Paul in the assertive function of listening and of faith. There are many more examples on the relationship of sound with action and human experience, but in the age of technical reproducibility what importance does listening still have in a screen illuminated by images that reground the real? And what differences are installed when sound ceases to be the real analogue and becomes a musical insertion or a song that moves the scene to other sensory experiences in the viewer? And when do you install silence, understood here as time to be completed, in the same way that you fill space with painting?

3.2 The Sonorous Voice

For a history of sound, then, epic tales of the ancient world like the Iliad are crucial. They remind us that civilization can be sculpted not only from the written or printed page, but also from something as democratic and free as the noise of human speech.
David Hendy, A Human History of Sound and Listening, (London: Profile Books, 2013), pg.54

Hearing even constitutes the primary and authentic openness of Da-sein for its ownmost possibility of being, as in hearing the voice of the friend whom every Da-sein carries with it. Da-sein hears because it understands.
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, (Albany: State University of NY Press, 1996), pg.153.

For being accustomed as we are to projecting our eyes on the real, the sounds in us are turned off involuntarily, as if they had fallen into a soundtrack matrix that keeps them in memory for future mappings or significant evidence. We did not significantly realize what the future of the auditory would be after the Industrial Revolution; we also did not gain, in time, any teleology on the invention of equipment for recording and reproduction or its electrification from instruments and the body. Having reached this point, it might be important to find in the past some signs of changes that are today voracious (for us). It does not matter to know the importance recording and sound reproduction equipment had for the standardization of a linguistic phonetics and the fading of the margins where dialects and regionalisms once lie, but rather realize what changed in the human in the passage of a pre-phonography immersion, to an emersion where it is possible to “hear” all sounds and identify with them sound sources or “phantoms”.

The urban environment, since the creation of industrial belts, has come to constitute itself as the place of communities. The depopulation of rural areas that gave way to industrialization and the significant increase of service areas in large cities emptied small communities and eroded much of what was considered to be the oral tradition of peoples. From a community guided by the construction of time and space based on an auditory judgement, we passed on to a polis covered by layers of mechanical, electrical and protocol (such as those of vociferation) sounds. Noise, or what we here understand by this word, was above all an aspiration of the city, between the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, since this noise meant progress based on the industrialization and mechanization of life and actions. No politician wanted to see their city removed from this development which should reach all its inhabitants. Only with the creation of tympanic machines such as Edison’s, and through emersion, did we discern that machine noise was powerful and, above all, that it alters the modes in which we communicate and get to know each other.

Understanding that at this time was impossible. But the use of the phonograph in the academy and in the study of languages, linguistic expressions and ways of talking, warned us to the dissolution of both linguistic and territorial borders, which we came to understand, and it was less than a century ago, with the functionalities of the radio and later with other means of communication, normally on a network, such as the internet. The most wonderful thing that happened with the invention of the recording and reproduction apparatuses (which today exist in all devices) was the possibility for us to distance ourselves from the event at the time in which it is produced so that we can analyse it as a phenomenon. Of course, there is a huge difference between the analysis of a sound object and a visual one. Sound, linked to the movement of an object or being in a given area, does not cease by imposition or human will; it dies at the surface of the world. As for the image as an apparition of light that reveals opacities that are easily killed and dissected: phenomenology here can be total but only partial in sound objects. And perhaps it is because of this partiality, to which we can add invisibility, that the world of sound is made “fantastic”.

There is an immense bibliography that has been compiled since the end of the 19th century around the technique, with a particular focus in recent years on the technology of sound. Two issues of vital importance stand out here for the contemporary individual: the voice (and vociferation) and identity (territorial or other) from sound. Since the end of the 19th century we have witnessed a transfer and erosion of some senses that in the evolution of man were very important. If the erosion of the tactile worsened considerably with the appearance of writing and even more so with the invention of writing reproduction devices, in the case of hearing there was a transfer between sound matrices: the plan of the oral transferred from presence to absence with the means of distance communication. The deviation to oral writing is not inapplicable here. Edgar Allan Poe in one of his tales had already examined the urban man as one who is both included and excluded from the city community. In “The Man of the Crowd” (1840), Poe approaches the urban man recognizing in him movements and gestures, the occupation of space or diversion of obstacles but does not confer him a voice. However, we know that voicing was never as intense as in the city, both at that time and now. In voicing we recognize the liveliness of the city, which by the action of resonance mimics the interior of homes or the exterior of services. By listening to these voices we become aware of our presence in a section tangent to the street, at a meeting point between the public and private space. The new Babel which are our cities can be analysed from this voicing that can also be mapped not only for the understanding of the urban city but as future memory.

We are in a time in which it is possible to think of Sound Studies as being inserted in a theory of experience. Any of the words that emerge in these studies (territory, landscape, sound, identity, urban, devices) composes singularly, or in a network with others, a theory of experience from the sense of hearing. I call to this discussion Walter Benjamin7Sur quelques themes baudelairiens, Oeuvre I-II, (Paris: Gallimard, 2000)., also stressing the primordial relationship of sound with time: if there is anyone who can verify a particular theory of experience, it can only be a writer. And if any writer took to the novel this “Bergsonian theory of experience” it was Proust with his À la Recherche. And it continues: Proust puts at stake in his work, from the first volume, the pure memory of Bergson, as involuntary memory, which is opposed to voluntary memory directed by intelligence. What we remember is a drawing of the past under the guidance of many mental faculties and qualities, and that which appears new from other sensory elements is the real past time. It is therefore a matter of chance or luck that we achieve this time from elements of the present. These are fragments of life that come to us not from the usual paths, of obstinacy or their evocation, but by means of other elements that serve as “passages” for that time. In Proust’s reading of Baudelaire, there was already an assertion that time in this French poet does not appear as continuous but “dismembered”. We have already seen this idea in narratives of the 20th century as an impulse of the modern and contemporary man: the union of the problems of the city, sound equipment and the human relationship with time. All of them, of course, with different narratives to access another time, but all, in one or another part of their writing, insert “correspondences”, a term fixed by Baudelaire, and that Benjamin confirms: “The correspondences secure a concept of experience that includes elements of worship (…) Correspondences are the data of rememory. But they are not the data of history but of pre-history”. In the sense that they are not connected to a marked time, a linear point in the past. They are outside logical order, outside of wilful discourse, as is pre-history in relation to history. Benjamin states: “If Bergson has credit, it is the remembrance of the ‘durée’ that relieves the human soul from its obsession with time”. The time line could be changed, even if only mentally, and even if only in writing do we have this memorial deviation by fragments. Proust closely follows Bergson, saturating a past of “all the reminiscences” that escaped to the unconscious. There are, however, many, who do not consider the existence of similarities between the two positions with respect to time and memory. In Proust time is fragment, reminiscences that awaken him for a specific period, character or geography. A time of the modern man, the time of Baudelaire. As for Bergson’s time, its duration is a stream that is evoked to increase the “volume” of time. Fernando Pessoa sometimes has a relationship with memory and memories that is similar to Proust: an element gives rise to a time, and this time “appears” in the same way as it was. Indeed this was the range of time (in the narrative) in Proust: to make time appear as if it were today, a spacialized time. And this spacialized time is a virtue or a quality of what is audible and sound itself. The concept of space, as it is understood in the West, is a reconstruction of the vision from the coercion of hearing, especially of audible indications whose sources are not visible. We can, however, agree that narrative time and its meaning is always changing appearing later under another light and fulfilment, thus increasing the thickness of time, as understood by Bergson. Nonetheless, to describe this time he could not put it in motion but rather needed to stop it, photograph it, as if he wanted to kill it. And with this action what happens is the death of the event in representation. However, when we speak of time coming from sound its dissection is impossible since the evocation of what lives or relives, in recording, may not be suspended. We are speaking of Thomas Mann, in his Magic Mountain:

Can time be narrated, time in itself, as such and in itself? No, in fact it would be a crazy enterprise. A narrative where it would say: “Time passed, flowed, time followed its course” and so forth, a man of spirit could never consider it history. It would be more or less as if someone had the baroque idea of maintaining the same note during an hour, or only one chord and want this to be considered music. Because narration resembles music in the sense that it “performs” time, “fills it conveniently”, “splits it” and makes it so that “something happens in it” (…) Time is the element of narration, as well as the element of life; it is inseparably connected to it, as to bodies in space. Time is also the element of music, which measures and divides time making it, simultaneously, interesting and valuable, in that, as has already been said, resembles narration, which is also (and in a way very different from the immediate presence and brilliance of plastic art, which is only connected to time as body) it is nothing more than a succession. It is incapable of presenting itself only as fluency, and has the need to resort to time even if it still tries to be fully present in a given moment.8Thomas Mann, Montanha Mágica, (Lisboa: Edição Livros do Brasil, s/d), pg. 565.

The sequence of facts or that which occurs would be insubstantial if its background were not noise, a sound matrix that elevates and reveals. The contemporary desire to archive everything finally opted for the background sound from where life and the living being grow. Only this sound matrix makes mimetization possible, in the origin of languages, as well as the urban cacophony that makes the city dense and rich.

In the view of the narrator of À la Recherche, noise or sounds are linked to movements, that is, they are linked to a space where objects and beings circulate. For this reason it is necessary to be careful and make the sound experience as an experience of life, as important as that of vision. This means that many times, as notes the narrator9O Lado de Guermantes, pg.75., the obstruction of the ear canal deregulates the creation of this important atmosphere for life. The main quality of hearing is to get used to background noises that are constituted as landscapes. As the mind gets accustomed to these noises, its disappearance causes substantial changes. However, if you withdraw the cotton from the ear, “suddenly the light, the sun at the pin of sound, once again becomes blinding, reborn in the universe; it returns to the population of exile noises at full speed; we are witnessing, as if they were chanted by angelic musicians, the resurrection of voices”.10O Lado de Guermantes, pg.76.

Proust wanted to constitute with this derivation on sounds, new ways of finding worlds. That is, we should not neglect any of our senses. Hearing, linked to movement, time and life is important to form a passage for that atmosphere that vibrates inside with us: “an atmosphere of tranquillity”, which brings us back to the constitution of the being in the world as proposed by Heidegger in his work Sein und Zeit.

There is, however, a passage in the cited book by Proust where we would like to expand a little. It only becomes important if we think back to the time of its writing, in the second decade of the 20th century. The telephone as a means of communication would not be widespread in France, with only some cities having a post office with a telephone. By the described dimension of the event (Marcel speaking with his grandmother who is in Paris11O Lado de Guermantes, pg.133-136.), Proust does not have the habit of calling, or at least kept a strong memory of the first times that he used the device. What occurs in these pages is a qualitative description of the telephone and the innovations that concentrate on the qualities of immersion, even today reproduced in other media, such as the telephone, the radio and the internet. We have an interest in “looking” at the type of description that he draws up, diverted many times to Greek mythology and to magic. Faced with disbelief in the technique, the narrator slowly realizes that as if by magic (“a fairy tale”), what is far away, the city, is quickly put next to us through sound. But even more: “what appears next to us, invisible but present, is the person to whom we wanted to speak”, and that remains, deduces the interlocutor, in the usual position and in the house they dwell in. Those with whom we speak are transported near us, “them and the entire environment in which it is steeped”. This idea consolidates the foundation of invention that is the transmission of voice between two distant places. And the voice brings with it, not just an identity, but a body and the landscape in which it moves. Proust repeatedly finds an echo of this invention within the stories of magic (especially children’s stories) in which what happens is beyond the natural order. For “this miracle to be performed” it is enough to call the Vigilant Virgins, the Graces, the Danaides (who were penalised in mythology to fill a bottomless barrel with water, drain it, and then fill it again and transmit here “the urns of sounds”, they who are in Tartarus, at the bottom of the Underworld), the Furies: the priestesses from the invisible who are the “girls of the telephones”. They are those figures of mythology: in them we associate the different mythological functions. And in the “night full of apparitions”, open only to our ears, a noise, which in the opinion of Proust is due to the suppression of distance, and the presence of a voice that we want to hear. It is still in the place outside of time that we have contact between voices, using the telephone device as a mediator. What was rosin is, after tuning (as in the radio after distance was removed), clarity, geography, affection and landscapes. A real presence, stresses the French writer, in “effective separation”. This real presence marks a phenomenological deviation from the terminology used until then, until the invention of the devices of distance communication. They introduce a new time and in it a new space, that is, a new territory. More than once Proust associates this contact to the concept of death (as advocated by Edison: it is now possible to hear the dead), if we think about the ghost that appears, or a voice without a body. That voice is in Proust that of an “impalpable ghost”, just as the voice of a dead person.

What changed was not only the evocation and convocation of a body from a voice. As we have seen this body is not only a ghost, as more meaning to the action should be added: the problem of emersion, which begins with the equipment for recording and reproducing sound, allows for the constitution of another, from a distance, that is not the same. From a distance I am no longer immersed in the sound that I hear from a body in front of me. I accompany “the open score of its face”. For the first time, the voice is total, and in this situation the face earns less expression, it does not accompany the speech, but instead transports that which was impossible to be revealed in face-to-face dialog: “viewed without the mask of the face, I noticed for the first time the despondency which had flagellated her through life”. By emersion voice is a record of time in the body that holds it. The voice transmitted by distance creates a new presence and unbalances the previous real image. Much like a face in film: the face goes out by immersing the viewer in the landscape and in the voice.

When the telephone call ends, “we cease to face each other, and to be audible to one another”.

3.3 Post Vox

The human voice is, in effect, a privileged place (eidetic) of difference: a place which escapes all science, because there is no science […] which exhausts the voice.
Roland Barthes, O Óbvio e o Obtuso (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009), pg. 266

By linking urban voicing to the human voice, even in communication by distance, we can consolidate the enigma of the voice.

The human voice is not only pneuma, breath, but, and using a term by Barthes, it is also “grain”, or “the materiality of the body speaking its mother language”.12Roland Barthes, O Óbvio e o Obtuso (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009), pg. 258. As a place of difference, the voice is entwined in its saying thus composing a body and this body is in a time. For this reason, the voice is also desire, in the sense that it is never presented as empty to the ears of others, “neutral”, but bright or brutal. And what we say to a voice of everyday life can also be said of a voice in mastery, in song or in fiction. The physical voice should, in all its expression, contain the body that sustains it as well as the language of this body. And the language of that body is not only words or meanings in voice. It is, above all, a signifier, since it also involves the movement of the body itself and the semantics of language in time. Listening to someone or reading someone’s speech is distinct. In the first case, we know that we cannot distance ourselves from the face that conceives the voice and the body that projects it; but in the second case (a novel, for example) that which is said is embodied in the whole activity of recognizing the voice of the other, including a face and a landscape. The mediation of the voice promotes in anyone who reads or listens (through a communication device) the interaction of the faculties of imagination and memory, sketching at the same time those who listen to a voice in the distance (without a source) or read what is written. If in a face that is near, the voice is a physical element linked to a larger unit that is a body, and here, especially a face (where it spends some time of its life), in the distance the voice becomes that unit which triggers other operations of self-recognition for those listening or reading.

“Listening to the voice inaugurates the relationship with the other“13Roland Barthes, O Óbvio e o Obtuso (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009), pg. 243., in that which is “singular information”, conveying a “bodily image” (which we have detected theoretically but also fictionally in Proust’s work). The characters have different ways of speaking and in each voice we see the birth of social classes, education, styles and desire. The dissociation between voice and body, that exists, is the cause of strangeness, as in listening to our own recorded voice. But there will also be no surprise when, even in a novel, the image that we have created for a character suffers from mistakes in its dialogues, as if it were masked or constantly undressing an identity and going towards the path of another. In a short story by Karen Blixe14"Os Sonhos," in Sete Contos Góticos, Vol. II, (Lisboa: Ed. D. Quixote, 1987)., a famous opera singer, Pellegrina Leone, having lost her voice at a fire in Milan, while inducing the scene, spent the rest of her life up until her death-bed, winning new identities, and always forgetting the others. The loss of her musical voice enabled her to incorporate other identities and professions: the voice was the only element that linked identity and body, and without it she could become whomever she wanted. The actor knows well, even in substantive identity, that their voice is not only breath (which can be only a technique) but “a materiality of the body which has arisen from the throat, a place where the metal phonic hardens and segments itself”.15Roland Barthes, O Óbvio e o Obtuso (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009), pg. 244. This phonic material that “appears” there expresses the subject’s story and his time (or age, in the example of the child’s chant or echo) in full mediation, and partially in immediacy. The hand that writes is also a voice that is linked to a body, but unlike those who say that writing tends towards the creation of an internal phantom that should be just as much or more precise depending on the author’s ability to invent a voice for him. And that makes all the difference. What the body in listening does, without a natural sound source, is assign a body that moves their identity throughout the landscape, which is also founded on what is written or in memory. The body is always a place of drawing and it is this place from the voice.


With the help of the musician and Canadian theoretician Murray Schafer, author of The Tuning of the World, let us now revisit some of his concepts that establish the importance of sound and the sense of hearing in that which we see. Neuroscience, after psychology, has produced a comprehensive set of tests on perception from the sense of vision. The contrast between opaque light, colours and shadows promotes the creation of figures that are formations. The world is, to our eyes, and with more or less light, since darkness does not allow the existence of stable formations, a surface on which objects do not all appear in the same visual mode but are formed and change during the day. For those formations to occur there has to be light and, above all, a means (the ground). It is this means that makes the real possible, since it is the background that makes the forms possible. This ground from where the forms emerge does not fall, normally, into visual perception, only on the speciality. What we see is an environment, a field that is an urban or rural landscape.

According to Murray Schafer we associate some of these terms to the field of aural perception. The figure that represents the finished formation can be understood as a sound mark or sign. Something that is systematic and audible marks a given territory. The background from where these sounds arise, that help its formation, can be understood here as that which makes the production of sound possible. Multiple layers of sounds that we can access in specialization, framing that background to find the key sounds of multiple layers.

Finally, there is the field and the landscape itself where all sounds occur, either audible or non-audible, and that is the soundscape. A significant change in how we work our hearing in relation to vision, and that is proven in how we hear and see, relates to the reconstruction/identification of these figures/formations and the means to make it possible. As vision is segmented and located it does not have the possibility of reconstructing, simultaneously, the background and the form. As for hearing, it promotes the (re)creation of form and the background. Sound always behaves, in listening, as language, in that for it to be meaningful there must be the presence of an acoustic image that links the background and formation in the sound expression.

The matrix sound represents here, as memory, a fundamental role in creating the source, the background and often times the landscape of that sound. This therefore achieves all the axes of the constitution of the real: verticality, horizontality and depth. Most notable is the “history/memory” of a sound than any “physical” object. Perhaps because this, aggregated to light, is instantaneous, while sound is slower in its form of expression and meaning, generating, in its wandering, a general contour that is more precise, and can be the source of sound and its context.

Sound always drags a background that is obliterated in vision, since this always repeats successive cuts up to the focus. The lightning speed with which the image is fabricated makes us “forget” the background from where it starts, as well as the field. The sound object comes to us bringing in its trail a detail – illusory or not – of the source and its landscape. The background and formation are in sound, part of the same object and that is given to the fact, as we have seen, of not only the mode of transmission of sound waves, but also of mechanics and live sounds, as well as the circular flow that is its expression. The detail of the sound is the construction of the source (nature and characteristics) and of its surroundings, while in vision it is just the contrast of light that is “fabricated”.

Whenever a reproduced or real image is captured by the eye we make of it a solidity that does not allow it to abandon space. The materialities do not derive nor win the atmosphere where they are revealed. Actually, what is gaseous but without sound remains in the field of the fixed, or the screen, something solid, or a revelation. With voices and music the image earns a flexibility and a movement that is specific to being alive. Hearing is thus the meaning, which synchronized with vision, since we are talking about moving images (film, video, illustration or games), produces the revelation, highlighting and separating the different spaces (colour and movement) and times that make up the image. Without sound everything remains mute, not belonging to the world of what is intended to be revealed as living, but of the always imperfect human artifice.


  1. It is in the 40s and 50s of the last century - still far from the technology capable of performing this action - that the first 3D tests in film began. And just as it happened with the inclusion of sound, the idea here was also rejected by undermining the notion of spoken film. An example: 3 D Film and Cyclopic Effect, by Gunther Anders-Stern, published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 15, No. 2. (Dec., 1954), pp. 295-298.
  2. Theodor W. Adorno: "On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening" (1938), in Essays on Music, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Gunther Anders: Philosophische Utersuchungen zu musikalischen Situationen (Philosophical Inquiries into Musical Situations), 1929-1930, quoted in Veit Erlamann, Reason and Resonance, (New York: Zone Books, 2010), pg. 308 and following pages; Martin Heidegger: Sein und Zeit (Being and Time); Georg von Békésy: "Zur Theorie des Horens: die Schwingungsform der Basilarmembran" (1928), Experiments in Hearing, (New York; MacGraw-Hill, 1960).
  3. Veit Erlmann, Reason and Resonance - A History of Modern Aurality, (NY: Zone Books, 2010), pg. 311.
  4. Ibid, pg. 312.
  5. Peter Sloterdijk, O Estranhamento do Mundo, (Lisboa: Relógio d'Água, 2008), pg.179. All translations from non-English sources are my own, unless otherwise noted.
  6. Sloterdijk, in the same article, actually calls on the notion of audible cogito in order to found the being with the existing. A cogito that coerces with the Cartesian cogito of logic.
  7. Sur quelques themes baudelairiens, Oeuvre I-II, (Paris: Gallimard, 2000).
  8. Thomas Mann, Montanha Mágica, (Lisboa: Edição Livros do Brasil, s/d), pg. 565.
  9. O Lado de Guermantes, pg.75.
  10. O Lado de Guermantes, pg.76.
  11. O Lado de Guermantes, pg.133-136.
  12. Roland Barthes, O Óbvio e o Obtuso (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009), pg. 258.
  13. Roland Barthes, O Óbvio e o Obtuso (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009), pg. 243.
  14. "Os Sonhos," in Sete Contos Góticos, Vol. II, (Lisboa: Ed. D. Quixote, 1987).
  15. Roland Barthes, O Óbvio e o Obtuso (Lisboa: Edições 70, 2009), pg. 244.


  • Adorno, Theodor W., (2002), Essays on Music, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Barthes, Roland, (2009), O Óbvio e o Obtuso, Lisboa: Edições 70.
  • Békésy, Georg von, (1960), Experiments of Hearing, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  • Benjamin, Walter, (2000), Oeuvre III, Paris: Gallimard.
  • Erlmann, Veit, (2010), Reason and Resonance – A History of Modern Aurality, NY: Zone Books.
  • Hendy, David, (2013), A Human History of Sound and Listening, London: Profile Books.
  • Heidegger, Martin, (1996), Being and Time, Albany: State University of NY Press.
  • Mann, Thomas, Montanha Mágica, Lisboa: Edição Livros do Brasil.
  • Proust, Marcel, (2003), O Lado de Guermantes, Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores
  • Schafer, R. Murray, (1977), The Tuning of the World, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Sloterdijk, Peter, (2008), O Estranhamento do Mundo, Lisboa: Relógio d’Água.


Luís Cláudio Ribeiro is professor of Sound Studies and head of Communication Sciences Department at Lusófona University, in Lisbon. PhD in Communication Sciences, develops research activity in the field of media epistemology and sound. His recent publications focus on the medium, identification and characterization of changes by the use of sound mediators in contemporary society: O Mundo é uma Paisagem Devastada pela Harmonia (Lisboa: Vega, 2011) e O Som Moderno – Novas formas de criação e escuta (Lisboa: Edições Lusófonas, 2011).). He is the main investigator of the project Lisbon SoundMap, supported by the Portuguese Government (FCT): www.lisbonsoundmap.org and lisbonsoundmap.wordpress.com. In addition to the academic activity, he is also a poet and novelist. The most recent books are Sucede no entanto que o Outono veio (Lisboa: 2013) and Um Jardim Abandonado que Desbota (Lisboa:2014).