As the French theoretician of sound Michel Chion has pointed out: “films, television, and other audiovisual media do not just address the eye. They place their spectators – their audio-spectators – in a specific mode of reception, which we shall call audio-vision”. it is clear that audio-vision is a mode of reception that encompasses not only specific media forms, but the entire audiovisual continuum as Steven Shaviro says, that we live in the midst of. Rather than somehow magically withdrawing from the simulacrum, there must be a sonic dimension of simulation, that operates alongside the visual. This dimension points to the more general fact that digital technologies offer, if not a union of the senses, than the intertranslatability of media, the ability to render sound as image, and vice versa. A translation is an interaction that produces a difference in what is translated. Thomas Köners work is centered here . mediated sounds are “neither a neutral transmission of a sound event, nor an entire fabrication by technical means”, but rather “a specific reality”, which is a “product of a preexisting reality plus the conditions of reproduction”, as Chion says. The relation between audio and video is a very special transit, the relation itself is being, there is relation, more than Grahams non-relation, but the relations are, like Deleuze said, external to their terms. Relations are always precarious, relations can be broken. In the context of mediated acoustical reality, in which mediated and non-mediated sounds overlap to the extent that it becomes impossible to distinguish the “real” sound from its mechanical reproduction, we must be careful to distinguish between rendered and reproduced sounds; the rendering produces a specific sonic (or audiovisual) reality, which is located in between all sorts of agencies in the world with very different aims interacting with each other.
There is a general trend in contemporary cultural theory, from Benjamin’s “mechanical reproduction” to Baudrillard’s “simulacrum”, according to which technology in the form of new media obscure our relationship with reality. Recorded material is not just a representation of reality, but rather implodes with the represented and creates what Baudrillard calls a “hyperreal”. This kind of theory doesnt try to draw attention to non-signifying differences made by other things.
Thomas Köner works in a completely different way, and consequently does not fit into a neat system of exploitation. He uses new media technologies not in terms of representation, but of intervention, or differentiation. Köner is more interested in the materiality of sound as such, and rather than just creating a representation of a sonic phenomenon, he enters into what we might call a specific relationship with sonic matter. Sound constitutes a virtual field of sonice fluxes and forces, which gets actualized in various sonic ebvironments.These are non-human and impersonal fluxes, flows of becoming with various rhythms and speeds (they don`t accelerate per se). Köners work also recognizes, once again along materialist lines, that our senses are limited, and that we cannot directly perceive every entity or speed that is immanent to the material world, since they lie outside our limited point-of-view. Köners work is concerned with differentiating or unfolding, imperceptible material phenomena, which not only becomes a powerful critique of idealist conceptions of media, but also of empiricist (or positivist) philosophical positions, which tend to grant mind-independent existence only to entities that we can observe directly, while disregarding everything that lie beyond our senses.
These two positions, idealism and positivism, are of course deeply anthropocentric, since they both share the idea that human experience is what must be at the centre stage of thinking, while Köners work forces us to reverse orthodox philosophical positions on experience, subjectivity and technology. Following the distinction between listening as an attentive process and hearing as a physiological process, two contemporary theories of exploitation, which are of relevance in this context, may be identified. The first one is the idea of “the cinematic mode of production” (which, despite the word “cinematic”, refers to all kinds of new media technologies, including aural), according to which a new form of exploitation is the capturing of our attention by media technologies. One might recognize that attention is a form of labour and subsequently argues that new media works are in fact “deterritorialized factories in which spectators work, that is, in which [they] perform value-productive labour”. the spectator contributes to the value of a piece by paying attention to it, and then gets paid in the pleasures and joy that the piece gives him or her. This is, however, a deeply asymmetrical process, since there is always a surplus on one side, which ensures that the spectator is in a constant state of wanting more, while the producers always grow financially. this idea claims listening as an attentive process along materialist lines, but since Köner is more concerned with hearing as a physiological process, a different theory is clearly needed here, which is the idea of a politics of frequency, which is about the capacities of sonic phenomena to affect us on a physiological level. Criticizing textual and phenomenological approaches to sound, Köner is interested in how sound may be used to modulate and transform mood, produce comfort and discomfort, and mobilize bodies in a number of different ways. Sound must always be understood along a (dis)continuum of artists and control, of image and sound, producing corresponding bursts of multitextured and variously drones and noises. Sound ceases to be a mere accompaniment to image or suture for visual cuts, but instead collaborates directly with image in the production of a genuine audio-visual experience.
In a similar way, the installation or concert situation, in which Köner is modulating the vibe of the milieu by adjusting sonic frequencies and drones obviously plays with the inner tensions of art, control and discipline. In this sense, Köner is situated at the (dis)continuum between aesthetics, art and control system. This ethics of sonic materialism, or politics of frequency, rejects technological determinism in favour of a speculative stance of capacities to affect and to be affected. In other words, contemporary sonic theory, while ditching textual and anthropocentric approaches to sound, should be increasingly concerned with specific sonic encounters which either increase or decrease one’s progressive differentiation, because, to conclude with the Spinozian-influenced premise that Köner adopts in his work:
we do not yet know what a sonic body can do.