Transducing Analysis

CaseyBoyle's picture

Like Kyle, I too have a slight allergy to the prompt’s prompting of critical “analysis” as well concerning getting “closer”  to sound. If sound is anything, it’s not a kind of object that that you can get closer too but an altogether different kind of experience. I am informed here in part by David Cecchetto’s description of sound as a kind of non-object in Humaneisis. Cecchetto, starts by building on Aden Evens’s claim that:

“‘…to hear is to experience air pressure changing… . One does not hear air pressure, but one hears it change over time [such that] to hear a pitch that does not change is to hear as constant something that is nothing but change. To hear is to hear difference’” (qtd. Cecchetto 2).

From this, Cecchetto writes that sound “calls us to think of it as a particular object that has no substance, as a kind of ideal object that nonetheless has real material effects” and that “sound resists being placed at all and is in this sense as much relational as it is differential” (2). Thus, to get closer to something might be to miss altogether what sound does. So, I do not want to rephrase the question as much as I want to engage it differentially. Instead of implicitly considering sound an object that we can get closer to, perhaps we can propose instead that sound is a differential event with which digital media can help us participate.

So, I’ll play along for a moment.

Certainly, digital media offer a range of “new” ways to prolong and remediate sonic events in ways that are useful for traditional analysis. On one hand, the lowering costs for high-quality digital recording devices alongside the ease with which those devices can be deployed and operated allows for robust inductive sonic inquiry. The ability to capture a great amount of recordings and instantly share those recordings leads to really interest projects. I think immediately of Cities & Memory, a sound mapping project whose reach is the entire globe due largely—if not solely—to digital mediation. On the other hand, similar affordability and ease-of-use dynamics also help make more accessible editing and analysis tools through Digital Audio Workstations and other applications for visualizing sounds from a distance. This kind of perspective compliments the first in that that lend themselves to deductive analysis. These kinds of projects would approach sonic experience visually or at some remove from which sound at scale can be analyzed. Taken together, digital media offer an occasions for increased number of sounds as well as a distanced overall perspective on sonic events.

What intrigues me most about exploring (notice the shift here from analyzing) sonic experience in and through digital media—in both research and teaching—is how such encounters lend themselves to differential experiences that, as Evens and Cecchetto claim, are constitutive of sound itself. I don’t want to oppose or even oscillate between inductive and deductive modes of analysis as a process of experiencing sound but suggest that processes of differential experiences with sound is what make digital media most useful in exploring sound. Thus, without negating induction or deduction, I want to turn to transduction as the mode of analysis offered (again) by digital media.

Transduction refers to the process of how energy transforms across media.  The quick and easy way to think about this is, of course, is when someone speaks and records that voice, an energy transverses across media that include the biological, physical, digital, electrical. This differential is not just the frequency of a sound operating as oscillating air waves but also the media through which that energy travels. Writing about transduction in Keywords in Sound, Stefan Helmreich proposes that “Transduction names how sound changes as it traverses media, as it undergoes transformations in its energetic substrate (from electrical to mechanical, for example), as it goes through transubstantiations that modulate both its matter and meaning” (222) and concludes that “Even the most basic description of sound (as "traveling"-that is, as transduced) may be cross-contaminated, crosscut with leading questions as sound cuts across spaces, materials, and infrastructures. We should think, then, not with transduction, but across it (229). It is easy here to notice a resonance between Helmreich’s urging to think sound across as well as Cecchetto’s proposal about sound as differential in that both avoid locating sound anywhere at all but as a movement of encounters.

In many senses though, digital media offer nothing new for sonic study since transduction is the way that any sound moves, digitally infected or not. What digital media most offer for a study of sound is an intense collection of ways, many-multiple ways, in which sound can be differentially experienced all at once. It makes the process quicker–and ever closer in differentials–as sound crosses devices, interfaces, software, outputs. By encountering sound (and/as sights in the space of a DAW interface) in many and multiple way across various media, we are afforded opportunity to transduce across it as well.