Sonified freaks and sounding prostheses: sonic representation of bodies in performance art

Ploeger, Daniel (2012) Sonified freaks and sounding prostheses: sonic representation of bodies in performance art. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This study is concerned with the role of sound in the presentation and representation of
bodies in performance art that incorporates digital technologies. It consists of a written
thesis accompanied by a portfolio with documentation of original artwork. Since the
1960s, performance artists have explored the use of sensor technologies to register
signals generated by the body and synthesize or control sound. However, both practical
and theoretical approaches to biosignal sonification in this field have almost entirely
focused on musical (formalist) perspectives, technological innovation, or heightening
the performer’s and spectator’s awareness of their body’s physiology. Little attention
has been paid to the usually conspicuous interaction between body and technological
equipment and the role of the generated sound in the context of cultural critical debates
regarding the performing body.

The present study responds to this observation in two ways: Firstly, the written
part of the study examines existing biosignal performance practices. It seeks to
demonstrate that artists’ decisions on the design of sensor technology and sound
synthesis or manipulation methods are often complicit in the representation of
normative body types and behaviour. Drawing from a concept of the sonified body as a
transgressive or ‘freak’ body, three critical perspectives on biosignal sonification in
digital performance are proposed: A reading of body sonification methods from a
gender-critical perspective, an inquiry in the context of Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of
the grotesque and the classical body, and a conceptualization of the sonified body as a
posthuman prosthetisized body. This part of the study serves as a framework for its
second objective: the development of practical performance strategies to address and
challenge cultural conventions concerning ‘the’ body’s form and role in society. This
aspect of the thesis is developed in conjunction with, and further explored in, the
artwork documented in the portfolio.

The practical part of the study consists of three digital performance works.
ELECTRODE (2011) involves an anal electrode that registers the activity of my
sphincter muscle and uses this data to synthesize sound. For this work, I modified a
commercially available muscle tension sensor device designed for people with faecal
incontinence problems. Feedback (2010) encompasses components of a commercially
available fetal Doppler sensor intended to listen to the heartbeat of unborn babies. SUIT
(2009-2010) encompasses several performances that feature a PVC overall equipped
with a loudspeaker, sensor interface and Doppler and humidity sensors.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Music
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0712 Developmental psychology Including infant psychology, child psychology, adolescence, adulthood > BF0724 Adolesence. Youth > BF0724.3 Special topics A-Z > BF0724.3.B55 Body image
M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > M Music > M0005 Instrumental music > M1470 Aleatory music. Electronic music. Mixed media
M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > ML Literature on music > ML3800 Philosophical and societal aspects of music. Physics and acoustics of music. Physiological aspects of music > ML3805 Physics and acoustics
M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > ML Literature on music > ML3800 Philosophical and societal aspects of music. Physics and acoustics of music. Physiological aspects of music > ML3820 Physiological aspects of music
M Music. Literature on music. Musical instruction and study > MT Musical instruction and study > MT0960 Music in the theatre
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2013 10:00
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015 14:03
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/43348

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