Where are the Ears of the Machine?

Towards a sounding micro-temporal object-oriented ontology


Morten Riis



What do you hear when you listen to the wind in the trees? Do you hear the wind or the trees? What do you hear when you listen to a recording of your voice on tape? Do you hear the voice or the tape? In both cases you are hearing two objects as they relate to one another, a modulation of wind through the leaves, a modulation of voice through tape. Thus, sound needs a medium in order to be propagated: it could be air, water, wood, stone or electrical circuits. Through this mediation, sound becomes vibration in matter, whether it is mechanical, acoustic or electrical – and this matter naturally has a great impact on the sound itself, potentially altering its basic vibrational structure to extreme degrees. We are aware of this, and much research has been done to optimize and refine this process through the development of recording and reproduction technologies, always with the final evaluation of the human ear as the endpoint. From when the sound/vibrations leave the speakers and meet the ear, and the acoustic experience emerges for our sensory apparatus. An acoustic experience that can be framed through Wolfgang Ernst’s conceptualization (Ernst 2014) as the “acoustic unconscious” – paraphrasing Benjamin’s “optical unconscious” (Benjamin 1972) – a conceptualization in which our human sensory apparatus can short-circuit history, presenting an unconscious cultural memory which builds on the premise that through our phonographic culture we are accustomed to the disembodiment of the voice. We know cognitively that the phonographic mediated voice is not real, but acoustically it is very real, and thus the media archaeological analysis develops into a non-historical model of cultural memory (Ernst 2014).

On the other hand, the tape machine does not care about acoustics, and it is not interested in the coupling of electrical signals to vibrating sound waves in air. It cares about what magnetic coating the polyester tape consists of, the speed of the capstan drive, Dolby and DBX filter curves, and Resistor-Capacitor time constants. A line of thinking that subscribes to the latest developments within the object-oriented philosophy.

This paper will try to investigate the notion of memory and time from the point of view of the cassette tape recorder, in an attempt to locate the ears of the machine. Posing the question of how the tape recorder represents and understands the world enables us to get closer to the actual physical operational technology itself, as an exposition of length, time, and magnetism and its way of representing what we normally denote as reality. Thus, this material turn will present this electro-magnetic device not as a medium of popular music distribution, but rather through its temporal actions that offer a different understanding of its “sound.” The paper thereby offers a modification of Friedrich Kittler’s much-discussed theorem of the “acoustic real” as registered in phonography by extending it to the magnetic cassette tape (where the noise of the apparatus is less co-present to human perception, thereby dissimulating the machinic, non-human sonic agency). Through this line of thinking, the cassette tape recorder is transformed into a micro-temporal object of carpentry revealing an alternative ontology of recording or inscription media and its consequences with regard to our conceptualization of time.

The operative object


The two main theoretical conceptualizations that form the basis for the following exposition of the ears of the cassette machine are object-oriented ontology paired with the notion of micro-temporality derived from the German media archaeological research tradition. In the following paragraphs these two theoretical perspectives will be outlined in order to establish a philosophical foundation for the coming alternative exposition of electro-magnetic recording technology, a foundation that is necessary in order to form and define crucial terms for revealing and investigating the ears of the machine.     


Object-oriented ontology

Object-oriented ontology can be used to develop a different framing of the relationship between sounding semantics and its embodiment within technological mediation and, additionally, take the notion of micro-temporality and develop it from an object’s perspective. 


The larger context of object-oriented ontology or philosophy originates from the speculative realism of Graham Harman, Ray Brassier, Quentin Meillassoux, and Iain Hamilton Grant. At its core, a speculative realism is opposed to correlationism, a term used for the idea that being exists only as a correlate between mind and world, placing humans at the center (Harman 2010; Bogost 2012: 4). As an example, Heidegger claims that objects can exist outside human consciousness, but that their being exists only in human understanding (Bogost 2012: 4). Thus to be a speculative realist “one must abandon the belief that human access sits at the center of being, organizing and regulating it like an ontological watchmaker” (Bogost 2012: 5) and instead shift focus to include all possible objects, stressing the idea that all things exists equally, which is framed by notions of flat or tiny ontology. In this context, Harman’s theory of objects can be conceptualized as an expanded reading of Heidegger’s tool analysis, in which both the “present-at-hand” and “ready-to-hand” (Heidegger 1996: 66-69) reduce entities to “one-sided caricatures of their thundering depths” (Harman 2012: 193). Thus we distort when we see and when we use, and neither practice nor perception can exhaust the reality of things, a conceptualization that builds on the basic premise that all objects withdraw (Morton 2013; Harman 2002). Withdrawal here is to be understood as an unbreakable encryption irreducible to its perception or relations – as Timothy Morton puts it, no jazz solo will ever exhaust the trumpet – meaning that we cannot specify the object by trying to explain, use, or represent it. So any knowledge about the object is not the object, and it becomes impossible for knowledge to replace the object in question (Morton 2013: 17-59).


The Rift and applied ontology

For Morton, objects are ontologically riven between essence and appearance (Morton 2013: 56), meaning that there is a Rift between essence and aesthetic appearance.[1] As Morton points out, it then becomes impossible to specify whether the Rift is inside or outside the object, and, more importantly, the Rift then becomes central in exploring the objectiveness of the object. If the Rift between essence and appearance closes, then the object ends and is reduced to appearance only.


The Rift additionally develops Morton’s notion of causality and couples it to the aesthetic dimension, claiming that causality is the aesthetic effect produced by the interaction between objects, interaction understood here as a kind of inscription in which one object leaves its footprint in another one (Morton 2013: 64). This turn could be described as a democratization of aesthetics to also include non-human actors, proposing that aesthetic events are not limited to interactions between humans or between humans and e.g. painted canvases (Morton 2013: 19-20). Causality is not something that takes place in some space already established beforehand, but instead pours or radiates from objects, from the Rift between essence and appearance (Morton 2013: 35-36). The aesthetic experience is then not solely something that occurs within our human mind, but is instead expanded to incorporate all causal events taking place in and between objects (Morton 2013: 120-121). Through an object-oriented ontology line of thinking, art becomes a collaboration between humans and non-humans, and thus an important way to explore the Rift of objects through attunements between objects (Morton 2012: 138). From this perspective, the aesthetic is not some kind of icing on the cake, but an elementary exploration of causality as the aesthetic dimension, opposing the historical separation of rhetoric from logic and substance from accidents (Morton 2013: 79). This understanding of the aesthetic and causal dimension permeates traditional distinctions between background/foreground, figure/ground, and inside/outside, which are often taken to be key analytical concepts for approaching art. Therefore, according to Morton, reality is like an illusion, albeit a real illusion, as we often judge something to be an object when it is actually just its appearance, habituated to our own normalizations (Morton 2013: 143). Ultimately this would imply that, for instance, the light dependent resistor (LDR) measuring the difference between light and shadow belongs to the aesthetic dimension because there is very little difference between how humans encounter a shadow and how an LDR does the same thing (Morton 2013: 37), something that could be labelled as non-human phenomenology or “alien phenomenology” in Ian Bogost’s terminology (Bogost 2012).


Another central term for Bogost is the notion of carpentry, which is described as the philosophical practice of making things. As a philosophical lab tool (Bogost 2012: 100), carpentry becomes doing creative work that poses philosophical questions, executing what could be denoted as applied ontology.[2] Writing is dangerous for philosophy, as writing is only one form of being, a comment on the assumption that we relate to the world only through language (Bogost 2012: 90). At the core of carpentry lies the understanding that philosophy is practice just as much as it is theory, constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice (Bogost 2012: 92). The practice that Bogost mentions here as central for his applied ontology is a specific type of practice, a practice that is closely related to Morton’s explorations of the Rift, which can be described as the possibility of exploring causality by creating or studying objects. Thus, carpentry becomes a methodology for approaching the very essence of causality and acting out phenomenology, a way of demonstrating how all objects (human and non-human) can affect each other in different situations. Carpentry can be used to tell us something about the epistemic character of practice (of making things), because it foregrounds the idea that “Knowing is not about seeing from above or outside […] Knowing is a matter of intra-acting [...] Knowing is not a bounded or closed practice but an on-going performance of the world” (Barad 2007: 149). Thus the role of the practice outlined here becomes a way of attuning to the inconsistency of objects as a tuning relationship that collapses the subject-object division, giving rise to a sense of coexistence and connection to other objects. This attuning is slightly out of phase, recognizing its own inconsistency and fragility and thereby also the uncanny strangeness of ever truly knowing something (Morton 2013: 177).

Wolfgang Ernst and operative technology

Bogost’s applied ontology or carpentry pairs well with the micro-temporal analysis and close observation and interaction with rudimentary aspects of technological objects found in the media archaeology of Wolfgang Ernst. The media archaeological focus on a materialistic temporality and processuality can be grounded in the work of Friedrich Kittler, who redefined and modified Michel Foucault’s original concept of archaeology (Foucault 1972), giving it a more materialist approach. As Kittler claims, the factual conditions of any material object is no simple matter, needing to be examined and understood from an engineering and close reading of electrical circuits perspective in order to understand the development of technical media and its consequences for modern society (Kittler 1999: 229). Furthermore, Kittler underlines how important it is that practitioners of cultural studies are able to thoroughly learn and understand mathematics in order for Medienwissenschaft to develop past its current media historical status. The fundamental technological logic, such as the procedures of data processing, must be studied from the engineer’s point of view rather than merely being evaluated “from the point of view of their social usage” (Kittler 1999: xiv).


Through media archaeology it is possible to discern new kinds of historical knowledge that exceed the visible and readable to include ways of listening to historical material: it becomes possible to hear history, according to Ernst. Following in the tradition of Kittler, Ernst takes media to be a blind spot in humanities research, and in the case of the phonograph, for instance, the implementation of a technological perspective within humanistic research opens up other sonic registers beyond music. His example is the way that the telephone or gramophone changes the way we understand the relations between writing and speech. According to Ernst, the human voice is frozen by technical media, through its reduction into symbolic code, but can be unfrozen through replay, releasing all its richness and variations of frequencies. In the case of a recording of a voice, the noise also becomes an important carrier of information and other fragments of the frozen technical knowledge are made available. Ernst describes how technical repeatability generates “an almost ahistorical functional reenactment” (Ernst 2013: 175), and thus an experience of media time in contrast to the historicist notion of time. The tactic of “reenactment” can operate as a time machine in this sense, and can be used to generate knowledge: “the original experience is repeatable; the actual experiment allows for (com)munition across the temporal gap” (Ernst 2013: 177).


Time-criticality or micro-temporality is what and how modern technical media has manipulated the time axis since, for example, the Edison sound-reversing phonograph. It is the running of machines, code, and algorithms that is central to the time-critical understanding of digital media, defined by patterns of signals unfolding in time (Parikka 2011: 59). This media-temporality or time-criticality is experienced by experimenting with the physical media themselves (Ernst 2009); and thus the reenactment of the experiments conducted by Pythagoras, when pulling the string on the monochord, enables us, according to Ernst, to experience the relationship between integer numbers and harmonic musical intervals (Ernst 2009). Of course we are not in the same historical situation as Pythagoras, and even our mode of listening must be considered to be very different, but as Ernst claims, the monochord operates as a time machine: “it lets us share, participate at the original discovery of musicological knowledge” (Ernst 2009). According to Ernst, each technological moment is comprised of media, not humans, and these media are not dead, but operating (Ernst 2013: 183), bringing an awareness of the moment when media themselves become active “archaeologist[s] of knowledge” (Ernst 2011: 239).


[1] Aesthetic appearance must in this context be understood both as how we humans sense, experience, interact with a given object, but also how the non-human object perceives humans and other non-human objects.

[2] Bogost (2012: 85-111) gives several examples of carpentry, one of which is Ben Fry’s Deconstructulator (Fry 2003), which is a modification of a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) emulator. When a program is executed through this special emulator it allows an exploding view of the original code in which the systems sprite (a small graphical building block for creating large moving graphics) memory is displayed alongside the active sprites in use at the current moment. This object of carpentry thus offers an exploding operational view of the entire memory of the NES system as well as an insight into how the machine manipulates the content of the game within the limitations of its memory constraints.

The sounding object in question: The cassette tape recorder


The following investigation of how the technological apparatus listens and understands the world will primarily take the cassette tape recorder as its starting point, primarily because, as a sound artist, I have been working with this particular reproduction technology over the last year (reconfiguring it, manipulating it, and transforming it into new forms of expressions), but also because this type of inscription media can also give us an alternative understanding of what constitutes a medium, through the conceptualization proposed by Ernst that “matter has to be temporal in order to become a medium” (Ernst 2014). A temporalization that links micro-temporal media archaeology with object-oriented ontology and can ultimately expand the field of sound studies to include non-human perspectives of recording technology.


Principles of magnetic recording and the basic functionality of a cassette tape recorder[3]

In 1820 Hans Christian Ørsted discovered electromagnetism, which paved the way for Michael Faraday’s experiments with electromagnetic induction in 1831, which ultimately led to Valdemar Poulsen inventing magnetic recording via his wire-recorder in 1898 (Jorgensen 1980: 10-11). Electromagnetic recording became a household device in 1962 when Philips invented the compact cassette tape, which was introduced to the European market in 1963, and performed for almost 30 years as the most widely used method of recording and reproducing sound.


Material that is capable of being magnetized is referred to as ferrous, and the molecules of such a material are linked together in the form of a crystal structure (Earl 1977: 21). Each complete crystal element contains a certain number of molecules depending on the material. For instance, ferric oxide, which forms the basis of the coating of Fe tape, has eight molecules per element (Earl 1977: 21). The crystal elements can be regarded as domains of randomly oriented magnetic fields, but when the material is magnetized, the domains are swung from their random distributed positions and line up. These lines can be denoted as field lines, and the more field lines running through a given area, the greater the magnetic flux (Jorgensen 1980: 18, 30). The number of domains in alignment thus determines the strength of the resulting magnet. When all the domains are in alignment, the material is said to be magnetically saturated, rendering it incapable of accepting further magnetism or producing a greater magnetic field (Earl 1977: 22).

Figure 1: Picture (a) shows random orientation of magnetic domains while (b) illustrates how a piece of ferrous metal is said to be magnetically saturated when all the domains are in alignment.

The mechanical basis on which the tape recorder is capable of capturing and reproducing auditory content is organized into three tape heads: erase, record, and playback, each containing an electromagnet with the ability to convert an electrical signal into a magnetic force that can be stored on the passing magnetic tape and, conversely, convert the magnetic content of the tape into electrical current. (It should be mentioned that in most compact cassette recorders the record and playback heads are combined into one in order to cut down on the size of the reproduction mechanism.)

Figure 2: Cassette tape showing the three square holes on the bottom.

At the erase head, a high frequency (approximately 80 to 100 kHz), high-amplitude audio signal is sent to the erase electromagnet, thus randomizing the magnetic particles on the tape and erasing any previous material on the tape. Sound varies in frequency and amplitude, as does the magnetic field of the record head, thereby imprinting a magnetic picture of the audio signal on the tape when in recording mode.


When recorded tape scrolls under the playback head, the moving magnetic fields induce a varying current in the head. This voltage produces an electrical representation of the magnetic signal on the tape. This is then passed through an equalization and amplification circuit so that the recorded music becomes audible through the connected speakers.

Figure 3: Block diagram of an electromagnetic recording device.

Cassette loop time and sound on sound recording

Now enter the practice of carpentry to expose and analyze the various timing layers that exist within the compact cassette tape recorder. As a philosophical practice I have created what I call “the switch of carpentry” on a compact cassette recorder, which enables a recording method that does not erase previous content, but instead superimposes layers of sound upon each other.[4] This switch of carpentry method is additionally combined with the use of loop cassettes for recording, which is a method that enables us to investigate the magnetic saturation and timing issues of the tape at close hand. This sound on sound button, which disables the erase head of the tape recorder, reconfigures the cassette machine into an object of carpentry, as it gives us the possibility of displaying and monitoring the cassette tape’s state of magnetic saturation, a state that uses all possible resources of the ferrous coating on the tape and that shows the true personality of the recording medium and its attempt to capture the complex pulsating sound waves of humans talking, walking, and playing music onto the tape. The tape gradually gets more and more saturated because the magnetic domains are forced in the same direction, even though there is still room to listen to the contours of the previously recorded material, while new material is superimposed on it.


[3] This technical description is based on the following sources: (Jorgensen 1980: 16-18; Salm 1973: 37-39; Earl 1977: 21-56; Vincentz 1967: 41-69; Hood 2000: 12-18).

[4] A method resembling the tape experiments of e.g. Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Subotnick in the early 1960s.

Figure 4: The switch of carpentry button on a Philips D6260 cassette recorder

 Figure 5: Loop cassette tape


When recording for documentation, time is a crucial factor. For instance: When did the recording take place, and for how long did it last? But the time of the actual recording is also important. When recording on a compact cassette, time is measured in length, the length of tape, which is played back by the tape recorder with the average speed of 4.76 cm/sec. The specific cassette recorder used in the example is the Philips D6260, and according to the service manual (Philips 1986) the tape speed can vary by up to +/- 3%, making the notion of accurate time questionable. If time is measured in terms of its length – or to be more precise in terms of the execution of its length – then the precision of the tape recorder becomes extremely important. With this the notion of the operative tape recorder is introduced, which largely refers to Wolfgang Ernst’s notion of micro-temporality. But things get even more complex when using a continuous loop cassette and sound on sound recording, a method that questions the notion of documented time to an extreme. Time gets transferred into complex states of recorded time, real time, machine time, past time, and tape time (which is the execution of tape length), creating a compound of different conceptualizations of time existing as layers on top of each other. The switch of carpentry additionally emphasizes that time is not a container in which objects float (Morton 2013: 48). Time is not a series of now points in which objects exist, but instead, time flows out of objects, so what we call clock time becomes an emergent effect of the time emitted by the objects themselves (Morton 2013: 156, 215). Thus, the cassette tape’s temporality does not take place in a space and time container that has already been established beforehand; instead it pours or radiates from the tensions of the Rifts between essence and appearance, establishing the notion of interobjectivity (Harman 2010: 150; Morton 2013: 35-66). There is no space or time (or environment as background) in which objects float; instead, they are emergent properties of objects themselves. This understanding resonates with post-Einsteinian physics, in which space-time is the product of objects (Morton 2013: 151); therefore, objects space and time each other (verbs), instead of unfolding in time and residing in space.


This method of reconfiguring the cassette recorder can of course be claimed to have a clear artistic agenda and a specific aesthetic expression, but the self-made sound on sound switch and the use of loop cassettes also change the status of the tape recorder from a technological object into an object of carpentry, a philosophical lab tool used to practice philosophy. Layers of sound become superimposed upon each other, and various notions of recorded time become superimposed upon each other, making the sound on sound loop tape difficult to analyze in a traditional textual manner, forcing us to shift our analysis perspective towards the actual recording technology itself. At the same time, this artistic practical engagement with the technological objects can be conceptualized though the casual aesthetics of Morton. As previously outlined, art becomes a way of exploring causality, which in this case becomes an exposition and investigation of the complex timing unfolding in and through technology. The artistic reconfiguration reveals the fragility of the electro-magnetic device itself, but at the same time enables broader perspectives on how we humans understand time with and through technology.


Equalization and timing

Let us now return to the micro-temporal point of view. As explained above, when recorded tape runs past the playback head, the magnetic prints on the tape create a current in the head that is amplified through a chain of audio components and is finally fed to the speakers.


The current induced in the playback head, however, does not depend directly on the magnetic signal on the tape. Instead, it depends on the rate of change in the flux level, on how fast the magnetic prints move past the head. Since high frequencies have more prints than low frequencies, they have a greater rate of change (they seem to be “moving faster”) and, consequently, they have more output. In terms of voltage, the output increases at a rate of 6dB per octave, twice as much output every time the frequency is doubled. To compensate for this increasing output in the higher frequencies, the playback section of a tape recorder has a decreasing slope built into its circuitry so that the increase plus the decrease is “equalized” for a flat response (O’Kelly 1980). To compensate for the irregularities of the recording medium, equalization is used to actively alter the frequency content of the signal going into and from the tape. To obtain this equalization, a resistor-capacitor circuit is used to match the ferrous coating of the polyester tape to the output amplification circuit of the tape recorder. The high frequency time constant for Fe tape is 120μs (micro-seconds), and the high frequency time constant for Cr (chrome) tape is 70μs (Earl 1977: 60), where the time constant is derived from the time it takes the capacitor to charge and discharge its levels of voltage, thus exemplifying that the cutoff frequency of the filter is determined by the resistor-capacitor time constant (Earl 1977: 61).

Figure 6: Diagram of a low pass filter illustrating the relationship between the resistor (R) and the capacitor (C).

One way to understand this circuit is to focus on the time the capacitor takes to charge or discharge through that resistor. At low frequencies, there is plenty of time for the capacitor to charge up to practically the same voltage as the input voltage. At high frequencies, the capacitor only has time to charge up a small amount before the input switches direction. The output goes up and down only a small fraction of the amount the input goes up and down. At double the frequency, there is only time for it to charge up half the amount, which gives us the cutoff frequency determined by the resistor-capacitor time constant.


An analysis of these complex states of various timing delays now situates a new reality in which the tiniest delays (micro-seconds) dramatically change the frequency content of the tape, creating a new understanding of electromagnetic memory. As these equalization timing delays additionally become layered on top of the execution of the running of the tape, combined with the switch of carpentry sound on sound technique for exposing alternative tape and machine temporalities, a new meaning becomes evident, which has consequences not only for the storage of sound and music, but also for the way we store data on magnetic hard disks in server parks around the globe. A new ontological perspective that radiates out of the Rift within the electro-magnetic object in question, challenges our otherwise deterministic understanding of the timing technologies that situate our contemporary technological reality.

The real-time phonograph

The micro-temporal awareness of magnetic recording can additionally be contextualized with the introduction of Kittler’s notion of the real gramophone, as it exposes the main differences between the two types of memory. Kittler’s theoretical work Gramophone, Film, Typewriter draws heavily on the theory of Jacques Lacan in the formation of an alternative media theoretical comprehension of modern communication and data storing. For Kittler, the invention of new technological media created profound changes in the perception and mediation of the external world, and he uses the three orders of Lacan (real, symbolic, imaginary) as a theoretical foundation for the exposition of these changes. Kittler organizes his discussion of these three types of media around a general alignment of the gramophone with the real, the typewriter with the symbolic, and film with the imaginary. For Kittler, the real is aligned with sound, as opposed to word and image. This notion is exemplified in his discussion of the gramophone, a device that records all the jumbled fragments of the real before it is edited into a coherent picture in other forms like film. Kittler associates the real with the physiology of the voice (Kittler 1999: 93), the actual waves of sound captured by the recording. The real “forms the waste or residue that neither the mirror of the imaginary nor the grid of the symbolic can catch: the physiological accidents and stochastic disorder of bodies” (Kittler 1999: 15-16). But the real in the phonograph is also captured in real time, without any temporal delay, and it is here that the main difference between magnetic and phonographic recording lies: in the latency that is introduced in magnetic storage, a latency that, besides the equalization and tape time delays, is also present in the very nature of electromagnetic induction in which a temporal delay is created when the electrical current is converted into magnetic movement. When the material current becomes immaterial electromagnetic induction, it becomes transmissional (cf. Douglas Kahn [Kahn 2013] and his organization of transmissional media [telecommunication] and inscription media [storage media]), which ultimately means that the tape recorder becomes a combination of transmission and inscription. This immaterial conceptualization of magnetism additionally resonates with the writings of 17th-century scientist William Gilbert, who unfolds an understanding of magnetism as a “non-material manifestation of the soul of the Earth,” in contrast to the way in which electricity was traditionally perceived as something material (Zielinski 2010: 78).



The lengthy and minute explorations of electro-magnetic recording technology presented here may seem excessive and somewhat inappropriate in a critical and philosophical paper on sound and mediation. Nevertheless, it is within these microscopic details of field lines and resistor-capacitor time constants that the micro-temporal object-oriented ontological cassette recorder begins to develop. A cassette recorder that emerges through the presented philosophical and technical perspectives as a source of insight into not only sound mediation and storage, but also the fragile and inconsistent nature of the objects we surround us with. In this context the awareness of the Rift is revealed through an artistic practice (the switch of carpentry) that requires a specifically technical insight in order to intervene with copper wires, resistors and switches, and through this intervention to develop a broadened understanding of the inaccuracy and imperfectness within and between the objects that define our technological horizon. These philosophical questions posed by carpentry and the micro-temporal analysis thus reveal an alternative reality of the operational tape recorder, a reality that can be claimed – following the thoughts of Wolfgang Ernst – to be in its core a-historical, meaning that the specific function of the machine is in some way outside history, and to some extent outside human discourse. However, this reality is not outside the discourse of cassette tape itself, an understanding that shifts the perspective towards a conceptualization that the technological moment is comprised of media, not humans, and this media is not dead, but operating (Ernst 2013: 183). Thus, an interweaving of object-oriented ontology and media archaeology emerges, bringing an awareness to the moment when media themselves become an active “archaeologist of knowledge” (Ernst 2011: 239). The exposition of magnetic saturation points towards the duration of media, instead of the history of media, thus introducing the sonicistic conceptualization developed by Wolfgang Ernst. In this conceptualization time and technology meet, not history and technology, a proposition that attempts to differentiate the sonic from the acoustic, thus focusing on the inaudible vibrational events within the technological apparatus.


From a media archaeological point of view, it is only technical media that are able to register physical real signals, and so does the cassette tape preserve not only the memory of human cultural semantics, but also the knowledge of how the cassette recorder manipulates and makes a magnetic imprint on the domains of the ferrous coating of the running tape. This knowledge is embodied in the operational technology exposed by its use in an artistic performative context and reconfigured into a philosophical practice by the notion of carpentry, which enables the exposition of physical material saturation, and questions our understanding of documented time. Through object-oriented ontology, this notion of time pours out of objects, not only from the Rift between essence and appearance, but also in the relations between objects, thus creating new translations in the inexhaustible chain that sound undergoes in its life. Objects are born when one object deforms the objects around it, new translations appearing as a Rift, and die when the Rift closes, thus reducing the object to pure appearance (Morton 2013: 110-124). The Rift can then be contextualized as the medium or mediation between the essence of the sound and the appearance of the sound, which is meaningful in relation to how the speed of sound changes in relation to the material by which it is mediated. For instance, sound travels faster in water – and even faster in iron – than it does in air. Returning to the understanding that it is impossible to locate the Rift is evidently meaningful, because it is just as impossible to grasp the essence of a sound without its mediation, thus pointing towards the fact that it is impossible for the sound object to exist without its mediation, because it would then be reduced to appearance only. Whether this mediation occurs in air, making sound acoustically audible to humans, or in the field lines strength within the tape recorder, is in this context secondary: the important issue is the awareness regarding this Rift within the sound object and its defining properties for the sounding object. Therefore I would like to use this opportunity to stress the importance of paying more attention to the riven micro-temporal moments of the operational machine, otherwise we risk reducing the field of sound studies to appearance only, something that would end the sounding object.



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