Writing Around Sound #1
by Richard B. Keys

The Writing Around Sound initiative grew out of an ongoing attempt (spearheaded by the Auricle) to facilitate greater discursive engagement within the context of contemporary sound practice in New Zealand. Much of what has been written and published about sound practice in New Zealand has tended towards the historiographic, and the avenues for developing discourse around sound practice further, in terms of on-going journals and other such forums, have generally been somewhat limited. Furthermore, it seems that many who operate within the field of contemporary sound practice lean towards an anti-conceptual stance. Whilst the precise reasons for this latter tendency are unclear, one might speculate that the anti-conceptual tenor of contemporary sound practice in New Zealand reflects a desire on the part of practitioners to distance themselves and their practices from the perceived cultural baggage of the academy and the ‘classical avant-garde’, as well as the conceptual (and textual) turn of the contemporary visual arts. 

Whilst contemporary visual art has its own distinct set of issues in regard to its relation to discursive practices, for example its sometimes problematic tendency to appropriate theory and philosophy in order to justify ‘the work’ as such. It should be acknowledged that nevertheless, contemporary visual art, with its myriad journals, essays, reviews, reading groups, and its engagement with poetry and other experimental modes of writing, has indeed forged its own productive relationship with textual and discursive practices. This productive relationship both reinforces and extends the work that underlies it and simultaneously constitutes a form of cultural production in its own right. 

It is my personal contention that for the most part contemporary sound practice in New Zealand is still yet to develop such a productive relationship with ‘the text’ on its own terms. Sound practice has its own distinct forms of writing and textuality that are inherent to it and the various intersectional domains of practice from which it has emerged. These forms of writing range from notation and the score (traditional, graphical, found, or otherwise), to poetry, circuit diagrams, and code, all of which offer themselves up readily for textual experimentation. Furthermore, sound itself has a certain grammar, which can be readily transposed into visual and textural registers, as the works of various authors and visual artists included in this volume are testimony. 

The textual and visual materials included in this journal, whilst focused on a diverse range of topics, and differing widely in form, all share at least one defining feature; they employ the sonic as a point of departure that enables exploration along many different trajectories. In this sense, it is not so much that the articles in question are writing about sound as much as they are writing around, through, with, or against it

It is our hope that this journal will be received as more than an isolated gesture or end unto itself. We hope that this discursive experiment will enliven and take its place as part of a broader dialogue through which contemporary sound practice in New Zealand can continue to articulate and extend itself.