Thesis Info

Thesis Title
Sonified Freaks and Sounding Prostheses: Sonic representation of bodies in performance art
Daniël Ploeger
2nd Author
3rd Author
Number of Pages
University of Sussex
Thesis Supervisor
Prof Nicholas Till
Supervisor e-mail
Other Supervisor(s)
Language(s) of Thesis
Department / Discipline
School of Media, Film and Music
Languages Familiar to Author
English, Dutch, German, French
URL where full thesis can be found
Digital performance, Music theatre, Electronic music, New media art, Body image, Gender and sexuality
Abstract: 200-500 words
This study is concerned with the role of sound in the presentation and representation of bodies in performance art that incorporates digital technologies. It consists of a written thesis accompanied by a portfolio with documentation of original artwork. Since the 1960s, performance artists have explored the use of sensor technologies to register signals generated by the body and synthesize or control sound. However, both practical and theoretical approaches to biosignal sonification in this field have almost entirely focused on musical (formalist) perspectives, technological innovation, or heightening the performer’s and spectator’s awareness of their body’s physiology. Little attention has been paid to the usually conspicuous interaction between body and technological equipment and the role of the generated sound in the context of cultural critical debates regarding the performing body. The present study responds to this observation in two ways: Firstly, the written part of the study examines existing biosignal performance practices. It seeks to demonstrate that artists’ decisions on the design of sensor technology and sound synthesis or manipulation methods are often complicit in the representation of normative body types and behaviour. Drawing from a concept of the sonified body as a transgressive or ‘freak’ body, three critical perspectives on biosignal sonification in digital performance are proposed: A reading of body sonification methods from a gender-critical perspective, an inquiry in the context of Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of the grotesque and the classical body, and a conceptualization of the sonified body as a posthuman prosthetisized body. This part of the study serves as a framework for its second objective: the development of practical performance strategies to address and challenge cultural conventions concerning ‘the’ body’s form and role in society. This aspect of the thesis is developed in conjunction with, and further explored in, the artwork documented in the portfolio. The practical part of the study consists of three digital performance works. ELECTRODE (2011) involves an anal electrode that registers the activity of my sphincter muscle and uses this data to synthesize sound. For this work, I modified a commercially available muscle tension sensor device designed for people with faecal incontinence problems. Feedback (2010) encompasses components of a commercially available fetal Doppler sensor intended to listen to the heartbeat of unborn babies. SUIT (2009-2010) encompasses several performances that feature a PVC overall equipped with a loudspeaker, sensor interface and Doppler and humidity sensors.