“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds that it is attached to the rest of the universe.”
– John Muir
Scientific understandings of energy of course deal with what is objectively measurable and quantifiable. Certainly energy as it is apprehended and measured in its various forms through mainstream science complicates knowledge of the myriad and subtle ways that energy can affect human beings, many of which are currently immeasurable. I see the creative realizations of audio-visual works as a viable interrogative arena perfectly suited for crossing some of the operative yet occult boundaries created by this dichotomy. In a larger cultural sense, based on the idea of energy as a variable feature of both artistic works and the cultures they engage with in a reciprocative sense, new territories of knowledge can additionally be ascertained and developed.
In a global sense, the movement of artistic works through the cultures they are entangled with facilitate highly variable manifestations of energetic effect, apart from whatever intrinsic energies these artistic works may theoretically or measurably possess. This aspect alone offers new channels of analysis, especially in relation to subjective affectivity or intensity as termed in the question– i.e. how do relationships between subjective/affective and measurable energies modulate as artistic creations are culturally apprehended and circulated? Ideas found in the science of economics, along with those found in media and cultural theory may help to delineate a way toward this kind of study. The Oxford dictionary defines economics as the science of the production and distribution of wealth. It is widely understood that energy must always figure prominently into ways that these systems of production and distribution work. Creative works of any kind operate within exchange economies as well. How do these channels of exchange operate in terms of energy?
Energy is required for the production of art on one hand, and creative productions of all kinds subsequent to their creation operate within economic ecologies of exchange. Economist John Foster points out that the economic system is an energetic system, and states that humans, as living dissipative structures, are seen as seeking to increase access to free energy sources, and/or increase the efficiency of currently employed energy transformation processes to do more work (90). Creative  productions today move within complex and mediated components of society (Inglis, 22), and I would assert that their energetic differentials can be mapped out, in terms of their function as variously articulated socio-political commodities. Examples of ways that this can be accomplished might incorporate an analysis of works framed as currencies, in the way that David Joselit does in After Art. By not privileging discreet objects and notions of medium and postmedium, we can ascribe new roles to artworks related to their origins, documentation values, and migratory capabilities within cultures (3-9). Contrast this with a more semiotic view of cultural objects in relation to their value offered by theoretician Michael Thompson. Clarifying an essay by Jonathan Culler titled “Rubbish Theory” from Culler’s book Framing the Sign, Thompson identifies three categories of art objects in relation to their economic value. These are transient objects which have finite life spans and lose their value over time, durable objects which maintain or increase their value over time, and a less obvious category of objects which have an unchanging value of zero (T. Crow, 148-50). These categories can also be applied to cultural productions not privileged as discreet objects, as Joselit suggests. Descriptors such as transient, durable, zero-value, migratory, documentative, and origin-valued can allow for mappings of the way these various cultural productions function across society in an energetic sense, by means of the way they move through networks and mediums of exchange as forms of currency, utilized for processes of energy transformation in a qualitative sense.
Notwithstanding the more clearly articulated differences between them by the likes of economist Paul Nystrom, who implies that insight and appropriation on the part of entrepreneurs is not the same type of more directly creative work on the part of artists (Runco, 383), they both, along with scientists and engineers, nonetheless utilize overlapping modes of thought. These modes of thought to varying degrees might include aesthetic goals in conjunction with a desire for novelty. More importantly, all are engaged with throughputs of energy during and after production and injection into society of their works. In other words, artworks function in an economic sense just as other products, inventions, or commodities do. Qualitative variabilities based on descriptive terminologies such as those highlighted here can be used to map out verifiable “energetic signatures” of creative works within the fabric of social structures and their multi-contextual networks.
Stated a bit differently, identifying the functional roles of itinerant creative works as commodities within networked systems of exchange can allow for mappings of energy based on political and art-as-currency valuations. Artworks can be thought of as aggregators, connectors, neutral agents, or dissipators of energy in an economic system which allows for the tracing of these functionalities. In some sense this crosses the boundary between energy as property and energy as affective agent, particularly where cultural productions can be seen as taking on valuations translated as aggregated energetic properties. My specific cultural interest is in creative works which incorporate both visual and sonic elements. This in my view demands a special attention to energy, as all cultural productions are not only created, perpetuated, and modulated in various ways by means of energy in its various forms, but are just as, if not more so, culturally affective in an energetic way.
In a sense then, my focus is to be (in part) ways that works of art produce cultural affectations expressed as energy. This requires not only an identification of the multifarious ways that energy can be expressed and identified in relation to specific artistic works, but ways that energy in these various forms is seen in relation to various human or societal elements that the works affect in a multi-modal sense. I add the term multi-modal here, because my concern seeks additionally to broaden the idea of energy beyond these more objective political, social, and economic variables in order to enlarge the scope of the “map.” For this, I seek to utilize what may best be termed “para-scientific” resources as a kind of lens with which to extend ways of looking at energies intrinsic to cultural productions, and the ways that these energies directly affect the intrinsic and more subtle energies of human beings. This can be more fully explained in the question regarding areas of emphasis, but what I am referring to are non-physical anatomies of human energy, along with ways that these subtle energy structures can be affected by energies intrinsic to the audio-visual works being experienced.
This additional level of inquiry creates a polarity, contrasting territories between the objective/social/cultural/scientific and the subjective/individual/psychic/metaphysical. There is no doubt that energy as sound and light, whether consciously sensed or otherwise, affects the human being on many levels. The subtle energy structures and electromagnetic fields in the human body can also be deliberately affected (Dale, 7-8). The para-scientific aspect of this research involves published literature revolving around technologies for measuring human subtle energies in specific capacities such as manifestations of aural energies and chakras. These technologies are not accepted by mainstream science, nonetheless a wider field of inquiry can be accommodated by means of their inclusion. Sources are numerous; I have included a few in the bibliography for this essay. These are specifically identified as non-academic and non-peer reviewed where appropriate. Ongoing research will produce a separate annotated bibliography for this material.
Steve Goodman maps out the propagational vectors of vibrational events through what he identifies as networks of cybernetic capitalism in his book Sonic Warfare (xix). Goodman’s extension of vibrational ontology into the “tactical and mnemonic context of viral capitalism” in the context of acoustically designed ambiences of consumption and “the acoustic design of ubiquitous, responsive, predatory, branding environments using digitally modeled, contagious, and mutating sonic phenomena” correlates quite well with David Joselit’s determinations regarding the trajectories of visual art and architecture out of an object-based aesthetic and into a network aesthetic. Joselit points out that the specific formats which artworks assume lend them unique forms of power (After Art, 91). These forms of power connect directly with energy, and this energy propagates via networks. The idea of a network can be amorphous or physical (see methodology) In either case the network can serve to operate as an energetic substratum and multi-modal point of affective reference. Ways that these networks are formatted depend, as Joselit mentions, on the works of art themselves (95). This as a whole is a challenge to conventional academic ways of understanding the role of art today, especially in relation to visuality and audiology as a combined study.
     How does an ontology of sound as a component of subsuming energy fit within a paradigm of audiovisual culture? Though my interest is in formulating  new way(s) to interrogate audio-visual culture (see areas of emphasis) based on ways that specific audio-visual works operate in relation to the permutative forms of energy they are comprised of and which they affect, a meta-historical overview of audio-visual culture in general might be useful. The following are some highlights from such an overview, drawn from a history of such width and depth as to be immeasurable in its own right, yet a more expanded pre-history component might ultimately serve my project well. The chronology of these highlights points to three distinctive pre-histories, as defined by media theorists Dieter Daniels and Sandra Nauman. These are 1. The theory and practice of relationships between colors and sounds, 2. The evolution of human perception, and 3. The combination of auditory and visual forms of expression in human culture (Daniels, 6).
It was mainly after the turn of the century when music and color began to be considered in the same light. This was around the same time that the concept of the ether– the mediating substance between technology, science, and spiritualism (Milutis, xi) began to fade, after centuries of nourishing and informing the metaphysics which eventually gave way to our present-day physics. In 1915, the composer Alexander Scriabin sought musical connections with color, as did Kandinsky and Schoenberg (Tuchmann, 162). It was around this time that color projecting apparatuses were developed, with such names as “Chromola,” “Clavilux,” and Thomas Wilfred’s “Lumia” device (298-99). Precedents to this include Helmholtz’s “Sensations of Tone” (1862), along with the assertion by Goethe that a theory of painting equal to that seen in music did not yet exist. Kandinsky pointed this out in his “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” (Kandinsky, 28). In another of his publications titled “Point and Line to Plane,” Kandinsky illustrates Beethoven’s fifth symphony in terms of dynamics within a picture plane. Kandinsky equates gravitation and tonality with his choice of words such as “cool tension toward the center” (Kandinsky, Point, 123).
As telegraph wires, and later telephone systems were strung across countries in the early 1900s, sounds began to be heard which had not been heard before (Kahn, 27). This coincided with the development of the microphone (35). As technology was developed to capture and manipulate natural sounds, the scope of sound increased much further. The appearance of sounds through resonance of telegraph and telephone wires, along with railroad tracks and military “earth transmission” technologies, were all directly associated with natural energy. Experimental composers later began to incorporate sounds from the natural environment, including amplified frequencies of the human brain.
All of these are/were based on natural energies, yet connections between sound in the early twentieth century and natural Earth and cosmic energies seemed increasingly obfuscated as the twentieth century progressed. This was true even though composers such as John Cage, Hugo Benioff, and Alvin Lucier were not creating sounds; they were using sounds from the natural environment. Composer Edgar Varese was also still characterizing his orchestral works as imitations of environmental sounds, either natural or technological (80). Generally speaking, these sounds began to be thought of in terms of their properties, rather than in terms of energy, especially in relation to physical matter. Beyond this, electronic instruments began to be developed, though initially these instruments were designed to mimic existing orchestral instruments. Experimental composers in the mid twentieth century concerned themselves with the way various pre-existing sounds could be manipulated.
Based on the fact that sound was not incorporated into film as sound track until around 1928 (Sider, 22), it could be argued that when the image was combined with sound for the first time, there was a bifurcation, with one direction toward the way that sounds function in relation to the dynamic visual image, and another in which sound began to seek its own ecology. Sounds heard along this secondary path, including seismic activities, were eventually re-identified as being sourced by natural or technological energies. One might additionally argue that when sound and image were married together, the energy of sound went conceptually from environmental to cultural, but then eventually back to culture as environment. Certainly the marriage of sound to film allowed for the emergence of painting as a metaphor for music, as seen in Mondrian’s “counterpoint,” or Pollock’s rhythmic forms (Leggio, 143). The extensive cross pollination between art and music in the 40s and 50s could be in part due to the marriage of image and sound in motion pictures in 1928. As a part of this secondary emergent ecology, composers began to become associated with visual art styles.
During the period of time just before, during, and after 1928, there were concerns on one hand with “machine music,” as well as with primitivism. This dichotomy can trace itself being worked out in later aspects of music, as Jazz seemed to fill the space left between the machine and the primitive mask (Leggio, 203). Reflections of the further evolution of this dichotomy can be seen in American techno-progressivism and the traversing of cultural boundaries. Examples include Mondrian’s “Foxtrot,” and later,  Andy Warhol’s “Dance Diagram” artwork in the early 1960s (174). Around the time that Kandinsky had gone to teach at the Bauhaus, composers such as George Gershwin and Aaron Copland (among others) began to incorporate Jazz music into their work. At the same time, abstractions in artwork began to incorporate musical instruments, especially instruments associated with jazz as can be seen in the works of Aaron Douglas, Thomas Hart Benton, George Grosz, and Arthur Dove (208-9). There was overall thus a shift in the ways that sound and energy were related- sound went from being a result of natural, environmental, or technological energy to being a kind of cultural energy. This represents a transition from sound energy as a transferrable physical property, to one of human affectation within audiovisual culture.
It might be worthwhile here to point out that in the mid-twentieth century experimental composer John Cage claimed that vibratory and thus musical reality is inescapable and there is no such thing as silence (Kahn, 219). Additionally, light artist James Turrell asserted that “there never is no light,” (219), and somewhat later during the late 60s, conceptual artist Robert Barry declared that “there is nothing that is not energy” (220). During the 1960s, works of art as strictly material objects had begun to be challenged. While Cage composed his 4’33” as a direct response to Rauschenberg’s white monochrome canvases (Crow, 123), Turrell was inspired to focus on the tiny patch of the visible spectrum by slide projectors employed for viewing photos of paintings in art history lectures (Kahn, 219), and Barry was introducing forms of electromagnetism as a challenge to the materiality of traditional art forms (220)– energy subsumes all.
As Doug Kahn expresses very succinctly in Earth Sound Earth Signal: “The acoustical energy of sound, once it had begun to be loosened from musical sound, offered itself as material to the arts” (218). The waves, fields, and radiations of the electromagnetic, including spectral aspects of light and color could not be far behind. This mode of thinking continues to expand today based on pioneering works by these and other artists, for example Barry’s January 5-31, 1969, where labels on the wall offered the only way for the viewing audience to become informed of specific radio frequencies being transmitted through the room (220), and Joyce Hinterding’s Electrical Storms of 1992, where high-voltage electrostatic speakers produced high-fidelity amplifications of ambient electrostatics, along with natural radio recordings made at Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field (244-5). 
     Vast expansion of this idea of sound, along with other forms of energetic propagations as artistic material can be seen today in the works of numerous artists. Compendiums of their work are many fold; examples include See This Sound and See This Sound 2 as realized in Web archive, exhibition, published compendium and symposium formats in Europe by Linz Capital of Culture in conjunction with the Ludwig Boltzman Institute of Media Research, and Soundings as realized in exhibition and publication in America by the Museum of Modern Art.
In academic circles, color is not generally thought of in terms of energy, rather it is thought of in terms of additive and subtractive process (light and pigment). The same is true for sound, which is often thought of in terms of its properties. When thought of in terms of energy, light and sound are involved in human affectation and in energy transduction in more myriad ways. These energy transductions may be in the form of affectations from music and sound or artwork and light of various types to the audience, from person to person, from instrument to instrument or sound generating element to other elements in the form of sympathetic vibration or transduction, across other elements in the space or of the space itself, and even eventually to those not present where the energy generating work is located, as shown by the power of networks. Though my main focus will be on energy expressed within audio visual culture in a larger sense, the relationship between sound and light should not necessarily be ignored.
Theoretically, all aspects of sound may in some way be shared by light, and vice versa. Both have wavelength and frequency (implying oscillation). Though in the past light has been thought of as either functioning as particle or wave, sound artist/theorist and experimental composer Pauline Oliveros has stated that sound, in the form of phonons as a sonic particle corollary to photons of light, in fact also exist (Kahn, 175). Bringing together these ideas, along with the idea that human energetic affectation can occur across a broad spectrum is furthermore exemplified by Oliveros, who also theorized that global broadcasts such as the funeral of Princess Diana, or the earlier moon landing of July 1969, each simultaneously entrained brainwaves among viewers worldwide into a “sonospherical synching” (180). This further exemplifies the power of networks as a means of energetic dissemination in a cultural sense, beyond the more literal context of the invisible electromagnetic television signal acting as an agent of antagonistic pairings between commodities and networks, as pointed out by David Joselit in Feedback (7). In the digital age, where the audio-visual can be transcribed as pure information, these types of antagonistic relationships multiply exponentially, along with permutative and varying forms of energetic assignments, artifacts, and affectations.
In my research, I want to manifest a polarity of sorts. The polarity would entail a kind of “qualitative thermodynamics” based on affectations of creative works within the fabric of social networks on the one hand, and an approach to ways those same creative works produce human affectations based on metaphysical and para-scientific understandings of relationships between the intrinsic energies and energetic structures of both the works themselves and their audiences on the other hand. Within this polarity can emerge new ways of understanding how creative audio-visual works function, within relativities of knowledge, alchemies of emotion, and  within the chimeric oceans of information-as-energy that we move through, and which in turn circulate throughout our physical world as fluid networks.
Works Cited
Crow, David. Visible Signs. La Verne TN: Ingram, 2003.
Daniels, Dieter, and Sandra Naumann (eds.) See This Sound Audiovisuology Compendium. Köln: Verlag der Buchandlung, Walter König, 2010.
Foster, John. “Energy, Aesthetics and Knowledge in Complex Economic Systems.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, #80, 2011, 88-100. Web, 08/24/2014.
* Dale, Cyndi. The Subtle Body. Boulder Colorado: Sounds True, 2009.
Goodman, Steve, Sonic Warfare. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012.
Inglis, David, and john Hughson, (eds.) The Sociology of Art: Ways of Seeing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Joselit, David. After Art. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013.
– – Feedback. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.
Kahn, Douglas. Earth Sound Earth Signal. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013.
Kandinsky, Wasily, M.T.H. Sadler (transl.) Concerning the Spiritual in Art. New York: Dover, 1977.
– – Point and Line to Plane. New York: Dover, 1979.
Leggio, James (ed.) Music and Modern Art. New York: Routledge, 2002.
London, Barbara. Soundings. New York: MoMA, 2013.
Milutis, Joe. Ether. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
The Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus. New York: Berkley, 2001.
Runco, Mark A. Creativity. New York: Elsevier, 2007.
Sider, Larry w/Diane Freeman and Jerry Sider. Soundscape ~ The School of Sound Lectures 1998-2001. London: Wallflower Press, 2003.
Tuchman, Maurice Judi Freeman, Carel Blotkamp et al. The Spiritual in Art : Abstract Painting 1890-1985. New York: Abbeville Press, 1986.
Back to Top