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About

What

Sonic Thinking is a long-term research project and a curatorial platform with the aim to explore the role of auditory experience in critical art practice. The platform and its growing network of collaborators dedicate their activities to share knowledge and promote a wider understanding of the social and political dimensions of sound and listening in contemporary art.

Investigations into the relationship between aesthetics, politics and social change have to date been largely pioneered and dominated by visual culture. Audio culture is usually treated as less complex, updated or discursively appreciated in this regard. Except a number of movements coupled with underground or mainstream music which successfully engage in social or political issues, critical art practice is chiefly a visual domain. Only very few artists, curators, critics reflect criticality within or through acoustic space.

 

This project is a way to tackle this flaw as a forte, on the basis of three assumptions: 1) We use the complexity of visual culture to gain useful insights into auditory experience and how it shapes the way we perceive and understand the world. 2) At the same time acoustic space, precisely because it is detached from dominant discourses, offers itself as an open playground for alternative, fresh and less biased reflections on social and political issues. 3) This supposedly candid quality of acoustic space, however, should not be taken as an invitation to enter it without any critical agenda. Based on these three accounts, we can begin to collectively generate a profoundly critical discourse around sound and listening in contemporary art.

On numerous occasions in the past, we have heard voices from the arts and humanities lamenting the predominance of visual culture and asking for more public awareness of aural perception. Outcries of this kind often ground on a line of thought that divides the sensual apparatus into distinct faculties of the senses, singling them out for purposes of closer phenomenological examination. Conversely to this approach, Sonic Thinking, as a premise and platform for exchange, values the sensual apparatus as a kludge and hence promotes an imaginative intertwinement of visual theory and aural perception. While this can easily entangle all our senses at a certain point, it would seem rather counter-productive to tap into opaque models of synesthetic perplexity unfit to harbor any form of critical thinking. Neither would it be fitting to isolate audio culture from other theoretical domains by advancing a sound-specific vocabulary, for instance. Thus, the underlying aim of this project is to devise a methodology of sound within which existing theories, concepts and debates can be appropriated to elicit mutual paradigm shifts between visual and aural perception.

The idea and title for this project was inspired by Rudolf Arnheim's seminal publication "Visual thinking" (1969). In his introductory words to this book, Arnheim suggests that thinking and perception are one and the same process, and that they should no longer be considered as separate activities of our brain. While this is a quite compelling thought, in its unfolding Arnheim hinges almost exclusively on visual perception and barely mentions auditory experience at all. Hence the proposal of this platform to collectively reassess Arnheim's approach from a sonic perspective, assuming that such a 'sonic thinking' not only exists but actually constitutes an essential element in contemporary culture.