978-0-8223-6270-8_601.pdf

Posal to watch rather than look at photographs 2008

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posal to “watch” rather than look at photographs (2008, 16),1 the choice to “listen to” rather than simply “look at” images is a conscious decision to challenge the equation of vision with knowledge by engaging photog- raphy through a sensory register that is critical to Black Atlantic cultural formations: sound. In his foundational writings developing the conceptual framework of the Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy defines sound and music, in particular, as a crucial modality of what he calls “a politics of transfiguration.” His musi- cal transliteration of a sonic politics of transfiguration invites us to at- tend to the “lower frequency” through which these transfigurations are made audible and accessible (37).2 Taking inspiration from Gilroy, it is through sound that I seek a deeper engagement with the forgotten histo- ries and suppressed forms of diasporic memory that these images trans- mit. I theorize sound as an inherently embodied process that registers at multiple levels of the human sensorium. To invoke another counterintui- tion that serves as a second point of theoretical departure, while it may seem an inherent contradiction in terms, sound need not be heard to be perceived. Sound can be listened to, and, in equally powerful ways, sound can be felt; it both touches and moves people.3 In this way, sound must therefore be theorized and understood as a profoundly haptic form of sen- sory contact. My arguments in the chapters that follow extend the range and scope of our understanding of sound by returning to the fundamental definition of what constitutes sound and sonic perception, starting delib- erately and specifically with the lowest sonic frequencies of all. Frequency : In acoustics, the number of complete vibrations or cycles occurring per unit of time in a vibrating system such as a column of
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Listening to Images 7 air. Frequency is the primary determinant of the listener’s perception of pitch. ( Harvard Dictionary of Music Online ) Audible frequency : A periodic vibration whose frequency is audible to the average human. The generally accepted standard range of au- dible frequencies is 20 to 20,000 Hz. Frequencies below 20 Hz are generally felt rather than heard, assuming the amplitude of the vibra- tion is great enough. (Wikipedia.com) In his celebrated 2003 monograph, In the Break , Fred Moten asks, what is “the sound that precedes the image”? Departing from Moten, my invi- tation not just to look but to listen as well to quiet photos requires us to embrace a different understanding of “sound”—a scientific defini- tion of sound as “frequency.” To a physicist, audiologist, or musicologist, sound consists of more than what we hear. It is constituted primarily by vibration and contact and is defined as a wave resulting from the back- and-forth vibration of particles in the medium through which it travels.
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