(In a Forest of Signs)

A Process of Line-Making


To what degree is it possible to score an artistic event for which the impetus is a social, rather than aesthetic, effect - and indeed, to what degree are these effects separable? How, in short, can the composer or artist create a blueprint for a rela-tional practice that is fundamentally concerned more with actions within the com-munity than it is with any outcomes or objects presented to the community?

This thesis seeks to explore the role of the Other through the composition of a set of participatory scores for social activity. Devised from the perspective of a composer and sound-artist, this practice-led research investigates three strands of social en-gagement: collaboration, interpretation, and intervention. These strands each re-volve around the problems inherent to performing and scoring socially-engaged, site-specific sound works, as well as the reality of their dissemination in the public domain.  Each of the methods employed not only feeds back into the score-making process, but also serves to critique existing methods and hierarchies within artistic participation, ultimately arguing for an open-ended and non-linear relationship be-tween the act of sensing, and the (community-influenced) construction of the sensi-ble.

Exploring post-structural, ethical, and ontological notions of what it means to share and construct community with Other, this research examines the role of art as a creative movement between self-constructs that are at once individual and indivisi-ble from the community. This work argues that such creativity extends not only to the realisation of artworks, but across the whole gamut of activity within the social event.

By undertaking practice-based research into the role of Other within the event of an artwork, this thesis interrogates the socio-political hierarchies inherent to both the specific art-event, and the pre-existing community in which such events unfold.  As such, the art-event points not only to the specific creative act of its making, but equally the latent creativity within the community in which the art is disseminated. The spectator, no less than the artist, defines the terms of the community by which such acts are made available to perception as an ontological reading that is not only sensed, but sensible.



Other (note capitalization), is used in the philosophical/phenomenological sense, as exemplified by Emmanuel Levinas (Levinas, 2006).  It is invoked in a deliberately broad manner, incorporating not simply the human ‘other’, but equally the vast gamut of all that is ‘not-self’.  Whilst I appreciate that Levinas might not consider Other in quite such a broad fashion, extending the term to include externality-in-general sits more comfortably with the approaches to objectivity and subjectivity (as presented by Brian Massumi (Massumi, 2011)) that underpin my engagement with the art-event.


Resonance refers to the movement that occurs between self and its Other, as per the philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy (Nancy, 2007).  As such, resonance is assumed to be the means by which an object points towards its Otherness – the multiple lay-ers of material, social, spiritual or contextual potentiality contained therein. The ref-erence to acoustic resonance is less analogous than literal: like sound, being ex-tends from a source (self) out into the world, and returns changed, based upon the materialistic qualities of that which it encounters. Just as sound ceases to exist without the presence of something to reverberate from or with - the air that vibrates to create sound waves - Self likewise exists only in the process of its relation to Oth-er. Furthermore, for Nancy being and sounding amount to the same process, since both are concerned with the act of vibration - if it lives or if it sounds, it must vibrate. Being is sounding, the vibration of life in the process of living, whether it is the bio-logical vibration of heartbeat, or the sensory, cognitive vibration of a sentience seeking Other.


Avant-garde is used in its etymological sense – to indicate a forward-guard of cul-tural exploration.  For this reason, the word is somewhat synonymous with experi-mentalism, since it suggests a practice that operates beyond the ‘common’ sense of the culture in which it sits.  Likewise, ‘conceptual’ and ‘experimental’ art forms are considered as those that have a focus upon concepts or experimentation, ra-ther than ways to temporally delineate specific artistic movements.


Art is considered here as synonymous with ‘deliberate creative practice’. Thus, painting, sculpture, music, video-art, etc., are considered as mediums within the same fundamental creative enterprise, albeit one that is characterised by its dis-tance from general social activity (even if that general activity is itself creative). Whilst this thesis ultimately argues that any everyday activity (fixing the sink, walk-ing the dog, arguing with your spouse) is potentially a creative endeavor, this is not to suggest that there is no distinction to be made between acts undertaken as a form of art, and acts undertaken creatively for another purpose. Indeed, I would argue in light of this, that the role of the artist is not simply to undertake creativity, but rather to make resonant the creativity already present in the communities more general machinations.  


A practitioner working within any creative medium, and more specifically, the prima-ry researcher/practioner undertaking this project. Assumes the undertaking of any discipline that might broadly fit within the existing art-world’s remit, including sound, music, painting, sculpture, walking, video, etc. The social function of the artist within their community is the primary subject of this thesis.


Drone serves as both a description of a musical style that borders both minimalist and Indian musical traditions (as popularised by La Monte Young), and a connota-tion-rich framing of a specific type of activity.  Drone, as a multi-layered term, indi-cates boredom or a lack of progress (as in ‘droning on’), the pedestrian or a lack of individuality (as in a worker drone), and autonomy or mediated control (as in a drone missile). There is also the spiritual connotation - drone points to the concept of Om and Shunyakasha – the Vedic notion of a field of latent energy-potential (Shunyakasha) from which creativity arises (Om).  Om, manifest as a literal drone in its vocal utterance, emerges from a field that is at once everything and nothing, a base sound that, like Nancy’s notion of resonance, “penetrates the imperishable”, and for which “the mystic symbol Om is the bow. The arrow is the Self” (Radha-krishnan and Moore, p.53, 1989).


Used to describe the transmutation of one creative form into another by a perform-er as a way of providing (some of) the art-event’s content. In the case of this thesis, it is primarily used to describe my own interpretation of the score’s text. 


Akin to a term such as social sculpture (Beuys, 2007), or the happenings of the Fluxus movement, used to describe an approach to live performance that seeks to disrupt, in some manner, the existing flow of social activity within a public space. Usually this takes place outside of a designated art setting, such as on the street.


Used to describe the creation of artistic content that involves more than one inter-locutor.  Furthermore, it assumes that all those involved have a degree of autonomy beyond that of the typically hierarchized performer/composer dynamic. 


Sense refers to the act of making sense, as opposed to the idea of any existing sen-sible construct defined by the community prior to the individual’s presence. Sense, as an action, is considered to be the function of the body’s senses (as in sensory perception), an action that takes place prior to comprehension (as in ‘made’ sense).


The sensible is considered to be akin to apperception – the ordering of what is per-ceived by the senses into some pre-existing narrative (often referred to as ‘common sense’).


Abstract is used as per Brian Massumi (Massumi, 2011), to indicate an isolated moment in time.  In contrast to its popular usage as something that lacks any con-crete, objective reality, or something abstruse, the abstract is instead here used to denote a moment in an object’s life-cycle that has been made available to percep-tion.  Thus, the abstract assumes potentiality – that what is perceived is only one of numerous possible iterations that might be drawn from an object. 

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