RETOUCHING McLUHAN – THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE Conference Lecture Abstract
Topic: Electro-acoustic systems
This talk will re-examine McLuhan’s legacy via the mid-1960s work of John Cage and his frequent collaborator David Tudor, in order to explore the intimate relations between 1960s media arts and concurrent projects in experimental music.
Since around 1960, with Cartridge Music (for “amplified small sounds”), Cage had integrated electronic technologies as central to his musical practice. And by 1965-1966, with the Variations V – VII, Cage and Tudor expanded this practice to the design and animation of elaborate electro-acoustic systems, including their projects for “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” in 1966.
Efforts to think McLuhan’s work in relation to Cage’s work have often seized on McLuhan’s pronouncements about “auditory space” as characterized by total involvement, immersion and simultaneity, and newly globalized networks in which “everything is happening at once everywhere” – terms that Cage himself embraced. Yet Cage and Tudor’s pioneering electro-acoustic projects of the mid-1960s offer a different set of models for thinking about technology as an extension of the human body, as an extended nervous system that interpenetrates technological and physiological realms. In our efforts to theorize the emergence of a new electronic environments in the 1960s, these projects – which were intimately related to the emergence of expanded cinema and increasingly technicist models in the visual arts – have been largely neglected.