Sound Pictures – Pre-Watch/Read/Listen

CFA: Sound Pictures - Music & Philosophy

The British Society of Aesthetics is delighted to sponsor Sound Pictures.

(Please note that registration to attend the ‘live’ zoom webinar has now closed).

Welcome to the Sound Pictures watch/listen/read ahead area from which you can access various papers, talks, interviews and artistic performances. The conference is aimed at a broad audience so we hope there is something here to engage with philosophically for artists, musicians, undergraduate students from a broad variety of disciplines, and of course, for researchers working on the topic. The introduction film and interviews are aimed primarily at those less familiar with what is distinctive about this question philosophically, or with a particular speakers’ work, or who are newly interested in the kind of questions we pose here.

Since there is quite a bit of content overall, we have put together a quicklinks summary table underneath the introductory film (below and on this page).

We look forward to meeting up with you (on zoom) on the 10th July to hear Mitch Green’s live keynote and for the Q&A sessions with the other speakers.

The Theme

Imagine a sculpture made to be heard, or a picture that can be played on a banjo. Although many artworks are multi-sensory in the sense that they invite appreciation by sight, sound, movement and even touch (e.g film and immersive theatre) it might seem odd to say a simple drawing is genuinely multisensory. We don’t expect a drawing to look like the taste of strawberries, just as we don’t expect warm vanilla to taste like triangles.   

This expectation carries over to appreciation. It is natural to think that when your friend remarks on a painting  they will say something about how it looks, rather than how it sounds. But, given that multi-sensory appreciation is held to be ‘the rule and not the exception in perception’ (Shimojo and Shams, 2001) do we ever appreciate a work with a single sensory mode? Does adequate appreciation of (apparently) single sensory artworks (for example, a painting) require input from the other senses? 

Quicklinks to pre-watch/read/listen (uploading from 10th June)

ContributorFilm TitleFormatAvailable
Vanessa BrasseyConference overview and topic introductionvideoyes
Brassey/ChmelewskyInterview about ‘Composing for Film’ (intro to multi sensory appreciation)videoyes
Brassey/DurvasulaInterview about Graphic Notations (intro to multi sensory appreciation)videoyes
Mitch GreenInterview with Prof Mitch Green videoyes
Mitch Green ‘Live’ Zoom keynotevideo yes
Derek MatraversInterview with Prof Derek Matraversvideoyes
Derek MatraversPre-watch keynote – ‘Mixed Modalities’ videoyes
Derek MatraversPre-read keynote – ‘Mixed Modalities’pdfyes
Jenny JudgeMusical presentation ‘Are songs really hybrid artworks?’videoyes
Jenny JudgePre-watch keynote – ‘Visual Music’videoyes
Jenny JudgePre-read keynote -‘Visual Music’pdfyes
Natalie BowlingPre-watch paper -‘Perception of Self and Other in Mirror-Sensory Synaesthesia’videoyes
Jason LeddingtonPre-read paper – ‘Moving Audiovisual Pictures’pdfyes
Colette OlivePre-listen Podcast ‘Seeing sense: on the Aesthetic Experience as Genuinely Multi-Modal’MP3
(see below)
Nicola Durvasula‘La Lila’ – featuring Durvasula (piano) and Anna Phoebe (violin)video yes
Nicola Durvasula‘Interlude’ – – featuring Durvasula (piano) and Anna Phoebe (violin)video yes
Nicola Durvasula‘108’ – featuring Durvasula (piano) and Anna Phoebe (violin)video yes
Nicola Durvasula‘Sea shapes’ – featuring Durvasula (piano) and Anna Phoebe (violin)video yes
Brassey/DurvasulaNicola Durvasula Interview Studio about ‘La Lila’video Yes
Nicola Durvasula Interview Studio about ‘Interlude’video yes
Nicola Durvasula Interview Studio about ‘108’video yes
Nicola Durvasula Interview Studio about ‘Sea Shapes’video yes
Brassey/DyrstadHow does this picture sound to you? This is how some of Brassey’s paintings sounded to Dyrstad – Brassey (painter) and Jørgen Dyrstad (piano)video
(for more, see below)


Please join us for the live keynote + Q&A on 10th July 2021 4-7pm              

On the 10th July, Professor Mitch Green will give a live keynote (by Zoom). We will then open up for questions for Mitch before introducing the other participants. You can ask a question to any of the participants at the live on Zoom at the Q&A session on the 10th of July (4-7 pm, UK TIME).

General Interest/Orientation:

Academic Contributions:

Professor Mitch Green’s Live (by zoom) Keynote (10th July 2021)

Review of Derek Matravers’ Lecture “Mixed Modalities” by Nicolas Boivin, King’s College London:

In a concise and thought-provoking video lecture and interview, Derek Matravers urges us to consider more closely phenomena where modalities of sense experience mix. He observes that in some cases, there is more at play than a mere complementary match. Take Barber’s Adagio for strings, where sound and emotion combine to flood our consciousness. Matravers points out that sound and emotion fit together like a glove to a hand in a significant way that even seems rationally justified. Have philosophers neglected to consider this aspect of mixed modalities? It seems that neither the arousal theory nor the contour theory have the resources to explain this.

The format of the pre-watch video lecture and interview was very helpful, in particular for people who are new to this area of philosophy. The lecture introduces us to Matravers’ ideas and raises questions which the interview picks up on later to discuss. One of these is whether this perfect, significant relationship between music and emotion is merely a semblance. Matravers suggests that this would relieve theories from the burden of explanation he charges them with. But how are we to determine whether we are faced with a “seems” rather than an ”is”?

Review of Jenny Judge’s presentation “Visual Music” by Eva Lin Vilhjalmsdottir, King’s College London:

In her thought-provoking paper, Jenny Judge illustrates a new mode of thinking about music. Instead of thinking of music as merely sonic, she suggests thinking about music as representational; music becomes a way of showing the listener how emotions feel. Her way of thinking about music has a compelling double effect. On the one hand, music’s representational character makes perfect intuitive sense for avid music listeners. We are sometimes moved by music, feeling the emotions. However, often the case is that we sense the emotion while not feeling the emotion itself. Thus, music can communicate. On the other, the capacity of music to show how emotions feel can also help us appreciate the musical character of pictorial art that has the same unmediated character as music. Without intermediary content, specific visual art can show how emotions feel. By presenting the paper’s claim at the outset, Judge proceeds to walk the reader through each part of her thesis, making the paper’s argument convincing and forceful. Thereby encouraging the reader to reconsider the sharp boundaries usually put between music and other art forms—helping the reader appreciate the musical character within the visual and beyond.

A question would like to put to Judge can be put as follow – would you say that M-representations could also come in the form of touch, smell or taste?

Review of Natalie Bowling “Perception of Self and Other in Mirror-Sensory Synaesthesia” by Clare Conroy, University of Oxford

Natalie Bowling neatly presents an overview of the phenomenon of ‘mirror-sensory synaesthesia’ in this concise video lecture. Mirror-sensory synaesthesia, Bowling explains, is one step on from ‘mirror neurons’, those neurons that are unconsciously activated when we observe someone doing an action, producing a pattern of brain activity as though it were us doing the action. Mirror neuron activation is unconscious, whereas people who experience mirror-sensory synaesthesia are conscious of the way that their body mimics the sensation that they perceive. Bowling illustrates the phenomenon with intriguing quotes from the people who experience this kind of synaesthesia.

Using two qualitative studies to investigate the relationship between experiencing mirror-sensory synaesthesia and unusual self-perception, Bowling is able to begin to explore the implications of mirror-sensory synaesthesia in terms of how representations of ‘self’ and ‘other’ physical and emotional phenomenology can be related. In the context of the Sound Pictures conference, it is fascinating to consider how the psychological findings would be linked to a view like Derek Matravers’ arousal theory, to name just one candidate. At the conference itself, we look forward to hearing about the directions in which Bowling hopes to take her findings and further research.

Colette Olive (KCL): “Seeing Sense: On Aesthetic Experience as Genuinely Multi-Modal”

Review of Colette Olive’s “Seeing Sense: On Aesthetic Experience as Genuinely Multi-Modal” by Elsa Brisinger, King’s College London.

Multi-modal aesthetic experiences are, according to Olive’s concise and philosophically sharp analysis, all around us. The characteristic features of a multi-modal aesthetic experience include but are not limited to the inspirational cross-over between various sensory modes. For instance, the way in which one experiences a musical piece may be affected by what visual stimulation is simultaneously consumed. Or one’s interpretation of a painting by physically grounded associations. Complex sensory exchange of this kind distinctly impacts our aesthetic experiences, and Olive superbly brings forth its philosophically interesting aspects. 

Presenting her paper in audio-form adds a fitting twist to the topic, insofar as the listener is offered — whether intentionally or not — a chance to personally experience the phenomenon it discusses. The multi-modality of one’s listening experience is cleverly underscored by whatever other sensory input one is surrounded by. Was my experience different to yours? Most likely. 

It would be interesting and relevant to hear a bit more about whether Olive (or some other philosopher, for that matter) thinks there are species of aesthetic multi-modality that stick out? That is, whether there are combinations of senses that yield particularly potent aesthetic experiences? 

Jason Leddington (Bucknell): “Moving Audiovisual Pictures”

Review of Jason Leddington ‘Moving Audio Visual Pictures’ by Quince Pan, King’s College London.

In “Moving Audiovisual Pictures”, Jason P. Leddington argues that film is an essentially audiovisual art using a Heidegger-inspired Event-Property View (EPV) of diegetic (“in-scene”) sound in film. He rebuts yet develops the rival predominant Berkeleyan view of sound to show that it is a troubled albeit plausible alternative foundation of the same thesis. Marshalling the voices of other philosophers, psychologists, film theorists and editors, Leddington levels criticism against the visuocentric paradigm in analytic aesthetics, which insists that film is essentially visual and nothing more. Indeed, the inclusion of voices outside philosophy makes this piece engaging beyond the academy. Leddington’s parallel treatment of both Berkeleyan and Heideggerian positions also makes this piece appealing to people from both camps. However, I felt that his discussions of the bearing the nature of film has on film’s legitimacy as an art form were distractions from his main philosophical exposition. More clarity regarding the relationship between “pictorial”/”imagistic” and “visual” could be added in the introduction to highlight the gist of his thesis. If silent and sound film are essentially different artistic media, one wonders about the extent to which they should be critiqued differently, and if film theory as it stands can meet this challenge.

Review of Jason Leddington ‘Moving Audio Visual Pictures’ by Dr Jørgen Dyrstad.

In philosophy, films have often been regarded as essentially visual and essentially pictorial: as moving visual pictures. Such views not only play up the visual aspects of films but also play down their auditory aspects: sound is regarded as a non-pictorial and non-essential ‘addition’ to the visual ‘core’ that makes a film film. Leddington’s excitingly ambitious paper challenges this view. According to Leddington, most films are essentially moving audiovisual pictures: visual and auditory aspects combine to depict the action, and hence are equally pictorial and equally essential.

Leddington takes off from a traditional source of resistance to this idea: unlike visual recordings, auditory recordings present us with the sound itself rather than a depiction of it; since film is essentially pictorial, hence does not include anything non-pictorial in its essence, sounds cannot be part of film’s essence. Leddington rejects this line of thought at its roots: according to him, sounds too can depict.

His argument depends on a rich metaphysics of sound and hearing. Objects of hearing include not just sounds but also other things, notably ordinary events: yes, we hear sounds, say the sound of a door slamming, but we thereby also hear the door slam. The question is how we think of this relation between (hearing) sounds and (hearing) their sources. Rejecting another traditional view, which sees sounds as ‘intermediaries’ between us and ‘indirectly’ heard events, Leddington argues that events are ‘direct’ objects of hearing. Sounds are audible characteristics of such events, but not intermediaries. Rather, we hear events ‘in’ or ‘by’ hearing their sounds much like we see objects ‘in’ or ‘by’ seeing their visible properties such as colour. This analogy also shows us how sounds can be pictures. Just as we depict objects by reproducing their visual characteristics in photographs, we can depict events by reproducing their audible characteristics in sound recordings. The sound in the theatre depicts the events in the plot just as do the pictures on the wall.

Leddington’s rich and very interesting discussion of perception, representation, and art will inevitably raise questions. Undoubtedly, some philosophers will question his account of sound and hearing or his assimilation of sound recordings and visual pictures. I want to air a different concern – one perhaps more clarificatory than critical. According to Leddington, diegetic sound changes the pictorial nature of films: silent films are moving visual pictures, non-silent films moving audiovisual pictures. But what makes them both films? And what makes moving auditory pictures, like radio dramas, not films? Perhaps Leddington will say that films are essentially partly visual moving pictures. In any case, we are still left with intriguing questions about the more inclusive category of moving pictures – for instance, whether such pictures can be made of further materials than the visual and the auditory.  

New Graphic Notations Performances:

About cross-sensory artforms and graphic notations

Several art-forms speak to the question of multisensory confusion, integration and enhancement. For instance, the concept of music is fundamental to Kandinsky’s work. He believed one should ‘see’ his paintings aurally. Likewise, Goethe declared that architecture was “frozen music”. An example pertinent to philosophical reflection is that of graphic notation, where a piece of music is ‘directly depicted’ rather than written down in conventional musical notation. Visual works of art to be appreciated musically were brought to public attention by Earle Brown and John Cage. The experimental movement reached a peak with Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise (1963-1967).

More recently, Nicola Durvasula has been making contemporary graphic notations. These originate as paintings or ceramics but are made to be heard. To find out more about Nicola’s process please watch the studio based interviews that accompany each performance (one section below this).

The films below capture the first performances of these works. Nicola is playing the piano and Anna Phoebe is on violin.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

Behind the Performance:

In this section you can read Nicola’s essay ‘On the Nature of Sound’ (page 8 of Pdf) which explains a little bit about Nada Yoga in Indian Philosophy, and which was produced by Gallerist Joost Van den Berg.

Alternatively you can watch the interview with Nicola in her studio, following the performances. Each interview film focuses on a particular work.

Fun Stuff:

Have you ever wondered what a film would look like with a completely different soundtrack? Do some looks and sounds just ‘go together’? Here’s a game you can play with your own pictures or musical composition – pairing them up with different sound tracks to discover whether, by changing the pairings, you notice different features of the music or image. Here a few pictures by Vanessa Brassey matched to piano recordings by Jørgen Dyrstad. We’re not sure all of these work well, but the nice surprise is that we do think it helps us to detect new features when attending to them.

We’d love to find out what you think Jorgen’s performance of Byrd looks like. We’ve added the piece as a .wav file just below – please send us your visual renditions.