i had a friend who once asked me how i could be a sound artist and not do acid..
In reply, and leaving aside medical concerns about the potential dangers of psychedelic intoxication (if there are any.. arguable but not within scope of answer), i would say that sound art is not only about the emotive or transcendental effect of sound on the human body. It is also about attentiveness – to your own listening, to your own breathing, to the sounds that are presented to you, but also to the sound that are incidental and may or may not form part of the piece at all, to observe the way a sound performance marks out its sonorous boundaries through architecture and the way this architecture responds to absorb and reduce, or amplify and assert itself within the sound piece. It is also about being aware of time and temporal structures both within the organization of sounds and within our expectations ingrained in us culturally, evolutionarily and volitionally. It is about listening to the way we listen, to the physicality of the sound and where it comes into contact with our bodies; the way sound draws attention to our physiology and the cognitive apparatus that oscillate between embodying the sound and abstracting its lines of affect through our sensorineural pathways. It is about the small and seemingly insignificant ways the angle of our heads affect the directivity and receptivity of sound, or even to the way our bodies’ position on a chair, on the floor or in upright position change the way we pay attention – the ways in which we, as intersubjective bodies simultaneously deconstruct and recreate the sounding experience.
And then there is paying attention to content, or to detail, to proof of validity as ‘sound art’, to confront the significance of conceptual art that imposes itself audibly and tangibly on our cultural demands for entertainment, to imaginative dialogues and linkages of contextual histories through artistic thoughts and works both musical and extramusical. This thinking does not always have to be rational, but hallucinations and inducing dream-like states are only one way to achieve one mode of response. (and of course in art there are a myriad of responses, most of which are legitimate as long as they arise from a self-reflexive cataloguing of your subjective experience).
To accurately situate a work of sound art, there needs to be both the initially emotive, but also the active dialogue with the sound work, like any work of art – but much more so here because time and an expenditure of attention are interwoven within the fabric of performance. Our attentiveness can be seen as peaks of resonance undulating with and within the piece. It’s a question of call and response, or struggling for control, of lucidity and whether this art, this incoherence requires a conscious mind that is constantly critical and self-aware, or could we rebound to a pre-modern, feral approach to romanticizing phenomena. Do we view sound art as information we need to process actively or is the media vital enough to warrant its own effect ?
A last point is that the need for such stimulus is also probably culturally situated as a function of a particular nature of social gatherings where collective experiences of transcendence are desired, perhaps its vitality then, is within the collective experiences and history of the “night before”.