Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 6#4 Adilkno, Bilwet 1 Jan 1992

The Dominant Ear

It's often said that we live in an empire of images.


The Dominant Ear -

While in the beginning was the Word, at our end flesh has become image. The eveningland on which night has fallen is lit by a flickering marker that guides the roving eye through the labyrinth of speed. In this dreamland Reason can no longer write its name and become a pin code. Uprooted metamorphoses herald our downfall while we watch, struck dumb, fascinated by the visual beauty. Involvement has a force of zero in the mediacracy. So power runs no risk, and is hard for the stupefied senses to locate.

The above spectre, propagated by the conservers of culture, is meant to avert the impending decline in literacy by restraining the consumption of images. Language as a vector of one's own culture guarantees depth, in contrast to the addictive superficiality of r/tv/cd/pc/vcr which only stimulate passivity. The bourgeois character, apparently immune to fascism and communism and doing so well materially, will collapse, bombarded by zappable impressions, under the third dictatorship of image, this time from the inside.

The spectre has an audio equivalent. The ear has now been torn to shreds and is at the mercy of the senseless but excessive noise of trail bikes, fighter jets, loudspeakers, electric saws, dogs, factory floors, cloudbursts, carnivals, loading and unloading, parties. Parallel to their literacy campaign, the opponents of noise are lobbying for the allocation of sanctuaries, where tractors are replaced by horses and the scythe sings again. What can be heard there is the voice of nature, which the mensch, with all his rights, must obey, under penalty of mutation.

The preachers of pure sound and vision are supervising the disappearance of the sound and image culture created by Goethe, Rembrandt and Bach. The task of their civilization was to fell the enchanted forest with its cracking twigs, indistinct fluttering, staring eyes, its rustle of leaves and nocturnal animals. The acoustic space of the first human on earth was a continuous stream of aural input without a locatable sound source. Civilization's mission was to arrange deforestation and local silences, which could then be filled with the mystique of the unreproducible work of art.

These highlights and unforgettable hits were part of a sound-image regime that imposed its coordinates by means of the clock tower with its 3-d face and its carillons. The image ensured a constant measure, but it was possible to ignore. The intermittent pealing every quarter and full hour, on the other hand, had a range you could not escape. Until, when the industrial machinery was started up, the volume knobs in acoustic space were turned up and the masses were subjected to a constant acoustic pressure. The image got the opportunity to ascend to dominance in the dispositive of sound and vision. Its limited availability gave it the discontinuity without which power can keep no secrets.

The Volk among themselves have been shooting the bull since time immemorial, but when politicians start to rap, to the people it's a load of stupid crap. Show us something! is the ultimate challenge it then poses the politicians, who proceed to fall flat on their faces in the television democracy at formal dinners and bicycle competitions. The world musician follows the opposite path: only when he makes himself visible to the world consumer will his speeches be listened to. A following generation of musicians made music out of the oration in order to better make their own race visible. While in the Fifties sound formed a coalition with image, the Nineties do it by using the word. The taboo word, beeped out, is joined seamlessly with the taboo image, in which a bird, arm, wave, break or cutout always just blots the disgraceful image out of the peep show. The secret everyone knows poses the challenge of staying turned on for the disclosure of the image which will never come. On the rare occasions that it does, it is zapped away.

Musical preference, through the flexibilization of taste, has become a densifying factor in the globe- and history-spanning network of styles, trends and genres. A music for every state of mind and vice versa, and that 20 times an hour. The listener, once subculture- and identity-bound as a fan, has all at once become open to every sound wave. In the Fifties the parents weren't physically up to rock and roll, but nowadays marginal bodily experiences have lost their age- and group-bound character. The dislike of certain videos is an effect on the social body similar to swing on the lip-synch show. Anyone can do anything, but reserves the right to time-bound favorites. After all, every viewer/listener can read and place any type of music. The sociological approach to the phenomenon of music has made it generally understandable.

A precondition of this is that music, which is always the result of a local experience, was freed from its origin to become a contextless global language which is universally understandable. What we see on the screen of the 1960s' experience media is another time, with a freshness and radiance that we classify as original in the age of the digital drone. The universal musical-sociological retraining of the ear has brought to life an immune system which prevents music from penetrating to the layers of the brain it might otherwise affect.

Music, the dominant mechanism of the social organization of memory, makes us immediately forget the misery which has been turned into the sound. But if someone adopts the guitar style or singing voice of some illustrious prematurely dead predecessor, it's immediately picked up on. Pop musicians who understand this battle against the transparency of their style, trying with increasing complexity to render the individual and classifiable elements of their method more opaque. Openness to all continents and eras demands that you break out of accessibility. But pop music knows its own history and can continually and rhizomatically refer to it in a way that is almost effortlessly shared by the whole media mass. Is timelessly abstract pop music possible?

The limitations of pop music lie in its technical apriorism. Not only is music easy to date based on the samplers used, the transition to new information carriers filters out an entire collection of music into the hole in the memory of history. Who will switch over to the cd phase, who will stay magnetic forever and disappear into the hobby sphere after an unfindable replacement stylus in the racks where right now there are still 78 rpm singles? And music is reacting again with a defensive attack. If initially people sang directly onto wax discs, and after that live interpretations were cut into vinyl, in a later phase studio recordings were made in which no live registration was involved, and in turn, in the terminal phase of the phonograph medium, were the raw material for the live scratching process. And the lp is still attempting to become the content of the cd, which is already busy digitally emancipating itself from its source material, and will autonomously become the basis for a subsequent round in the economically inevitable switch to a new type of noise carrier.

The producers of music blindly submit time and again to the secret power of the medium available to them. There used to be a guitar or piano; now there is an integrated sound and image circuit. Acoustic emptiness screams to be filled as it deserves. Not only does power produce images, it always makes a sound; it forces its way via ears and eyes into bodies. The guitar needed the guitarist's fingers and the shindig; today the beat box needs no bodily movements. The musician did not control his instrument; the keys imposed a theory of movement on the hands. The musical mechanism wanted to get away from being touched by soft machines and smooth operators. Punk understood this and reacted with an unrestrained attack on the instrumentarium, yielding more material for a cool compilation cd. It's no accident that the stereo system is cathedral-shaped. The church was the ear and the eye of God – the Image- and Soundless – the monument to his absence. For the new music we can stay home.

translation LAURA MARTZ