Essay commissioned in 2017 by Oxford University Press for The Oxford Handbook of Sound Art, eds. Jane Grant, John Matthias and David Prior (2021).
Are the predictable associations between sound and darkness, night and music, based solely on the ability of the aural sense to focus thanks to a reduction of the visible field? Even if the answer lies in a correlation between physical manifestation and physiological adaptation, the socio-cultural scaffolding that stems from this simple fact is of interest.
Sites of investigation: John Oswald’s pitch black performances; Studio 303’s Noises from the Dark series; Adrian Piper’s Untitled Performance at Max’s Kansas City; Andre Lepecki’s (and by extension Fred Moten’s) ‘shared aurality’ active in the quartet of darkness/blackness/potentiality/freedom; Derek Jarman’s Blue and, especially, Akira Mizuta Lippit’s analysis of the film where sound becomes image and image becomes sound; the use of darkness at the famed 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris; the Saydnaya Military Prison; Guy Debord’s Hurlements en faveur de Sade; amongst others.
Is sound necessarily of the dark, from the dark, in the dark? Eclipses and shadows, caves and caverns are moments and sites where and when sounds thrive, or at least are in voked and conjured. How does the night sound? Merleau-Ponty begins to answer the question by depicting the night as generator of a different kind of space, one that ‘has no outlines; … is pure depth without foreground or background, without surfaces and with out any distance separating it from me’. The implications on sound of the inside/outside blur, the porous muddle, are that its sensorial properties have ontological consequences.
Keywords: night, darkness, blackness, acinema, dream