Text video using screen capture. Commissioned for Continent Journal, Issue 2.2, 2012.
Notes on Notes on Sound, July 18, 8:34pm Isaac Linder
Paul de Man begins his landmark text, Allegories of Reading, with a cheeky epigraph from the philosopher Blaise Pascal. It reads, ‘Quand on lit trop vite ou trop doucement on n’entend rien’ (When you read too quickly or too slowly you hear nothing). The epigraph is cheeky because in the course of de Man’s work he avoids elucidating at what speed one would one would be able to properly hear the texts to which they are attending. For de Man the force of literary tropes—the way they seduce and structure their multiple readings—relies on the intimate proximity of figures and properties in the relational linkages of a text. Textual spatialization trumps and belies the importance of the tempo and temporality.
Enter the “site”-specific text videos by the Korean-American writer and improvising musician, Bonnie Jones. In these works, unique to the venues that have solicited them, the time of writing is captured and stored in a complex digital apparatus in the first instance, along with all of the hesitations, repetitions, and sudden keystrokes attending its production. Speed is pro-scribed— written in advance—and the time (five minutes and sixteen seconds) of Notes on Sound is spatialized into an affective mesh that ensnares the viewer in a doppler effect created between the speed of writing and the speed of reading. We’re caught in the tempo of Jones’ decisions (that is, unless we fast forward, pause, or rewind the text; unless it freezes or takes too long to load). We find ourselves subvocalizing along to a deceptively simple prompt (“please now together count back from one hundred”) as the phonetic units that comprise the video permute into polyphony and warp like the minimalist pixelations of a concrete poem into the grammar of the Notes (that is, unless we are reading along out loud). We are forced to feel our form of reading as it unfolds, in a manner arguably more proliferate and protocolized than would have been known in Pascal’s time. Would he have been able to hear anything?
With its understated use of syntax and short-circuiting Notes on Sound is without a soundtrack, but by no means silent: Meditation on counting, on the sound of counting, and what counts as sounding; on the way we count on sound as a pre-text for things to ring true, as they do in the famously less calculable arenas of, say, emotion and poetry. Notes on Sound is a record of these. If I become more emotional about this it is only because it forces us to hear her.