Abstract- Boo Chapple

Sound, Matter, Flesh: A history of crosstalk from medicine to contemporary art and biology

This paper will trace a particular history of relations between sound and the body (in a broad, biological sense), one that migrates across the disciplinary boundaries of art, science and technology and arrives at a contemporary nexus of projects that engage both with sound and the life sciences. Drawing on Jonathon Sterne’s work ‘The Audible Past’ I will begin by discussing the history of the stethoscope and the medical practice of diagnostic listening, known as auscultation. I will then move on to look at early recording and notation technologies, particularly Alexander Bell’s Ear Phonoautograph in which he used the ear from a human cadaver to trace sound waves on a piece of glass. Next I encounter sound art practices, such as the work of Alvin Lucier and some contemporary noise musicians, that engage compositionally
with psychoacoustics and use sound as a physical force to impact on the body. From here I migrate back in the direction of the biomedical and come to rest on the several art projects in question that incorporate something of these movements into their particular configurations of sound and biology. Examples of the projects that I will be discussing include; Joe Davis’ Audio Microscope, Anne Niemetz and Andrew Pelling’s The Dark Side of the Cell, The Tissue Culture and Art Project and Adam Zaretsky’s Dynamic Seeding Musical Bioreactor and my own work on bone audio speakers. Some of the questions that I will be asking in relation to these projects are: How does the particular history of relations traced above apply to the construction of meaning in each project? In particular, how is sound approached and used differently in each project – as a diagnostic tool, a physical force, an investigative mechanism? What does it mean to use sound as a means to engage with and manipulate biological systems? How does sound differ to image as a way of accessing and experiencing dynamic micro-material processes?