The Dance of Attention

What happens as soon as we press ‘record’ on a device

July 17 – 21, 2017
Fondazione Pistoletto – UNIDEE
Mentors: Attila Faravelli, Enrico Malatesta
guest: Adam Asnan

Media history, sympathy, vibration, rhythm, surfaces, concrete music, traditional music, experimental geography, field recording, walking, ecological perception, mediation.

Module outline

The module, by means of both practical and theoretical sessions, confronts forms of direct action and perception with ones mediated by technological means of sound recording and reproduction.

Given a world which sees an ever growing wide-spread use of advanced technological tools to capture and share one’s experiences, as well as a conditioned reflex by artists to heavily rely on forms of audio-visual documentation to show their work to a broader audience, the workshop aims at deepening the questions which arise “as soon as we press ’record’ on a device”: Where in our own culture (present and past) lies the urge to overly develop and refine techniques to sort fixed things out of a flux of living matter? Is it possible to turn these techniques into levers to de-stratify perception, even if they were partly born out of a desire to objectify reality? What strategies to adopt in order to find a ‘simple’ use for these complicated tools?

To follow the lead by the Japanese sound artist Toshiya Tsunoda, “documenting is based on reality, but it is not a secondary supplement to reality. Documenting is not just a hollow version of reality, but is in itself a complete, autonomous being that exists within its own space and time. In other words, documenting plays its own role in our world. For instance, although footsteps are just a physical mark on the ground, we acknowledge them as independent matter, separate from the ground itself. This is because we have the ability to recognize ‘images’. This ‘image’ can be described as a ‘trace’ left by many factors colliding in a given space. I prefer to describe my recordings as a ‘trace’ of reality, rather than a ‘relation’ to reality”.

In our daily routine, as we go about our business we actively prioritise certain elements and eschew others, sound functions for us as a carrier of useful information: “A given sound provides information about an interaction of materials at a location in an environment” (William W. Gaver). E.g. we know from the sound of a car in an alley its provenance and we use this information not to be run over, or we focus our attention on the voice of a person talking to us in a crowded space, filtering out the background noise.

But what if we’d bring a microphone into the world, into the very same “environment” we live in?
The microphone’s horizon of listening is unconcerned and unbound, purely shaped by its technical capacities. Sound recording practices are not just a mechanism through which objectivity can or should be transmitted, they are instead a powerful creative tool through which “To experience the texture of the world without discrimination. Texture is patterned, full of contrast and movement, gradients and transitions. It is complex and differentiated. To attend to everything the same way is not inattention to life. It is paying equal attention to the full range of life’s texturing complexity, with an entranced and unhierarchized commitment to the way in which the organic and the inorganic, colour, sound, smell, and rhythm, perception and emotion, intensely interweave into the aroundness of a textured world, alive with difference. It is to experience the fullness of a dance of attention.” (Erin Manning and Brian Massumi).

Despite the balance of the workshop tilting toward sonic practices, the topics discussed, as well as the exercises proposed, aim at facing broader questions related to the relationship between unmediated and mediated experience.


The mentor will prepare a reader for participants with key texts, some of which will be discussed during the week.

•  Erin Manning, Brian Massumi, Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience Paperback, University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

•  Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, Routledge, 2011.

•  Tim Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. Routledge, 2013.

•  Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, Duke University Press, 2003.

•  Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity, The Mit Press, 2002.

•  Barry Blesser, Linda-Ruth Salter, Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing Aural Architecture, The Mit Press, 2006.

•  John Blacking, How Musical Is Man?, University of Washington Press, 1974.

•  Gilbert Rouget, Music and Trance, A Theory of the Relations between Music and Possession, The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

•  Donald Tuzin, Miraculous Voices: The Auditory Experience of Numinous Objects, The University of Chicago Press, 1984.

•  Tsunoda Toshiya, “About My Field Recording”, Reductive one, June 2014.

•  Albert Mayr, “Sketches for a Low-Frequency Solfège”, Music Theory Spectrum   Vol. 7, Time and Rhythm in Music (Spring, 1985), pp. 107-113.

•  William W. Gaver, “How do we hear in the world?: Explorations in Ecological Acoustics”, Ecological Psychology, 5(4) 1993