Tuesday’s lack lustre contribution.. and Imagining science .

Instead of placing a mic in the ear piece (directly substituting the ear with a microphone), i decided to work on the diaphragm of the stethoscope head instead, fixing a piezo disc to the film.  There was way too much noise from the contact microphones, which was a real bother and i couldn’t hear any bodily sounds at all.  After a little testing i realised it was quite a daft venture to attempt to record this way since the piezo disc was the culprit that dampened any vibrations the diaphragm would normally produce during auscultation.  Without the diaphragm’s vibration, there is.. there can’t be any sound!  DOH!

It is possible that the only way i can get sound from these is to place a microphone somewhere between the stethoscope head and the earpiece.

Though it would’ve been nice to probe the metaphor of the diaphragm as a stretched piece of skin.  i suppose it might still be possible, though the most immediate task is to start recording with the tool.  I did, however, improvise by feedbacking the amp through the stethoscope-piezo hybrid a little as well as activate a lonely looking optical theremin i made sometime ago.  That seemed to be the single most productive output today.

heres a bit of an audio clip:

Diaphragm feedback Listen!

As with the other days, i did however also read a little more; going deeper into Gaston Bachelard’s poetic response to space.  Today i read his chapter on the miniature, which he describes with an emphasis on imagination as opposed to objective observation (which is somewhat poignant for me troping both scientific and artistic mediums), and came across a very interesting story:

A prisoner paints a landscape on the wall of his cell showing a miniature train entering the tunnel.  When his jailors come to get him, he asks them “politely to wait a moment, to allow me to verify something in the little train in my picture.  As usual they start to laugh, because they considered me to be weak-minded.  I made myself very tiny, entered into my picture and climbed into the little train, which started moving, then disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel.  For a few seconds longer, a bit of flaky smoke could be seen coming out of the round hole.  Then this smoke blew away, and with it the picture, and with the picture, my person. . . ”  How many times poet-painters, in their prisons, have broken through walls, by way of a tunnel!  How many times, as they painted their dreams, they have escaped through a crack in the wall!  And to get out of prison all means are good ones.  If need be, mere absurdity can be a source of freedom.


wow. mere absurdity can be a source of freedom.



Though it is interesting the way at least in this example that Bachelard uses ‘imagination’ and ‘absurdity’ almost interchangeably.  I guess i can see why they are inextricably linked, that one more than often lends to the other; and the other almost cannot exist without the former.  But i see these things filtered through the cultural context of my predominantly Asian upbringing ( i say predominantly because ‘all that is solid melts into air’ in these postmodern times), and much as imagination is a fluid, universal process, absurdity is tethered to standards of ‘logic’, or ‘rationalism’, which changes as the seasons.  Imagination leads to beauty (or otherwise), creation (or otherwise), and most definitely could lead to absurdity; but absurdity as a process is an end in itself..  So looking at the way the story uses the absurd literally as a vehicle to freedom is really only as liberating as coming to terms with the internal engineer/scientist who instructs and dictates that there is no bloody way a trapped prisoner can jump into the painting which is just chalk on a solid brick wall and ride away into a cloud of smoke.

Reading on, it becomes apparent that the suspension of disbelief is not just a suspension – it is a way of life according to Bachelard.  He continues in the light of philosophical enlightenment; of Cartesian ideology, by adding “The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better i possess it” (Bachelard 150).

But what, oh what does this have to do with my piece?

Sound is not an image.  you can image a space with sound, induce a mental image with sound or sonify an image, but the sound cannot be an image.  If to Bachelard, all there is to the world are imagined spaces; or indeed spaces that amplify and glorify the imagination, then sound as a perceptual indicator must be able to do just that – to function as metaphysical hosts for the imagination to take flight.  So the sonic image (imaging) becomes a feedback loop of interaction within the imagination mediated by the interpretations of sonic symbols and subsequent visual representations.

I would have my reservations to that.  But could it actually be possible that the moment we stop allowing our imaginations to work with audition, we lose that beauty.. that absurdity that comes through listening to oscillating waves of air?  It’s an old argument, from Cagean philosophy of all sound as abstract, disembodied phenomenon – to the French acousmatic practice of reduced listening –  to Schafferian teachings of acoustic ecology as indicators of space, of wellbeing, of sensitivity and other physically induced traits – to Lopez, Viola, Cardiff and their presentations of sound as dislocated sensory stimulus awaiting further interpolation by the mind.  There isn’t one right answer, and i have to say, i love every different experience of sound.. even the little quarrels i have with myself over whether to hear things as choreographed pitches, or as the sound of the bell timer in the kitchen.

I have somewhat extended this idea into this project.  Working with the stethoscope doesn’t just entail dealing with the culture of its symbol in medicine, and of its indispensable use in examination.  Working with stethoscopic sound immerses every frequency within a culture of diagnosis and information.  How a slight shift in beat frequency could signify the early manifestations of a disease; or pulmonary complications, when a whoosh is heard over the normal beating of the heart.  It is precisely this objectivity that erodes the premise of the imagination when listening, but thats good when you’re doing an examination.  No patient wants to hear his doctor say, “your heart sounds like the echo of footsteps in an empty house”  But what happens, when it becomes necessary to see sound this way in an artistic installation.  The medium of the auscultation now provides the vehicle for an imagination of the ‘absurd’ (at least to health professionals), that while listening to riotous bursts of white noise, unnerving frozen beatings of sine waves and atmospheric swells, a new interpretation and appreciation can ensue with regards to the internal soundscape, giving rise to the poetics of an internal space – the beauty of  a hidden world in a miniature universe.

Till tomorrow then


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