10 May 2021

We Are Transmitters: Reflections on Síomón Solomon's Audiopoetics

"As we live, we are transmitters of life. 
And when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us." [1]
Rüdiger Görner describes Síomón Solomon's 'Spills of mire I swallowed inside the tower' as "an inspirational meditation on the poetics of audio drama" [2] and I'm happy to endorse this view and echo the praise. 
Consisting of five short movements, the text is pretty much perfect as is and hardly needs commentary; it certainly doesn't deserve to be summarized or stripped to its bare bones (so that these can in turn be ground down into fine dust in the name of analysis) 
And so, what follows are mostly just brief reflections of my own, inspired by Solomon's in the first three movements [3] ...
(i) On dying of imagination (or dancing to the radio till you're dead)
What do fictional adultress Lady Chatterley and epileptic post-punk icon Ian Curtis have in common? The answer is that both regarded the act of listening to the radio as a potentially suicidal gesture, as Greil Marcus terms it [4].    
Lawrence provides a short but rather terrifying description of Sir Clifford Chatterley turning on and tuning in to his newly installed radio and becoming queer in the process, much to Connie's amazement and horror:
"And he would sit alone for hours listening [...] with a blank, entranced expression on his face, like a person losing his mind, and listen, or seem to listen, to the unspeakable thing." [5]
As for Curtis, the radio, says Solomon, functioned in his imagination not merely as  device to dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to, but as "an acoustic accelerant of auto-destruction, a transmission machine for self-slaughter" [6], that leads to an everlasting silence that might be construed as the ultimate example of dead air; i.e., the void that exists "in the dark heart of hearing" [7].
(ii) 'Sometimes a wind blows': A quick wor(l)d in David Lynch's ear
For some, the ear is the most poetic organ. For others, it's the most open and obliging organ. And for ear fetishists all around the lobe - which, if Solomon's account is true, includes filmmaker David Lynch - aural sex is the only game in town [8].
For D. H. Lawrence, hearing is "perhaps the deepest of the senses" [9] and the one we have no choice about; i.e., we can't close our ears in the same manner we can shut our eyes, although we can of course block our ears with beeswax, like Odysseus, should we wish to do so.

Responding to this latter point, Lawrence writes:

"We may voluntarily quicken our hearing, or make it dull. But we have really no choice of what we hear. Our will is eliminated. Sound acts direct, almost automatically, upon the affective centres. And we have no power of going forth from the ear. We are always and only recipient." [10]  
One suspects that Solomon would challenge Lawrence's thinking here, particularly the latter claim, believing as he does that "the physical ear is not merely a passive cavity or vacuous opening but a transfigurative chamber of auditory fantasy" [11]

However, Solomon might be rather more sympathetic to (or at least more intrigued by) what Lawrence says here about music:
"The singing of birds acts almost entirely upon the centres of the breast. [...] 
      So does almost all our music, which is all Christian in tendency. But modern music is analytical, critical, and it has discovered the power of ugliness. Like our martial music, it is of the upper plane [... acting] direct upon the thoracic ganglian. Time was, however, when music acted upon the sensual centres direct. We hear it still in savage music, and in the roll of drums, and in the roaring of lions, and in the howling of cats. And in some voices still we hear the deeper resonance of the sensual mode of consciouness." [12]      
(iii) 'The Ether Will Now Oblige'
I'm pleased that Solomon brings the Italian Futurists into his discussion of audiopoetics. 
I'm particularly pleased to see Luigi Russolo, author of The Art of Noise (1916), given a shout out, as he anticipated Lawrence's thinking in Fantasia concerning the relationship between sound and the material unconscious - just as he anticipated everything that was to unfold in music-as-technology in the twentieth-century. 
In another memorable passage, Solomon writes:

"As a culture transforms, the aesthetic spectrum of listening, its scale of aural tolerances and refusals, is continuously recalibrated. Accoring to Russolo's epistolary argument, the ear of the Classical age in music could never have borne the modern orchestra's arduous dissonances. The introduction of nineteeth-century machine technology decisively ushered in the advent of noise - which immediately claimed, it is asserted, an absolute sovereignty over human sensibility. As for us multi-layered, late and lonely moderns [...] while we may still be shaken by Wagner and Beethoven, are we any longer stirred?" [13]
If it's true, on the one hand, that noise annoys, so do we moderns love - and seem to need - a constant stream of machine-produced sound as a "stimulant whose manufactured proliferation [...] has become perversely anaesthetizing and/or a form of consensual ambient pollution" [14] 
The one thing we do not want - and seem to fear - is silence. For that, we no longer have ears, even though it is the silence - that great bride of all creation - from which we are born and to which we must return [15]
[1] D. H. Lawrence, 'We are transmitters', in The Poems,  Vol. I, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 389.
[2] Síomón Solomon, 'Spills of mire I swallowed inside the tower (an audiopoetic symphony in five short movements)', in Hölderlin's Poltergeists, (Peter Lang, 2020), pp. 89-119. 
      Professor Görner's comment is taken from his blurb on the back cover of this book. He goes on to add that, in short, "Solomon's work is a stunning testimony to the significance of the audiopoetic in our increasingly prosaic world". 

[3] It's not that I didn't find the last two sections - which discuss Greek (amphi)theatrics and the politics of the Hörspiel respectively - of interest, but they belong to areas of research about which I have almost no knowledge and so don't feel qualified to join in the conversation.      

[4] Greil Marcus, The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs, (Yale University Press, 2015), p. 33, quoted by Solomon on p. 90 of Hölderlin's Poltergeists.
[5] D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover, ed. Michael Squires, (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 110.
[6]  Síomón Solomon, Hölderlin's Poltergeists, p. 90. 
      Solomon is referring to the Joy Division debut single, 'Transmission', released in October 1979 on Factory Records. Readers unfamiliar with the track - and with Ian Curtis - are encouraged to click here and watch the official video (a live performance on Something Else (15 Sept 1979)). 
[7] Síomón Solomon, Hölderlin's Poltergeists, p. 91. 
[8] Solomon notes of the Blue Velvet director: "Legend has it that Lynch became so fixated with his film's prosthetic ear that he and his make-up supervisor Jeff Goodwin came to regard it as a character in its own right - calling it 'Mr Ear', redesigning it out of silicone rather than latex and even embellishing it, in a superbly disquieting fetishistic signature, with locks of Lynch's own scissored hair." See Hölderlin's Poltergeists, pp. 99-100. 
[9] D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious, ed. Bruce Steele, (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 103. 

[10] Ibid.
[11] Síomón Solomon, Hölderlin's Poltergeists, p. 101. 

[12] D. H.Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious, pp. 103-104. 
      It's interesting that Lawrence mentions the howling of cats as a form of singing that acts directly on the sensual centres. According to Johnny Rotten, his mother once described Kate Bush's singing as sounding like a bag of cats and yet, despite this - or because of this - Rotten loves Kate Bush, as does Síomón Solomon, who describes her musical persona as an angel-cum-banshee. See Hölderlin's Poltergeists, p. 93.  
[13]  Síomón Solomon, Hölderlin's Poltergeists, pp 102-103.
[14] Ibid., p. 103. 

[15] See D. H. Lawrence, 'Silence', in The Poems, Vol. I., p. 612. 
This is the 5th - and possibly final - post in a series inspired by Síomón Solomon's work in Hölderlin's Poltergeists. The earlier four posts are: 



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