The Brain-Ear

Talk on Florian Hecker given at Graz Kunstlerhaus in February 2015. Later published online by EBM(T). PDF available here, also with Japanese translation. The text on EBM(T) was accompanied by a recording of the talk reprocessed by Hecker to remove the original voice leaving only the reverberations.

On February 26, 2015, Robin Mackay travelled to Graz, to speak at the show at Künstlerhaus Halle für Kunst & Medien. In the talk Mackay attempted to draw some brief comparisons between the sound work of Hecker and the analyses of colour proposed by Éric Alliez in his book on modern painting, The Brain-Eye, which he had spent the previous year translating. Apart from extensive works on the rail line which made travel both ways extremely taxing, the most notable thing about the episode was the impressive cathedral-like echo in the grand hall of the Künstlerhaus. Hecker requested a recording be made of the talk and, upon his return, Mackay received a sound file in which Hecker had used software to surgically remove his voice, leaving only the reverberations of his words.

¶ Florian Hecker’s work consists in a series of articulations, between the physical analysis and synthesis of sound as vibratory phenomena, and the ability to digital encode and reproduce it—and what is heard.

¶ Since there is a definite ‘gap’ here—between the piece as a programmed set of instructions to create vibrations in the air and the experience of the piece, in this sense, here ‘the listener makes the work’.

¶ Or rather, instead of a gap we could talk about the fact that this work reveals an unsuspected density, a kind of thickness of the heard which disrupts any sense that the relationship between sound and hearer is a transparent and straightforward one.

¶ And it’s not a question of soliciting the listener’s interpretation or imagination in order to complete the work, because there is a very precise targeting of the various layers of cognitive processing that parameterise this plane of the heard.

¶ The auditory system forms part of the human sensorium, which is in effect a patchwork of different systems evolved at different times in the history of the species. The functions of these different faculties in everyday life seem to be fully integrated so as to produce both a coherent image of the world, and of the subject that inhabits it.

¶ This is because, for the most part, our envionrment is historically and experientially (within one lifetime) stable and stays within certain parameters not so different from those within which our ancestors lived.

¶ There is a great evolutionary advantage in this integration, and our brains tend to work hard both to render coherent the data coming through any one sense, and to harmonise these different senses to construct stable, identifiable and localisable objects.

¶ Much of the time art takes advantage of this. Michel Chion’s book Audiovision speaks fascinatingly of the way in which film takes advantage of the brain’s aptitude for combining auditory and visual systems: for instance, it doesn’t matter where the source of a sound is, once an image of a likely source is placed on screen then the sound is immediately experienced as emanating from that place. This is what’s called synchresis. Chion compellingly demonstrates how cinema becomes an art form dedicated to the deliberate manipulation of the drive to experiential integration—what he calls the ‘audiovisual contract’—harnessing its ‘irresistable’ energy to make fictional worlds coherent and compelling. But it is also possible to engineer circumstances in which this integration fails.

¶ In the auditory field, the synthesis of physical sound waves into something that is heard takes place at many different stages: of course, there is information in the sound waves themselves, but these are subject to physiological mediation, the inner ear carries out complex transformation, limitation and selection of the waveform, which is then converted to neural stimulus. The experimental field of psychoacoustics aims at a delimitation of these conditions of objecthood: it tells us under what conditions sound data will be grouped together and understood as belonging to an object, stream, or sound field—only then can it be heard.

¶ For this to happen, the hearer needs to tacitly answer a series of questions: How many sound sources? Are the discontinuities I hear breaks in one sound or the end of one and the beginning of another? Should multiple groups of sound be understood as one complex sound, or several simpler ones?

¶ Take psychoacoustician Alfred Bregman’s work on ‘Auditory Scene Analysis,’ for example. Rather than talking about ‘objects’, Bregman talks about the way in which we perceive sound as belonging to ‘streams’ that persist through time; and his work explores the set of conditions under which this unification into streams takes place. Auditory Scene Analysis, which Hecker has used in several pieces, concerns the way in which partition sound into separate streams that we take to be telling us about ‘the same’ environmental source or event. Bregman’s experiments manipulate various parameters—separation in time or frequency, difference in timbre—in order to reveal thresholds where the perceptual allocation of some segment of the sound to one object rather than another takes place. What ASA aims at, therefore, is a ‘map’ of our allocation mechanisms. By varying different parameters we can get an ever more precise ‘map’ of this kind, telling us how events are segregated.

¶ in psychoacoustics it is often the case that what are called ‘effects’ or ‘illusions’—reproducible, engineered disagreements between a experimentally controlled sound source and what is heard—testify most eloquently to the way in which our brain constructs auditory objects

¶ For instance, Bregman’s ‘continuity illusion’ specifies conditions under which a sound is ‘heard’ to continue ‘behind‘ a louder interrupting sound when it is not present. Jens Blauert’s notion of ‘localisation blur’ highlights the inexact indexing of physical space by auditory space, by showing how an auditory object can be experienced as ‘blurred’ across several locations; An effect employed by Hecker in No Night No Day [2009]. Kubovy and Van Valkenburg discuss how the mechanism of figure/ground selection of candidate auditory objects can be manipulated consciously by attention—something Hecker explores in 2×3 Channel [2010] where, depending on the focus of our attention, we are able to shift the priority of a two constantly transforming sets of auditory objects.

¶ In drawing on such effects, the various properties of coherent and identifiable ‘objects’ and their place in an integrated and coordinated ‘world’ can also be disrupted. I think of Hecker’s works, in short, as exercises in creating ‘non-integrable or disintegrated experience’, as an exercise in asynchresis. These disruptions are possible Because once we understand how these mechanisms operate we can place false evidence in their path, creating auditory hallucinations.

Auditory Scene (5 fold) [2010] dramatises the process, in effect allowing us physically to
explore this ‘map’ and its thresholds in physical space; as we change position, the auditory components assemble themselves into different groupings. In revealing to us that the mechanisms through which we perceive sound objects. Here ‘the listener completes the work’ by directly participating in its construction.

¶ In 2×3 Channel this is even more clear, as, depending on the focus of attention, we are able to shift the priority of the sound objects. As the listener actively shifts the focus from one stream of sounds to another, they effectively transform the nature of the sonic objects. And in Untitled a series of reflective surfaces shift the sound source and change our localisation of it as we move within the space.

¶ But in drawing on them, I am going to suggest, the various properties of coherent and identifiable ‘objects’ and their place in an integrated and coordinated ‘world’ can also be disrupted. I think of Hecker’s works, in short, as exercises in creating ‘non-integrable or disintegrated experience’.

¶ These disruptions are possible Because once we understand how these mechanisms operate we can place false evidence in their path.

Auditory Scene (5 fold) dramatises the process, in effect allowing us physically to explore this ‘map’ and its thresholds in physical space; as we change position, the auditory components assemble themselves into different groupings. In revealing to us that the mechanisms through which we perceive sound objects, it demonstrates to us how our construction of sound objects is hallucinatory. Here ‘the listener completes the work’ by directly participating in its construction.

¶ In 2×3 Channel this is even more clear, as, depending on the focus of attention, we are able to shift the priority of the sound objects. As the listener actively shifts the focus from one stream of sounds to another, they effectively transform the nature of the sonic objects. And in Untitled a series of reflective surfaces shift the sound source and change our localisation of it as we move within the space.

¶ Hecker’s recent Chimerization series of works extends this preoccupation with psychoacoustic process building on the experimental data that suggests that brain functions that serve to identify the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ of a sound operate upon different timescales. Hecker exploits this to produce sequences in which the fine time structure of one voice is sheathed in the amplitude envelope of another, producing an entity that remains recognizable as a voice while being spatially delocalized and semantically scrambled, and which the listener must reconstruct as a unified yet impossible synthetic creature—a chimera. Of course, here, you also have speech, which brings into play other neural faculties, and rather than bringing these different functions or faculties into harmony, the chimerization process sets them at odds with one another, and produces what we could call a hallucinatory mode of hearing.

¶ Hecker exploits this to produce sequences in which the fine time structure of one voice is sheathed in the amplitude envelope of another, producing an entity that remains recognizable as a voice while being spatially delocalized and semantically scrambled, and which the listener must reconstruct as a unified yet impossible synthetic creature—a chimera.

¶ What is crucial for the notion of hallucination is a movement of naturalisation-denaturalisation. In the same movement in which the operations of hearing are naturalised—becoming tractable to experimental analysis and being treated as complex mechanisms that are ‘natural’ in the modern sense, our spontaneous image of the world becomes denaturalised, our stable allocation of sensory phenomena to something ‘out there’, and our integration of sensory data into a coherent whole, is challenged by constructed aesthetic phenomena.

¶ What this reveals is that, within the field of what is heard, there are a whole range of experiences that fall outside of the spontaneous image of perceiver and object understood as fixed instances, and of perception understood as a re-presentation of an object that belongs to a coherent world.

¶ To expand on this notion of hallucination I’d like to turn from the heard to the seen, and to Eric Alliez’s work The Brain-Eye, in which the notion of hallucination is central

¶ We find the reinvention of the word ‘hallucination’ in its modern sense, in the context of nineteenth-century psychiatry. Having been used since the sixteenth century to describe those who had visions or saw ghosts, ‘hallucination’ gained its current meaning with Jean Etienne Esquirol in 1837, in his Des maladies mentales. In an article “Hallucination” in the Dictionnaire des sciences médicales Esquirol Had already given the following definition: ‘A delirious man who has the intimate conviction of an actually perceived sensation, when no external object capable of exciting this sensation is in the reach of his senses, is in a state of hallucination’.

¶ In the 1830s and 1840s the question of hallucination became something of a cause celebre. Having responded to an essay competition set by the The Academie de Médecine requested essays on the question Can hallucination coexist with reason, or is it a sure sign of madness?, Esquirol’s fellow psychiatrist Brierre de Boismont followed this with the first full-length study of hallucination in 1845. A History Of Dreams, Visions, Apparitions, Ecstasy, Magnetism, and Somnambulism.

¶ Boismont insists that hallucination be depathologised and historicised, arguing that ultimately only ‘experience may distinguish the differences’ between hallucinations proper and what he calls the ‘normal hallucinatory’ aspect of much sensory experience. Esquirol had been the first to introduce into psychiatry the idea that mental illness did not come from outside, but was an extravagant and unusual efflorescence of the normal mechanisms that exist in ‘sane’ minds. Boismont, likewise, argued that hallucination is compatible with reason and exists in a germinal form in all of us. In making the logic of representation a limited precinct of the logic of sensation, this normalization of ‘hallucination’ implies a reappraisal of the relation between inner events and outer objects; and consequently, of the relation between sanity and pathology.

¶ Surpassing both Esquirol and Boismont in audaciously extending this hallucinatory hypothesis, the philosopher Hyppolite Taine, in his work On Intelligence in 1870 sees hallucination as the basic fact of mental life, and pathology as consisting only in the failure of a certain limiting mechanism that retains hallucinatory perception in the service of coherent experience

¶ Drawing the full conclusions of this principle, Taine writes that ‘external perception is a true hallucination’;‘external perception is an internal dream which proves to be in harmony with external things; and instead of calling hallucination a false external perception, we must call external perception a true hallucination’. That is, hallucination, a process of construction, is the basic mechanism of perception, Mental illness, where the presence of objects is not necessary for the production of sensation, demonstrates to us the truth of sensation as hallucination, and alerts us to the fact that the apparent simplicity and transparency of the act of perceiving objects is illusory; in fact, we must not confuse the internal event of sensation with external ‘things’, we must not see the perception of externals as a ‘simple naked act of mind’ but must pay attention to its active and synthetic character.

¶ In a rather grotesque metaphor Taine likens the hallucinatory fecundity of the mind to a kind of obtuse mental energy, which if unchecked leads to hallucination, to the vital processes whereby, if we place the skinned paw of a rat under the skin on the side of another rat, it grows as if it was attached to its former owner.

¶ All perception, then, is hallucination, but the hallucinatory power of the mind can create monsters: the field of perception exceeds that of the logic of representation. I want to link this movement in psychiatry with an earlier, radical turn in British philosophy.

¶ In imagining that true perception of the world is not a given, but the result of a limiting of an inherently incontinent drive to integrate mental contents, Taine is really only extending the conclusions of the generation of philosophers from the preceding century, who we know as the empiricists: and in particular David Hume.

¶ Now, empiricism begins with uncertainty: What is in doubt is the rationalist notion that the correspondence of thought to being is somehow vouchsafed. For the rationalist, the enemy of reason is error, and error can be corrected, since it is the natural state of the mind is to be oriented towards truth. And this because ultimately thought and being are expressions of the same divine regime of reason – thought is blessed with innate powers to grasp reality.

¶ Empiricism instead lays the groundwork for treating the mind as a set of mechanisms and tendencies produced by the same reality that they attempt to grasp; mechanisms which can be used to grasp that reality correctly, but which are not endowed with any a priori capability to do so.

¶ Hume describes the mechanisms of the mind in terms of associations: we tend to associate together perceptions which have often occurred together in the past, and it is through this mechanism of association that our picture of the world is built up. But with this, Hume takes leave of any guarantee of correspondence between our perceptions and reality, and instead emphasises the need for vigilance against the extravagance to which these mechanisms are liable, warning that the mechanisms whereby sensation is gathered into an accurate account of reality are essentially no different to those which make it that, in fables and imaginings, ‘nature … is totally confounded, and nothing mention’d but winged horses, fiery dragons, and monstrous giants’. In other words, no sooner does Hume discover the principle of the imagination to be the association of impressions on the basis of resemblance, contiguity, or past conjunction, than he notes the extravagant tendencies of this principle to which we owe our coherent experience of the world.

¶ As Gilles Deleuze remarks of Hume, ‘for the traditional concept of error he substitutes the concept of illusion or delirium … We’re not threatened by error. It’s much worse: we’re swimming in delirium.’ It is this delirium, this extravagance of the mind, I suggest, that prefigures the hallucinatory logic of Taine.

¶ There is a sense in which the transformation of the notion of hallucination reflects the way in which the enlightenment’s driving out of all ghosts and illusions from objective reality only drove them into the mind, making the latter a dangerous site of illusion, and giving rise to the modern fear of madness, along with the equally dangerous link between insanity and visionary artistic genius.

¶ So the principle is there from the beginning that, constitutive to the basic mechanisms of perception is a susceptibility to delirious or hallucinatory usage. We could say that, if hume lays the philosophical groundwork to treat the mind as a natural phenomenon, the nineteenth-century thinkers are the first to attempt a physiological approach to investigating these mechanisms- What is new in the psychiatry of the nineteenth century is that they are drawing on a new experimental science, namely the ‘psychophysics’ that is the precursor to, among other sciences, psychoacoustics.

¶ In the context of the history of modern painting, Alliez links this to the process whereby painters begin to see their practice as a research into the phenomenon of vision itself, aiming at a heightening of visual sensation precisely through a deliberate engendering of hallucinatory effects: here, rather than the eye being the organ of identification and representation, it becomes what Alliez calls a ‘Brain-Eye’.

¶ My suggestion, then, is that Hecker’s work, as an interrogation of the brain-ear, can be placed in the same philosophical lineage. The work consists in a process of hallucination-experimentation similar to that which Alliez sees at work in modern painting; a process whereby the artist explores and intensifies sensation, beyond the (re)creation of recognisable images or forms, exercising the sensory organs outside their organic function to explore the construction—or hallucination—of sensory phenomena.

¶ The notion of de/naturalisation is crucial here: Hecker’s work can only exist in the climate of a philosophical perspective that sees hearing as subject to naturalised understanding, susceptible to having the various mechanisms of its logic of sensation isolated, studied, and, consequently, manipulated. But as we said, the naturalisation of the mechanisms of sensation leads to a denaturalisation of sensation.

¶ No longer subordinated to its organic role in the function of representation, the sensory organ becomes instead engaged in a loop of experimentation and hallucination; where there no longer seems anything ‘natural’ about the referential relation between auditory object and sound source: the ‘true hallucination’ is placed on the same plane as the extravagant, heightened hallucination. In Hecker’s work, the very notion of an object of hearing is problematised by an understanding of the mechanisms whereby we construct—or hallucinate—such objects from auditory sensation. (Indeed in psychoacoustics he draws on a whole debate on whether the notion ofan auditory object is a coherent one).

¶ The brain-ear is a patchwork of functions assembled into an organic whole, but which contain their own potential for straying from that organic intergration, for overload, extravagance, or for clashing with each other and producing hallucinatory effects; their agreement with the other senses, in particular, sight (as we saw with Chion) is quite precarious, since in a real sense they come from elsewhere.

¶ Just to give some sense of how this might work in evolutionary terms: The auditory system was not designed to resolve spatial configurations of sound: ‘When the first amphibia left the Silurian seas two or three hundred million years ago, with their heads resting on the ground, they relied entirely on bone conduction of vibration for hearing. The vibrations in the earth were transmitted from the bones of their lower jaws to the bone surrounding the inner ear. In order to hear, they probably kept their lower jaws touching the ground.’ In the initial stages the animals that started living on land were not good at hearing airborne sounds, as they only had sensors that were sensitive to water-borne sound. Because water is more dense than air, hearing in water works differently. So hearing is the result of a slow adaptation to hearing through air, and to harmonise it with vision, but one that is far from complete, and leaves behind vestigial artefacts.

¶ In talking about how to put hallucination to work by exploiting this outside of the integral sensorium, of particular interest is the story of the theory of colours as developed by Delacroix, and as recounted by Alliez.

¶ When Delacroix began painting, the fine arts were dominated by the School of David whose principles involved the use of local colour and line in a pursuit of ‘classical’ form (according to a certain historically and culturally-determined conception of the classical then prevalent). Line of course is beautiful form, and ‘local colour’ the means to fill the line with a colour that belongs to the subject being depicted.

¶ Throughout the 1820s–1840s, in parallel with the nascent theory of hallucination, Delacroix develops through his own practice a differential approach to colour whereby the force of a painting comes from the play of complementary colours heightening each other; in paintings that were initially unacceptable to the academy, he incrementally breaks colour out of its subordinate place to line, practicing a painting where the completeness of a painting is a matter of the dynamic balancing of the forces of colour against each other.

¶ Simultaneously we have the work of Eugène Chevreul in the 1830s: a chemist at the Gobelins factory in Paris, he is asked to investigate certain problems with the colours used in carpets and furnishings, and he concludes that the dullness of certain colours owes not to the dye being used but to the mutual effects of colours upon each others. Chevreul’s research therefore converges with Delacroix’s practice, in suggesting that colour is a field of differential forces: against the school of David and local colour. There is no such thing as local colour, a colour that simply is what it is, because colour as perceived only exists in relation to other colour.

¶ If we were to inject Chevreul’s theory of complementary colours into painting, then, it would suggest a radical breakout from Davidian dogma; and Chevreul brings this radical outside perspective precisely because he is dealing with a field in which representation is not central—namely, interior decoration, which can play with these effects without any concern for indexical image.

¶ But in fact, as Alliez details, Chevreul, at the same time as uncovering a differential power of colour, operates a twofold conservatism: (1) he wishes to couch his theory in ‘scientific’ terms, so that rather than seeing it as revealing something about the plane of vision produced within colour perception he tries to integrate it with Newton’s physical theory of colour (2) he suggests that knowledge of this law can be useful to painters not so they can heighten the intensity of color, but so that they can control it so as to represent local colour more faithfully—whereas for the weaver this can be a means to create a heightened vivacity, for the painter it is more of a warning or a caution not to go too far.

¶ The final, ironic episode of this story is that Chevreul’s work will then be taken up in painting, in a way completely at odds with its essentially conservative stance toward the use of colour in painting, as a ‘scientific’ justification for neo-impressionist divisionism, namely by Signac who sets himself up as a kind of official theorist of the ‘movement’. The irony of the whole affair is that painters adopts Chevreul’s “scientific” theory by way of Delacroix’s use of colour, which in fact was developed independently, by other means, and for other purposes. So the interesting thing here is that what is going on in painting, although it in certain ways runs parallel to this development of a scientific theory of colour, is not doing so with the same ends in mind. Whereas Chevreul seeks to put the principle of complementary colours to work in the manufacture of fabric and cautions against it in painting, Delacroix wants to unleash within painting the hallucinatory power of colour as something that exists only in the eye so as to create an art that, no longer in thrall to formal classicism, will take as its subject the matter of painting itself i.e. colour.

¶ A virtuality is opened up here, a virtual field of exploration for the painter. And it’s important to note that this virtuality of colour, this differential space, does not belong wholly to the subject or to the object: that is, it is not the space of imagination in the romantic sense of sentiment, feeling, or colour symbolism. But it’s also not identical with the spectrum of colour as in Newtonian theory—beceause of its differential nature, because it is a matter of exploration rather than determination, and because it relates to phenomena of vision that cannot be grasped quantitatively.

¶ And what will suggest is that Hecker’s work similarly tries to break into and work within the field of virtuality that is the heard, as distinct from both the physical description of sound as vibration and the recognisable world of sounds that we can immediately and transparently integrate into a world-picture.

¶ So here we have to address a certain divergence between science and art.

¶ We’ve already talked about how in psychoacoustics, for example, ‘effects’ and ‘illusions’ are created under laboratory conditions in order to determine the laws under which normal perception operates. That is, it is ultimately a kind of patrolling of the perimeter of the integrated subject of perception.

¶ Now, as we see in the case of Chevreul’s insistence on making this into a science, science is not really interested in this except in so far as helps us understand the organic operations, the way in which the world is normally constructed, to develop a model of it and perhaps to understand pathological deviations from it—and to fix them.

¶ As we see with Delacroix, an artist I think sees this more as an opportunity, an expanded field, a wider palette to work with. They are instead interested in intensifying…in a deregulation of the senses.

¶ At the same time, what is interesting in respect to psychiatric development of the notion of hallucination is that this separation is not complete, for in it the pathological aspect of hallucination was immediately linked to artistic creation. As Boismont says: “intensity of hallucination is the unique source of the truth” of the artist’s vision.

¶ But what’s really key in the story of Delacroix and Chevreul is the fact of an experiential encounter with the outside. A convergence, a sort of parallelism: as I said, what Chevreul offers to painting he has only been able to do because he is coming from outside—from a field, the decorative arts, in which colour is not subject to Davidian principles of beauty.

¶ But as for Delacroix, he also develops his theory of colour on the basis of an encounter with the outside, namely his journey to Morocco, where he encounters a use of colour entirely foreign to the academy, but again mostly in the context of the decorative. What he saw in the carpets (‘some of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen are Persian carpets), the fabrics, the clothes, and so on, was something alien to the model of painting, something outside. As Alliez argues, Delacroix’s reaction has been placed under the banner of orientalism but this is by no means the whole truth: the outside that he encounters is for the painter a sign towards the outside from the inside that is the operation of colour. It is the occasion for the revelation of a more profound outside.

¶ Between Chevreul and Delacroix there is a kind of common encounter with an outside of, let’s say, the west and the west’s classical inheritance, or an interpretation of that classical inheritance: and the way in which a certain model of art worked to confirm and reinforce a certain relation between the subject and its world. An outside of the organic system of perception organised according to principles that relate the percepts of colour to a system of objects (i.e., according to which a color is something determinate in itself, that belongs locally to an object defined by an outline. But what it reveals is a machine of perception, the brain-eye, that is in operation in the integrated system of sensory perception but which belongs to a virtuality that exceeds it.

¶ So here are two different processes which may be complementary and may inform each other but which are in principle separate way of discovering—but in both cases it is these encounters that open up the possibility of the sensory field overflowing the idealised system of objects.

¶ We might think of Deleuze in relation to these encounters with the outside: in order to think, we need an encounter.

¶ For Hecker, I think, this “outside” is electronic music, in two difference senses. Both the work of xenakis etc who wanted to compose with sound rather than within the structures of music—and this is already conditioned by an outside that is the arrival of recording and reproduction technologies—and Rave: creating abstract spaces to literally get out of your head, using sound as one component to go beyond normal perception.

¶ So in Hecker’s work the ear-brain is mobilized so as to dissipate the illusory figure of an ear that is ‘readymade’, that is purely receptive to signals that come, equally readymade, from elsewhere, from a site that is absolutely other than it—the subject/object dichotomy—because here the ear is always also cognitive, it’s a brain-ear, and the process of hearing has a certain thickness.

¶ As it challenges the subject of hearing, this work also challenges the object of hearing—the way in which the objects of sonic perception are tied into an organic system in which always obey a set of well-defined principles, principles that in fact relate more to the eye than to the ear. For un the case of hearing this enterprise is even more interesting since hearing is, in the integrated system of the senses, in general subordinated to the eye. We should mention here some differences between vision and hearing, which may already have been suggested when we talked about our reptilian ancestors.

¶ In hearing, spatialisation (whereness) is separated from identification (whatness) whereas in vision they can’t be dissociated. We see through reflections whereas we hear sources: you’re listening to my voice bouncing from the walls in this room yet you wouldn’t say you’re listening to the walls, you’re listening to me. Whereas you’d say you’re looking at me, but I’m not the source of the light that allows you to see me…

¶ All of this may mean that, if our default model of the structure of our world comes predominantly from vision, then sound offers all the more opportunity to disrupt it.

¶ What does the hallucinatory exploration of these virtual spaces mean? If you wanted to put this in a wider more speculative context, you could say that it relates to the general position of the human in post-industrial capitalist society. That is to say, the possibilities of human are extended by technological prostheses and by reprocessing of the social by the technical, while at the same time capitalism has a certain conservatism, it falls back on an existing image of the human, what Deleuze and Guattari call the deterritorializing and reterritorializing tendencies of capitalism.

¶ In this sense Hecker’s work would be inscribed in the line of Rimbaud’s ‘deregulation of the senses’ with these experiences as a kind of rehearsal for a future human, or Apollinaire who wrote ‘More than anything, artists are men who want to become inhuman’; or even Adorno who wrote ‘Art remains loyal to humankind uniquely through its inhumanity in regard to it.’

¶ Or finally, in terms of what Lyotard calls ‘immaterials’: Les Immatériaux, the exhibition staged by Design Theorist Thierry Chaput and Philosopher Jean-François Lyotard at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1985, confronted an accelerating cycle in which technological instruments afford us a grasp of matter beyond the human perceptual gamut, decomposing the structure of everyday objects into systems of imperceptible elements which are then recomposed, predominantly through the use of machine languages, into new materials which, as Lyotard says, are ‘always precarious’.

¶ Lyotard does not mean ‘immaterial’ in the sense of an idealism, something that is ‘not material’ or ‘dematerialized’, but materials are already informational, cognitive in a certain sense. As Lyotard surmised, ‘Immaterials’ assemble a machine neoculture whose developments are intractable to the discourses we inherited from humanism and modernity (or at least, the latter tend to reject these questions, in a kind of immune response).

¶ This is exactly the outside, the outside of the common conception of the human and its readymade objects: at once a matter of nature and culture, of the natural and the artificial.And, once again, we could say that this condition of immateriality—which is not non-materiality—has a specific relationship with music, and especially electronic music, as one of the first areas in which it would be investigated and materialised; the ‘outside’ of electronic music. Jacques Attali in Noise: ‘Music is prophecy…[I]t explores, much faster than material reality can, the entire range of possibilities in a given coded. It makes audible the new world that will gradually become visible’. And it’s no accident that Lyotard emphasized the role of sound in Les Immatériaux, imagining, with its ‘zoned’ audio environment, a disruption of the space of the gallery, overturning this ‘modern-dominant’ model of the museum gallery in which the visitor is reduced to an eye moving through a perspectival perceptual space, in a formative journey with a certain didactic finality. For Lyotard the use of sound was key to The development of an alternative ‘postmodern’ space-time.

¶ A final word on McCracken, with whose work Florian Hecker shares this particular show: I’ve talked about Hecker’s work in terms of minimalism before. Perhaps his work can be profitably compared to the mode of perspective operative in minimalism, where the viewer’s perambulations around the ‘specific object’ awaken them to their own role in constituting it as a perceptual object. The physical sound waves Hecker synthesises are often integrated by the auditor differently depending upon their position in space and the way they direct their attention, so that sound-matter, auditor and
exhibition space are all components of the work.

¶ Unlike the freeform interpretative play of the readymade, minimalism’s theater is one of suspense. Vary her perspective as she may, its viewer never gains access to the specific object, whose ‘hollowness,’ its reticence to reveal its internal constitution, is precisely what is enthralling: a primed jack-in-the-(black)-box that is never sprung, the object remains opaque and obdurate as the viewer circles it. Minimalism’s interrogation of objecthood ends with the simple tension between the gestalt of the object-as-unity and the experiential series of the viewer (a series that is endless, or which, unsatisfactorily, ‘just ends’).

¶ I think that working with sound allows Hecker to more deeply interrogate the process of object constitution, introducing complex bifurcations into this experiential series that go beyond a changing spatial point of view. The unity and homogeneity of the perceptual object are themselves disrupted, as shifts in the auditor’s perspective cause what seemed to be stable ‘objects’ to change in nature, to be displaced, to fracture or become delocalized. In effect, the auditor’s ‘degrees of freedom’ (movement through space, direction of attention) are prosthetically enhanced in Hecker’s installations, coupled to a more intangible set of variables, affording them a deeper participation in the synthesis of the object than is achieved either in the readymade (free semantic determination of the object as artwork) or the specific object (codetermination of viewer and object in phenomenological space). So I would say perhaps this again is a positive effect of working in sound.

¶ We could also talk about a kind of ‘bridging’ of duality in McCracken—he speaks of his objects as being ‘between the two worlds’ of illusionist painting and three-dimensionality, but also as bridges between the ‘ground’ of nature and the human cognition (placed at the level of the human head). Many of Hecker’s works in this show also figures of articulation —hinge, glue, chimera….

¶ McCracken declares that ‘a successful abstract sculpture will make the space around it abstract too’—that is, it will make one aware of the conditions of objecthood . Finally he talks about these pieces as being alien lifeforms from another dimension (or from the future) channelled by the artist. This futurality —the sense that it the works are an object from or for a perceptual system that is yet to come— is perhaps another way to understand the valence of ‘hallucination’: it opens up virtualities yet to be explored.

¶ Lyotard, around the time of Les Immateriaux, writes:

There is a gap between what is proposed to us for our little everyday lives, and the enormous capacities of experimentation and their ramifications in the social, opened up by technoscience. People are very aware of this. Leading a dog’s life when one is at large in the cosmos, etc. […] A laboratory humanity, that is to say an experimental humanity, this would be the best outcome of the crisis.

A laboratory humanity that would, I suggest, be populated by disintegrated and hallucinating subjects. The type of work that Hecker is producing is an experimental programme in hallucinatory aesthetics, guided by the naturalistic discipline of science but not reducible to it. For me this experimentation touches on philosophical problems whose ramifications are very far-reaching, it’s a type of ‘non-discursive thought’ that, in turn, is an ‘outside’ for philosophy to draw on.