Onto-Epistm-ology. Barad terms this “the study of practices of knowing in being” (Barad, 2003, p. 829). In differentiating between her diffractive methodology as opposed to a reflective one, she describes onto-epistem-ology as a “material practice of engagement as part of the world in its differential becoming” (Barad, 2007, p. 89) as opposed to the “Ontology | Epistemology boundary” where “knowledge is true beliefs concerning reflections from a distance” and where there is a clear “Knower | Known boundary” (Barad, 2007, p. 89). As Tim Ingold goes on to clarify, “There is no contradiction between participation and observation” and that it is ““only because we are already of the world, only because we are fellow travellers along with the beings and things that command our attention, (that) we (can) observe them”. (Ingold, 2013)

Material-discursive. Barad takes this idea from Donna Haraway’s Material-Semiotic apparatuses. For Barad “the primary semantic units are not “words” but material-discursive practices through which (ontic and semantic) boundaries are constituted.” (Barad, 2007, p. 141) Haraway explains that objects (race, the brain, computer chips, etc) are “constructs or material-semiotic” “object(s) of knowledge” (Haraway, 1997, p. 129). A material-discursive/semiotic method is relatable to Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory (Latour, 1999), and Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizome (Holland, 2013). In essence; that the way we speak about things changes them materially, and that the materiality of things changes the way we speak about them. 

Agential cut. For Barad, when an object is observed a cut is made between it and the observer through the apparatus used in its observation. For her, it is important to think about the “marks left on bodies”, when an object is cut in this way. For example, when an object is filmed, say the real, tangible rock that was filmed for Fig.1, a cut is made. Some of the object’s qualia, materiality, its constituent parts, become entangled in the new image-object. For Barad, this moves in both directions however, in that through being observed by the lens of the camera to generate the image of the rock, the rock-object has been marked by the observer. The agential cut is what makes difference between things.

Intra-action. As opposed to interaction, which assumes the retention of independence between the objects, intra-action proposes that agency does not pre-exist, but emerges from the relationships in intra-actions, “cause and effect emerge through intra-actions.” (Barad, 2003, p. 176) The agency of the {Sound-Image-Language} object comes forth from our intra-action with it, a performative act that calls meaning into being. It is where the “boundaries and properties of the “components” of phenomena become determinate” (Barad, 2003, p. 815). For Barad we are constantly reconfiguring our relationship with the world and materialising objects as we intra-act with them. 

Agential Realism then, can be considered within the same spectrum of philosophy as Speculative Realism, Object-Orientated Ontology and New Materialism, or what Christoph Cox has called “contemporary cultural theory” (Cox, 2011, p. 146). Fittingly, in these terms he defines culture as “construed as a field or system of signs that operate in complex relations of referral to other signs, subjects, and objects” (Cox, 2011, p. 146), in much the same sense as the way we arrived at the {sound-image-language} object. Cox uses speculative realist thought as a way of calling for a movement towards a sonic materialism, a call comparable to the one set out for through this study into the materiality of the audiovisual.


What these perspectives collectively consider is a way of meeting materials, objects, images, things, on their own terms, not just as phenomena that we consume in our pursuit of knowledge. Where Barad’s Agential Realism differs from the broader discussions across the field of Speculative Realism, is in its attempt to provide tools for thinking from this perspective, from which we can build appropriate apparatus for each experiment.


What then, is the appropriate apparatus for examining the {sound-image-language} object? 


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3.1 Meeting the Object Halfway.


Karan Barad’s Agential Realist methodology sets out a way of considering how our interactions come to matter, both in the sense of making meaning but also in the sense of materialising the world around us. In the broadest sense, she argues that humans do not enact agency over non-human objects but “meet them halfway” (Barad, 2007). This is done through her notions of intra-action, diffraction and an attention to the apparatus used in doing so.


Barad’s Agential Realism “cuts across many of the well-worn oppositions that circulate in traditional realism versus constructivism, agency versus structure, idealism versus materialism, and poststructuralism versus Marxism debates.” (Barad, 2007, p. 225) Agential Realism is intended to be read as a way of re-evaluating the metaphors we use to understand the world in which we live. Quantum theory is at the heart of her work, and both Nils Bohr and Donna Haraway’s writing heavily influences Barad’s position, (as they have Morton, Harman, Steyerl, Cox, et. al). Fundamental to her theory, is the knowledge that matter can exist in two states at once, i.e. light as both a wave and particle. With regards to the {sound-image-language} object this seems vital to countering reductive ideas that “the image says X, whilst the sound says Y”; instead, we can think of them as being one phenomena in two states, or a superposition of sound, image and language.  


As a feminist theorist, as well as theoretical physicist and philosopher, Barad’s Agential Realism is directly concerned with power relations and the creation of “new visualizing technologies” (Barad, 2007, p. 34) to address imbalances thereof. From this perspective, her work directly appeals to a redress of the audiovisual dynamic that the {sound-image-language} object attempts. Agential Realism is, at its heart, a proposal for looking at the world differently.


There are a number of terms that Barad uses in defining Agential Realism that are useful in thinking through the {sound-image-language} object.

Agential Realism

Apparatus. One of the most important tenets of Agential Realism is paying attention to the apparatus we use for knowing, “the point is not merely that knowledge practices have material consequences but that practices of knowing are specific material engagements that participate in (re)configuring the world.” (Barad, 2007, p. 91) Again this comes from thinking about Bohr’s experiments with light, in that one experiment, or apparatus, shows that light behaves like a particle, whereas another shows that light behaves like a wave. The point being that the apparatus we use to know the world has a direct impact on how the world materialises in front of us. At first this seems obvious; filming a rock gives you a different knowledge than recording the sound of the rock will. The same is true for writing about the rock in this essay. To know the rock then requires multiple apparatus, or at the very least an awareness that the apparatus we use for knowledge creation only enlightens in so far as it is able within its means. This seems especially important in arguing for, insofar as is still necessary, the need for practice research in academia. What then is the appropriate apparatus for a deeper knowledge of the {sound-image-language} object, one that allows us to hear, listen and read at the same time? 

Diffraction.Diffraction can serve as a useful counterpoint to reflection: both are optical phenomena, but whereas the metaphor of reflection reflects the themes of mirroring and sameness, diffraction is marked by patterns of difference”. (Barad, 2003, p. 71) Barad takes the idea of diffraction from Haraway; “Diffraction patterns record the history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference” (Haraway, 1997, p. 273) but goes much further in expanding the metaphor and in explaining its importance to thinking from an Agential Realist perspective. Diffraction is both the process and patterns that form when a wave bends around an object interfering with its trajectory.  When a wave meets two slits however an interference pattern can be observed.
















Barad explains that diffraction is not only a useful metaphor, but the method that allowed Bohr to discover that photons can act as both particles and a waves. To read diffractively, in Baradian terms, is to reject the “disciplinary domains of science, theory and art as separate” (Prophet & Pritchard, 2015) and instead think of their entanglement, whilst “retaining their difference, variation and heterogeneity”. In her performance-essay film The Museum is a Battlefield, Hito Steyerl explains how this diffractive process can be used to think about how an object, in her case a bullet, can “be both a missile and a piece of architecture” (The Museum is a Battlefield, 2013), a way of things not just being like other things, but being part of them, troubling the rigid line between signifier and signified. 

Speculative Sound



Earlier I proposed that the act of sounding an image is not only undertaken by those that create sounds for images, but that all images are met with an anticipated, and therefore creative, sounding. However, as a practicing audiovisual composer and sound-artist, I am one of those people tasked with making apparent the sound of an image. If agential realism gives us tools to consider how meaning and matter are created through our intra-action with the world around us, then how might I, or image-sounding practitioners more broadly, creatively use diffracted thought in the construction a {sound-image-language} object?


From this perspective, when I ask “what is the sound of this thing?”, I might more specifically be asking the following:


Agential Cut.

What did filming the objects of the image do to them?

How will sounding the image cut the objects within it?

When the objects of the image were filmed what was not brought into the new image-object?

In sounding the image how might I bring that into the new sound-image object?

What marks are left on the objects body?

How might I sound the effect of the objects being filmed?

How does the camera move across the object?

What does it show and what does it hide?



What does sound-apparatus illuminate that the image-apparatus does not allow for?

Perhaps more importantly, what are the limits of the sound-apparatus for knowing the object?



How and where do the patterns of light and sound waves, the patterns of difference, entwine as they unfold from the screen?

Is there a regularity to them? Is that what makes pattern different to mesh?

Are these the contour lines along which the topography of difference can be navigated?



Am I aware of what I am materialising?

Do I have an ethical responsibility towards what I have made material?

If so, have I considered how what I have mattered might matter for others?


Material Discursive.

Can a closer attention to the language of the sound-image allow for a less literal approach to sounding the image?

How would I speak about the image-object?

Is the parole of the sound synonymous or antonymous with the parole of the image?



What kind of complex, inexplicit knowledge can the sound allow for?

What can the sound say about the image?

How and where can I let the image speak to the sound?

How might the objects of the image sound on their own terms, from their own temporal and spatial perspectives?

Can I understand these or speak to them through the sound?

In sounding the image, how has it changed my own knowledge of the world?




By diffracting the question; “what is the sound of this thing?” through Barad’s agential realist methodology, we move towards meeting the image halfway, and as such, towards an equality of the seen and heard. We move towards a better understanding of our entanglement within the {sound-image-language} object, towards new ways of knowing our world.


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Essay Film Essay


4.1 Appropriate Apparatus


The ekphrastic[1] act of writing about film is notoriously troublesome, “after all, a book is a static form that largely dispenses with the cinematic issue of unitary time, the instantaneousness of video, and whose primary apparatus deals not in sound, colour, or image, but with text read at the timing and selection of its reader.” (Leaver-Yap in Fowler, et al., 2011, p. 7) Yet write about it we do. The allure of the essayistic might lie in what Timothy Corrigan would call articulating “a performative presentation of self”, the narcissism of the monologue, as well as of course, it being the expected form of academic discourse. However, if what we are investigating is the material-discursive nature of the {sound-image-language} object, the most apposite essayistic apparatus would surely be one that enacts the shallowest agential cut; an essay film. This is certainly not to say that writing about the {sound-image-language} object is a redundant exercise, indeed the translation of concept between the filmic and our phenomenological vocabulary is part the {sound-image-language} object’s functioning. John Mullarkey however, writes about the “pluriknowing” of filmology, that “all that unites those who are interested in film is its name and its varying object, an object of divergence”, for “there is no lack of commitment in thinking that every position warrants commitment.” (Mullarkey, 2009) The essay film seems to accept this plurality of knowledge in a way that the rigidity of text does not.  As such, as in the case of this hybrid written/filmic essay, forms of critical discourse that show the patterns of difference between forms of knowledge are necessary to move critical discourse forward. 


In his book the Essay Film, Corrigan puts forward the term refractive cinema for films that interrogate film. For Corrigan, “like the beam of light sent through a glass cube, refractive cinema breaks up and disperses the art or object it engages, splinters or deflects it in ways that leave the original work scattered and drifting across a world outside.” (Corrigan, 2011, p. 191) However, I of course would look to further Corrigan’s analogy. For me the essay film does not explode the energy of the object and scatter it to the wind, but diffracts it, allowing the object’s energy to pass through and bend around lenses of criticism and to focus in new ways on the audio viewer, illuminating patterns of interference. In this sense the object of Camphill, the audio-visual-linguistic materiality of the rock, is not to be considered an interview with the material but an intra-view with a physical object through the essay film; it is diffractive cinema.



4.2 Diffractive Cinema


Camphill then, is a way of using cinematic form to think about the form of the cinematic. It is both an onto-epistem-ological apparatus and an object in and of itself, acting as Bohr’s dark-room stick[2] would in our own investigation into sounding an image. It “call(s) attention to the world as a multidimensional field where film must ultimately be thought” (Corrigan, 2011, p. 191). The essay film form negates the necessity of translating the language of cinema into that of words and sentences, allowing the writer-filmmaker to speak to medium specific phenomenon directly. Films such as Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), or Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) exemplify the strength of time-based art as an apparatus for repositioning our sense of time, in a way that the linearity of text cannot.


Writing about Camphill gives a specificity to the work that the filmic intrinsically and intentionally rejects, but dilutes the “pluriknowledge” that the form presumes, hardening it from alternative readings, compromising, and being a compromise between, the two. However, this text is not a translation of all that the film seeks to say, just as the film cannot say all that this text says. One is not a translation of the other but, as Kayla Anderson would term it, a translation with the other. “To be in translation with means that they are and I – we are both continually shifting in response to one another, exchanging contexts. To be in translation with means to open oneself up to bodily intrusion; their particles mingle with my particles and we both become hybrid substances.” (Anderson, 2016) Creating this essay/essay film hybrid substance is emblematic of how I understand the {sound-image-language} object’s function. Each marks the other’s body as they do mine and yours, speaking in different contexts and intra-acting with different knowledges.

[1] Art about art (Shapiro, 2003), such as Foucault’s essay Las Meninas.

[2] Barad uses Bohr’s writing to explain how the idea of a body, of some kind of outline, is not and cannot be fixed (Barad, 2003, p. 154). Bohr uses the example of interacting with a stick in a dark room. The first being that we pick the stick up and feel for its outline, exploring the boundaries of its body. The second being that we use the stick as an extension of our own body, to feel around the room. In this sense the stick can be both a distinct separate body and also an extension of our own.


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Speculative Sound


Richy Carey



1.     “What is the sound of this thing?”.

2.     A material thing.

2.1.  Audio-vision.

2.2.  Material Language.

2.3.  Field of perception.

2.4.  Irreducible objects.

2.5.  The {sound-image-language} object.

3.     Agential Realism.

3.1.  Meeting the object halfway.

·          Apparatus.

·          Diffraction

·          Intra-action

·          Material Discursive

·          Onto-epistem-ology

4.     Essay Film Essay.

4.1.  Appropriate Apparatus.

4.2.  Diffractive Cinema.

5.     Speculative Sound.


6.     References.


Through this paper, I propose a way of considering audiovisuality as an object in and of itself, thinking through its materiality and the role language plays in its construction. I discuss Karen Barad’s Agential Realist methodology as a way of accessing this object with a view to exploring how this might affect the way we sound an image. I propose that the essay film, or an essay film/text hybrid, is the form that can best articulates this way of thinking. I conclude by asking how a diffracted reading of the {sound-image-language} object can be used as a methodology for sounding images.

1. “What is the sound of this thing?”


Ten years ago, as an undergraduate composition student, I was asked to write music for a short documentary[1]. The film was about a young boy called Felix. Ellie, the director, gave Felix a camera on which he shot most of the footage. It was a beautiful film about a boy’s perspective on his own life. In writing the music, I wanted to emulate this compositional approach, so I invited Felix, along with his mum, to spend an hour or so in front of a piano with me and write a melody for his film together. Only the four of us knew the music was Felix’s, but once we had written it, no other music could claim to be the music of his film.


Reflecting on my first image-sounding role, the first time I’ve done so since, I realise that in following this compositional method I was asking myself the same question I’ve asked myself countless times since; “What is the sound of this thing?” In the case of Felix, the sound was the process, not the notes from the piano.



“What is the sound of this thing?” is the question at the heart of image sounding practices; for film composers, sound artists, Foley artists, music supervisors, directors, producers, et al. The “thing” is a complex object; it is the interference of light and sound waves, it is narrative and agency, it has texture but is untouchable, it is a set of priorities that are in constant flux and it is always different for you than it is for me.


What the sound of an object is, is different to the sound an object makes. A football makes a sound when you do something to it, when you act upon it. The leather squeaks when it’s rubbed, the thread stretches when it’s bounced, the air rushes from the valve when it is breached. Even when you are not interacting with the ball it is still sounding. A tiny slow, imperceptible hiss of air is permanently emanating from the ball as air slowly slips through its rubber wall. But the sound of the football is not just the waves made from matter on matter. The sound of the football is all that is semantically springs from it; crowds cheering, nets rippling, feet stamping, voices shouting.


The sound an object makes when you interact with it is only a part of the sound of the thing. Some objects don’t make sound, but are still sonorous. What is the sound of a circle? What is the sound of love? What is the sound of an image?


This essay, and my practice more broadly, asks what it is to sound an image. For me, this implies a creative act, which I argue is as applicable to those directly engaged in devising sound for the moving-image as it is for someone watching their TV at home. Whereas the Foley artist is tasked with making manifest a speculative sound for an image, anyone watching a film will be processing an image in a similar way, consciously or not, prioritising the colour, shape, narrative, etc. of the film in the anticipation of a sound-image correlation. This anticipation requires creativity, in the Chomskyan sense that language itself is an intrinsically creative performance (Chomsky & Foucault, 1971).


How then, do we sound an image? How can we say that “this sound is the sound of this thing”? I will put forward a way of thinking about the sound of an image and for what the new object that comes forth once it is sounded might be. It is not prescriptive; it acknowledges intuition, perspective and creativity. It is an active position; it proposes that the sound in an image-sound relationship is not subject to the image, but an equal, with its own prerogatives and its own agency beyond supporting notions of narrative or materiality in an image.


As I will go on to argue, this methodology proposes that the most appropriate medium to present research into the nebulous, non-linear, dynamic structure that is film sound, is through film itself, specifically through the essay film form. As such, a parallel essay film, Camphill[2], which explores the issues put forward in this article is presented alongside the text.


This essay and the essay film will often reference the sound of this thing…





        Fig.1 Camphill Rock

The rock is the object of the film’s interrogation. The rock is a useful and well-worn metaphor for thinking through materiality and objecthood. “Some kinds of stone are heavy, others light; some are hard, others soft or crumbly; some separate into flat sheets, others can only be split into blocks… It is not clear, however, whether this typological splitting of generic ‘stone’ into innumerable subtypes will take us any closer to a resolution of our initial question: what is a material?” (Ingold, 2013)


[1] (Felix, 2008) dir. Ellie Lotan. https://vimeo.com/3205304 - accessed 28/03/17

[2] (Camphill, 2017) dir. Richy Carey. https://vimeo.com/205111050 - accessed 28/03/17

2.4 Irreducible Objects.


Film Sound, the practice of sounding an image or, in some instances, of imaging a sound, is the creation of a complex material thing, a mesh (Morton, 2013) of light, sound and agency which exits discarnate in space as a sound-image object[1].


When we sound an image we become an entangled part of this mesh, or to be more specific, become further entangled within it. Images and sounds, both objects in themselves, are at the same time constituted by a myriad of other objects, its parts; shapes, textures, colours, timbres, rhythms, materials. These objects are sticky, semio-historic things, thick with layers of meaning that we have over time, individually and culturally pasted them with. However, for some theorists looking to move beyond the “semantic turn” (Barad, 2003) these objects also exist quite apart from humans and our semiotic glue-gun. “The time has come to pursue a model of things as autonomous objects, not just as humanly accessible phenomena” (Harman, 2005). For Harman “we live in a strange medium located somewhere in between substances and qualities, unable to touch either of them” (Harman, 2005).


Here we are trying to touch things again. If, from Harman’s perspective we cannot touch an image, to feel for its undulations, to order Branigan’s “thousand words”, then how are we to relate to this cultural object, constructed from the qualia of natural objects, for it to function as a complex conduit for ideas and meaning? For Harman and Morton alike, we can never truly understand the whole of an object, we are only ever able to access the parts of it that our sensory apparatus’ allow for, there will always be a dark side to the moon, an unknowable side to all objects, its irreducibility (Morton, 2013).


The rock in the image (Fig.1) is not a rock, it is an image of a rock - another object in its own right. But it is sticky with so many rocky properties that we recognise its rockiness, in fact we might even point to it and say “that is a rock”. The rock-image object is a spectre of the rock object. When this image is sounded however, we are able to consider the rock from another perspective, to try and access more of the object, to “light from the side” (Nyrnes, 2006). Sounding the rock-image allows us to try and think about the rock at something closer to its own ontology. We can speculate, freely, as to how the rock might hear and how the rock might speak, the sound of the rock, and these speculations are tied to the rock by our construction of the rock-sound-image. The rock-sound-image lets us try to understand two sides of the rock at the same time, or at least speculate on what a dark side of the rock might sound like. The sounded image lets us know an object in two states at the same time. The rock can look small and sound massive. It can occupy two positions.

[1]It is important here to distinguish the film reel, or the .mov file from the sound-image object. These tactile and virtual objects are not the film, but a vehicle, one of many in the process of mattering or making material (screens, speakers, projectors), from which the audiovisual object comes forth. In Baradian terms, these objects are the apparatus used in intra-acting with the sound-image object.



Back to Contents

Adorno, T. W. & Eisler, H., 1947. Composing for the Films. New York: Oxford university Press.

Anderson, K., 2016. Holding up the Sky: Art-science Approaches to an Aero-dialogue.. Kunstlicht, 37(3), pp. 78-88.

Barad, K., 2003. Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3).

Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.. London: Duke University Press.

Boroditsky, L., 2011. How Language Shapes Thought. Scientific American, Feb, 304(2), pp. 62-65.

Branigan, E., 2005. Wittgenstein, Language-Games, Film Theory [Interview] (2nd April 2005).

Camphill. 2017. [Film] Directed by Richy Carey. Scotland: Glasgow University.

Chion, M., 2009. Film, A Sound Art. New York: Columbia University Press.

Chomsky, N. & Foucault, M., 1971. Human Nature: Justice versus Power [Interview] 1971.

Corrigan, T., 2011. The Essay Film: From Montaigne. After Marker.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cox, C., 2011. Beyond Representation and Signification: Toward a Sonic Materialism. journal of visual culture, 10(2), pp. 145 - 161.

Deleuze, G., 1997. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. 5th ed. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

Eco, U., 1989. The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Felix. 2008. [Film] Directed by Ellie Lotan. Scotland: Edinburgh College of Art.

Foucalt, M., 1966. The order of things: An archeology of the human sciences. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Fowler, L. et al., 2011. 8 Metaphors (because the moving image is not a book). London: LUX.

Haraway, D., 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouseTM. New York: Routledge.

Harman, G., 2005. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things.. Chicago: Open Court.

Holland, E. W., 2013. Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, A Reader's Guide. London: Bloomsbury.

Ingold, T., 2013. Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architechture. London: Routledge.

LaBelle, B., 2012. Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art. 2nd ed. London: Contiuum.

Latour, B., 1999. On Recalling ANT. Sociological Review, May, 47(S1), pp. 15-25.

Majid, A. & Burenhult, N., 2014. Odors are expressible in language, as long as you speak the right language. Cognition, Volume 130, pp. 266-270.

Morton, T., 2013. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. London: University of Minnesota Press .

Mullarkey, J., 2009. Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Nyrnes, A., 2006. Lighting from the Side: Rhetoric and Artistic Research. Sensuous Knowledge, Volume 03.

Prophet, J. & Pritchard, H., 2015. Performative Apparatus and Diffractive Practices: An Account of Artificial Life Art. Artificial Life, 21(3), pp. 332-343.

Saussure, F. D., 1916. Course in General Linguistics. 4th ed. London: Bloomsbury.

Schaeffer, P., 2013. Traité des objets musicaux. In: C. Cox & D. Warner, eds. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. 3rd ed. New York: Bloomsbury, pp. 76-81.

Shapiro, G., 2003. Archaeologies of Vision: Foucault and Nietzsche on Seeing and Saying. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Shaviro, S., 2014. Non-Phenomenological Thought. Speculations: Aesthetics in the 21st Century, Volume 5, pp. 40 - 56.

The Museum is a Battlefield. 2013. [Film] Directed by Hito Steyerl. Istanbul: s.n.

Twelve Monkeys. 1995. [Film] Directed by Terry Gilliham. USA: Universal Pictures.

Wittgenstein, L., 1953. Philosophical Investigations. 3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

2.3 Field of Perception.



























The field of perception is a catchall term to describe this system by which the sound-image object might be surrounded.


“The notion of ‘field’ is provided by physics and implies a revised vision of the classic relationship posited between cause and effect as a rigid, one-directional system: now a complex interplay of motive forces is envisaged, a configuration of possible events, a complete dynamism of structure” with “possibility” a “discarding of the static, syllogistic view of order” (Eco, 1989)


It is from this field, the fluctuating interplay between the image, sound and language, that the sound-image object comes forth.


Though by no means the only connections that influence the knit of this field, four forces have become prevalent in constructing modal parity in both the composition and reception of the sound-image object in my practice research.


Parole. The parole of the sound-image object is the material language, the speech acts that can be pointed to in sonic and visual terms. This includes immaterial aspects of human experience such as our emotional language. These are the blocks of language that work within the system (langue) of language, i.e. words, phonemes, gestures.


Community. Language is communal and imperfect. It is a consensus. Though we approach the sound-image object as individuals the community from which we do so is always present, ever evolving and pressing us to meet the object as an ambassador for our culture. The ways in which others translate their experience of the sound-image object influences our own experience of it. I might choose to describe a sound-image phenomenon differently after hearing another person’s description of it.


History. Though each encounter with the sound-image object is new, it is constructed from a vast history of encounters. In a Foucauldian sense it is a knowledge of “addition” (Foucalt, 1966, p. 34). The intimacy with which we know the materiality of the image and sound contributes greatly to the new knowledge created through each new experience. Or as Bruce Willis character explains in the film Twelve Monkeys, “The movie never changes. It can't change; but every time you see it, it seems different because you're different. You see different things.” (Twelve Monkeys, 1995)[1]


Priority. As we will go on to explore, objects are complex structures made from other; constituent objects. When presented with an image, say that of Fig.1, we prioritise the constituent ones to form a reading of the image, as we would prioritise a reading of each sonorous object (Schaeffer, 2013) we encounter. In Fig.1 the highest priority object is likely to be rock, then possibly move through something like space, rough, point, etc. After watching Camphill your new history may reorder your sense of priority. The concomitant sound in the sound-image object reorders your prioritisation of the image, as much as the image reorders your prioritisation of the sound. This is how we see new things in an image when it is sounded, and how we hear new moments in the sound when it is presented with visual stimulus.


Wittgenstein describes words as having their own “field of force” (Wittgenstein, 1953, p. 186e); associative images, sound, memories that he equates to the experience of a word being on the tip of your tongue, of knowing, or sensing all that is around and within the word but not the word itself. In his Philosophical Investigations, he explores the specificity of language but also the “intolerable” conflict between what it is and what we logically assume it to be. Essentially, that the further you fracture the constituent parts of language, phonetically, semantically, the further removed you become from the meaning of words. Foucault too points to these “monotonous”, “immense columns of complication”. (Foucalt, 1966, p. 34) From this perspective any object is but a free association of symbols, a layer at some point within the colossal column of constituent and potential things.


The field of perception around the sound-image object then is not flat as in Fig.3, but a swirling mass of agency and effect. We, however, are not passive observers examining this cloud through a telescope from afar, we are part of it. We can navigate the field and knit new connections, but we cannot extract ourselves from the sound-image object’s gravity.


[1] Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys is of course based on Chris Marker’s seminal essay film La Jetée (1951), a form of filmmaking that I will explain is critical in articulating the sound-image object.

2.1 Audio-vision.


Conventional film-sound discourse typically constructs the audiovisual object from two distinct objects: The image, the light bound within the throw of the projection and/or the border of the screen, and sound, which “disrespects borders, thereby making explicit the intensity of territory” (LaBelle, 2012). Sound amplifies the intense territory that begins with the image and ends with the audio-viewer[1]. For Michel Chion, audio-vision is the perception “proper to the experience of film” (Chion, 2009, p. 469). For Chion, the image is where attention is consciously focused and all that is heard merely “adds value” to the image. Chion also proposes the opposite can be true, in the case of visio-audition, the “cultural situation” where the attention is on listening, such as in a concert, whereby “the sight of some energetic gesture by a violinist will make us hear a more powerful sound” (ibid, p 466), a reversal in the modal power dynamic.


This paper, and my practice more broadly, argues against this subjugation of one modality in deference to the other. If, as Chion states, visio-audition is performed through “cultural situation(s)”, then it follows that audio-vision is also a cultural construct, and cultural constructs are malleable. By coercing the audio-visual object’s cultural structure, I argue that another cultural object is viable, one with a perceptual modal parity, a sound-image object[2].




















Though proposing a subversion of cultural dominance of the visual and the audio-visual object, to affect a change in this culture requires more than just an academic proposition. I try to make the sonic more visible by making filmic work that utilises the cultural conventions of audio-visuality to agitate against a hierarchy, drawing attention to the power dynamic between seeing and hearing in film by making the sonorous more affective. To do so, I experiment with the language, the culture framework of the form, to fashion sound-image objects.


[1] A term of Michel Chion’s which emphasises “experience involve(ing) sight and hearing in interaction.” (Chion, 2009)

[2]Though the image-sound object would be as valid a term. The retention of the hyphen is, I think, necessary for articulating the complexity of the image and sound objects which construct the large sound-image object. As a compound word, in its closed form soundimage, like “keyboard” or “notebook” goes further in expressing the union of the objects, however in hyphenated form, all that is sound and all that is image can be thought of as happening in parallel but also in unity. This might only be a consideration in English, Swedish and German for example are languages much more accustomed to the compound object structure. E.g. Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaft – Danube Steamboat Shipping Company.

2. A Material Thing

2.5 The {sound-image-language} object


When we sound an image, when we speculate as to its sound, we palpably affect the language one would use to articulate the sound-image relationship. Correspondingly, the object at the heart of the sound-image cannot be disentangled from the phenomenological language we have to articulate it, from the field of perception. It is more accurate then, to say that the phenomena we are intra-acting with is a {sound-image-language} object.

























This {sound-image-language} object is all of these interconnections, but it is also the thing that comes forth from these connections, the object is both the surround and also event that is performed.


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2.2 Material Language.


“The objects of reality have become units of the image, at the same time as the movement-image has become a reality which ‘speaks’ through objects. The cinema, in this sense, has constantly achieved a language of objects.” (Deleuze, 1997, p. 28)



In his paper Wittgenstein, Language-Games, Film Theory, Edward Branigan said “Recall that people often say in a half-serious way that an image is ‘worth a thousand words,’ but, of course, which thousand words is it worth and whose thousand words? Ironically, this adage seems to make an image untouchable and mute.” (Branigan, 2005)


Is it not the role of the image-sounder however, to voice to the mute image? To order the thousand words, choosing which shout loudest and which stay quiet?


Words are important. The material language of the image, the vocabulary of texture, colour, shape, mass, even rhythm, which we use to describe how an image looks is the same material language we use to explain how sound sounds. My previous work[1] has focused on the qualia and hypostatic properties[2] of the material language of film sound and on the concomitance, or sychresis (Chion, 2009, p. 492) of the seen and heard.


However, even since Adorno and Eisler’s seminal Composing for the Films, mere similitudes in the qualities of image and sound in film practices have been dismissed as “weakening” the effect (Adorno & Eisler, 1947, p. 44) of audiovisual concomitance. For them, the sound and image should not be saying the same thing, otherwise each runs the risk of becoming redundant.


Much like compound words, the poetry of the sounded image comes from the way these material utterances relate. The stone-stone is a reticent communicator, whereas the soft-stone, the sculpted-stone and the cracked-stone all speak of narratives beyond the two words that construct the new. The stone-stone’s silence can speak volumes only from amongst the clamour of other voices.


This lexicon for experience has a profound effect on our phenomenological understanding[3] and as such relational notions of materiality between the seen and the heard have a profound influence the structure of the sound-image object.


As a cultural object, this sound-image object is bound by the language we have to articulate it. The language of the sound-image object however, is of course more than just its parole (speech acts, words) (Saussure, 1916), to understand how verbal language binds the object, one must also consider its langue (the system of language, the grammar) (ibid).

[1](Lichtspiel: Opus I, 1921) dir. Walther Ruttmann, with new score composed by Richy Carey (2015).  https://vimeo.com/103429339 - accessed 31/03/17 and the ʃep of w$rdz to k$m (2015) - http://www.richycarey.com/works-2/the-shape-of-words-to-come/ - accessed 31/03/17.

[2] In mathematics hypostatic abstraction can be surmised as follows; lemons are yellow, therefore lemons possess yellowness (Pierce. C.S., 1931-1935). Qualia can be described as the thingness of the thing orthe intrinsic phenomenal characteristics of subjective experience” (Shaviro, 2014) i.e. the wetness of water, the experience of wet.

[3]The field of Psycholinguistics is exactly the study of this phenomenon. For example, the work of Prof. Lera Boroditsky into the effect of language in the perception of time and space (Boroditsky, 2011) and of Prof. Asifa Majid into the link between olfactory perception and language (Majid & Burenhult, 2014).