Rancière and critical sound

“In order to understand how sound functions as an artistic medium and as a valid contemporary voice, we must understand its aesthetic means, its socio-political ramifications and move beyond mere cataloguing.” -Matthew Mullane

I read an interesting essay called “The aesthetic ear: sound art, Jacques Rancière and the politics of listening” by Matthew Mullane. Unlike other essays on sound art, this one did not attempt to define the boundaries of the term, but instead acknowledged its futility. He says, “I am not concerned with ‘‘sound art’’ as an isolated methodological or art historical footnote; I am rather intrigued by sound as a vehicle for aesthetic experience.” In this essay he uses Jaques Ranciere’s theory of “critical art” to interpret and demonstrate the validity of sound as a medium through which to “raise consciousness of the mechanisms of domination in order to turn the spectator into a conscious agent in the transformation of the world.” Basically Ranciere argues that art should be political and Mullane thinks that sound as a medium is a great way to create political art.

I was drawn to this article because it provides a framework for making ‘critical art’, which is something that excites me. I often feel conflicted because my art and my politics are not linked in the way I would like them to be.

A word that kept coming up was ‘heterogeneity,’ defined as: “composed of unrelated or differing parts or elements.” This is an important term in Ranciere’s theory and is interesting to me because  it speaks to art’s ability to encourage people link disparate ideas in productive ways.

Mullane analyzes 4 different pieces of art that use sound in a ‘critical’ way. One I particularly liked is a piece by Toshiya Tsunoda, in which he took a field recording inside of a manhole. I didn’t quite get how this piece was ‘critical,’ but I’ll probably reread the essay later.

My major complaint about this article is that it is incredibly verbose and theoretically dense (I had to look up a lot of words) and really just applies one (though arguably influential) art philosophical viewpoint to the world of sound art. However, it is nice to be getting away from essays that simply attempt to define “sound art” as opposed to understanding the capacities of sound.


also: ARTNET’s Ranciere for Dummies article


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