The Geography Of Sound
by David Thomas


02/17/96 - Dept. of Cultural Geography, Clark University, Worcester MA. v.1.1
11/25/96 - Gerrit Rietveld Akademie, Amsterdam. v.1.5
04/04/98 - Disastodrome!, South Bank, London. v.2.0
09/10/98 - Fall Of The Magnetic Empire, Knitting Factory, NYC. v.2.5
07/10/99 - The Savage God Festival, Lewes Live Literature, Lewes (UK) v.2.5.1
02/22/03 - Disastodrome!, Freud Playhouse, UCLA, Los Angeles v.2.5.2
12/01/08 - The School Of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford (UK)
10/8/10 - Main Library, Copenhagen

1996 Version

I can identify and let you hear the sound of the Big Bang, the moment of creation for much of what we recognize as being characteristic of the 20th Century. But for this event you would perceive the world in a fundamentally different way. You would be a person unrecognizable to your present self. Here it is...

[Play Edison's "Mary Had A Little Lamb."]

1877 is Year Zero for the Magnetic Age. The inventor of the light bulb, the man who will later say, "I have not failed - I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work," invents the phonograph. Thomas Alva Edison drones "Mary had a little lamb" onto a wax cylinder, and introduces a framing device for the senses that is fundamental to the art and architectural movements of the 20th Century, a period characterized by the purposeful and deliberate fracturing of Scale. Most powerfully this revolution operates in the realm of sound and music, and fuels the evolution of a narrative frame that will invest the single human voice as Mediator of Scale, a role that we now take for granted to such an extent that it's hard to imagine the world that must have preceded our own.

The fracturing of Scale as a creative tool is evolving in various fields in the 19th Century - literature, theater, painting, etc. It is beyond the scope of this lecture to trace that evolution in all its forms. The most important developments in culture coalesce around technology. The Guttenburg press. The microscope. The telescope. The telephone. The automobile. Etc. It is technology that popularizes and broadcasts new paradigms as it's massaged into the homes and hands of the general population. (It can be argued that the invention of photography is as significant an event as Edison's achievement. For various reasons, again outside the scope of this lecture, I disagree.)

Edison is the Father of Rock n Roll.

Lecture contines...

1998 Version

The Egyptian hieroglyph seems to have represented a far more sophisticated form of written language than is generally granted. There is an argument to be made that the strength of the hieroglyph lay in its embodiment of the idea as a symbol that contains within it poetic, metaphorical, geometrical, and cultural perspectives; that draws, as well, and crucially, on the physical qualities of the senses, on the sensual origin of the idea. It's said that the hieroglyph is a form that allows for emphasizing that we as human beings are taught by our senses. What we know, first we feel. What we know, we see, we smell. The senses metamorphose experience of the world into internal hieroglyphs which become the building blocks of consciousness. From consciousness spring 'ideas' as human beings seek to put into words an interpretation. I suggest this is a more accurate model than the Greek-derived one we are accustomed to.

I'm referring to the way objects and landmarks are arranged, about natural features, buildings, which way the wind blows, how cities evolve and arrange themselves, live and die. The Bride of Commerce on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge faces west and if you stand in a certain place and look across, north-by-northeast, you see the Terminal Tower beyond, dwarfed as if by a monolithic vision of a future that never happened. This hieroglyph, this perspective, acts within consciousness, inspiring vision and ideas. Living in a city in which the most significant landmark is a building called the Terminal Tower, which features in such a hieroglyph shapes personality.

"What's that building?" The out-of-towner says.

'Terminal Tower,' the local answers.

The out-of-towner experiences the words.

/ˈtəːmɪn(ə)l/ /ˈtaʊə/

The local, such a hieroglyph.

{Pic of Bride}

Driving along the Shoreway somewhere near Bratenahl, to the south, sometimes you could see Universal Vibration, just the words painted on the side of a machine shop. You couldn't find it by looking for it. The conscious mind was not in charge of the experience. Only when you weren't looking, driving by, sixty miles an hour down the Shoreway, not thinking much of anything, only then, it was possible that on an impulse you might turn your head at just the right moment.

The sightings of Universal Vibration eventually stopped. The building must have been torn down. Years probably passed before the word started to circulate around town, "Universal Vibration is gone!"

Then it dawns on you that people you might meet at Rebel's cafe two o'clock in the morning, people you'd meet at the library, people you never even think would have experienced such a thing as Universal Vibration, have indeed noticed and talk about it and miss it. They are from where you are from. Maybe not in the same safe and familiar social grouping as you might find yourself in, but these people share part of your life at a meaningful level. They are like you.

Universal Vibration is a hieroglyph. It might not mean much but it means something. Maybe it means that ideas can be more real than physical objects. Maybe it means that the back side of every extraordinary vision is an ordinary fact. Or maybe that both states can exist simultaneously. It's irrelevant. The point is that Universal Vibration, the sighting, the landmark is a principle, a geometric relationship that geography preaches and the mind conforms itself to an internal landscape.

Lecture contines...