New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise! (Alexander Pope, ‘An Essay on Criticism’ (1709))
The Noises of Art: Audiovisual Practice in History, Theory, and Culture was convened by the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and Aberystwyth Arts Centre on the 4 to 6 September 2013. The delegates comprised established scholars, PhD students, and independent practitioners and researchers, including musicologists, art historians and theoreticians, sound and art practitioners, electronic and sound effects engineers, musicians and composers, and writers and performers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Europe, UK, and the USA. They represented the fields of radio and television broadcasting, cinema, theatre and drama, painting and sculpture, music and sound art, installation and performance, architecture, and creative writing.
The proceedings were characterized by a hunger and curiosity, and a generosity and an openness, on the part of the attendees that were manifest in an unusual receptiveness and liberality of heart and mind. They desired as much to connect with one another as images, sounds, and words together. An earnest energy was present, reflected in not only the commitment and passion of presenters and performers but also the audience’s attentiveness and inquiry. By talking and doing, hearing and seeing, this ephemeral community negotiated various and often unanticipated relationships between the sonorous and something else (either visual or textual)
The conference acknowledged the traditions and historical precedents that have made the present possible. It also established a foothill base camp from which the delegates embarked upon a journey towards genuinely new conceptual and praxical territories. Together, they climbed to the top of a hill, only to be confronted by a prospect of far steeper inclines: ‘Hills peep o’er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise!’ This vision came as an inspiration to eager explorers, rather than as a discouragement to weary travellers. They grasped (more by instinct and intuition than by intellect and cognition) that ahead lay uncharted routes, crevasses and pitfalls to be bridged or avoided, and a sprawling terrain without boundaries. No one person could fulfill this enterprise entirely. Moreover, there were precipitous faces that no one person acting alone could essay. The only way upward, in many cases, was as a team roped together.
One of the challenges of operating collaboratively and intermedially (quiet apart from the expense of the equipment) is to acquire dexterity with technologies that are unfamiliar to our native field. Another challenge is to learn enough of each other’s medial, technical, and art-cultural language to converse meaningfully, productively, and below the level of surface. And then there’s the matter of theory, which, Salomé Voegelin our keynote speaker reminded us, lags behind practice. Practitioners, in turn, often lag behind theory. Da Vinci believed that an artist without theory is like a mariner without a compass. While we don’t have to subscribe to any one theory to prevent us from being all at sea, it’s incumbent on us to become aware of a range of ways of thinking. Added to this, intermedial study, whether through practice or theory, demands that we grow in knowledge of the medial histories appropriate to our study. There is so much (too much) to know, unknow, interrogate, and sift that the fainthearted might be fairly dissuaded from stepping outside the circle of their discipline.