Although Sound is generally thought as ethereal, it too, as a relationship among material configurations, can be classified into distinct components and form a categorical list of qualities such as material constitutions, significance, processes, etc. Meaning that as long as it is an object of our attention (whether at present or in recollection), sound, like other phenomena, belongs to a cascading system of interactions that may start or point towards particular Typologies. From this perspective, the necessity of a Typology cannot be discounted, for it is that which grants us a peek into contextual definitions of a particular piece, a plant, or a philosophical school of thought, and provides an abstract foundation to engage with a categorical object on the terms of its presence in anthropocentric environments. In this post, I explore briefly the necessity of Typological choice making while giving a loose description of its use in its relationship with sound.
The selection of a Typology means to define a specific Type of which the content of a musical piece, a building, or model of thought, can refer to as a starting-point, performing as a relational boundary in which generative momentum can be focused. For example, the canvas has been the Type necessary for many forms of painting to emerge, or in more complex circumstances, the type of speed preferred by car manufacturers, which causes numerable accidents, causes residential areas to choose slowness as a Type for their roads, setting the speed limit at 20kmph. Typologies then exist in several temporal formats, in that they can be assigned a posteriori, in for example deciding a genus of a particular animal, or a priori, in deciding to use oil pastels instead of watercolours. Whether highly coded or decoded, restrictive or loose, it supplies a proportion of boundaries necessary to permit interactions among other Typologies.
Interaction here is an important keyword in the definition of Typologies, because it highlights two important factors: firstly, a Type is always a representation of the relationship between material and process, and secondly, that a Type, being representation, is neither the material nor the process, but an inclusion of the Thing within a system of relationships. The Type is never the Thing itself, but the Thing deployed onto an ulterior level of interaction which sheds light on its processes at a material level. Extending it to a pragmatic purpose, what this means is that when a Type is chosen, its classification becomes subject to a set of restrictions set by the juxtaposition of its material and added abstract component. Some of these, however, may work counter to the initial intention of that decision. Consider the act of reduced listening for example. Francois J. Bonnet, again from his book The Order of Sounds: A Sonorous Archipelago, argues that
[a]lthough it promised freedom, the setup of reduced listening, from the outset, read the given-to-be-heard through prior determinations, with reason taking priority over experience. Now, experimental protocol dictates that method and objectives should have priority over the experiment itself. Thus sound is channelled, and one observes only its ‘suitable’ manifestations. Meaning that if, by reduced listening, Schaeffer liberates it from a sclerotic causal field from which it can only be extracted with great difficulty, he does so only to immediately reassign it to a formal field. Reduced listening is thus the occassion for a causal desemantification of sound in favour of a formal ‘meta-semantification’.
By choosing to listen as such, what reduced listening performs, as a Typological act, is to choose a type of audition that attempts to listen to the material component of a particular sound, treating it as an objective material entity. The result of this, however, is the opposite, in that by attempting to reduce a sound object to such an entity, is to reduce it to a set of relations that work according to a definite system that functions in inversion, but still within the application of significance. This effect works similarly in cases where one exclaims that they ‘decide not to make a decision‘, where truly they have still made a decision, albeit one which is an inverted variable that is still included in the logic of decision making. To listen to the materiality of the object is to choose to not listen into the significant component of an object by giving significance to the non-significant parts, henceforth retaining a distance from the object’s materiality. What this shows then, is that a Typology which attempts to engage materiality might be an unsuitable environment for its purpose. This, however, does not mean that all abstract Typologies distort our relationship with materiality, but that they may open a window into their workings. Indeed, the definition of a particular object as a particular type gives that object a degree of abstraction that lends it available to a system of relationships which is necessarily located at a different level from its materially bound interactions.
The following question then develops as an obvious consequence: how can one develop an understanding of Typologies as a generative tool for creative practice? Which Typologies are more generative than others? These are difficult questions, and surely there is no ideal methodology that may potentially ease the task of answering them. What is clear, however, is that the first step is to properly disassemble a particular Typology and to retrace its origin, the second to understand how a particular Type is manifested, and third to explore what particular Things manifest such an accidental similarity.
Things > Process (Interpolations) > Rhythms (Consistencies)
What this strategy enables is to address the material component of a particular piece, and grant that material to sculpt the form of the piece as a consequence of its material constitution, a constitution that was fixed in place only by the choosing of that particular material for a particular purpose. Time, for example, sculpts the format of Sound. Temporality is a Typology of which material interactions permits things like Sound to exist; it is restrictive in that Sound has to travel through it from one moment in the present to another, yet it is highly generative. Another example is Concrete, a Type of which flexibility as a construction material brought about the Typology of Brutalism, of which distinctive form is a complex constellation of histories, architects, the people that inhabit social housing, etc.
In conclusion, Typologies are not simply a list of qualities, but a pointer towards an intricate relationship between material, form, and meaning. Sound as a phenomenon can be easily understood as simply another medium to convey artistic intention, but this is a generalisation of which origins can be traced within the Typological genealogy. Although sound is categorised as phenomenon similarly to smell, meaning that they both qualify within the Typology of Phenomena, a top-down understanding of each would reveal inconsistencies, especially if one of these were to be applied to the real world circumstances of the other. Sound needs special care when dealt with, especially due to its general superstitious rendering as intangible, which can be easily realigned through a retracing of its origin through its Typological qualities. Yet, it is important to note, as I have mentioned earlier, that although a Type does indeed open up ways of engaging with a particular Thing and its consequent material interaction, a Type is never the Thing itself, but a methodological strategy that incorporates it in complex interactions of signification, embedding it within the continuum of Art as a generative process.