Not for Human Consumption; it's a phrase we're all familiar with, at least in the context of the oral, usually indicating something we'd be ill-advised to consume and most likely not beneficial to our physical health. In this physical sense, it's simple to consider in terms of sound. Our hearing can be easily damaged by sound at particular frequencies or volumes. And we are able to quickly identify, through physical discomfort, those sounds that are detrimental to our hearing.
Last month, a piece of research indicated that the amygdala, the almond shaped processor of the emotional components of our experiences, is able to directly modulate the auditory cortex thus adding feelings of discomfort to the physical; sounds that can make us feel uncomfortable but that aren't strictly damaging to our hearing.
Moving onto sounds we may find difficult to digest, and here we are entering a culturally specific jumble of aesthetics, morals, ethics and so on.
Newspaper reviews of a staging of Stockhausen's 'Mittwoch aus Licht' earlier this year, still complaining about noise, remind me of Balzac's 1873 novel Gambara, about the insane composer whose opera is described as "a jumble of discordant sounds flung out at random as though combined to rend the least delicate ear."
We may find lyrics or the subject matter offensive; Evan Roth's 'Explicit Content Only': A curse words precis of NWA's first album shows that title track contains 12.1% ECR - explicit content ratio - equating to a full 42 seconds of bad language.
Or the use of sensitive source materials such as the sonification of the Tohoku earthquake data to things we cannot believe we are hearing: The verdict handed down last month to the scientists found guilty of failing to predict the L'Aquila earthquake. Despite the consensus that there is no way to predict major earthquakes, the guilty verdict was premised on a significant reduction in scope. The prosecution called it an "inadequate characterisation of the risks."
Yet, working intentionally within a narrow scope, despite knowledge to the contrary, is familiar to all of us. Day by day, we live from a 'natural perspective'; a scope in which we are "central, necessary and self-determining" yet our sciences and other disciplines have shown that this is not the case.
In the Introductory lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud wrote that the naive self-love of men had received two major blows at the hands of science:
Copernicus had demonstrated that our Earth was not the centre of the universe; Darwin, that the human being is a product of natural selection, emerging through the same blind material processes as every other creature.
Freud adds a third blow. That of Psychoanalysis as it "undermines our impression that we are in control of our own consciousness and destiny, for unconscious processes beyond our perception steer our relation to the world and to ourselves."
And working within an intentionally narrow scope is also familiar in a philosophical sense; our dominant strand of philosophy, in the humanities at least, focuses solely on the human/world relation stating, and here I'm quoting the very succinct Graham Harman:
"If we try to think a world outside human thought, we are thinking it, and hence it is no longer outside thought. Any attempt to escape this circle is doomed to contradiction"
This simple statement constrains the whole of reality, for philosophy, to the tiny portion of it directly available to humans. But can this really be the case?
"The cosmos is gigantic in space and time, more ancient than all of our ancestors and all other life forms... Humans are in no way central to this cosmic drama occupying a tiny space in a tiny portion of the history of the universe..." yet the human/world relation would still have us believe that "the statements we make about distant time and space are statements by us and therefore keep us within this circle."
I am really skipping over the complexities here but the point I'm trying to make is that this strand of philosophy has been shown to be indefensively narrow. Its 'self-love', what Harman calls a 'love of thought', has received a blow from what is popularly known as Speculative Realism - 'a love of that which lies beyond thought' - and one of its effects is that it enables us to transform the scope of other fields.
So I can now say that 'Not for Human Consumption' has been oriented by this potential increase in scope. Allowing access, however complex, to a great outdoors where sounds we aren't aware of, can't hear, may never hear or know about, exist alongside all of those we know. An extended scope that allows for real, unreal and even non-existent sounds and I hope that the works I've collected here demonstrate this in variety of ways.
Exhibition Launch, November 2012