👂Inner Ear 內耳

Cosmopolitics in Sound 聲音裡的宇宙政治 ◎Sheryl CheungInternal
Motivations 內部運動 ◎A Workshop by Sheryl Cheung, participants Anja Borowicz and Harriet Pittard
Electric Phantom 電魂 ◎Itaru Ouwan
Meridian of Fortune 財經二周天 ◎TEIHAKU
Terms* 條款* ◎Chun Yin Rainbow Chan & Craig Stubbs-Race
Gentle Steps Tainan 躡步台南 ◎Nigel Brown
Amplified trumpet, Propellers, Metal and Air 電聲小號、螺旋槳,金屬和空氣 ◎Sound of the Mountain
Year  年 ◎Jin Sangtae

Archive 2018_Inner Ear

Cosmopolitics in Sound

Sheryl Cheung

( 中文文章請按此 )

Bamboo leaves used for Naxi ritual in Yunnan, China (2018)

Consider harnessing sound as a way of interpreting the universe, relationships, changes, and the here and now; a process wherein an exploration of cosmopolitics is implicit; a sublimation technique to navigate between the form and essence of all things. More specifically, in my practice I work with a kind of inner sound, a sonic feedback of the animated world, as a medium to theorize and practice a subjective view of the cosmos and morality.

Growing up emotionally affiliated with many cultures, locations and communities, active listening became a way to deepen my awareness of the multi-worlds , to negotiate between the noise of nature (death, chaos, destruction) and noise of cultures (dogma, hierarchy and specialization)--not as binaries but as parts of a malleable whole--that which we call the noise of modernity.

Our sense of belonging is becoming increasingly unstable in a rapidly changing world: the earth is in crisis, digital consciousness is coming, and globalization (hegemonic knowledge systems) has lost its benevolent flair. This is a time to extend contemporary narratives beyond the human centric world that endlessly cycles through ideologies, “as if the evolution of ideas about the cosmos [has become] even more important than the truth about it,” writes historian Remi Brague. Relieve the pressures of usefulness and gravitational pull.

In this episode I trespass through transhumanist desires with Taoist (non-humanist) intuition, to delve into the politics of human and non-human forms, to maintain a holistic view that deters one from the enchantment of nature. To harness a way of embodiment that engages with an internal network of life and thereby affectively philosophize; to follow a desire to imagine, to interpret and influence the noise of the future (utility, progress, speed).

"Future Tao," performance at Taipei Fine Art Museum (2017)

Let us begin with a general mythology of sound. Imagine the most elemental technology in the world--the essence of life--the animating power that runs through all living things. This power is an intangible material with universal potential that suggests a shared disposition between all that appears to be separate. Like wind, it flows through different internal and external worlds, making the inner and outer one of the same. The ability for this power to connect different entities, spaces, and time gives it a narrating quality, bringing together different relations, changes and patterns to assemble a perspective of the world that differs from histories based on externality.

17th Century Dutch philosopher Spinoza speaks of the power of life as a musical instrument that produces melodic variations with a vast range of dynamics determined by affects, or passions of the mind. Because affects are not determined by the self alone, but induced by various conditions that influence one’s experiential state, the melody of one’s life force is not an expression of free will, but a series of responses to a greater network of influences. The Taoist sage Lao Tzu shares a similar view of agency by positing that all natural forces, including man, follow the laws of nature (天道). And so, when a strong gust of wind howls like a beast, does its force intend aggression, or an impartial demonstration of a greater cosmic order? Here the concepts of affect, power, and world order seems to lean on interpretations of plasticity.

Communion with the Wind (2017)

One’s power in the cosmic order can be cultivated by mind and body technology. In Taoist practices, the animating power of life, which they call qi, is fostered according to the characteristics of nature: how plants grow, animals move, the order of the seasons. Based on these qualities, practitioners follow certain daily methods to gather, mobilize, replenish energy of a human body and connect with the qi of its surroundings. A visualization of this process can be found in The Inner Scripture, an imaginative Taoist diagram about manipulating energy; the diagram depicts the human interior as a natural landscape of fields and agrarian labor; qi flows with the collective efforts of this complex system. Here the human body is a space for energy cultivation, and the good condition of energy is portrayed through towering mountains and streaming rivers. This inner world suggests a soundscape of collective living, an animated field that mobilizes a polyphonic materiality.

The pursuit of material sound resonates with Pierre Schaeffer’s music concrete proposed in the mid 1900s, which sought to develop a kind of music emancipated from the cultural structures of his time. In search for liberated sound, Schaeffer took on the physical world as a general instrument unbounded by traditional tools and fixed understandings of music theory. Music making involves more than technicalities of craft, or the understanding of science, said Schaeffer, it also requires a critical determination of “the nature of the music which the choice of certain musical objects implies.” He emphasizes on the implicit, a searching of meaning within the entwined.

In my piece “Earth Crust Quake,” I abstracted the form of sound until form is no longer and only matter remains (無), then experimented with matter in a nonlinear process (有). Like qi that runs through the Inner Scripture--music concrete is a sounding of a general substance, a processing of physical representation to excavate the internal rhythms in the essence of sound.

Earth Crust Quake (2018), from my ongoing research project "Anthem Boy" (tentative title, 2013-)

The state of co-habitation as portrayed in the Inner Scripture raises questions about shared embodiment between different life forms. One of the highest achievements of a Taoist practitioner is to, by way of connecting by qi, attain unity between heaven, earth and man (天人合一). With conscious engagement oneself and the world, a transbody becomes possible between different life forms. Spinoza zooms in for a more specific look at this unity by speaking of a mixture of bodies. “Affectio” is a mixture of two bodies, one body which is said to act on another, and the other receives the trace of the first.

The idea of transbody is explored in Moon Tides I, a ritualistic performance in which a plant and a human are united in a shared narrative of vulnerability and weakness. Internal sounds from the human and plant, such as breathing, digestion, breaking bones and branches and electromagnetic bio-feedback are used in a musical experience to create one sonic field of bio-rhythms.

Moon Tides, performance excerpt (2017)

In this performance, the narrative of vulnerability and sadness reflects upon a general correlation between power and emotions. How does the energy of life embody a certain affective politics based on our vision of life affirming goodnesses? According to Spinoza, Joy and sadness are considered two poles of the emotional scale that determine the range of the vital melodic line; joy increases one’s power to act and persist in life; sadness diminishes one’s level of power.

While this power scale can be useful as a general guideline for self-orientation, it is also beneficial to consider the world beyond the positive--as a boundless space that stretches limitlessly towards all directions. Where there is no aesthetic judgment of either direction, but an ability to maneuver with the tides and to cultivate one’s instrument in the ever-changing states. From this perspective, weakness is negatively affirming and thereby empowering: In the research of Indian scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose, the right amount of stimulation (shock) on a plant can increase internal flow of sap and fuel growth in certain developing areas. This enhanced inner mobility suggests a connection between weakness and growth, driven by biological instincts to heal, to bloom and prosper in life. In Bose’s studies, we see a perseverance that goes beyond resilience by responding affirmatively to a call for inner power.

To be able to maneuver in the positive and negative requires a particular state of mind and body that allows one to flexibly respond to changing states of disposition. Despite our limited agency, constrained by social, environmental, emotional and other factors, this project is an attempt to propose an attitude and practice, through the medium of sound, to navigate the constant flux of the universe.

(update: 2018)

☯ Sheryl Cheung
Sheryl Cheung works between experimental sound compositions, abstract scoring and performances to explore a material concept of life. Perceiving life as a force, a mobility that drives our innate persistence to live, she explores how active listening (working with sound) can be a mind and body practice to negotiate different noises of the world.