Research on Paradoxal Soundscapes

– a Manifesto –


Thank you very much for opening and reading this document. I will try here to explain shortly my research on paradoxal soundscapes, what they exactly are or what this term means. “Paradoxal soundscapes” is a term I invented or created based on my performances where I combine two different music genres. For example, in my performance Che si può fare? I combined Noise and baroque opera. The opera part was interpreted live on stage by the Austrian soprano Johanna Falkinger, meanwhile, I was providing the °instrumental° part based on cassette players, circuits, and various analog devices )I was practically the “orchestra”). I continued this research with another project where I was working with Noise and church music and again I was lucky for being invited to perform it for the Holy Hydra event, which was taking place in an actual church – the Sankt Josef Kirche – and since I was there, I also experimented with playing the church’s Orgel. Another example of paradoxal soundscape is the performance Sea, and Stone, and Poetry – a performance that combines Noise and Japanese folk music. It was supposed to be developed at IAMAS – Institute for Advanced Media and Sciences in Ogaki, Japan; instead, due to the unpleasant Covid-19 situation, the residency was canceled and I did not manage to complete this project because of lack of motivation…

Now, please allow me to say a few words about paradox. By definition, the paradox can be described as a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well-founded or true. It’s a logically self-contradictory statement or a statement that runs contrary to one’s expectations. Usually, it’s created from 2 arguments that are true individually but together make no sense. Just like paradoxal soundscapes, let’s take as an example the performance Che si può fare? where I combined Noise and opera. Here there are two elements: Noise as argument 1 and Opera as argument 2. They are very valid individually, in the sense that Noise is a music genre very well known, new, glitchy, the sound is dirty, and it’s breaking the rules, and the second argument – Opera – which is old, with a very well defined path, rigid, with a pure sound that’s respecting musical rules. So they work very well on their own, they have their own public and performative venues, and they are completely different, just perfect opposites. However, what happens if I put them together? The immediate reaction would be: “they just don’t work together because they are so unlike in their nature, form, and quality”. But here I’m trying to demonstrate the contrary and say: “they work together under the umbrella of paradoxal soundscapes”.

Some philosophers define the paradox as the statement that conflicts with a conceptual truth by saying that “those and only those are free who know they are not free”. Some others say a paradox is a set of individually plausible but jointly inconsistent propositions. When we look at the Danube, it looks like its water is moving, but at the same time, it looks stationary. Here, inconsistency seems to occur within a single perception. Arguments play a very important role when we talk about paradox, but argument-based definitions of paradox go against the description of such illusion as “visual paradox”. I can also give an example Roger Penrose’s triangle.

The triangle has 3 equal sides and therefore 3 equal angles. If I ask you how big the angles are, you just see that each is bigger than 60 degrees (90). But the sum of the triangle’s angles must be 180, so you only half-believe the angles are bigger than 60. In the same time, you cannot get rid of the visual impression.

Figure 1. Roger Penrose’s triangle.

Psychologists think this dissonance cannot be solved because our visual systems are compartmentalized. Each mental module contains a little man (homunculus) who makes rudimentary judgments. But how these judgements are made? Well, every little man is composed of other little men who are even less sophisticated. This hierarchy reaches the bottom when we reach a behavior that can be explained mechanically. The little men dedicated to judging the angles cannot communicate with the other little men who specialize in judging lengths. The angle-judging little men always give the same verdict even after you measure the angles. This little men’s judgment is based on a small number of criteria and a few simple rules for processing the limited data. There’s no time for communication and deliberation. Consequently, the little men are opinionated and insistent and they often lock into a disagreement. Illusion is the price that must be paid.

When all the good answers to a riddle are the verdicts of a system composed of little men, then the conflict is not rationally solvable. To be resolvable, a paradox needs to have a cognitive element. So philosophers are attracted to paradoxes that have answers that can be believed or not, on the basis of reasons.

The world is full of paradoxes, they are simply everywhere: in mathematics, quantum physics, management, economy, biology and chemistry, artificial intelligence, politics etc.

When Lev Tolstoy was a boy, his older brother challenged him to stand in the corner until he stopped thinking about a white bear. The more little Lev tried to stop thinking about a white bear, the more he thought about it. He only stopped thinking about it when he became distracted. People that have obsessional thoughts cannot simply just decide to stop thinking about things. Relief comes involuntarily. The obsessive thinker can distract his/her attention by altering the circumstances.

Ludwig Wittgenstein distracted himself by watching western movies or reading detective stories, but these supplied just a few hours of relief. His only period of peace came after the publication of Tractatus in 1921. He retired from philosophy to become an elementary school teacher in the village of Trattenbach, but he returned to Cambridge University in 1929 because he couldn’t stop thinking about his ideas related to ideal language. In the following decade, he put together “ordinary language philosophy” and instead of trying to think of how language must operate, he limited it to observing how speakers actually behave. In some circumstances, we may find that the rules of language really lead to a contradiction. He thinks that “freedom from philosophical worries must proceed through insights into how language sets traps on us”. And this is just a small part, a touch about how Wittgenstein was working with paradox in the field of language.

In my research, I am working with paradox applied to sound and the term “paradoxal soundscapes” is the result of this research.

Paradoxal soundscapes create confusion and that doesn’t help, but it offers another point of view. Life is a struggle for many and a puzzle for most. Just like this paper I’m writing right now, it has not turned out to be as simple or as easy as I had thought. But our society seems to be more confusing than we had thought, even with all the rules and fundaments (especially in these times). And I think part of our confusion is not only because we cannot answer the question What the F is happening?, but also because we cannot be efficient anymore, meaning we cannot participate in the progress. In these times, so many things seem to contain their own contradictions, so many good intentions have unintended consequences. Are we living in the age of paradox? There are so many dilemmas that the governments, businesses, and people have to deal with, every day. Looks like the more we know, the more we get confused; the more we make breakthroughs in technology, the more we lose control. We have so much food in markets and supermarkets, but we cannot talk about health or healthy (and let’s not forget that some parts of the world are still starving). We solve the mysteries of our galaxies, but we cannot solve the mystery of our own family. We can call these situations a paradox, but it’s just to label or categorize it because we cannot deal with it, or to say at least, we cannot solve it. In paradoxal soundscapes I’m somehow trying to find a solution to this paradox that I myself created. Of course, it deals with sound and not cosmology, but if you want, I can also talk about the two terms together, in another paper maybe.

We always try to make sense of things around us, including paradoxes or paradoxal soundscapes, we are always looking for meaning. We understand reality and decipher it based on our knowledge database, based on our education, culture, past events, books we’ve read. Are we trying to find ways to make sense of the paradoxes to use them for shaping a better destiny? A person needs simple, normal (whatever that means), and common images to make sense of this complicated world, just like the little men from the previous pages when I was talking about Penrose’s triangle.

“We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are”, I can maybe adapt it and say “we don’t hear the world as it is, we hear the world as we are”.

Just as Memo Akten was saying.

When you and I hear the same sound, do we hear the same pitch and tone? What is the auditory image that you’re building and how does it impact you? “Everything that we hear, we try to make sense of by relating to our own past experiences, filtered by our prior beliefs and knowledge”, he said. We have to search our mental database for sounds that are similar to what we hear in paradoxal soundscapes, but what happens if the sounds are in different categories, noise for mechanical sounds, opera and female soprano voice on stage? The same applies to my visuals where I combine nature and glitch, glitch for moving images, nature, and numeric art.

Paradoxal soundscapes are a meditation, an act of listening to both sounds old and new, a meditation on the cognitive process that accompanies listening. Is it a new reality of sound since it is so ambivalent at its core, thinking if it should avoid the formal and structural parameters connecting it to the traditional sounds, but at the same time still incorporate it in some way? It’s ambiguity and maybe freedom that represents both its strength and its weight, burden, and maybe implication – a jointure of conventional and unconventional music.

The combination of different music genres to create something else, it’s not something new. What I’m doing in my personal artistic practice is that I combine the Noise genre with something opposite – a music genre that is always changing – to create what I call paradoxal soundscapes. This is a term that I created to define my own artistic practice, but it also applies to other projects from other persons. What I think I discovered here is the fact that is a paradox in these soundscapes, in the sense that this is paradox applied to sound. This is what makes it special.

Thank you for reading!