Transtechnology Research Seminar Series 2023-24

Our monthly research sessions run over two days in hybrid mode.

Day 1 Seminar runs from 1pm-3pm. This is an in person session unless you are based overseas or more than a hour’s travel from Plymouth. We will meet for lunch at 12 noon. The series will consist of an introductory seminar followed by seven seminar sessions. Each session will be a collaboration between one registered researcher and one contributing researcher with two 20-30 minute papers.

Day 2 Update sessions from 10am-1pm. This session will be online in our Zoom Meeting Room.

The group is also invited to host up to 6 workshop sessions, as explorations of method/practice through working with the group. Dates TBC.

Transtechnology Research Seminar Series: 2023-2024

Series Note: With an Ear to the Ground: Thinking with Sound and Intellectual History.

We thought that the new book by Victoria Tkaczyk (pronounced:  Tecar-jit) might be a valuable common text for the seminar series 2023/24 (Tkaczyk, V. 2023.Thinking with Sound: A New Program in the Sciences and Humanities around 1900, The University of Chicago Press.) Following on from Myra Seaman’s book, Objects of Affection: The Book and the Household in Late Medieval England that was the key for last years’ series, Thinking with Sound is also a careful piece of archival research that gains its interdisciplinary value in the contribution that it makes in its methodology and rhetorical strategy. By using this as the key reference text this year it continues our enquiry in Transtechnology Research, begun nearly two decades ago, into situating multimodal research at the art/science/technology interface as a primarily a contribution to intellectual history. Tkacyzk provides us with a valuable example of how close attention to bibliographic and practical evidence can be used to tell us what is going on and what might be coming our way. It provides a method to critically examine disciplinary relationships and established bodies of knowledge so that they can be reorganised to yield insights that stimulate new topics and concerns in long- established silos of research practice. In recent years, as many of you will know, the practical application of our research in Transtechnology Research has had impact, for example, in rethinking what are considered normative social structures and health care training and delivery (to name but two). Thinking with Sound mirrors this dynamic in the way that its emphasis on research in 1900 on an experiential and bodily sensation that can tell us how we might alternatively organise knowledge today.

Thinking with Sound is well written and accessible and contains some elegant synthesis of key ideas that many of us find useful in describing our own research practices. It organises its argument in introduction and conclusion and 5 chapters, each of which is divided into several helpfully subtitled short sections comprising two or three pages.  Many of these sections refer to advanced research already being undertaken by colleagues in Transtechnology Research. Aside from the relevance of the content that Tkaczyk lays out, this structure will help us use the book for the seminar series by allowing presenters to identify a short section relevant to their own research that we can acquaint ourselves with in advance of the meeting.

Below is a link to  a review of Thinking with Sound, a table of contents and the introduction to the book.

Series Format:

For each session two extracts from Viktoria Tkaczyk’s (2023) Thinking with Sound: A New Program in the Sciences and Humanities around 1900 will be identified by the presenters as a key text. This, and the abstracts for the seminars should be identified and sent to Hannah the morning of the Wednesday before the seminar to be sent out to the group via email.

Presenters are invited to meet together in advance, including discussions with Michael and Hannah in preparation. Each session will have an invited postdoctoral respondent who will lead the first part of the discussion. Michael Punt or Hannah Drayson will chair the seminar (introductions and time keeping) and manage the Q&A.

Proposed Programme Dates:

20th and 21st September 2023.
Plan for the year, draft abstract session, and project introductions.

18th and 19th October.
Introductory Seminar.
Professor dr. Michael Punt: With an ear to the ground: Thinking with Sound.
Dr Hannah Drayson: Cloud Raves and Kick Drums.

In 2020, pandemic lockdowns in many countries led to an increased impetus for cultural producers and internet users to explore online social events. The subject of this seminar is one genre of online gathering, the somewhat paradoxical “virtual party” or “cloud rave.” My discussion reflects on recent work in cultural sociology where scholars have responded to these kinds of “technology mediated interaction rituals”(TMIRs), asking to what extent they can be seen as successful (Vandenberg, et. al. 2021, Vandenberg, 2023). Acknowledging that the virtual party may offer a limit case for the kinds of generative and successful ritual described in sociology, I will explore how some aspects of virtual partying can already be heard in one aspect of the production of electronic music. To do this I will focus on the distinctive “rolling” or “rumbling” kick drum prevalent in hardcore and industrial techno music. My presentation will explore how kick drum samples and various forms of audio processing are used by dance music producers to virtually recreate particular physical spaces and generate nostalgic atmospheres, and I will consider the contexts and qualities that have shaped them. My discussion will reflect on the particular phenomenological, metaphorical, and acoustic qualities of the rumbling kick drum’s resonance and echo, as a sign of an ongoing cultural project that aims to replicate and leverage the interactions, resonances and “emotional energies”(Collins, 2004) of party spaces. Reflecting on Tkaczyk’s (2023) discussions of Ernst Mach’s work in psychoacoustics, and the concept of bodily resonance in auditory attention, my discussion will explore the extent to which the metaphor of resonance is useful to us in thinking about human interaction. Can it be see helpfully expanding or unhelpfully confounding our understanding of simulation, perception, and human interaction.

Joint seminars and update sessions:

15th and 16th November.
Respondent: Dr Hannah Drayson
Linan Zhang: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” How liberal ironists deal with multiple realities.
Suggested reading: Tkaczyk (2023) “Thought-Sound” pp. 71-74. 

Johara Bellali: Margins, Membranes and Eternal Moments.

In her book ‘Thinking with Sound’ Tkaczyk (2023) invites us to delve into the 1900 turn and explore how the ‘flair in the air’ around sound allowed different disciplines to come into contact with each other to create new knowledge. It is this notion of coming into contact with each other and paying attention to the fertility of borderlands that I wish to explore. I follow Bergson’s establishment of “a new epistemology of our sense of time and space, along with all phenomena related to that sense including the perception of sound events” (p.80) and critique Helmholtz’ dualistic vision of “material ear of the body” and a “spiritual ear of the mind” and the monocultural vision of Saussure’s theory of the constitution of a sound-image within a linguistic community. I argue that different understandings of time, such as Bergson’s duration, and of place, such as hook’s (2004) and Anzaldua’s work (1987) on the margins and borderlands opens an access to a deeper knowing that exists beyond boundaries and can be expressed in language, sound and images beyond the individual, their interlocutor and their linguistic community. I inquire whether there is here an epistemological question around ways we can access what we don’t know and whether there is space for a new onto-logic that Tuana (2008) coins a membrane logic. I then turn to Neimanis (2017) to cycle back to Bergson and conclude that this membrane logic as a space of becoming is a parallel to the opening to “the totality of things” that Bergson wishes his new epistemology to complement the sciences with.

Suggested reading: Chapter 3 from p.79 (the Philosopher’s ear) to page 100, and in Chapter 4 from p.113 to p.123.

13th and 14th December.
Dr Jane Hutchinson: Respondent.
Karen Squire: Rock cannons and the representation of perceptual phenomena.

Lucinda Guy: Auditory Apophenia and Hidden Harmony.
Community radio in the UK consists of 100s of independent, non-profit radio stations on FM, AM and DAB, awarded a licence for a specific area such as a town, or community within a city, on the basis of providing ‘social gain’ through training, locally relevant content, accountability etc. However, many have adopted the models, practices, styles and technologies of commercial radio, and have a tendency to be nostalgic for the independent commercial radio stations of the 1970s-90s. My research suggests a way forward that connects Community Radio with values such as inclusion, localness, and creativity, by drawing on practices from sonic arts and experimental music. This seminar looks at some examples of these practices, where they are crossing over into radio broadcasting, and their effects on makers and audiences. In particular, methods composers and artists use to tune in to found sound and uncover meaning and pattern. This practice can be associated with ‘apophenia’ the tendency to identify meaning from visual and audial cues, such as seeing faces in trees.. Apophenic experiences are often disparaged as false, misguided and paranoid. But an understanding of the relationships between music, sound and noise, and physical phenomena such as the harmonic series, reveals this interpretation to be insufficient, and redefines apophenia as a meeting point between imagination and material reality, which reveals truths about the context in which it occurs. The seminar proposes a more generous interpretation of apophenia, and the value of these experiences in the creation of music and sound works, and informs how radio producers can move towards a ‘radio that listens’ (Hildegaard Westerkamp) and responds to its location.

10th and 11th January 2024.
Dr Edith Doove : Respondent
Dr Anna Walker: 
Revisiting hysteria, imagining the sounds of Charcot’s drawings and photographs.

Jean-Martin Charcot’s observation skills were often lauded; for many, the French neuropathologist, ‘combined genius with charlatanism’ (Walusinski, 2017, 296). He himself claimed that the gaze of the doctor had to be fused with the gaze of the artist, with one effectively guiding the other: ‘Le médecin est inséparable de l’artiste. L’un guide de l’autre; ils s’entraident mutuellement’ (Charcot, 1890: 492).

The outcomes of these observations were disseminated in theatrical weekly lectures, and in drawings and photographs. Beginning in 1876, Charcot, his students and the staff⁠1 at the Salpêtrière, produced a series of books: Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière  (1876-77, 1878, 1879-80). The three volumes of case histories were mainly of women diagnosed as hysterical or hystero-epileptic. These photographs,claims Asti Hustvedt, are “the ghosts of women who refuse to be reduced to medical illustrations.” For Didi-Huberman the volumes of photographs contain everything:

 […] poses, attacks, cries, “attitudes passionnelles,” “crucifixions,” “ecstasy,” and all the postures of delirium. If everything seems to be in these images, it is because photography was in the ideal position to crystallize the link between the fantasy of hysteria and the fantasy of knowledge. A reciprocity of charm was instituted between physicians, with their insatiable desire for images of Hysteria, and hysterics, who willingly participated and actually raised the stakes through their increasingly theatricalized bodies. (1982, xi)

For my PhD, albeit with a light touch, I researched Charcot in relation to early theories on trauma and the relationship between hysteria and trauma. My purpose in revisiting Charcot’s images is to decipher any new or other knowledge through reading Viktoria Tkaczyk’s book, ‘Thinking with Sound’ (2023), asking how these images change in meaning when perceived differently through imagining the noise of the Salpêtrière in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Suggested reading: Thinking with Sound, (Tkacyk, 2023):Chapter 2

Zinnia Wang: Inner dance: Re-experience of aesthetic perception in VR art exhibition

Psychophysiologist Théodore Flournoy ’s work on hearing with color, which he called ‘synopsia’, delineated a phenomenon where color are heard because as he claimed, the entire muscular system constantly exerts its own unconscious influence on “affective associations,” eliciting heterogeneous sensations. Based on the hypothesis that representations of the auditory and visual are related to olfactory, gustatory, tactile, muscular, thermal, and other impressions, Flournoy pointed out that auditory thinking is always accompanied by contractions of the blood vessels, the intestines, and in fact all muscular movements of the body. This description of a form of synesthesia offered us a view of the linkage between visual perception and body movement in sense-related cognitive processes, which fits well with my observation of the audience’s involuntary body movements in British artist Julian Opie’s VR exhibition-OP. VR at Lission Gallery last year. The unconscious body movement as a natural echo to the virtual landscapes reflected the encounter of digital media with the sense of vision through the sensations of the body, just like a secret reexperiencing of a timbre in the throat at the concert. In the above context, this presentation aims to further look at the idea of thinking with dancing in VR experience by addressing the argument of Berlin theater scholar Max Herranmm on a secret reexperience [Nacherleben] in Viktoria Tkaczyk’s book, and discuss the externalization of inner dance might be a form of re-experience of aesthetic perception in VR art exhibition.

Suggested reading: Tkaczyk, ‘Thinking with Sound’: p79-81; P174-179.

7th and 8th February.
Dr Stephanie Moran: Respondent

Becalelis Brodskis: Thesis Abstract: Re-imagine your town: Co-created archives of community urban visions

This thesis involves a critical analysis of data types and digital interfaces related to a socially engaged arts practice of participatory mapping. The research identifies a problem which occurs when the development and use of technologies begins to conflate data with its visual representation or, conversely, reduces the experience of reality to what can be documented. The thesis aligns with a concern that this impacts the perception of, and sensitivity to, available qualities or indeed possibilities of experience. Responding to this concern raises questions about how and why qualities of objectivity or subjectivity are associated with certain types of data and perceptions of landscape. Employing an auto-ethnographic research methodology and using Henri Bergson’s theories on perception as a lens the research progresses through a series of mapping experiments informed by arts practice. It then undertakes a critical analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data, which extends to what effect interfaces have on the interpretation of the data and subjective experiences of landscape. The first experience is a participatory mapping project that combined 3D game engines, geospatial data and audio-visual documentation of residents’ participation in arts practices into a 3D interactive model. The next intervention was a dérive in Lisbon documenting perceived relationships between matter and memory on a smartphone.  This device, whose effect and potential use Guy Debord foresaw in his Society of the Spectacle, integrates the technologies of Global Positioning System (GPS), Geographic Information System (GIS), and audio-visual recording equipment, used to participate in 2D mapping. A critical analysis of the subsequent psycho-geographies revealed how qualities of empirical data, associated with objectivity, such as GPS, are distinctly different to the qualities of their representation in GIS. Conversely, the analysis of Audio-visual data identifies the absence of lived, subjective experience from the documentation. The final chapter proposes an alternative interface orientating lines between data points towards a diagram of a virtual experience. Virtual, in this context, is used in an applied sense to describe a reality that cannot in its fullness be represented.

Sarah Turton. Oscillating blue fissure, when/is blue just a colour in art and creative practices? 

This presentation invites skepticism about whether blue is ever just a colour. It is interested in why it sometimes turns up in transcendental expressions in contemplation, psychology, philosophy, utopia, art and creative practices which suggest that it operates beyond the spectrum of colour and has a role in practices of self-transformation. This seminar provides an overview of the ways that it operates in selected examples of art and creative practices. It explores how on the one hand the colour blue is mundane; decorative or arbitrary, a secondary feature of an object or form, on the other it is used in expression to represent nature and/or as a cultural symbol, and on the other that it is also surplus to these. It asks if it is because of the way it oscillates between these aspects that causes transcendental surplus and an experiential fissure or if blue stands by itself and has its own affordances beyond its function, or both(and)? Examined through the theme of fissure, this analysis raises questions about its ontological status and colour category claims.

6th and 7th March.
Dr Rita Cachao: Respondent
Laura Welsman: Felt Objects and Sound Images – A Pitiful/Pitiless Art
Theo Humpries: Title TBC

10th and 11th April.
Dr Agatha Haines: Respondent

Dr James Sweeting: From Hauntological Form to Videogame Follies: the creation of “instant nostalgia”.
This seminar will be providing a brief introduction to my work on hauntological form in videogames, a concept I coined in my PhD thesis. In addition, I will also be using this seminar to begin expanding upon my existing work with new identification of what I have observed with some contemporary videogame releases. This I am terming “videogame follies”. I will be defining what I mean by this term and how it is both separate from and overlaps with hauntological form in videogames.
Videogames have become increasingly reliant on the mediums past; this has been both unintentional and intentional. With videogame follies it will be explored as an example of an intentional use of the mediums past, often as an attempt to generate what will be referred to as “instant nostalgia”. This contrasts with hauntological form which typically exemplifies unintentional nostalgic elements within videogame form.
Both concepts represent different interactions that the videogames medium has with the past and how it is presented in the present. The reasons behind this differs and crucial the significance has different implications for the future of the videogame form and the medium.

Nadezhda Krasteva: Digital Festival Realm and Phygital Audience Experience

The presentation links the review of experimental aesthetics outlined in Thinking with Sound: A New Program in the Sciences and Humanities around 1900 book by V. Tkaczyk, and the transformations of audience perception in digital festival performance with offline-online settings. The seminar section defines “festival chronotope” based on the concept for configuration of time and space proposed by M. Bakhtin and questions its deformation- Does the digital festival edition become an object of abstract cognition after “play”, “pause” and “on demand”, or it is a topological version of the real spatial and temporal phenomena?

Analysed examples illustrate the interpretation of “phygital” applied to the virtual visitor’s physical perception that goes beyond digital and IT dimension of events. In this context the consumer’s flow is to be considered as intense experience featured by lost sense of chronological time and immersive engagement with the presented reality.

Furthermore, with reference to W. Benjamin and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the content identifies problems triggered by the work of art in the age of digital reproduction. Some professionals from the creative and festival industries support the argument about faded aura, its diluted cultic and display value. Others would align with the opinion that digital technology is not only a matter of reproduction but plays a vital role in the production.

Suggested reading: Tkaczyk, V. (2023) Thinking with Sound: A New Program in the Sciences and Humanities around 1900. pp. 164 – 169.

8th and 9th May.
Dr Guy Edmonds: Respondent
Carola Salvadori: Heterotopia at the intersection between disciplines.
Steven Doughty: Flicker, trance, and ASCs.

5th and 6th June.
Dr Jaqui Knight: Respondent
Nick Peres: Simulation
Frieda Gerhardt: Neurodiversity – Different Types of Perception and Sensory Sensitivity

Business Meeting for 2024-5 Planning. [Date TBC]