Prelude: the sonic explosion
For some time, I have been deeply concerned with the mindfulness of listening and the subjective ramifications of auditory perception. The thoughts that envelop these concerns essentially stem from questions of perpetual mobility and nomadism that are perhaps symptomatic of the contemporary post-digital culture. A nomadic listener is affected by a fleeting sound, which appears and diminishes in the way in which it triggers an amorphous stream of subjective contemplation and thoughts bordering on the immediate known-ness of the sonic phenomenon yet simultaneously moving toward the realm of the unknown.
What is the ‘unknown’ embedded in a sonic phenomenon? Does it operate outside of the reality of the sonic objecthood? Even object-oriented philosophers like Graham Harman have argued that the reality of anything outside of the correlation between thought and being remains unknowable. Harman has further criticized early phenomenologists’ approaches to sonic phenomena as reductive, such as “If I hear a door slam, then I hear a door slam, and this experience must be described in all its subtlety; to explain this experience with a scientific theory of sound waves and eardrum vibrations is derivative, since all we encounter directly is the experience of the door slamming” 
If we explore such a sonic phenomenon, we may find that a specific sound directs to a listening state inside the listener, who may, in a nomadic condition, indulge in taking the phenomenon as a premise or entryway into a world that he or she did not previously know. The listener may address the sound relating it to the imagining and remembrance of a number of amorphous moods triggered by the temporality of listening, instead of deciphering its objective meaning, location-specific identity, and other spatial information embedded in the characteristic texture and tonality of the sound. Today’s wind may not sound like mere wind, and the lonely screeching of the windowpane may not sound like mere friction between glass and wood; but these may sound like something more abstract in the sense that they are generating memories and imagination of other realities that deviate and refract in response to the immediate materiality of the sonic event. These sounds, as impermanent as they appear to the ears of a wandering listener, may open hidden doors and obscure entrances for further perceptual meanderings in the spiritual realm of contemplation and thoughts transcending the epistemic knowledge-based identity that the sound would otherwise objectify. The epistemological problems and ontological questions posed by such object-disoriented sonic explosion are precisely the area of interrogation and praxis in my current ‘post-digital’ research. Ancient Indian philosophers would call this sonic explosion in terms of ‘dhvani’ and ‘sphōta’ meaning that “A sound changes into language and acquires meaning only after a certain explosion of sounds” (Barlingay 27), accentuating the subjective and mental resonances of sound through which a conceptual entity is perceived by the listener.
Fugue: the post-digital milieu
In order to interpret the provocative term ‘post-digital’ in my own understanding, I wish to underscore the extensive and ever-growing nomadism of agents attuned to the psychogeographic evocation of physical locations and corporeal places in the post-globalized universe of intense mobility. In this nebulous cosmos of rapid flow, the production, mobility, and reception of sound contents are the prerequisites to the decisive aspects of the formation of the notion of ‘post-digital’ via the extensions of social networks, greater interactivity/interpenetration, and personalization of the media. These features result in an increase in mobility and disembedding of sound contents as social acts beyond mere geographical limits. The technologies initiate an awareness of the wider worlds beyond local horizons. But these phenomena are intensely engaged with economic and cultural shifts too. As early as 1995, David Morley was writing about this future in his work Spaces of Identity:
“We emphasize two keys…on the one hand, technological and market shifts are leading to the emergence of global image industries and world markets; we are witnessing the ‘deterritorialisation’ of audiovisual productions and the elaboration of trans-national systems of delivery. On the other hand, however there have been significant developments towards local production and local distribution networks” (Morley 1-2).
Within the merging local-global boundaries, one culture develops constant awareness of the existence of other. Cultural components like images and sounds travel through this dispersed space in mutual interaction, influencing and infusing each other, although the aspects of travel prevail over these implied interactions. These ‘deterritorialised’ wanderings substantially contribute to an emergent culture of primarily mobile and itinerant beings engaged in the liberated ebb and flow of events, phenomena, and ephemera, which operate arguably beyond digital essentialism. This essentialism in digital revolution, which was the predominant theme of the late 1990s and early part of this millennium, starts to dissolve into an ever-growing field of intangible data and immoderate information, with Nicholas Negroponte aptly proclaiming: “Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only in its absence, not by its presence. Face it – the digital revolution is over” (Negroponte 12). Alongside this comes a sense of saturation across the prevailing digital divide between already digital and rapidly digitized contents. During this process, digital media were turning our world into an augmented one. In this rapidly emerging environment, we found that different forms of older media, such as recorded sound and other sound contents, were constantly moving, being relocated, reinterpreted, and engaged in conflict with the purely digital contents within an imminent convergent culture. These sound contents could be as varied as archival sound recordings, clips of music and songs, spoken words, environmental field recordings, and electro-acoustic samples. We could observe a certain movement of these sound contents from a localized state (creative/productive end) to a globalized state (consumptive end) and vice versa. For example, a piece of field recording was digitally mediated so as to be considered a work of sound art, or a ‘traditional’ song from one part of the world was transmitted via the internet to another part of the world as a ‘folk’ song. The question was whether a ‘fluid-local’ sound element was losing its characteristics or retaining its identity over the course of a ‘hyper-global’ shift. We could also ask how such locative sound elements were received and interpreted at the widest end of a rather volatile audience reception within the dissemination of digital media technology and establishment of e-commerce. In this very context, Robert Pepperell and Michael Punt have aptly decoded the term ‘post-digital’: “The term ‘Postdigital’ is intended to acknowledge the current state of technology whilst rejecting the implied conceptual shift of the ‘digital revolution’ – a shift apparently as abrupt as the ‘on/off’, ‘zero/one’ logic of the machines now pervading our daily lives. New conceptual models are required to describe the continuity between art, computing, philosophy and science that avoid binarism, determinism or reductionism” (Pepperell and Punt 2).
The central question arising from interest in the sonic was the ongoing dialogue between older sound contents from primarily locative analogue sources and digitally generated ephemeral traveling sounds, with rapid digitization rendering the interpretation of older/analogue sound contents as digitalized sonic artifacts beyond the mere binarism, determinism, or reductionism of the old vs. new or digital vs. non-digital. The phenomena contributed to the evolving ‘post-digital’ discourse by regarding digitalized artifacts as displaced, relocated, and transformed, thereby dissolving the digital divide between already digital and rapidly digitized contents on the one hand and their reinterpretations as a ‘background’ (Cascone, quoting Ihde) or elusive field of data on the other.
Once this saturation is reached, Kim Cascone argues that, in the domain of sound art and experimental music, “the medium of digital technology holds less fascination for composers in and of itself” (Cascone). In deciphering the term ‘post-digital aesthetics’ in relation to experimental music, he speaks of the “failure” of digital technology and the way in which it triggers subversive practices with glitches, clippings, aliasing, distortion, etc. I, however, perceive this as a failure of a pervasive digital media technology to identify, structure, and archive the transient and elusive sound field from the nameless, placeless, and faceless background world of data. In this world of ‘big data’ (Rasmus Helles and Klaus Bruhn Jensen), ‘data abundance’, and ‘data flood’ (Steve Lohr), itinerant sound data essentially loses its locative character, normative structure (digital, analogue, or digitized), ontological source identity, and epistemic knowledge-based objecthood.
Coda: sounding the post-digital
Such behaviors of sound are accentuated in the post-digital universe of ‘big data’, contributing to the elusive identity of the ‘digital (sound) object’ (compared to ‘non-digital’ objects, devices, and systems) and posing problems of authentication and/or preservation, thereby proliferating a sense of ‘absence’ in a digital sound object’s recognition, identification, and negotiation of the corresponding knowledge-structure upon a network of listening. In their work ‘A theory of digital objects‘, Jannis Kallinikos, Aleksi Aaltonen, and Attila Marton claim that “digital objects are marked by a limited set of variable yet generic attributes such as editability, interactivity, openness and distributedness that confer them a distinct functional profile” (Kallinikos, Aaltonen, and Marton). This leads to a profound sense of ‘instability’ as evasive and fleeting artifacts that contrast with the solid and self-evident nature of already-old sound media, such as sound recordings on tape, CD, file systems, or other types of storage. The fluid and mutating nature of that universe of digital objects and their diffusion across the social fabric make them difficult to authenticate, preserve, or archive in the social memory and knowledge base. These invisible digital objects, carrying multitude of sound contents, problematize their (sound’s) objecthood, rendering them more as ephemera than even artifacts.
On the other hand, sound does indeed seem ‘less esoteric’ in this post-digital milieu because of our “newfound comfort with the immaterial world of pure data and information flowing through the cyberspace” (Dayal, quoting Gopnik). The contemporary media environment allows the separation of sounds from their locations and facilitates their travel across hyper-dispersed networks as background noise. A sound that is disembodied from its locational specificity causes multiple layers of mediation across its multiple receptions and interpretations outside of place, time, and context, whether in an audio streaming network on the internet, a digital sound composition published on a net label, or exhibited within the augmented space of an interactive installation work. In an interactive art piece, identification of a sound event can be understood through its interpretation as an augmented situation for the re-embodied experience by inter-subjective interaction. The post-digital discourse essentially relates to the perpetual transience of these amorphous but fertile auditory situations (Chattopadhyay) into temporality. It is evident that, in this constant flow, the production and reception of sounds over greater mobility and interactivity leads to its interpretation as itinerant auditory situations, which is a transformation of the original sounds, ready for re-interpretation beyond their objecthood in post-digital culture. Admittedly, at this stage, my motivation lies in delving into the question of sound’s object-disoriented behavior upon transient listening.
Variation I: object disorientation of sound
Let me elaborate on what I mean by the ‘object-disoriented behavior’ of sound. To do this, we need to go back in time and excavate the term ‘sound object’. Pierre Schaeffer, arguably the founder of musique concrète, coined the term ‘sound object’ (objet sonore), which paved the way for a new kind of perception, ‘acousmatic listening’. To Schaeffer, the ‘sound object’ was an intentional representation of sound to its listener. With the rise of new audio technologies, the ‘sound object’ recorded on magnetic tape or other media were no longer referred to a sound source, hence the musical exploration of the ‘acousmatic experience’ of sounds that one hears without seeing the causes behind them. The emphasis here was on the reduced listening state instead of causal listening, if we borrow Michel Chion’s terminology. The problem here is the imposition of the word ‘object’ over ‘sound’. The intrinsic flaw in reduced listening as Schaeffer conceptualized it in ‘The Theory of Sound Object’ is that it assumes that sound has an ‘a priori content’ (Demers) that is separate and distinct from any cultural or historical associations it might have subsequently acquired. According to scholars such as Joanna Demers, this assertion is problematic on both practical and theoretical counts. Listeners have difficulty hearing sounds divorced from their associations; at the same time, it is nearly impossible for the human listening faculty not to ascribe a multiplicity of causes to a sonic phenomenon. Furthermore, in practice, the listener is almost certain to simultaneously create imagined gestures or link a sound to its illusory myriad sources, evoking some kind of contemplative and thoughtful imagery in this process of mental resonance and mindful personalization into various listening states.
In his seminal writings, for instance in the famous article ‘Aural Object’, film-sound scholar and early phenomenologist Christian Metz expresses serious doubts about the object specificity of sonic phenomena in scholarly thinking following Schaeffer. He instead focuses on the ‘characteristics’ of sound and emphasizes the problematic aspects of locating sound’s object-oriented or location-specific source. He states that “Spatial anchoring of aural events is much more vague and uncertain than that of visual events” (Metz 29). In classical sound studies (Rick Altman et al.), scholars have already underpinned the issue of sound’s problematic relation to its object or source and emphasized its interpretative nature over its production: “Sound is not actualized until it reaches the ear of the hearer, which translates molecular movement into the sensation of sound” (Altman 19). Altman speaks here of a sound event as defining the trajectory of the essential production and subsequent reception of a sound element. Its narrative, as Altman terms it, is hypothetically bound to the source that produces it. This source, the sounding object when producing sound, is spatially defined or connected to a place. These spatial sources of sound are by definition localized but are not rendered until and unless they are carried by a medium to reach the point of reception. By the same token, a sound is mediated whenever it is digitally registered. Digitization dislocates sounds from their original sources, turning them into discreet data in the nebulous post-digital environment as discussed above. Sound contents are thus only recognized at different stages of digitization toward reaching a saturation state of an assumed ‘post-digital’ economy/ecology, by which process they are freed from the object. Sound thus, by its very nature, implies mobility and subsequent object disorientation in order to establish its recognition in the ‘post-digital’ domain. However, the process of interpretation is more complex than it appears at its perceptual level of reception. Contributing to this discourse, New Media scholar and theorist Frances Dyson argues concerning the ‘sound object’ that “first – find a way of discussing and representing sound unhinged from the visual object, second, find a device (the tape recorder) that will somehow enable such a representation, and finally, mask the mediation of that device by arguing for an ontological equivalence between the reproduced sound and the original sonic source” (Dyson 54). This ontological equivalence might be difficult for a listener to establish in a nomadic condition in which a specific sound presents a multitude of amorphous listening states inside the listener’s mind, leading to a sonic explosion of object-disoriented but mood-based streams of thoughts within the nomadic listener’s consciousness.
Variation II: the nomadic listener
At this juncture, a nomadic listener floating across the post-digital milieu may interact with the background noise or the unknowledgeable sounds of nameless, placeless, and faceless flow of sound data, which inculcates a sort of ‘semantic fatigue’ so that, eventually, they seem cut adrift from the sources or origins (Demers) in the mind of the listener. The listener in this process may sensitize his or her ears to the pseudo-object of the sounds and is able to deconstruct them into his or her listening self through an evocative capacity toward a sonic explosion as streams of timeless sonic states of interconnected reveries, ruminations, and musings. The ‘unknown’ embedded in the wandering shadows of sounds is explored and given a context by the nomadic listener’s intervention into his or her appearing and diminishing, leaving object-disoriented states of feelings or moods.
Variation III: hyper-listening
Let us indulge in further philosophical musings triggered by listening in the post-digital milieu and attend to what John Cage claims to be mindful: “Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind” . This will require us to set aside ‘epistemic’ issues of recognizing the source or ‘object’ of sound and instead focus on the subjective and inward perception of sound within the ‘self’ or ‘mindfulness’ of the nomadic listener. Following this methodology, we can examine the way in which the memory, imagination, and personal experience of the itinerant listener alter the character of sound. Taking my point of departure in the epistemological basis of sound object, I now introduce an alternative methodology of listening in the post-digital culture, which I term ‘hyper-listening’, meaning that I intend to relate to the higher-level/psychic pre/post-cognitive processes triggered by listening to the object-disoriented sounds in terms of creating thought-provoking auditory situations. This method perhaps operates on the fringe of what artist Yolande Harris (2011) explains in her doctoral thesis as creating “situations where sound can affect and activate people’s experiences in a personal way” but at the same time expands the idea of ‘experience’ to include conscious contemplation. Much of this argument resonates with Roy Ascot’s recent writings in which he speaks of “interconnectedness, nonlocality and the inclusion of consciousness”  embedded in new media art that includes process-based artistic practices with sound and listening. According to Ascot “Process-based art implies field awareness, in contrast to the object dependency of much art practice”. This leads to what he claims to be “the shamanic path to immersion in the spiritual domain, where interaction with psychic entities is the means, transformation of consciousness is the goal and the emergence of new knowledge the outcome” (Ascot). Much of this line of thinking may be arguable, but what is essential is the potential of inclusivity in listening. In his seminal work ‘Listening’, Jean-Luc Nancy argues that a philosopher is one who hears but cannot listen “or who, more precisely, neutralizes listening within himself, so that he can philosophize.” (Nancy). Operating on the basis of this premise, the methodology of ‘hyper-listening’ challenges the epistemic discourse in sound that equates ‘listening’ with ‘understanding’, ‘audibility’ with ‘intelligibility’, and the ‘sonic’ with the ‘logical’. ‘Hyper-listening’ explores the contemplative and mindful potential of sonic phenomenon at the nomadic listener’s end, emphasizing the indolent mood of elevated thoughtfulness.
Finale: Mind Your Own Dizziness
Addressing a practice-based approach, I explore my ongoing project ‘Doors of Nothingness’ (2012-) and a series of upcoming sound installation/interventions ‘Mind Your Own Dizziness’ (2014-) , which incorporate the concept of ‘hyper-listening’. Taking my point of departure in the phenomenological premises of sound, I make the subjective and personal experience the basis of these works, which frame spatial sound phenomena in their entirety, including the mental and emotive context of the listener’s situation. The thought processes activated by sonic phenomena arguably transcend the epistemic comprehension of the source identity of sound toward outlining the auditory situation in a context that delineates the sound events beyond immediately accessible meanings, expanding on and transcending the existing knowledge structure. The works rely on intuitiveness in listening rather than the reasoning involved in deciphering the meaning of ‘aural objects’. The strong belief in inward contemplation, subjectivity, and enhanced ‘selfhood’ available to a nomadic listener (because of his or her ability to free the ears of object specificity, whether spatial, temporal, or locative) mean that the project on one hand explores the personal or private nature of listening while on the other hand engaging with the emergent sonic practices of the implicit post-digital culture.
 Graham Harman quotes Husserl, in Kimbell, Lucy. “The Object Fights Back: An Interview with Graham Harman”. Design and Culture 5(1): 103-117 (2013).
 See ‘Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists’ by Maria Popova, here: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/07/05/where-the-heart-beats-john-cage-kay-larson/
 See ‘Technoetic Pathways toward the Spiritual in Art’ by Roy Ascot, here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/roy-ascott/technoetic-pathways-toward-the-spiritual-in-art/10151612039371073
 See project page here: http://budhaditya.org/projects/doors-of-nothingness/
 See project page here: http://budhaditya.org/projects/doors-of-nothingness/mind-your-own-dizziness/
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