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Sonification and the Mysticism of Negation

  • Kristina Wolfe (a1)

Sonification has become a commonly used tool for data analysis, auditory feedback and compositional inspiration. It is often described in scientific terms as a means of uncovering previously unknown patterns in information or data through the use of the auditory sense. This goal seems to be objective, but the results and methodologies can be highly subjective. Moreover, the techniques and sources of information are strikingly similar to those used in mysticism, especially mysticisms of negation, even though the frames of reference and underlying perceptions of the world are markedly different. Both practitioners of sonification and apophatic mystics believe that certain types of information are incomprehensible through traditional analytic means and can only be understood through experience. In this way, sonification can be thought of as a source of mystical information.

In this paper, I will discuss the similarities between sonification and apophatic mysticism, or the mysticism of negation. I will argue that the practice of sonification, as a source of mystical information, is ideally suited for creative contemplation, particularly in electronic music. I will start by providing some historical background on the mysticism of negation. I will then present several ways in which sonified knowledge (sound) is often imagined, discussed and perceived akin to a mystical object. Finally, I will discuss specific ways in which sonification exemplifies apophatic mysticism and reveals mystical information. This information – whatever its nature – can be used for creative contemplation and is a potentially invaluable source of compositional and spiritual inspiration.

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W. W. Gaver 1993. How Do We Hear in the World? Explorations in Ecological Acoustics. Ecological Psychology 5(4): 285313.

T. Hermann and A. Hunt 2005. Guest Editors’ Introduction: An Introduction to Interactive Sonification. Multimedia, IEEE 12(2): 2024.

C. Keller 2009. Apophatic Bodies: Negative Theology, Incarnation, and Relationality. New York: Fordham University Press.

K. Norman 1996. Real-World Music as Composed Listening. Contemporary Music Review 15(1–2): 127.

D. Smalley 1996. The Listening Imagination: Listening in the Electroacoustic Era. Contemporary Music Review 13(2): 77107.

J. Sterne 2003. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

B. Truax 2012. Sound, Listening and Place: The Aesthetic Dilemma. Organised Sound 17(3): 193201.

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Organised Sound
  • ISSN: 1355-7718
  • EISSN: 1469-8153
  • URL: /core/journals/organised-sound
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