Focus Scientific Research

Situating Cinesonics

Project lead: Kristina Pia Hofer
Institute of Fine Arts & Media Art
Austrian Science Fund (FWF): V 770 Richter-Programm (inkl. Richter-PEEK)
Presently, ideas of what cinema is are changing. Movies are no longer exclusively produced for theaters, but also for galleries, museums, concert venues and clubs. Audiences are not necessarily watching and listening to them in silence, on a large screen and in a dark room, but can run them anytime, anywhere on handheld devices. Many artists and theorists working with film stress that the medium can no longer be thought as purely visual, but as also perceived through other senses, like that of hearing, smell and/or touch. These shifts suggest that the concept of the cinematic – the idea which reception sitatutions, media, objects and artworks can evoke an impression of cinema – are multiple and heterogeneous, and much less tied to the singular technological, formal or institutional setup that film theories have often argued for.
Situating Cinesonics explores some of these new and different ideas of the cinematic by focusing on what I call cinesonic performances: audiovisual art acts that rely on the live performance of sound to generate a cinematic experience. The project asks how these acts – which often do not 'look like' cinema at the first glance – nevertheless create a 'cinematic feel.' Since I am interested in describing sound as a material phenomenon, I will track this 'feel' via the different bodies involved in performing and witnessing audiovisual art acts: the bodies of performers on and off screen, the bodies of audiences, the bodies of instruments, playback and recording devices, the bodies of technologies of production, exhibition and dissemination, and the bodies of the spaces that hold the cinesonic acts I research. This focus responds to recent developments in the arts, where a growing number of works explore cinema as a medium of (live) sound, be it via collaborations of visual artists and musicians, by staging cinematic narratives without images and by music only, or by playing with invisible cinematic narrative devices like the voiceover. Many of the practices I dicuss, like the DJ performances of Camilla Sørensen and Greta Christensen, or Grada Kilomba’s multimedia performance Illusions (2018), put an emphasis on the entanglement of technical setups and human bodies. Thus, they bring up questions that present-day film studies have not yet sufficiently addressed: which components of a work, performance, screening situation does the materiality of film sound generate from, and what theoretical language can be used to describe it? How can components like the volume or ADSR envelope of a specific sound event tell the story of a film? How do cinematic sounds impact upon audiences differently when moving from one context to the other – for instance, from the movie theater to the museum, from the archive to the club, from projection in a gallery to file on a streaming platform? And how do different audiences make different sense and different experiences from the same artworks, the same sounds?