Media Performance: On Gestures
Although Flusser speaks about a ‘theory of gestures’, presented in the volume Gestures, his approach can hardly be called a theory. It defines neither subject matter — his examples range from movements of hands to revolutionary movements — nor method. Flusser's approach is however close to media philosophy. The gesture is not an ‘object’ that can be observed as independent from the act of observation. Flusser’s gestures are essentially performative — performing gestures of thinking, which are in the world, and not standing “above”, looking at the world from an objective viewpoint. Flusser’s questions refer to a long philosophical tradition with a specific twist: thinking about and interfering with a technical world.
This paper demonstrates the relevance of Vilém Flusser’s concept of post-industrial (programmed) apparatus in contemporary programmed media theory, as represented in the paper by software studies. Examples of software art projects that investigate the limits of apparatus programmability are introduced as examples of artistic gestures of freedom. The interpretation is supported by references to the general theory of gesture proposed by Flusser. The paper suggests that this new interpretative method, described by the author as a discipline for the ‘new people’ of the future can serve alongside software studies as an appropriate theory of software art, understood as gestures of freedom within the apparatus of programmed media.
The following text explores whether programming a computer (especially with hardware-oriented languages like assembly languages) is a “gesture” in accordance with the theoretical concept of Vilém Flusser. The connections between Flusser's theories and computer theory will be searched for a technically accurate definition of computers and computing. Flusser's gestures of “making” and “writing” will be analyzed to see if they are compatible with the text and the operating terms from computer science. The main part of the paper focuses on the questions of what kind of text (in terms of writing) a computer program is (with examples and digressions in formal language theories) and what kind of operation (in terms of making) the running program is and what the programmer and the machine do for that operation. This culminates in the application of the speech act theory and a cybernetic dialectic of Flusser's use of the term “programming”.
The practice of “listening with the eyes” has a remarkably long history, which in the Western tradition of notated music can be traced back to at least the 16th century. The usage of musical figures or extramusical references leading to literature or fine art or even drawing with melodic lines could be considered a common effect of this practice. Music history, after intermedia and multimedia development in the 20th century, is now heading towards code-based performance. The crucial questions are: What is being performed: music, notation, or the process of creation? And who is the performer and who is the audience?
This paper unearths a hitherto neglected sonic dimension within Vilém Flusser's work. It fuses one of his few essays on the auditive, “the gesture of listening to music,” with his predominantly visually thesis of a “crisis of linearity,” which is read as a powerful media-philosophical and epistemological model. Instead of viewing Flusser's ocularcentrism in the “crisis of linearity” as a shortcoming, Flusser's work on sound and music can be applied to speculate on the radical potential of a sonic dimension in his media-philosophical model. Using the example of archaeoacoustics, I examine the gesture of listening as a challenge to contemporary epistemological paradigms, and assess its implications for a sonic media archaeology.
Vilém Flusser has been most influential with his seminal work on the techno-imaginary. However, several of his essays on composition, sound and listening show the significance that music had for his thinking. Thanks to Annie Goh, one of the editors of Flusser Studies 17, two of Flusser's important early manuscripts on music and sound have recently been translated and published. Flusser wrote these lectures, entitled On Music and On Modern Music, in 1965, at a time when the very concept of western music had been seriously challenged by the post-WWII avant-gardes. Today, in the aftermath of the massive digitization, algorithmization and cybernetization of almost all aspects of western society, culture and politics, Flusser’s gesture of listening, as we argue in this article, might be more relevant than ever.
Of the plethora of observations and contextualizations that Vilém Flusser puts forward in his book Gestures (Flusser 2014), I am interested here, and with respect to current research on archival processes relating to performative arts, in his approach to media theory in particular. This is manifest in the section of the book titled “Beyond Machines” and in the three chapters devoted to the gestures that produce “techno-images”, as Flusser himself dubbed them in a previous work (Flusser 1998b: 9-234): the gestures of photographing, filming and video.