Sonic Realism / Wave #2 SOUND September 2020


Tyler Coburn

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Tyler Coburn | Resonator, 2020


This piece has a nuanced approach to the sonic and, as is the case with many of your other works, a preoccupation with debates around new materialisms, which has in part inspired Infrasonica’s first editorial line. While the piece engages with scientific and speculative musings around resonance and matter, it aims at subjectivity. I believe this is in part due to its intrinsic sensuality; voice is the manifestation of an inextricable and traumatic link between virtuality and desire – “somewhere, the message pending always,” the speaker says before giving way to the foghorns at the end. The one who speaks and the one who listens, through the mediation of a device, mourn for each other and the voice is not just the barrier of a message, but of vibration. Resonance can be either a weapon or a sensual encounter with the other. At the heart of these issues are core questions around matter, subjectivity and sound. The latter is not an abstract-auratic entity but is instead entwined with sensitive matter and the very fabric of our body – what would you say about this?

Tyler Coburn

There’s a tension in this piece that I think you’re getting at. From one angle, the speaker is hopelessly trapped by (and often indulges) his subjectivity. Beyond the facts and historical anecdotes, his lived experience is how he measures the power of resonance. He yearns, he regrets, he speaks softly into the void and awaits an answer… From another angle, this character is enamored with the possibility that resonance will provide an exit from selfhood, for the vibratory qualities of the body (as shown in the diagram) exceed individuation. “You and I may be apart,” he observes, “but we have this in common: Our bodies react to the same frequencies, and if struck simultaneously, they’d vibrate in time.”

I wouldn’t say the piece reaches a resolution, as I don’t think we can get beyond the frame of subjectivity. That said, I believe there’s ethical value in dialing down traditional modes of speaking and listening linked to ‘the self’—and attuning ourselves to other dimensions of sound that bring us into consonance and dissonance with the world.

This piece was originally written as a live event for a single listener at a time—a literal attempt to achieve interpersonal resonance through some of the neuroscientific theories the speaker describes. I’ve adapted the piece for Infrasonica with consideration of the remote communication characteristic of the Covid-19 era. In a sense, it’s a bit of an experiment: When the body is absent, when the face is withheld, can something in the order of resonance still be engendered? Can a speaker and listener, separated in space and time, experience sympathetic vibration?


With that shift from live events to this current format, the entire work parallels the message in the bottle. With that in mind, I find the way that you describe the “ethical value in dialing down traditional modes of speaking and listening linked to ‘the self’” of particular interest, as resonance is what makes interaction between the self and the other possible, not mediated by the conventions of liberal individualism and its forms of subjectivity. I am resisting using the word “intersubjective,” so instead I'll speak of a non-personalized subjectivity. What might the concrete effect of that message be if the speaker never finds out who, if anyone, it reaches? Is resonance the only possible outcome, or will something completely unexpected happen as it “sails into the vast digital sea?”

Tyler Coburn

Yes! This version, enclosed in a sound file, does go out like a message in a bottle. I hadn’t made that connection.

In a way, the matter of whom (if anyone) it reaches is beside the point, for a letter, according to Lacan, “always arrives at its destination.” I take this to mean (with help from Žižek) that one always writes to someone and to the Other, which “disburdens the sender of responsibility.” This simple act of transmission—of putting language into the world—provides a sense of resolution, however illusory it may be.

Of course, I’m trying to achieve something less one-sided. The goal is not for me to get stuff off my chest but for this piece, as you wrote, to have a “concrete effect” on a listener. You’re right to raise a question about this, and I confess that it’s harder to gauge the effect on Infrasonica’s listeners than on those who attended the live events, which draw influence from a Penn & Teller trick that famously “broke magic.” At the outset, the magicians describe exactly how the trick is done, and by the end, the audience is often still entranced and amazed. Even when the mechanics are laid bare, genuine feeling comes about.

In the live events that I’ve done to date, friendships were made. A flirtation began. When asked “what resonates with you?”, many people shared their immediate associations, one describing her recovery from a car crash, several detailing their dreams. A few found the piece unacceptably manipulative despite my Penn & Teller-like acknowledgment of its mechanics. Things came to a halt, and we talked it out. There was genuine feeling in our exchanges, though I was saddened by the reactions.

This is all to say that, if a listener to the digital version is so compelled, they should contact me. The piece can be the starting point—perhaps for resonance, perhaps for “something completely unexpected,” as you wrote. And if I never learn whom (if anyone) it reaches, then I hope it provides solace in these difficult times: a small expression of the desire to foster new and unknown ties at a moment when one’s life can feel limited and dulled by the familiar.


Resonator was created during the Container Artist Residency 01. It originally took form as a live event, for one person at a time, on a bench near a body of water. Past events were staged as part of Creative Operational Solutions, Para Site, Hong Kong (2016); The House of Dust by Alison Knowles, Cneai, Paris (2017); Infrasonic Love and Digital Hallucination, Oncurating Project Space, Zurich (2018); and Clôture de saison, Le Confort Moderne, Poitiers (2018). Parallel to the event is a .zip file created with Byron Peters and commissioned by Am Nuden Da.

For Infrasonica, Coburn has rewritten Resonator with a remote listener in mind.

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