We are human only in contact

“Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and in conviviality, with what is not human.”

(page 22)

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. NYC: Vintage, 1997.

Borrowed from the Grande Bibliothèque (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec).

Colours present themselves in continuous flux

“In musical compositions, so long as we hear merely single tones, we do not hear music. Hearing music depends on the recognition of the in-between of the tones, of their placing and of their spacing.

In writing, a knowledge of spelling has nothing to do with an understanding of poetry.

Equally, a factual identification of colours within a given painting has nothing to do with a sensitive seeing nor with an understanding of the colour action within the painting.

Our study of colour differs fundamentally from a study which anatomically dissects colorants (pigments) and physical qualities (wave length).

Our concern is the interaction of colour: that is, seeing what happens between colours.

We are able to hear a single tone. But we almost never (that is, without special devices) see a single colour unconnected and unrelated to other colours. Colours present themselves in continuous flux, constantly related to changing neighbours and changing conditions.

As a consequence, this proves for the reading of colour what Kandinsky often demanded for the reading of art: what counts is not the what but the how.”

(page 5)

Josef Albers. Interaction of Colour. New Haven: Yale UP, 1963/2013.

Borrowed from the Grande Bibliothèque (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec).

An enormously complex apparatus

“The human ear, as yours has amply demonstrated in this one microsecond, is an enormously complex apparatus. Two ways to describe the power of a sound wave are by intensity, the amount of power (watts) generated over a fixed distance, and by sound pressure level (SPL), the amount of force (dynes) exerted on the molecules. Someone with normal hearing can detect a sound so soft that its intensity is a mere 1/10,000th of a millionth of a millionth watts per square centimetre. That sound has an SPL of just .0002 dynes, 140 million times smaller than the force needed to support an object weighing one ounce against the force of gravity. An audible sound at 3,000 Hz, the frequency at which our ears are most sensitive, can move the eardrum as little as 1/10th of the diameter of a hydrogen molecule.”

(page 18)

Greg Milner. Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music. NY: Faber and Faber, 2009.

Borrowed from the Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal, ILL.

Our only truth is the stories we tell each other and ourselves

“There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.”

Oliver Sacks, “Speak, Memory.” The New York Review of Books, February 21, 2013.

A wild and multiplicitous otherness

“For it is likely that the “inner world” of our Western psychological experience, like the supernatural heaven of Christian belief, originates in the loss of our ancestral reciprocity with the animate earth. When the animate powers that surround us are suddenly construed as having less significance than ourselves, when the generative earth is abruptly defined as a determinate object devoid of its own sensations and feelings, then the sense of a wild and multiplicitous otherness (in relation to which human existence has always oriented itself) must migrate, either into a supersensory heaven beyond the natural world, or else into the human skull itself – the only allowable refuge, in this world, for what is ineffable and unfathomable.”

(page 10)

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. NYC: Vintage, 1997.

Borrowed from the Grande Bibliothèque (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec).

No theory of composition itself leads to the production of art

“This book, therefore, does not follow an academic conception of “theory and practice.” It reverses this order and places practice before theory, which, after all, is the conclusion of practice.”

Also, the book does not begin with optics and physiology of visual perception, nor with any presentation of the physics of light and wave length.

Just as the knowledge of acoustics does not make one musical – neither on the productive nor on the appreciative side – so no colour system by itself can develop one’s sensitivity for colour. This is parallel to the recognition that no theory of composition by itself leads to the production of music, or of art.

Practical exercises demonstrate through colour deception (illusion) the relativity and instability of colour. And experience teaches that in visual perception there is a discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect.

What counts here – first and last – is not so-called knowledge of so-called facts, but vision – seeing. Seeing here implies Schauen and is coupled with fantasy, with imagination.”

(page 1)

Josef Albers. Interaction of Colour. New Haven: Yale UP, 1963/2013.

Borrowed from the Grande Bibliothèque (Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec).

The sound finally becomes “real”

“The inner ear is barely the size of a grape. Within it lies a snail-shell-shaped organ called the cochlea, filled with fluid and bisected by a membrane that varies in length from half a millimetre on one end to 1/25th of a millimetre on the other. The vibrations from the stirrup displace the fluid. The way this fluid is displaced allows your auditory system to determine loudness and pitch. [The drummer’s] vibrations begin to become something we can understand, thanks to thousands of hair cells in the cochlea that make synaptic connections with the auditory nerve. As far as you are concerned, [the drummer’s] blast is no longer a wave. It is now a series of electrical impulses.”

“The nerve endings of the auditory nerve interface with various cells, which eventually connect to a part of your brain called the medial geniculate body. From there, nerve fibers carry the signal to the auditory region of your cerebral cortex. It is here, after this arduous journey of vibrations begetting more vibrations and then finally electrical signals, that the sound of [the] kick drum finally becomes “real” to you.”

(page 17-18)

Greg Milner. Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music. NY: Faber and Faber, 2009.

Borrowed from the Bibliothèques publiques de Montréal, ILL.