4th International Conference

Digital Culture & AudioVisual Challenges

Interdisciplinary Creativity in Arts and Technology

Hybrid - Corfu/Online, May 13-14, 2022

Echo and Narcissus; and the contest for aural space.
Date and Time: 13/05/2022 (19:25-21:20)
Nigel Helyer

In this article, I invite you to journey through history through what I call the Sonic Commons, a resonant and contested geography that encompasses shared human sonic experiences, public, private and even imagined through literature. Our journey will touch upon the strong perceptual relationships between sound, site and memory and the ideological role that architecture, technology, and Capital play in transforming sound to affect and persuade a listener’s behaviour.
We will detour around the cacophony of the street riot and the strains of the protest song and steer clear of the shockwaves of direct conflict in order to explore the more subtle sonic disturbances of daily life that reflect the inexorable drive towards the privatization and technologization of the public sound realm and the consequent erosion of the sonic commons - but we shall also encounter strategies of adaptation and resistance.
To guide us through this mythical terrain of aural exchange and transaction the ghosts of Echo and Narcissus have been recruited as ambassadors of alienation and agents of the de-materialization, whereby sound is detached from its source to be relayed, re-played and reassigned to serve other agencies. In this regard, the love-crossed pair stand as a warning that our Sonic Commons, like Liberty and Democracy, only exists by dint of eternal vigilance.

Narcissus now his sixteenth year began,
Just turn'd of boy, and on the verge of man;
Many a friend the blooming youth caress'd,
Many a love-sick maid her flame confess'd:
Such was his pride, in vain the friend caress'd,
The love-sick maid in vain her flame confess'd.

Once, in the woods, as he pursu'd the chace,
The babbling Echo had descry'd his face;
She, who in others' words her silence breaks,
Nor speaks herself but when another speaks.
Echo was then a maid, of speech bereft,
Of wonted speech; for tho' her voice was left,
Juno a curse did on her tongue impose,
To sport with ev'ry sentence in the close.

Echo and Narcissus, their stories forever intertwined since Ovid’s retelling of the Greek myth which collides two forms of reflection; Echo the talkative nymph yet a chatterbox with no other use of speech than she has now; she could repeat only the last words out of many and Narcissus the vain youth who rejects the advances of the nymph and falls in love with his own reflection.
A curse placed upon Echo by Zeus limited her speech to mimic the last words of those around her. After her brush with unrequited love for Narcissus, she faded away into the forest so that only her voice remained to inhabit the wooded slopes.
Echo’s voice a revenant, her pronouncements mere cuts, disjunctions, and glitches that constitute an anti-communication a truly Schizophonic speech, dislocated not only from her body but decoupled from discourse and meaning. In many respects, Echo’s voice stands as a metaphor for the fate of biological and environmental sounds  Biophony and Geophony, displaced by Anthrophony and appropriated by the technologies of communication, recording, and diffusion.
After shunning Echo, Narcissus lay beside a forest pool, entranced by an image of youth and beauty. Not recognizing his own reflection, he became deeply enamored of the visage which mirrored his every move, but which agonizingly vanished each time he attempted to reach out with his lips.

For as his own bright image he survey'd,
He fell in love with the fantastick shade;

He died at that spot, disconsolate, weeping as the nymph had done, his sobs repeated throughout the woods through the reverberations of Echo. As his body melded with the forest floor a flower we know as a Narcissus bloomed even as a shade standing on the shores of the River Styx ready to cross into Hades, Narcissus still obsessively sought his reflection in the turbid waters.
Consider the myth of Echo and Narcissus as analogous to the coupling of Audio-Vision3 with their entwined fates transformed by reflection and repetition as embodied as the copy and its mass production causing a transfer of meaning from a physical source to the symbolic. The couple struggle in an uneasy asymmetrical relationship that rapidly moves from the material world to the ethereal; both becoming isolated and alienated.

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