New Scholar, Vol 2, No 1 (2013)

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Sonic Practice as Research: The Problem of Aesthetics

Ian Andrews


Is it possible to consider musical or sound art practices as forms of research? If the work of art presents us with a renewed perspective on the most ordinary and self-evident, would such a radical shift in perspective resemble the shift in standpoint, or attitude, that the phenomenological method requires. It would seem that sonic practices are uniquely placed by being (i) a direct encounter with the flux of phenomena, (ii) a way of conceiving phenomena in non-visualist, non-objectivist, terms. This paper seeks to examine Pierre Schaeffer’s conception of sonic research that forms the basis of his Musique Concrète. Schaeffer’s theory and practice utilised the technology of audio recording to capture and isolate sounds in order to engage in research into the nature of sonority, and develop a form of music based on concrete sound material rather than the abstract arrangement of tones. Schaeffer’s sonic research, which conforms very closely to Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, attempts to develop a presuppositionless methodology by attending to the sounds themselves in accordance with their givenness to consciousness. This paper argues that the differentiation of sounds according to aesthetic values of taste would seem to trouble Schaeffer’s goal of an absolutely presuppositionless methodology. By introducing value judgements—what something ought to be rather than what something is—into the phenomenological investigation of sonic phenomena, Schaeffer’s phenomenological method would seem to break its own fundamental strictures. In conclusion this paper argues for a direction exemplified by Cage’s radical abstention from taste and learned habits, that lets phenomena be, coupled with John Caputo’s notion of a radical hermeneutical phenomenology that takes as its starting point the Husserl’s and Heidegger’s investigations into the horizon structure of experience.

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