Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body



Published by Errant Bodies Press (Audio Issues Vol. 5), 296 page, black and white images. Design by fliegende Teilchen, Berlin. Index by Juliana Pivato. ISBN: 978-0-9827439-4-2.

This book delineates a territory of investigation for sound art and its various manifestations through historical, theoretical, polemical and critical analyses of artistic, musical and literary works. In doing so, Migone gives radical definition to an auditory study that includes the complexity of silence and mutism, identity and abjecthood, and language and its stutterances. The recurring site of these stagings is the somatic under all its forms: embodied and disembodied, fragmented and amplified, vocal and mute.

Concrete sites that are investigated include: Antonin Artaud’s writings, Alvin Lucier’s recording “I am sitting in a room”, Erik Satie’s composition “Vexations”, Marina Abramovic’s performance “Rhythm 0”, Adrian Piper’s “Untitled Performance for Max’s Kansas City”, Melville’s short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson’s documentary film “First Contact”, and John Cage’s “4’33””.

For all those who wish to hear anew, you need consult the microphage, sonobrut, statictician, parasitist, glissomaniac, salivatrope, rhythmologist, anticrooner, petomane, slurpophile, melophobe, stutterist, phonophone, linguadrome aka Christof Migone. Sonic Somatic is not only an extensive historical survey and an intensive theoretical analysis, but also a do-it-yourself guide to disarticulation and dissonance, aphasia and schizophonia, glossolalia and deliria. This book is a must for anybody involved in experimental sound, music, performance.
—Allen S. Weiss

Print versions available via Errant Bodies Press, DAP, or Amazon.

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table of contents

table of contents
list of figures

chapter one / soundmutesilence
1.0 heretofore unheard histories of air disturbances
1.1 sound itself
1.2 unheard of
1.3 breakdown
2.0 taciturntablism
2.1 reductio
2.2 mootmute
3.0 disquietude
3.1 this quiet
3.2 resisting arrest: the speechless body in motion

chapter two / soundmouthbody
1.0 mouthpores
1.1 mouth agape
1.2 frozen speech
2.0 flatus vocis: somatic winds
2.1 south winds
2.2 incontinence
2.3 exit wound
3.0 leaks: stories of the spit self

chapter three / soundtimeslanguage
1.0 utter the stutter
1.1 theperformanceofinarticulationandporosity
1.2 remainder
1.3 arrhythmia and claustrophilia
1.4 scream and run, run, run
2.0 metronomics
2.1 vexations
2.2 furniture audience
2.3 it never ends

chapter four / soundspacebeyond
1.0 volume
1.1 of confinement and infinity
1.2 within
1.3 provisional place and speech
1.4 slippery threads
2.0 depthcharges
2.1 pneumatics
2.2 space is the place is the time is the song
2.3 frictions: sound objects and surfaces
2.4 ricochets
2.5 the announcement which stops the shot
3.0 as it empties out

1.0 statement on the state of sound art



Tempo, Vol. 69, No. 271, January 2015, pp. 97-98 (pdf), review by Stacey Sewell

The Senses & Society, Vol. 8 – Issue 3, 2013, pp. 354-358 (pdf), “Exploring Unsound Noises”, review by Nathan Heuvingh

Neural (2013).
The theory of sound art often finds its references in the realm of music. But there are other possibilities: concepts, or references to literature, theatre, cinema, or any other field of culture/knowledge. Sound art in a way qualifies itself to use sound as a medium to make art, but there is no compulsion to conceptually equate sound with music in all situations. In this book Migone writes about sound art in a double role: both as an artist and a theoretician. The composition of the four chapters (three consecutive words whose first is always sound) legibly defines the boundaries of his discourse. For example the first chapter on “unsound” gives us headings such as: Soundmutesilence, the symbolic performances analyzed in Soundbodymouth; Soundtimeslanguage, which looks at the pivotal role played by language; and Soundspacebeyond, which considers different types of spaces/places. This is a prolific study, supplemented by a good number of exemplary (and sometimes lesser known) works. The author also deals with archetypes like Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room, or Satie’s Vexations and Cage’s 4’33”, but he uses them to engage and constantly interweave in wider territories. The aural perspective of many performative pieces and having the countless expressions of the body as a focal reference, guides the reader in a conceptual trip full of new perspectives (including discovering plenty of artworks), hinting at further original explorations.

Musicworks, No. 116 – Summer 2013, p. 62, Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body (Errant Bodies Press) and Fingering 2xLP (Squint Press), review by Chris Kennedy
It comes as no surprise that the first word of Sonic Somatic is “Merdre!” Migone has long been a purveyor of bodily functions, putting out recordings of knuckle-cracks (Crackers, 1999), collected bottles of spit (Spit, 1997-1999), and crassly named music projects (Fingering, 2012). However, he is extremely capable of intellectualizing this rudeness into a legitimate body of knowledge, one fully on display in Sonic Somatic. Migone takes the vibrato of the extra “r” in the above Merdre– pronounced as it is by Alfred Jarry’s Ubu– as an entry point into his discussion of the body as a punctuation point for language and sound– the body as both a generator and resonator of many of the variety of sounds, silences and noises discussed in the book. For Migone, the body is key to sound art because it leaks; the purity of sound is always disrupted because of our shuffles, stutters, farts, and coughs. For an art form still trying to define itself, this porosity allows for a multivalent approach to its possible definitions and an allowance for some of the underbelly to seep in. The text manages to balance a strong throughline– from silence, through sound, language, space, and then death (back to silence)– with a densely layered series of art-and-sound historical reference points. At one point, as just one example, Christian Marclay shares a paragraph with Aristophanes, Artaud, and Pujol the Pétomane. Migone carves digressions into interesting arguments, allowing the weight of mounting evidence to create a dense case for the intrusion of bodily functions into the sound-art terrain. Despite its subject matter, it is hard to describe this book as irreverent, because Migone very deftly writes transgression into the history books. For all its excesses, it is very tightly wound.

In contrast, Fingering is live, loose and lurid. It’s a two-LP set culled from Migone’s live solo performances over the last dozen years. His instruments of choice have been gutted-and-reworked reel-to-reel tape recorders, the reproductive equivalent of a prepared piano. He “plays” them with contact mikes, sticking them into the cavities of the machines’ bodies as they run, creating a live collage out of a searching, textured noise and the slips and slurs of the machine. The results are very tactile. The titleFingering implies a certain embodied application; perhaps even a borderline explicit one, and the sound recordings share similar tawdry textures. The recordings are surprisingly intimate, despite the fact that they document live performances. One senses by the audiences’ stillness that they sit rapt in the erotic charge, likely aided by Migone often utilizing a live video-feed in his performances to amplify his actions. The slurpy, tetchy noise of Fingering makes it the perfect audio companion to Migone’s book. Migone is somehow able to make the machine sound fleshy and alive, creating a borderline disturbing listen (a special accomplishment for a noise record that isn’t mastered at the usual extremely high volume). But it is the last side of the two-LP set that connects most directly back to his book. A series of words (fingers and in) are edited down to just the sound of saliva forming on lips and tongue, before and after the word is stated. At each point, a voice is trying to speak, but only the absence of language and the presence of body is heard.

The WIRE, August 2012 #342, review by Daniella Cascella
On page 75 of Sonic Somatic, a new collection of texts by Toronto based artist, writer and curator Christof Migone, you will find a photograph from the turn of the century depicting a medium with ectoplasm oozing out of her mouth. Is she emitting something, or choking on it? On the book’s cover, you see a detail of Concrete Tape Recorder Piece (1968) by Bruce Nauman: a tape recording of a scream, silenced by the concrete block around it. At the end, the collection sees you off with a photograph taken from the back door of the Maverick Concert Hall, Woodstock, New York, where John Cage’s 4’33” was first performed in 1952 – a view from an uncommon vantage point, gaping in. Sonic Somatic takes shape among these pivotal marks: choking on its own material while oozing it out; where a scream meets a block of concrete, between literal meaning and bodily utterance, between the aural and the unheard.

“Sound art is unsound,” Migone argues. This is the first of many puns and neologisms such as “taciturntablism”, “depth charges”, “sound art for the hard of hearing” and “utter the stutter” through which he articulates his thoughts; his painstaking attention to language and his flair for deadpan word combinations glue the book together and make up a singular reading experience. Migone’s writing defies the long-winded traits of sonic theory by exhausting them, filling up and emptying out any reasoning, again and again. If sound art is unsound, then the discourse around sound is theoretically bulimic, and Migone captures this noxious state, scrutinising all the words devoured and expelled in the process.

Throughout these pages, words are excited or numbed by repetition until there seems to be no more to read or say. Is this book trying to push its readers away from its textual grip? Sonic Somatic is apparently focused on sound art, and yet its strength lies in keeping ‘sound art’ out of focus: the book exists on the edge of performance, installation art, sound works, literature and poetry, pursuing their sounding in absentia and seeking to achieve “a sonic state of silence”. Ultimately, the book operates as a critical prop for Migone the performer, the unseen taciturntablist; rather than trying to encage sound art in core definition, he engages with the peripheries of sound. Likewise it does not prescribe a given set of works in order to define a canon: instead, it is through these that Migone offers his hearing, his silencing, his writing and thinking. From pieces by Alvin Lucier to performances by Adrian Piper, from texts by Antonin Artaud and Samuel Beckett to Herman Melville’s Bartleby, any preconceived ideas of sound art are thwarted by Migone’s words into an anticipation or recollection of their bodily other, into emblematic tropes such as stutters, saliva, bodily emissions, loops and silences.

“Every time, [art] takes a new breath with the same old lungs,” Migone writes, and the circularity inherent in this book prompted me to metaphorically hyperventilate though its pages, hearing inner voices in reading, phantom voices in listening. At first I ignored them and read Sonic Somatic as a linear text: it eluded me. I tried to reason through it and I was stuck at a dead end. Finally I looked again at the photograph of the Maverick Concert Hall on the last page. I looked from the outside at a place I did not belong to; I struggled to figure out the space between the sonic and the bodily; I was fully aware of its transient yet vital substance. This book moved me away from itself and left me in the space of my own listening – I found myself shaping it as I read. It is an uneasy space, constantly under siege by words: a space of conflicted recognition. The moment I stopped trying to sort out Migone’s words in a conclusive manner and experienced them instead as a bodily presence, as a form or as a cut, Sonic Somatic disclosed its inner functioning and finally revealead itself: not as a book on sound art, but a work of sound art – as stuttering, fickle, provoking and unsound as that might be.