Revisiting the phenomenon of sound as "empty container": the acoustic imagination in Kurt Schwitters's ``ursonata''
Dadaist artist and composer Kurt Schwitters’ s Ursonata (1922-1932) is a sound poem for solo voice based on a made-up verbal language that uses phonetics in German. Percussionist Steven Schick and composer/sound designer Shahrokh Y adegari have arranged a multimedia interpretation of Ursonata, (The New) UrSonata (2006) that amplifies the sounds of the voice as spatiotemporal events. Addressing the spatiotemporal voice in the (The New) UrSonata, this paper raises two goals: (1) to unfold the perception and reception of sound as acoustic imagination, and (2) to discuss acoustic imagination as “empty container” in Henri Lefebvre’s terms, that generates spatiality and bodily thought. To examine the notion of acoustic imagination, I will refer to Henri Lefebvre’s metaphor of “empty container”, which indicates a pure interiority to be filled in. Lefebvre qualifies the ontological status of space as empty container. I intend to use the same metaphor to formulate acoustic imagination. I will elaborate the connection between “empty container” and acoustic imagination by exemplifying the sounds of a coffee machine. Imagine the rhythmic drops of a coffee machine. Listening to the drops, we resonate with the sounds, we map a space through the physical nexus of the sounds, and we orient ourselves within the actual space by the help of the sounds. In other words, being physically and psychically extended by the sound, we draw a space. Acoustic imagination is pure interiority filled with such extension. This very extension produces spatial thought. In his Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty draws our attention to spatiality as ‘bodily thought”. Furthering Merleau-Ponty’ s idea, I will suggest that acoustic imagination constitutes bodily thought. I will then return to Schwitter’s Ursonata and (The New) UrSonata, and situate the spatiotemporal sounds of the voice at the heart of our listening experience. While listening to crystallized fragments of sound, how do we conceive Schick’s voice? How do we hear, imagine, and build symmetries or asymmetries between his voice and our own voices?