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In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art [Paperback]

Seth Kim-Cohen

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Book Description

July 1 2009
<div><strong>An ear-opening reassessment of sonic art from World War II to the present</strong> <br/><br/>Marcel Duchamp famously championed a "non-retinal" visual art, rejecting judgments of taste and beauty. <em>In the Blink of an Ear</em> is the first book to ask why the sonic arts did not experience a parallel turn toward a non-cochlear sonic art, imagined as both a response and a complement to Duchamp's conceptualism. Rather than treat sound art as an artistic practice unto itself—or as the unwanted child of music—artist and theorist Seth Kim-Cohen relates the post-War sonic arts to contemporaneous movements in the gallery arts. Applying key ideas from poststructuralism, deconstruction, and art history, In the Blink of an Ear suggests that the sonic arts have been subject to the same cultural pressures that have shaped minimalism, conceptualism, appropriation, and relational aesthetics. Sonic practice and theory have downplayed - or, in many cases, completely rejected - the de-formalization of the artwork and its simultaneous animation in the conceptual realm. <br/>Starting in 1948, the simultaneous examples of John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer initiated a sonic theory-in-practice, fusing clement Greenberg's media-specificity with a phenomenological emphasis on perception. Subsequently, the "sound-in-itself" tendency has become the dominant paradigm for the production and reception of sound art. Engaged with critical texts by Jacques Derrida, Rosalind Krauss, Friedrich Kittler, Jean François Lyotard, and Jacques Attali, among others, Seth Kim-Cohen convincingly argues for a reassessment of the short history of sound art, rejecting sound-in-itself in favor of a reading of sound's expanded situation and its uncontainable textuality. At the same time, this important book establishes the principles for a nascent non-cochlear sonic practice, embracing the inevitable interaction of sound with the social, the linguistic, the philosophical, the political, and the technological. <br/><br/>Artists discussed include:  </div><br/><div><br/>George Brecht<br/>John Cage<br/>Janet Cardiff<br/>Marcel Duchamp <br/>Bob Dylan<br/>Valie Export<br/>Luc Ferrari<br/>Jarrod Fowler<br/>Jacob Kirkegaard<br/>Alvin Lucier<br/>Robert Morris<br/>Muddy Waters<br/>John Oswald <br/>Marina Rosenfeld <br/>Pierre Schaeffer <br/>Stephen Vitiello <br/>La Monte Young <br/></div>>

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Review

"...some useful arguments. And sound art certainly need arguments."
The Wire, February 2010


"Kim-Cohen's book develops a number of significant arguments concerning sound's status in the art world."
Springerin


"…some useful arguments. And sound art certainly need arguments."
The Wire, February 2010

About the Author

Seth Kim-Cohen works at the nexus of conceptualism and sound. An academic and an artist, he makes as little distinction between the two activities as he can get away with. He has taught art history at Yale University and Pratt Institute and presented his artwork at venues spanning the cultural spectrum from CBGBs to Tate Modern. His writing has been published in magazines, newspapers, and journals in the Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. His previous book, One Reason To Live, was published in 2006 by Errant Bodies press. More at www.kim-cohen.com


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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A polemic that expands [and reduces] the world of sound art May 24 2011
By Rusty Nails - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Seth Kim-Cohen claims that discourses in sound art are typically concerned with audio phenomena to the exclusion of textual and institutional concerns. That is, we think more about the sounds themselves than the way that sound exists in relation to a broader discussion of the history and boundaries of cultural activity. Cohen critiques common conceptions of sound art through a boilerplate postmodernist lens setting his sights on Pierre Schaeffer's conception of the sound object, McLuhan's "essentialist primitivism," self-referential readings of Cage, conceptions of authenticity and the blues, and approaches advocating the primacy of audio perception. For Cohen, sound art ought to take a Duchampian turn, paying greater attention to the way that art "questions its own ontological and epistemological conditions."

In the Blink of an Ear is particularly useful for visual artists who will feel at home with the discussions on Greenberg, Krauss and Duchamp. But the polemical tone prevents Cohen from undertaking a more multifacted study of the approaches he critiques. Viewing authenticity only as a reference to an original, for example, Cohen neglects to consider authenticity as the ability to negotiate a discursive activity or as a kind of embodied understanding. For all this, Cohen ends up advocating something similar to the conceptualism of the seventies: a sonic expansion but theoretical reduction.

For a different take on sound art, consider Salome Voegelin's Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art. Voegelin's thoughtful, phenomenological work does what Cohen's does not: illuminates a rich set of sonic possibilities for the future of the genre.

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