Joseph Nechvatal

Immersion Into Noise

    2. Noise Vision

    ...'consciousness' in the function of self-reflexivity should be operating within the elements of the work (proposition) of art itself.
    Joseph Kosuth, Within the Context: Modernism and Critical Practice
    Lascaux is the passage from the work world to the play world, which is the passage from the Homo Faber to the Homo Sapien.
    Georges Bataille, Lascaux: La Naissance de l'Art

    The transition from audio noise to visual noise based on ideas of an unlimited field of representation requires, I believe, the judicious use of the process of Deleuzian/Guattarian nomadic thinking. Accordingly, Deleuzian/Guattarian noise descriptions would be composed of variously formed segments, stratas, and lines of flight that involve territorializing as well as deterritorializing spacio/psychic activities. [120] Even so, I acknowledge in advance that all methods, explanations, and theories (including the nomadic) inevitably distance consciousness from its first sense of full and total participation. This acknowledgement will remain a particularly important point of consideration here, as ideas of spacio/psychic critical distance and non-distanced (non-spatial) disembodied fusion rub up against each other and influence the psychic space required for reflection on the thorny concept of aesthetic immersion into noise (which entails a lack of distance) as the atmospheric gulf between the immersant and the immersive aesthetic environment is ideally dissolved.

    In this light, it might be possible to define noise art as conditions and orders of conscious awareness in which perception-cognition (i.e., awareness linked to the process of forming intelligence) is found to consist of more than everyday (non-conceptual) vision or hearing typically reveals, by merging it with some manifestation suggestive of a magnificent more. This condition may be thought of as a bypassing of habitual processes of art through an assiduously expanded macro-intelligence based on conditions of excess that provide us with an unfilled sense of internal union with unrealizable breadth through noise.

    When I use the terminology expanded here I am referring to the rich meaning given to it by Gene Youngblood in his book Expanded Cinema, as that which transgresses and exceeds the customary boundaries of our optic encounters. When Youngblood discusses what he calls expanded cinema, he refers it to an “expanded consciousness”. [121]

    By noise consciousness I mean, then, our miscellaneous neurological/ontological sense of the gradient unity of sentient self in internal discord [122] with its surrounding milieu, that mental property of atmospheric self-attentive awareness, cognisance and feeling that allows us to experience a sense of nexus with our ostensibly unified surroundings, albeit laced with vicissitudes. [123] I have observed (in myself) that noise in art tends towards unconstrainment while being based on a routine sense of shifting-self within the ambient scene which is experienced when self-attentive.

    From a philosophical perspective, synthesis is the procedure by which, once thought, separate elements of a system are assembled into a union of an undivided whole, so that the consequent unity is something more than the mere sum of its unmitigated parts. Synthesis proceeds from the stand-alone, separate elements discerned by analysis, but it supersedes analysis by raising the particulars to the point of being conscious of their larger comprehensive framework.

    According to Theodor Adorno in his Aesthetic Theory, art and aesthetics must not try to erase fractures through integration but rather “preserve in the aesthetic whole the traces of those elements which may have resisted integration”. [124] Noise as art does just that. However, an understanding of this noisy, self-attentive shifting-self through listening requires a surpassing of the limiting tropes of logical positivist empiricism (typical in indexical thought), as noise consciousness starts in the non-delineating darkness of closed (but debonair) eyes. That is where the beginnings of idiosyncratic human imagination seems to dwell—in the dark. But a consideration of this self-attentive, immersed, shifting-self is also post-logical positivist in that it accepts various theories of consciousness that discuss consciousness as being emergent rather than representational. Sigmund Freud (who we must remember was a theorist who rooted his theories in anecdotal evidence and whose writing was literary) identified an artist as one who offers insights into such an emergent consciousness as it emerged from within the unconscious realm. Moreover, Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) maintained that being is the most unconscious of concepts because we are thoroughly immersed in it.

    The terminology consciousness means verbatim with knowingness and stems from the Latin verb scire (which means to know), as does the word science. But this is not all there is to it as applied to art. For consciousness in art seems to be ultimately like a web woven in the mind/body, of various silken-strands spun forth from interlacing states of unconscious desire which semi-automatically control the paradigmatic creation and reception of art. This definition coincides with R. G. Collingwood's definition of consciousness, in paradigmatic art terms, as that which is a “kind of thought which stands closest to sensation or mere feeling” as “transformed into imagination”. [125] Paradigmatic consciousness has emerged in the 20th century largely due to the philosophical work of the American philosopher Thomas Kuhn who argued that scientific "progress" does not simply occur in stages based on neutral observations but that all observation is theory-laden. For Kuhn, the history of science (and I would argue art as well) is characterized by revolutions in outlook. [126] Indeed, unconscious desires shape the paradigms that contour intentional expressions in art through the subtle powers of sublimation when the sexual desires of the libido are turned into cultural ones via the mediation of the artist's ego. The question of how Freudian unconscious desires are manifest in conscious cultural noise production and interpretation will be one of our minor themes throughout. This is a non-problematic working assumption in that even those who maintain that art is fundamentally a materialistic, social, and conscious product [127] acknowledge that the role and function of art is located in its power to change consciousness. [128]

    Nerve Noise Visualization

    In the realm of the affective imponderable, the image provided by my nerves takes the form of the highest intellectuality, which I refuse to strip of its quality of intellectuality.
    Antonin Artaud, Manifesto In Clear Language

    One way to apprehend an ambient field's felt scopic atmosphere is to think of it in terms of a study of cognitive-visual acoustics. This is equitable in that sight itself is nothing other than a continuous pattern of perpetually changing light-data recorded on the retina which we humans process through the aggregated internal acts of discerning. To understand noise vision as being non-inflected with subtle properties akin to the acoustic properties of echo, range, pitch, timbre, and tone is to discern all visual moments as being indiscriminately equal, and as flat. Cognitive-perceiving is continuously allocated by tones of recognition, ranges of totality, and distributed visual echoes as humans produce a full interpretation of the plethoric information which hits their retinas in order to assign it cultural meaning. More precisely, such an acoustic-like cognitive-visuality would involve the equivalent of what in acoustics is called envelope (previously explained) as visual attention has characteristics of attack, growth, duration, and decay in terms of peripheral spatial intelligence (when self-attended to). Such attention calls for the viewer’s active and self-conscious engagement with art.

    By studying such an envelope noise vision in terms of immersion, in a sense this book participates in the recent investigations of visuality into what Martin Jay has called the “ocular character of all Western culture” and the “Cartesian perspectivalism that dominates the modern era” [129] —a Cartesian perspectivalism which, according to Hal Foster, separates subject from object, “rendering the first transcendental and the second inert”. [130] Such investigations include Guy Debord's (1931–1994) critique of the Society of the Spectacle, [131] Jacqueline Rose's investigation into the sexuality of the objectifying, male, patriarchal gaze, [132] and Michel Foucault's (1926–1984) analysis of the panopticon paradigm. [133]

    When talking about noise vision, it must be remembered that, in philosophy, synthetic statements are those statements judged to be true or false in relationship to the world (but which are not necessary ones), as opposed to analytical truths, which are necessary, and hence cannot be otherwise. In philosophy, it is important to make this distinction between synthetic and analytical statements. Only when we acknowledge that this investigation of noise vision partakes in synthetic activity might we enter the concept into consideration, and only if we understand noise vision to be a synthetic psychological thought-vision without any one particular vector but rather a plethora of them united into one void of the suppositional central vanishing-point which the horizon-line had previously established.

    The synthetic notion being pursued here, then, is of an atmospheric noise vision constituted by what goes on in and behind the head as much as by what is in front of it.

    As Jane Ellen Harrison (1850–1928) tells us in Ancient Art and Ritual, art is not mimesis, but rather mimesis comes from art's emotional expressions. [134] We must additionally recognize that cognitive noise vision takes place not only over time but within the emotional brain and that much of noise consciousness is supra-sensible. Particularly germane to our inquiry into noise vision is the fact that most aesthetic theories argue that art is not a matter of simple embellishment considering its diverse appeals to the various cognitive faculties of the eye/mind complex. The critical capacity of art is that it advances conjoined expectations along with cultivated appraisals through discriminating semi-withdrawal. So considered, assumptions concerning noise vision in sacred zones (and their distinguished semi-removed status) in regard to immersively spawned states of aesthetic consciousness will be addressed historically in this section, as it is common for ideal sacred zones to supply acute information on the human race's apparently insatiable desire for transcendence through immersive aesthetics.

    In this respect, I go along with Georges Bataille as he argued that the sacred springs from the same sources as those things we conventionally find repugnant, such as noise, ritual sacrifice and bodily mutilation, and that within sacred zones sublime transmissions are meant to transpire, thus provoking attachments between the unconscious mind and its conscious active comportment. The marvellous abstract character of such supposed sublime transmissions in terms of noise vision will be explored in this section. But, to begin to do so, we must keep in mind that all reputed sacred propositions occur within configuring theories of culture. All that we apprehend as sacredly significant resides in cultural symbol, which is the gist of art. It is exclusively by our encounters with theories of culture that we style omitted or grasp upheld sacred abstractions.

    With this in mind, we shall now turn our attention to what I perceive as the genesis of immersive noise vision: the adorned prehistoric cave. We shall approach the resplendent prehistoric cave by keeping in mind that, according to Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980), form determines the action of mediation which determines meaning.

    A prehistoric painted cave is all that, enhanced moreover through the emotional defamiliarizational powers of art. Over 200 late-Stone Age caves bearing wall paintings, engravings, bas-relief decorations and sculptures have been found in south-western Europe alone. Life, in the form of tiny blue algae, emerged on Earth 2 billion years ago, or what is called BP (Before Present). The first people who made tools, the basis of technology, were the Homo Habilis, a people who lived in Africa 2 million years ago. People have inhabited the Périgord region of France for about 200,000 years and indeed the cave at Lascaux was discovered by Cro-Magnon people. [135]

    Gradually during the Gravettian Period (approximately 20,000 to 25,000 years ago), people began to embellish the walls and ceilings of a few small shallow caves. [136] Subsequently, prehistoric painted caves became the sites of these humans' first topographical imagings, images that celebrated mortal terror and love of the animal and its world, as well as the passionate and jubilant triumph over that terror/love through the organized hunt and the strategic, co-ordinated, co-operative group adhesion which the hunt necessitated.

    However, it is important to remember at all times that the animals depicted in the caves were not generally those animals that were hunted and eaten. The Magdalenian people hunted and ate primarily reindeer and a reindeer is only represented once in the cave of Lascaux out of over 2,100 legible images—in the Apse. [137] The significance of this will be pondered and discussed shortly. But, at the outset, we can surmise that the animals represented here were depicted in order to serve as spiritual intermediaries or as ideal aspirations. In the terms of noise vision, the Magdalenians' depicted events can be interpreted as disassociated (in their lack of depicting context) and conflicting (in their superimpositionality) while being immersed underneath at the implicate frequency level, as these scenes depict all things and events as ultimately intangible and connected into one total singularity. It is for this reason that the prehistoric painted cave must be addressed as a place of active immersive cognisance and not as a mere receptacle of discrete utilitarian (magical) images in service of the hunt in any simplistic one-to-one fashion, though some sort of indirect connection to their hunting culture is hard to repudiate, especially after the discovery in Lascaux of a large number of broken spearheads, all of which were engraved, often with a double interlocked herring bone pattern and a star with six rays. [138]

    Most prehistorians agree that visual communications came into being somewhere around 40,000 years ago, about the time when Cro-Magnons reached Ice Age Europe and began decorating their tools and bodies with symbols. Living in small groups, they constructed tents from skins and huts from branches; however, (evidently) they possessed an incredible yearning for deep immersive experiences within the dark places of caves. Thus, in the caves they embellished, it is possible to see an immersive presentation in a collective space, a space which was not the property of any individual. This expansion from the decoration of the body to the cave is in itself an extraordinary act of immersive intelligence. The period between the invention of drawing, when animal forms and human genitals were engraved in rock 35,000 to 40,000 years ago by the Cro-Magnon on the banks of the Vézère, and the creation of Lascaux, is as long as the period of time separating us from the civilization of Lascaux. As much time elapsed between the first ornamental body and the cave paintings of Lascaux (about 17 millennia) as separates Lascaux from the first TV broadcasts. Nevertheless, Stacey Spiegel sees the Lascaux cave as being “the first total art”, [139] and Howard Rheingold speaks of Lascaux as the first virtual reality. [140]

    The physical and psychic risks involved in such a seemingly non-essential activity as painting inside a cave indicates that it was done, and indeed savoured, for some perhaps sacred antediluvian reason deemed essential enough to fashion an immersive space where human consciousness could plunge into extraordinary immersive experiences. The real threat implicit in the dangerous passage that must be made to enter a painted cave, with its usual remoteness from human habitation, suggests that these are sites of ritualistic loss and re-finding typical of intense love and tragedy. Thus the entrance into an immersive cave is always a movement towards self-interiority. To enter a cave is to move into it and, as such, initially involves a directedness away from the periphery and toward depth, toward noisy density, and away from dispersion.

    Thus, far away from the light of the sun and stars, far from the daylight world of accustomed life, prehistoric people must have entered the depths of the immersive darkness of a cave to contemplate both the beginning and end of their life. Indeed the cave's lack of light is an insubstantial force whose intensity around the immersant must be carefully considered. The first occurrence we must contemplate in this regard is the dilation of the eye's pupil as entree to a dim cave is achieved. Noticeable is that in terms of vision and light and sex, the pupil's dilation indicates sexual attraction and facilitates it. [141]

    Salient here is that the retina registers a field of 160 million points of light. The remarkable richness of natural light is due to the fact that it is a unification of focused and diffused light. Issues of light are issues of clarity and obscurity, issues which constantly vie with one another with an exacting power. The sun, which is roughly 57 million kilometers (about 93 million miles) from the earth, functions as the source of all light of course, but we must recollect that its effects are invariably qualified to a greater or lesser degree by the earth's atmospheric envelope through which the light must penetrate. The regular waxing and waning of light is often dramatically altered in its character and intensity by the apparent vicissitudes of changing atmospheric conditions. In order to realize how essential this combination of direct and diffused light is to our sense of well-being, one need only recall the deadening aftermath of a heavy overcast day when the whole world seems to be enshrouded in a pervasive melancholy.

    The early-Upper Paleolithic period [142] saw significant innovation in stone tool technology and weapon systems by the early members of our species. Their invention of sharpened flint blades made the creation of almost all of their art possible, via carving and engraving. In painterly terms, the principal techniques of Cro-Magnon art involved brushes made of vegetable fiber or animal hair, tufts of fur, and the use of fingers, along with a blowing of pigment dissolved in saliva onto the wall. [143] The European predecessors to the Cro-Magnons were the strapping Neanderthals who successfully occupied Western Eurasia from about 200,000 BP up until they were superseded by the Cro-Magnons, sometime around 40,000 BP. Neanderthal culture, known as Mousterian, shows scant inklings of visual representation. However, there are traces of immersive symbolism in their burial sites as the corpses were surrounded by pebbles and bones with fragmentary patterns scratched onto them. Sometime after 40,000 years ago, at a time when the remaining Neanderthals shared the European landscape with the first Cro-Magnons, there was a relative explosion of ornament and graphic imagery among the earliest Cro-Magnons.

    By the Upper Paleolithic period, Homo Sapiens had firmly established their existence based on hunting, fishing and the gathering of plants. In terms of art, the Cro-Magnons left behind dozens of sculpted ivory animals, moulded and fired clay statuettes, hundreds of engraved images on limestone blocks and cave walls, thousands of scrupulously decorated personal body ornaments consisting of ivory, shell, soapstone and animal teeth, along with the numerous and widely distributed female (so-called Venus) figurines. The earliest substantial body of surviving material relating to human sexual culture is the art of the Eurasian Upper Paleolithic, including its paintings of half-bestial males with erections, rock-cut vulvas, carved phallic batons, and the previously mentioned super-endowed nude Venus female figurines. These sculptural miniature statuettes of extraordinarily big-breasted human females are understood as contemplations on sex and fecundity [144] and a longing for oceanic unity and totality. The Venus figurines are entirely in the round and unconstrained from any physical site, thus hand-holdable and portable. Wonderful examples are the ivory Vénus de Lespuge from Lespuge, France (circa 27,000 BC) and the eyeless and bulbous stone Venus of Willendorf (circa 30,000 BC) which was found in Austria.

    Evidently there was adequate time for spiritual-artistic acumen in the hunter-gatherer society, as case studies from various parts of the world show that sufficient food can be obtained with an average adult hunting, fishing and gathering (in common cause with others) in only three to five hours per day, less than people generally work now in our (so-called) advanced western civilization. The leisure time of many hunter-gatherers seems to have been abundant, affording adequate time for the fashioning of the immersive artistic/spiritual cave spaces which concern us here. Indeed, André Leroi-Gourhan in his book, The Dawn of European Art: An Introduction to Paleolithic Cave Painting, maintains that the generations of artists who executed Lascaux were very probably released from even this minimum burden of daily work by other members of the group.

    Although Paleolithic cave art is often discovered deep inside caves quite remote from the cave entrance, it is a mistake to suppose that Upper Paleolithic human communities usually lived in such dark, and inherently hazardous, sites. Customarily, they lived in the open air, enjoying the sun and breeze, under skin tents or in the mouths of caves or beneath rock overhangs where they could find refuge from the elements but have the benefit of daylight. The inaccessibility of the painted chambers and the lack of detected debris therein suggests that deep caves were penetrated only occasionally. Nobody lived in the painted areas of the cave, as analyses of painted caves' contents have yielded no signs of human habitation beyond the traces of animal-fat lamps and torches used by brief visitors, and some mounds of pigmented-earth left behind. These painted caves were presumably meant to be seen by few human beings under conditions of extreme difficulty and apprehension, as many are entered only by crawling on the belly through a hole in the earth down into dark passages in the earth's womb. These are the archaic conditions that, one may surmise, produced an array of immersive ideals connected to sex and death which became deeply implanted in human immersive instincts and which subsequently became assimilated into Pre-Classical culture (such as the narrative of the mythical Cretan labyrinth in whose belly the deadly Minotaur resided).

    Bearing in mind the threat implicit in the hazardous passage that must be made by prehistoric people on entering a painted cave (potentially inhabited by massive carnivores), its remoteness from human habitat, and the expressiveness of the transparently stacked images placed there, I shall suggest that these painted immersive spaces were sites of hypothetical trans-presence. Removed from the illumination of the sun, moon and stars, removed from the daylight realm of accustomed existence, early humans entered into the painted cave's dimness (consequently with maximized retinal dilation) as if returning to the sacred dilated female source of themselves—and simultaneously, to a place of anxious potentiality.

    The social function of art within the early formative epoch of human history necessitated, and necessitates, a shared conception of a larger amiable whole, thus the basis of human love and reproduction. With art, people are fastened together by aesthetics into a free-flowing compound-total in the interests of their improved survival, pleasure and replication. As stated, prehistoric art has been discovered at various points inside passages, in niches, and sometimes near cave mouths, but it is in the cave, generally deep within, where prehistoric immersive art attained maximum intensity with its field-of-view encompassing painted murals. These murals will set the precedent for immersive noise art's penchant for constructing overall aesthetic enveloping hyper-totalities which appear continuous by way of their exceeding the normal field-of-view with visual interest.

    At first glance, many of the most lavishly adorned murals seem like a noisy chaos of lines and colors. Animals of miscellaneous species emerge at disparate scales and in divergent colors. Also, they are oriented in various directions, even vertically or upside down, some complete, others without heads or extremities. Many are superimposed and thus appear transparent and ephemeral. At some caves, such as Tito Bustillo, though different phases of painting are evident, a corresponding style is used throughout lending it a stylistic consistency typical of the Gesamtkunstwerk. [145]

    The vast bulk of the remarkably embellished chambers in deep, dark, isolated areas date from the centuries approximately 15,000 BP, the conclusive (but prolonged) phase of the Ice Age. Commonly the walls, which warp and bend overhead (wrapping the immersant in an enveloping total space) are painted and occasionally the floor is also put to use. Always the most immersive salons contain paintings on the walls and, importantly, the ceilings, such as at Altamira, Lascaux and Rouffignac. At Altamira, there are sections of the painted salon little more than one meter (3.28 feet) high, assuring a compressed, close-up, immersive experience. At the Homos de la Pefiahe cave, the immersant must lay on his or her back and slither into low hollows to behold drawings.

    With prehistoric painted caves, people penetrated deeply into the womb of dark caves to paint and scratch transparent images of untamed animals on every surface of the roughly rounded space, including the floor. As a consequence, we have come to appreciate the sophistication of the noise vision perceptual dynamism which this immersive art utilizes in the transformation of consciousness at a period in time far earlier than the first written words. Hence a feeling for and knowledge of the cave art of Western Europe is essential to a mature awareness of noise aesthetics even though it is conceivable that the majority of readers will not have entered any painted caves, as I have had the privilege of doing. However, as is also the case with noise vision, a personal, experiential understanding of the spatial properties of embellished caves is essential to the development of a comprehensive immersive noise theory, as their enfolding shape and enclosed feel is indispensable to the power of the art. Sadly, these are features which are impossible to convey through flat rectilinear photos.

    The 2 kilometer (1.24 mile) long Niaux cave system [146] in the French Pyrenees, 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) south-west of Tarascon-sur-Ariége in the department of Midi-Pyréndes in central/southern France is a good place to start on-site explorations of noise vision as this ashen limestone painted cave is owned by the French State and accessible to the public. There is no electrical lighting system inside and if it were not for the torches provided by the guide, the immersant would be in absolute darkness and silence with the exception of faint, reverberating, promiscuous drippings. The ambience is dankly cool, as the cave maintains itself at a habitual temperature of 12°C which markedly contrasts with the tepid air and fervent sunlight left outside. Stagnant water, like a pestiferous dark reflecting pool, covers most of the 50 meter long (164 foot) floor of the first antechamber, which is nearly 30 meters wide (98.4 feet). This chamber leads upward into a high-vaulted, sparsely stalagmited corridor.

    One must proceed nimbly and with care so as not to skid on the slimy floor which has been coated by calcite. Pools of tranquil water hinder the path from time to time. There are 700 meters (2,296 feet) between the entrance and the first major change of direction of the long cave, yet the only human markings of the walls are relatively contemporary graffiti, some dating from the Baroque. Deeper inside, some 450 representations await discovery within a complex of chambers, the most celebrated being the Salon Noir (Black Salon). This deep chamber is unforgettable because of the distance of the Salon Noir from the cave's entrance. The entry to the Salon Noir is signalled by a smooth stone surface only 1.5 meters high (4.9 feet) from the floor which is scattered with maroon and ebony blots of coloring. Beyond that point, three walls 15 by 20 meters (4.9 by 65.6 feet) are scattered with bestial drawings rendered with jet black contour lines. Moreover, horses, bison and ibex have been etched into the floor at the closure of the space. The subtlety of the 14,000 year old accomplishment is astonishing. For example, in 1974, two engraved bison and an arrow-like sign were detected in a small alcove on the right-hand wall of the Salon Noir despite repeated detailed surveys which began in 1906. The stupendous richness of the paintings and etchings of this chamber construct one of the most spectacular achievements in archaic environmental immersive creation.

    In one sense, the Salon Noir is typical of the prehistoric immersive arrangement in that, like most painted caverns, it is entered only after a prolonged and precarious trip, bypassing far more accessible spaces. This journey of course takes committed time, up to as much as three hours at Montespan. Through the moist darkness, prehistoric people passed through unfamiliar spaces (there are no signs of frequent engagement) so as to produce and experience art, even requiring passageway through subterranean lakes at some sites. Also we must remember that caves provided asylum for fierce human predators such as the great prehistoric cave bears, lions, and panthers. [147] Clearly their presence was a dominant factor when we consider that Grotte Chauvet, for example, was found to harbour the remains of around 100 bears. Indeed, certain bear skulls were repositioned to privileged locations in the cave, in one case onto a rock in the center of a circular hall.

    Verily, such creatures were puissant foes to be feared and assuaged by primordial people, and in this sense caves were not solely sanctuary spaces but also exploratory spaces of fear and sacred trepidation. Indeed Bataille says that the painted cave of Lascaux, for example, was a “place of anguish” and “religious horror”. [148] The death risk involved in penetrating many of these openings is attested to by the cave bear-tracks which have been left in the mud floors and along tight trestles. As the risk of death was real, by passing through the mouth of a cave into its admissible swell, the immersant encountered (via dilated retinas) a wide field-of-view artistic phenomenon both sacred and fearful through the prismatic intensity of an adrenaline driven consciousness. Certainly the potential risk encountered, which prehistoric people assumed by traversing such labyrinthine passages, must have been palpable in its production of enzymes. One assumes a highly emotionally engaging level of alert immersive consciousness was experienced.

    In her book, Religious Conceptions of the Stone Age and Their Influence on European Thought, Rachel Levy maintains that such immersive Paleolithic cave feelings have become encoded into subsequent archetypes of beliefs which persist in contouring Euro-American thought and which now, I surmise, continue to move in our regimented grooves of sensibility. If I may conjecture here, perhaps this attainment of such an adrenalinized cognizant sensation was the point of the venture, its objective and raison d'être, and as such necessitated the descent into the frightful deep pit so as to prepare a stuttering conscious arrival into the adorned chambers rich with depictions of intricately wafting, disembodied forms. If granted, then the opulently noise painted cavern can be said to be a site of glitch transporting capacity.

    Nerve Noise Visualization in the Grotte de Lascaux

    Consequently, prehistoric caves can be seen as places in which consciousness became self-consciously expanded into a larger field of virtual noise. This seems well illustrated by the noisy image-shower found in the Grotte de Lascaux with its marks of animal transit intermingled with a sense of death and fertility. The most widely known, and arguably the most splendid (looped, as it is in places, with dynamic feral sashes which wind and twist imposingly over its intricate interior shape), is the Grotte de Lascaux [149] located atop an ancient headland in the Périgord, France, which I attained the uncommon privilege of visiting.

    As Georges Bataille says, we cannot know the full meaning of Lascaux but we can “sense its maker's desire to impress by stunning our senses”. [150] And indeed, in coming into the immersive space of Lascaux, my first impression was of being stunned and disconnected from the norm in favor of a psychic space where sex, art, and death meet in an aesthetic discharge.

    Lascaux cave was discovered on the 12th of September in 1940 by four local children and a dog, and shortly thereafter was thought by some to have had served magical imaging functions deemed useful in rousing the psyche in preparation for the hunt. In relationship to immersive noise consciousness, it is necessary to survey what we can ascertain today (given our highly culture-bound predilections) of visualization practices which, it is surmised, were utilized in accordance with the prolifically decorated galleries of Lascaux. We can hypothesize that an ability to visually fashion that which is non-visual (or not yet in existence) by allowing unexpected configurations optically to emerge is essential to life, then as now. This symbolic concentration is a sort of idealized schematization which can be further characterized as a product of a priori imagination through which ideas and actions become imaginable. And truly the creative act of visualization is immediately obvious on entering Lascaux's initial salon, as the painters of Lascaux took into full consideration the environmental characteristics and qualities of the physical cavern, first by utilizing both the encasing ceiling and walls, and then by using the physical bulges and bosses of the stone enclosure to meat out the forms of the animals' rumps and bellies.

    The painters, evidently, wished to create a total aesthetic ambience that would convey the all-over presence of animals in close proximity to the human visitor (and to each other) as the depicted beasts merge into each other with no respect for the relative size of the different species and with no obvious connection outside of their splendid over-all compositional ornateness. This particular voluptuously painted cave is the most superbly adorned of the prehistoric caves, festooned as it is in a wrap-around overhead garland of overpowering bestiality, with even its ceiling painted (with the use of temporary wooden scaffolding). It is not the oldest [151] nor the largest prehistoric cave, but simply the most artistically achieved and thus the most alluring, from our point of view, as in Lascaux most upper-walls and ceilings are resplendently surfaced with sumptuous immersive paintings depicting the quivering apparitions of semi-transparent animals. Mario Ruspoli characterized these paintings as depicting the “spirits of divine animals”. [152] Furthermore, with the Rotunda Salle des Taureaux (Bull's Chamber), Lascaux holds the distinction of housing the most colossal Paleolithic frieze (with the largest painted figures) known to us and this fact alone merits our rapt immersive attention. One of the Bulls which festoons the cloud-like Rotunda frieze is almost 5.4 meters (18 feet) in length. Others in the same gallery are 3 meters (10 feet), 3.6 meters (12 feet), and 4.2 meters (14 feet) in length, whereas the largest figures at Altamira are only 2.1 meters (7 feet) long and those at Niaux average about .9 meter (3 feet) in length.

    Verily, the leitmotiv of the cave is huge groupings of horses in and around large semi-transparent dominating bulls. But what is particularly noteworthy is that this tangle of animal forms exists in a groundless (virtual) atmosphere where the bodies are not anchored to anything suggesting land. Rather, what is suggested is a 360° non-Euclidean space is precisely the arrangement of the ideal range of virtuality. There is no attempt at depicting non-virtual Euclidean ground or defining a landscape, and there are no plants, trees or rocks depicted. Moreover, the dominating figures here are not simply bulls, but rather bull-apparitions, hung with and interposed by a dainty petticoat made up of smaller animals (stags, horses and bison) all organized in crescents and cruseiforms in and around them in interpenetrating and profuse fashion. Furthermore, the mural in the Salle des Taureaux struck me as aesthetically deluxe in its capacity to evoke intelligence through the management of line and its unification of the semi-sculptural with the graphic.

    Because the walls of the cavern have been coated with crystallized calcite due to flooding long long ago, the paintings glimmer with a subtle sparkle which is enchanting to noise vision. [153] Thankfully, the congealed calcite served as well as a protective sealing and safeguarding varnish-coat which has kept the paintings' color remarkably fresh and well preserved. This glimmering effect was heightened further when my Ministère de la Culture guide dowsed all the electrical lights (designed to reproduce the tallow lamp originals which burned animal fat with Juniper wicks) and lit a cigarette lighter to better convey an idea of the original visual effect of tallow and burning wicks which provided an unsteady twinkling light (as a candle flame does). At that point the calcite twinkle burst into a full-blown flicker.

    More than one hundred burned tallow lamps were discovered inside Lascaux [154] and even if they were all in use at the same time, which is unlikely, one must visualize how faintly dim the light is inside the cave, and how lovely a warmly soft, etiolate-fat incandescence illuminated its walls, and how this flaxen dimness suggests to the mind a semi-dream state, reminiscent, for me, of how invariably exciting it is to go to sleep in an unaccustomed bedroom where the unfamiliar wallpaper and pictures, faultily grasped in the obscurity of night, are only faintly perceptible and thus open to imaginative interpretations.

    What is significant to this study of noise vision are the psychic effects produced by the dim seductiveness of the cave's friezes. What I felt when caught up in the supernatural ambience of the space—due to the dim glint of the calculate, the smell of the dank earth, the slightly overhead majestic size and sense of transparent movement of the wrap-around painted beasts which were strewn throughout—was a sense of deliriously (and vicariously) identifying with them, even as they burst over the edges of my visual cone without restraint, and of euphorically running among them as a half-horse/half-man silene (centaur), that jocular classical Greek woodland spirit similar to satyrs (who were half-goat/half-man). This totemistic state of consciousness [155] is what John C. Lilly (1915–2001) calls “species-jumping-thinking”. [156] Deleuze/Guattari's term for experiences of this nature is becoming-animal. For them, “to become animal is to participate in movement, to stake out the path of escape in all its positivity, to cross a threshold, to reach a continuum of intensities where all forms come undone, as do all the significations, signifiers, and signifieds, to the benefit of an unformed matter of deterritorialized flux, of nonsignifying signs”. [157] Along with this experience of feeling imbricated in a becoming-animal panorama [158] by self-fashioning a “map of intensities”, [159] I felt enveloped and tangled inside the passion sensation of sacred/sexual noise as the fertile abundance of animal spirits covered and absorbed me in a generalized sense of fertility (a fertility which would help ensure the success of any hunt through a plenitude/excess of the hunted).

    This silene sensitivity was particularly acute in the Axial gallery, the gallery that follows the vast Bull's Chamber, as here the cavern tapers to form a more compressed overhead ceiling display. Here one finds a tremendous stag 1.38 meters high (4.6 feet), with an enormous rack of entangled antlers flanked by three horses and an abstract door-like form and rows of dots. Here, particularly, I had this feeling of being included in frolicsome animality. A sense of tragedy was conveyed there too, though, by an apparently wounded and fallen horse which concluded the gallery. Soon, however, my frail humanity gratified me and I felt very remote indeed from the tragic animality of my surroundings, almost as if I were a miniature silene carved out of silver and ivory. As I slipped out of the previously keen feral feeling, I felt the flagrant beasts running over me and exploding me, along with a hundred other things.

    Lascaux's friezes, I must assume, had similar psychic/symbolic meaning to those who rendered them and looked upon them, and that they supplied a noise vision framework in which an expanded immersive consciousness could be expressed sociably. Noise vision is present here in various degrees of enfoldments and unfoldments; dividing space up into ostensibly exterior and interior distance has no real significance.

    One thing that is unusual about Lascaux is that access to its galleries is far easier than in most other caves (such as at Niaux), with the exception of the gallery called The Chamber of Felines which I was not permitted to see due to its remoteness deep within the cave. As previously established, the majority of entrances to prehistoric caves are far from the painted “inner sanctuaries” [160] and require an eventful, hazardous journey which heightens the emotional intensity. Those that are not difficult to reach physically, like Lascaux, start their gallery/sanctuary at the point where light diminishes, creating a transitional emotional and dilational retinal passage adjustment in preparation for a sacred experience (according to Leroi-Gourhan). [161]

    The other gallery inaccessible to me was the Shaft or Pit, which was considered too difficult and dangerous to visit. The Shaft is a 6 meter (20 foot) deep hole, just wide enough for one person to fit in comfortably, halfway along the Passageway toward the Chamber of Felines. It contains the famous scene of the wounded bison who is literally spilling his guts and the bird-headed reclining man with an erection (the sole human-narrative scene in Lascaux). However, I was not allowed to see this.

    Nevertheless, just prior to the Shaft/Pit is the Abside (Apse), a roundish, semi-spherical, penumbra-like chamber (like those adjacent to Romanesque basiliques) approximately 4.5 meters in diameter (about 5 yards) covered on every wall surface (including the ceiling) with thousands of entangled, overlapping, engraved drawings [162] that, on request, I received the additional unique privilege of seeing.

    The ceiling of the Apse (which ranges from 1.6 up to 2.7 meters high (about 5.2 to 8.9 feet) as measured from the original floor height) is so completely and richly bedecked with such engravings that it indicates that the prehistoric people who executed them first constructed a scaffold to do so. [163] To me, this indicates that the Apse was an important and sacred part of the cave and indeed Ruspoli calls it the “strongest, most richly symbolic, most mysterious and most sacred” of all the inner spaces making up Lascaux. [164]

    Generally the Apse, however, has been ignored by art theoreticians (there is only one widely published scholarly investigation of it per se, by Denis Vialou in Arlette Leroi-Gourhan's Lascaux Inconnu even though Abbé Glory spent several years trying to decipher this inextricable chamber) as nowhere is the eye permitted to linger over any detail (despite holding an immense 2.5 meter engraving (8.2 foot) in its midst). Rather, the gaze is urged on by an all-inclusive flood of sublimated optic information in need of visual stamina. Nevertheless, the Apse contains a semi-legible “comprehensive index” of all of the forms of representation found scattered throughout the entire cave, thus making up what Mario Ruspoli calls Lascaux's “véritable corpus” (real body). [165] My assessment, though, is that it is Lascaux's veritable noise vision center.

    Figure 4: Enhanced detail image from the Abside of the Grotte de Lascaux, Dordogne (France)
    Figure 4
    Enhanced detail image from the Abside of the Grotte de Lascaux, Dordogne (France)

    Describing it, Bataille said that it was one of the most remarkable chambers in the cave but that one is ultimately “disappointed” by it. [166] I was not disappointed, however. Indeed, what pleased and fascinated me about the Apse was precisely its cryptic and foreboding, overall hyper-totalizing, iconographic character granted by its boundless, palimpsest-esque, wall-paper-like image explosion (what Bataille called its fouillis) of overlapping, near non-photo-reproducible stockpiled drawings from which, when sustained visual attention is maintained, unexpected configurations visually emerge. Here animals are superimposed in chaotic discourse, some fully and carefully rendered, others unfulfilled and left open to penetration by the environment, all commingled with an “extraordinary confused jumble” [167] of lines including, remarkably, the sole claviform sign in the Périgord and, even more remarkably, Lascaux's only reindeer, an animal that existed plentifully in the period of the adornment of Lascaux. Its extensive use of superimposed multiple-operative optic perception (optic perception unifies objects in a spatial continuum) presents the viewer with noise vision par excellence: no single point of reference, no orientation, no top, no bottom, no left, no right, and no separate parts to its whole. Such visual-thought is homospatial noise vision, then, as according to Albert Rothenberg in The Emerging Goddess, homospatial thought is visual-thought “outside of space or spatiality” which “transcends differentiation”. [168] This homospatial quality is deeply suggestive of the non-spatial character of consciousness itself.

    As a result of this homospatial noise vision of the Apse, I had the peculiar feeling of being flooded by a cloud-like image cesspool of deep meanings I could not uncode, as if I were in the midst of a model of the Bohm/Pribram universe as implicate pattern. As such, it seemed an imposition onto Paleolithic culture of the very thing that should destabilize it: nihilism. Nihilism, in that it is no longer a matter of heterogeneous figuration, but of scanning a homospatial criss-crossing and oscillating battle scene between interwoven figures, immersed in their ideational ground with which they have merged in a deliberate process of constitutional defigurization. There is no longer any space outside of the figures to define them and, hence, in a mental reversal, space is immersed in the overlapping figures. The nihilistic cancellation at work here, then, seemed to be an attempt to deny the validity of subject/object understanding and to deny that any visual erudition of anything whatsoever is possible, in the interests of omnijective introspection.

    Bataille claimed that what was curious about the Apse was that the artists “abandoned their oeuvre to the next to come after them in an ant-like activity”, yet “they did not engrave their figures with less conviction or care”. [169] Obviously the artists here did not work from a life model but from the overlapping introspective depths of their visual memories. In like manner, the Apse seems to call upon the viewer to construct a mnemonic psychological interpretation of it based on its tightly woven, intricate abundance, that is, its latent excess. But even after introspectively synthesizing the overlapping imploded individual parts into a mnemonic coherent whole, the Apse retained for me a provocative discord and irritation which tantalized my mind further towards a withheld (perhaps forgotten) seemingly encoded signification. But as our subconscious is energized by sustained desire, that which I sensed to be both obscure and overabundant about the Apse merged into a hybrid interpretation that combined conflicting ideas about abundance and nihilism into an égréore complex chunk of noise information which I then viewed as a single meta-nihilistic mega-symbol.

    With this meta-nihilistic mega-symbol's boundlessness, the Apse appeared to me the most sacred of the cave's sacred places. Certainly, easy conceptions of one beautiful being as distinguished from another (in specificity) are denied and an aberrant invalidation takes place where previous concepts of the finite and the infinite implode (as do concepts of the voluminous and the vacuous) into a unified field of multiple-reproductive disembodied existences.

    This, then, is a sacred/sexual place of personal intrascoping and transformation (by reason of its creative noise vision and anticipated self-cancellation) as its beautiful representational anti-depictions are neither here nor there but overlap. Clearly, what I am saying about the Apse runs counter to the heart of positivism, a paradigm under which we continue to toil unconsciously, as the positivist ideal is a search for rational, systematic thought where images can be broken down, explored, understood, and explained. Here, in the Apse, we seem to have encountered an irrational systematicism that seems to critique reason, a systematic critique that predates (and in some places overlaps) the modern positivist attitude towards sensation. Here, we are inside a homospatial site of overrunning flux and of hybridization: a place for the rejection of realism and its values (or at least a place to save oneself from the futile and finally unreasonable claims of dogmatic realism and rationalism). The Apse, then, represents a thrusting off of optic and mental boundaries and is thus a complex mirroring of our own fleeting impressions which constitute the movement of our consciousness, the perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves. Here, we are not static and have no use for reductive concepts or practices, but are inside a noise space that carries its own nihilistic opposite within itself.

    Particularly dense with overlapping noise imagery is the part of the Apse called the Absidiole, a small, niche-like hollow (like the semi-spherical small niches that house holy relics attached to the apse in Romanesque basiliques) just in front of the drop into the Pit. Here, the immersant can ostensibly participate in a play of self-tutored multiple-immersion into layers of noise as one stands in the Absidiole of the Apse, which is located inside the groin of the cave, and introspectively view through sublimated excess an explication of the curved inner-logic of immersion into noise itself: encased and withheld excess. Assuredly, vision here is no longer the controlling power over animals in nature but, on the contrary, vision itself is engulfed in nature's womb. The motivational force which quickens the Apse, then, seems to be a desire to undermine perpetual vision and replace it with another type of impregnable (immersive noise) vision, or at least to suggest that there may be other types of vision possible. Its nihilistic excess serves the positive function of questioning the validity of the customary appearance of things and to make connective understanding inextricably felt.

    Indeed, the basic function of the visual turbulence of the Apse, from the connective perspective, is to precisely shake our conviction that our visual thinking is sound and to hold any such assured convictions, rather, in suspension. Hence it is only routine that formal issues (where consciousness may be said to be self-referential and self-sufficient) would arise over any humanist narrative ethic, as the Apse is more concerned with a recycling of psychological energy than with optically correct astuteness. Hence, freed from representational obligations, dark chaotic powers of consciousness are unleashed via the Apse's repressed excessive exuberance.

    When interpreting my immersion into noise in the Apse, we must remember that even the simplest perceptual activity of viewing discrete images utilizes higher-level cognitive activity, as perceiving anything involves description and inference. Indeed perception utilizes a plethora of built-in assumptions and hypotheses as it fills in absent information and draws conclusions based on (but not reducible to) incoming data in terms of part/whole regions and figure/ground relations from which there eventually emerges a preferred percept. Keeping in mind that the human's natural field-of-vision is roughly 120° vertical by 180° horizontal and that the Apse's perceptual-field far exceeds these parameters, the resulting flooding-over effect of the Apse (which is significant in creating the immersive noise effect) accounts for some of the visual chicanery experienced here. However, in the Apse, the level of evasive mono-complexity (given the uniform shading in which the one sombre value dominates the complex visual arena) of the fouillis also challenges preconceptions of legibility based on our ability to identify and locate figures in their ground, and this made me wonder if the visualization chamber I was in was not perhaps a training spot for the hunters to improve their discerning vision, so as to aid them in visually discovering animals from within their tangled natural camouflage.

    But also on scanning the systematic, intricate and perplexing inert spread of the Apse, one cannot but sense that in some way one is looking at a representation of the metaphysics of orgasm and death, and that by absorbing its visual code, one was looking sex/death in the face. To be, or not to be: that is the paradigmatic choice when visualizing form in and out of existence, when examining the elusive alternatives made manifest here. Being, beings, or nothingness: all are tentative conditions of resolution (or forestalled resolution) here; all spout their own ontological/neurological preferences.

    In this purging atmosphere of imploded meta-nihilistic sacrilege, spontaneous reflexes only go so far and reflection necessarily takes over in search of an expansive meaning. Yes, nihilistic amanuensis, jubilant noise and catastrophic implosion are here, not only in how this staggering image-dump can be read, but also in terms of how its creation entailed the task of disrespecting the care with which marks achieve representational artistry in an apparent desire to achieve and contemplate radical negation. This scouring of assertive vision must have been deemed necessary precisely here, as in the other galleries, for very often superimposed images respected the marks previous laid down and sensitively incorporated them into the ensuing hybrid super-impositional compositions. By ransacking representational vision in this way, the Apse paradoxically partakes in the category typical of major art (regardless of its marginal standing within the cave and within Prehistory) as it seemingly rejects the figurative tradition in order to reinvent it as entrancing meta—(or supra)—representation. Thus it is major in the way that John Cage's musical composition/non-composition 4'33" is major, that is, in forcing us to astutely consider silence as sound. And, as such, it is a meditation on fullness and emptiness: on the emptiness of fullness and the fullness of emptiness. This is its key noise vision value.

    On further reflection, I found the Apse noise encounter to be in rapport with the philosophy of Hegel where he maintains that our absolute sense is first a pure being identical with non-being.

    Archaeologists are continuously attempting to understand the marks left here from this inaccessible epoch as they analyse its dishevelled iconography in hopes of ascertaining why this tangled impulse was consummated. Most do not see, however, that the Apse defies the common assumption that visual art is associative, that it is based on the human mental capability to make one thing stand for and symbolize another, in agreement with society. The usual assumption is that art-marks on a surface denote content, not just to the mark-maker but to others as well. As an example, the Abbé Henri Breuil (1877–1961) (speaking generally about Lascaux) maintained that some of the mystifying, abstract, geometric marks represented the hunting paraphernalia of traps, snares and weapons, and Leroi-Gourhan placed these abstract marks into a category based upon sexual duality where dots and strokes represented male signs, and ovals, triangles and quadrangles, female. There is mixed agreement on these two interpretations, but all we know for sure about the abstract constitution of the Apse is that its dynamic cluster of representational/anti-representational operations (and the meta-nihilistic/mega-symbol boundlessness which it contains in its kitty) were reworked over the span of many centuries. However, by no means do all of the superimposed figures date from different times, thus their overlapping is not a simplistic function of time nor is it for lack of space. Thus its abstract intentionality assumes a certain degree of lucidity.

    The Abbé Glory, who lived in the Lascaux cave for several years while making an inventory of its contents, discovered that in the Apse there are several re-engraved figures [170] which is again baffling as it cuts against theories of anti-social resistance to figural thought and places us in the functional realm of cognitive dissonance, the psychological term denoting the mental state in which two or more incompatible or contradictory ideas are held to be equally sustainable. Hence the Apse's cognitive dissonance served a virtual function if we remember Brian Massumi's definition of the virtual as “a lived paradox where what are normally opposites coexist, coalesce and connect”. [171]

    If the Apse functioned as a mnemonic device, or as a site of hegemonic non-being severed from any practical purpose, we shall never know. But it is my hypothesis that the Apse chamber functioned as a cognitive dissonance visualization field and de-focal virtualizing area which adjusted-up the expanding and dilating eye/mind to the awareness of conflicting, non-rational omnijective realities involving sex and death through the use of deeply creative noise visualizations.

    We know that most of our cognitive functions and perceptual processes are carried out by the neocortex (the largest part of the human brain) and that the primary visual cortex is the part of the neocortex that receives visual input from the retina. What we can conjecture is that the subterranean aesthetic visualization process at work in the Apse may have been used to feedback optic stimulus to the neocortex in a foreseeing enterprise, an attempt to look into the future, as this process of feedbacking impartial stimulus to the neocortex is roughly the basis for magical gazing. It is imaginable that such a foreseeing enterprise would also be deemed of help in prognosticating the existence and movements of prospective herds of game which would facilitate the success of the hunt, among other things.

    To represent the process of this state of looping neocortical stimulus and to fasten a noise cluster of spirit-images on a wall (immersed and hidden among a plethora of others) is in some sense to snare and overpower the image and, ultimately, to have Hegelian power over it. [172] It is curious, however, to note that in the few depictions in Lascaux where animals have been wounded by spears or have fallen, they do not appear to be in pain. Perhaps the seers had found a way of passing into a virtual world beyond the wall by penetrating through the crowded palimpsest-like clutter and joining with the animal's vital spirits.

    David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson make the case that, after coming out of a trance, enchanters artistically recreated their visions, both as memory aids for later ritual travels and as portals through which they pass into the spirit world. They view cave markings as powerful ritualistic processes, not just as static pictures, and maintain that the abstract patterns that occur in parallel with the animals found in such prehistoric caves as Lascaux are representations of the phosphenes that accompany the meditative and trance states of the seer's practices, particularly those associated with psychoactive plants. These enchanting practices entailed trance states, it is surmised, which were in some instances produced (in part) by natural chemicals ingested by an enchanter in order to induce a trance for revelatory purposes. Altered states of consciousness induced by hyperventilation, rhythmic movements or psychoactive drugs universally produce entropic visual image-fields (a phenomenon derived from the basic structure of the human optic system—anywhere from the eyeball to the visual cortex of the brain—within vision). In his book, Alchemy of Culture, Richard Rudgley gathered supporting evidence (based on the detailed knowledge of local flora and fungi) from several researchers, that Paleolithic cultures utilized the natural distributions of psychoactive species in their locale as an early feature of their cultural development. Cannabis sativa was a known intoxicant in prehistoric Europe and hemp seeds have been found at a variety of Neolithic sites. [173] Trance states, too, were created and augmented by the utilization of hyperventilation and almost always in the context of rhythmic repetitive singing, drumming, dancing and clapping. According to Lewis-Williams/Dowson's adapted three-stage neuropsychological model, people who hallucinate in the later stages often experience a sensation of a vortex or rotating tunnel around them (vortex or tunnel shapes often appear as individuals enter the deepest stage of a trance fostering a sensation of travelling through a passageway). At that point subjects come to inhabit (rather than merely witness) an hallucinatory immersive world.

    One may speculate that the Apse served (and/or reflected) such a surrounding process where the self is experienced as capacity rather than existential identity, and where the evaluation of self has been revised from bounded to boundless. Such noise consciousness represents a paradigm shift which relativizes other recognitions of self-consciousness. It is pertinent that, in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari describe this shift towards boundlessness as one's becoming a body without organs (BwO) in terms of our self-shifting representational planes emerging out of our field of compositional consistency. According to them, the body without organs is an insubstantial state of connected being beyond representation which concerns pure becomings and nomadic essences. [174] Deleuze and Guattari go on to say that the body without organs “causes intensities to pass; it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension. It is not space nor is it in space; it is matter that occupies space to a given degree—to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced”. [175] According to Brian Massumi, the translator of A Thousand Plateaus the body without organs is “an endless weaving together of singular states, each of which is an integration of one or more impulses”. These impulses form the body's various “erogenous zone(s)” of condensed “vibratory regions”, zones of intensity in suspended animation. Hence, the body without organs is “the body outside any determinate state, poised for any action in its repertory; this is the body in terms of its potential, or virtuality”. [176]

    The above scenarios suggest a merging of awareness, first into a more restricted, and then an expanded, intense statement, which is the principle of entering noise art. Thus, it is possible to say that such states of manifestation are distinguished according to the degree to which potentiality is energized through restrictional noise. To apply the noise model to consciousness would suggest that a possible criterion for making qualitative distinctions is the degree to which the potential states of consciousness are unfolded and experienced as a noisy aggregate.

    Support for Lewis-Williams/Dowson's visualization account has come from the influential archaeologist Jean Clottes, scientific adviser for prehistoric art at the French Ministère de la Culture. Clottes has joined Lewis-Williams and Dowson in an investigation of their neuropsychological model in an attempt to fill a need for testable theories of why people inconvenienced themselves to such an extent as to create these intensive, highly seductive, immersive spaces. I have taken interest in their work as, from it, we might extract possible immersive art noise intentions and principles from the prehistoric painted and etched inner spaces.

    The neuropsychological literature teaches us that trance states proceed in their deepening in stages. Shimmering, incandescent, shifting patterns (referred to in the neuropsychological literature as entropic phenomena) have been shown to be produced early on in the trance process when syncretistic noise vision takes on an all-over field-like quality. Resulting entoptic form-fields contain grids and lattice designs, dots and flecks, zigzags, curves, and filigrees or thin meandering lines (all apparent in the Apse). In deeper trance states, these fields, depending on the state of mind and cultural penchant of the enchanter, are often, according to Lewis-Williams & Dowson, experienced as a rotating vortex or tunnel that seems as if it was completely sealing off and surrounding the subject in an immersive subjective world. The objective external world is progressively excluded from vision and consideration, and this field of inner enclosure grows ever more florid.

    These researchers hypothesized that the art adorning caves, stone shelters and tombs delineate trance-induced immersion into noise stimulated by congesting particular natural molecular arrangements, which produce psychoactive effects in the human brain; these are molecular arrangements which have had a significant cultural history of religious use in inducing visionary, mystical trance states. Accounts of hunter-gatherer and foraging groups include descriptions of enchanters who occasionally conduct rituals that they believe allow them to travel to parallel worlds set out in local belief systems. In these realms, deceased ancestors, deities, and miscellaneous delicate creatures await the enchanter who deals with them in ways intended to meet indispensable communal needs. In preparation for their mysterious interchanges, enchanters typically took steps to instigate trances through isolation in dark places, by frenzied dancing, through rapid breathing, and/or through the ingestion of hallucinogenic plants.

    The validity of exploring theories of altered states of consciousness depends on our capacity to overcome that quixoticism which enthrals the mind and takes it no further. That, in turn, depends on the understanding that the subject experiencing an altered state of consciousness remains in principle the same; the consciousness is essentially that of the same person, and the content of consciousness, the ideas and dreams, are those of the same person also, albeit revealed at a heightened level of intensity by the removal of inhibiting agencies and habits of mind. It is on this basis that Walter Benjamin demanded that the revelations of ecstatic visions be made subject to the same criteria of knowledge as those of the sober state, just as the conventions of conformist ideology must be treated to the same scepticism as one applies to raptures and dreams.

    If one accepts most of what I have said thus far as concerning the alteration of consciousness in the Apse via noise, we may now surmise that this altered consciousness [177] within the Apse would have at least two aspects to it. First, similar to the consciousness shift sometimes experienced when engaging in sex, it is an unleashing liberation and a breaking free from the world's ordinary representational space. This noise domain is one where not only are narrow conceptual territories transcended, but where one also frees oneself from all the desires of security that limit the familiar experience of everyday life. But it is also an enraptured experience which brings noise-fusion-vision into a larger abstract reality, that is, life's covert implicate order where boundaries making up various territories are transcended by our relation to the desire for entirety.

    In seeking to understand early immersive aesthetic noise impulses, then, I came away from Lascaux's Apse with a trust in its conjectural goal of serving as a vehicle for inter-special disembodied connectedness. Supporting such a noise theory on my part is the so-called sorcerer panel in the cave of Trois Frères, also in the French Pyrenees. Deep underground in a cramped cavern (like the Apse), a rendered half-human/half-animal figure dominates the space. The human/animal figure is staring directly out of the wall (which is unusual for Upper Paleolithic cave art). Just underneath are several heavily engraved panels, a commotion of animal figures with no apparent order or pattern (as again in the Apse). In the midst of this chaos of muddled excess is another human/animal figure and directly in front of this image is a reindeer's hind-legs and rear-end with its female sex prominently displayed. The sacred/sexual immersive (trans-special) potency is palpable.

    This proposed explanation for the dark-noise-excess of the Apse cannot be proven, nor, I think, disproven and thus it remains a moot point, however fascinating. Though obviously imbued with meaning, we unfortunately are unlikely ever to know the true meaning or function of the image-space of the Apse (or the other marks of the Magdalenian people for that matter). What I know though, with certainty, is how the immersive noise amplitude of the Apse operated on me, and what it did was collapse the inherited meaning of human image, making into a more inclusive and available sense of excessive ebullition, and a dynamic feeling of wanton sexual climax. Its shrouded noise scattered stirred my desire to seemingly unfold and deliver forth a sanctioned libidinous pathos where forms of salacious creative ferment and levels of self-indulgence are concurrent. From this state of floridity, it might be possible to further define immersive noise states of consciousness as those which contain a condition in which reality is perceived as consisting of more than that which everyday vision brings to light. Such immersive noise states bypass discursive counterintuitive processes and confer a greater scope to vision and therefore an enhanced and expanded unanimity.

    Bolstering this contention is the fact that, before leaving the Apse, I had looked around down the Passageway and into a portion of the Salle des Taureaux and I recall these chambers taking on the character of a moist orifice. At that point I felt like a naughty ravisher about to act out some unfathomable, risqué, multi-genus sexual act, as if I was emancipated to ford my human anthropocentric sexual frontiers and burst out of my specific species identity and into that of a bull, horse, peacock or peccadillo just as I have frequently imagined myself doing when engaged in sexual union. It is this sense of inhabiting a new corporeality in obbligato that is entirely unnatural, preposterous, and variegated which, as we shall see, holds importance when uncovering the idealized desires and onastic qualities of the immersive noise art experience.

    What additionally fascinates is that this fine jumble of delicate lines, some beautifully representational while others not, corresponded to the prolonged series of greyish drawing with which I began my carreer as an artist some twenty plus years ago: drawings which had partially been conceived of as a shadow of our nervous system's meshed neural signals.

    Figure 5: Gods of Politics, 1984, 14x11” graphite on paper, Joseph Nechvatal
    Figure 5
    Gods of Politics, 1984, 14x11” graphite on paper, Joseph Nechvatal

    Thus the Apse seemed an idealized shred from my own memory and I nearly felt that from the ceiling angelic divinities would pelt garlands of roses down on me. We should note that it is common to find prehistoric stones of various sizes that were incized with a jumble of overlapping animal drawings in no apparent order, piled on-top of one another to the point of illegibility. [178] We can say with assurance that the Apse's brimful-room noise style is almost unprecedented, save for certain panels in Les Trois Frères and at the cave of Combarelles, a nearby Périgord cavern which I subsequently visited the next day.

    On exiting the cave of Lascaux, the sense of psychic openness was striking as one returns and runs into the light, one's eyes reconstricting as one passes through the sparsely wooded area and emerges into homogeneous light on top of the hill with a magnificent vista at one's feet. It was there I spent the night in an auberge in preparation for a visit to Combarelles.

    The cave of Combarelles, like the Apse, contains an enormously doleful pile-up of almost imperceptibly engraved drawings deep, deep within the once almost inaccessible wet belly. A prolonged walk inside the cave preceded any encounter with the art but, once encountered, like in the Apse, depicted forms start snowballing and overfeeding on themselves. Here, too, our visual-mental system self-devours the assumed reality principle, ultimately causing its downfall by absorbing realistic representation into a homospatial noisy dissolution of form. Like the Apse, it too is colorlessly elaborate, heady, and intricately composed, but here I felt neither ravished nor aroused nor stretched by the hyper-fastidiousness of the obscure excess, but rumpled and crushed beneath the cave's monotonous dark and inaccessible logic. Indeed here, as in the Apse of Lascaux, representation was problematic and the normal linear depiction of figurative assurance failed in favor of a multi-linear non-sequential processing. Certainly, the etched walls did not have one singular classical point of view or a fixed position from which it depicted being, and it, too, operated on the dynamic of a supra/meta-dataload. But this operation was never mitigated by other colors of thought which might have allowed Combarelles to transcend the limitations of its own pictorial assumptions via a critique of them, as Lascaux had managed to do.

    What the open-endedness of the piled-up, noisy, disembodied fabula at Combarelles suggested to me was the collective abstraction of the production and distribution of every possible representation, along with the super-human desire for existing pluralisticly in many orbs simultaneously. [179] When I thought of the hyper-connectivity of its indistinct veneer of interlaced lines, I saw Combarelles as a meta-idea cove which functioned by criticizing the discourse of traditional understanding through measuring the distance and difference [180] to which coherence goes, and indicating from whence it has come: the complicated blurriness of noise.

    Nymphaea Nerve Noise

    Examined through the tradition of communicative symbolic interaction, immersion into noise's prevalent territorializing/deterritorializing configuration thus far appears to me to be roughly the inscribed parabolic space as we saw in the Apse of Lascaux. And, as such, noise art begins to create a cultural domain which is half illusionary and half real, just as any symbol is.

    Rounded noise order seems an attempt to encircle vast shapeless infinity into a symbolically distinct scope and location through parabolic configuration. Hence, immersive noise consciousness seems thus far to be primarily a function of a desire to create a convincing illusion of non-self-containment through a semi-enclosed noise space which heralds the sanctum of the tribal magic circle, the circle which interpiercingly severs a space of sanctity from the profane. According to Nigel Pennick, the circle is one of the most ancient symbols used by humanity and is seen through the history of humanity as the embodiment of the universal whole, representing the perfect totality of the macrocosm. [181] It symbolizes the perfection of totality in that the circle is a geometric figure formed with one line with no beginning or end.

    The central spot of the ancient symbolic immersive circle is the omphalos, the pivotal, still, capacity-point within the sacred circle. Inside the sacred immersive circle, the outside world is dominated and indeed defined by the omphalos' psychological protectoratship. The conceiving mentality behind the omphalos was that it marked the fixed point of the earth around which the spherical spiritual heavens whirled. Thus it represented a central place which remained steady and enduring while all else moved about it.

    Today we know that the earth rotates on its axis once a day, and that it revolves around the sun once a year. In early times, however, astronomy was based on an ideal geocentric cosmology according to which the earth was fixed and immovable. The earth was conceived as being at the center of the universe and everything spun around it. In this cosmology, the universe itself was imagined as being bounded by a great sphere to which the stars, arranged in the various constellations, were attached. So while we today understand that the earth rotates on its axis once every day, in antiquity it was believed instead that once a day the great sphere of the stars rotated around the earth. As it spun, the cosmic sphere was believed to carry the sun along with it, resulting in the apparent movement of the sun around the earth once a day.

    The omphalos' quintessence may have been only a scant central fire within a circular placement of stones on the ground which carved out the immersive space of emotional sanctity. However, an interpretation of this hoop of stones with centered still-point may be quickly conceived in terms of recognizing a point of view within the cyclical arrangements to the surrounding cosmos, as we see with the omphalos' evolution into the classical Greek maypole. A circle with a marked center and circular design elements emanating out from the central point is almost universally found in the world and it forms the basis of the floral rosette, one of the oldest and most widespread of ornamental designs. [182]

    Accordingly, since its Mediterranean origin, western philosophy has fundamentally presented itself as a theory of the omphalos. And with this idea of the fixed, sacred, central spot we see the nucleus of the city/state, as the sacred staff of the seer (which was used to inscribe the perimeter of the sacred round circle) turned into the phallic obelisk (rather than the female pudendum) and begins marking the convex power point around which all is organized.

    We shall quickly see in this and the next section how the sacred psychic circle (constructed around a central omphalos) connects to the sanctuary of the encircled sacred grove which itself connects to the origins of art in the West and to the maturation of the city/state. Thus far we have established that a parabolic immersive noise site is interiorly and conceptually encircling in aesthetic immersive sites, in order to enable the swallowed/semi-assimilated subject no avenue of self-protective flight from its excess of signification. What we have seen with the pudendum-like prehistoric embellished cave is that the prehistory of immersion into noise is primarily a history of assertively embellished aesthetic space in service of the virtual, the peripheral and the mercurial. It is for this reason that we will turn our attention now to certain aspects of the nymph myth continuum which makes up the enchanted nymphaea garden grotto [183] legacy, for the phenomenological awareness which such a lissom simulacra provides this discourse shall be serviceable in flushing out the extensive meaning of immersive expectations.

    Nymphaea is the Roman term used to describe temple fountain-shelters consecrated to the nymphs which were based on simple Agora grotto water spots. A nymphaeum, under the Romans, became a formal temple dedicated to the cult of a nymph. This temple often related to the source of a stream, but because these structures were based on the Greek natural grotto grove (with spring), the term later became applicable to both artificial fountain grottoes and to monumental public fountains. [184] Descended from classical and eastern Hellenistic prototypes, grottoes proliferated in the late 1st century BC and spread further during the Imperial era when they became a common feature in the gardens of wealthy landholders. A rigorous definition of the term nymphaea would limit its designation to sacred semi-enterable edifices that served as sanctuaries of the nymphs, and this is the sense which I am using the term here. Another important distinction to maintain, however, is that between the public nymphaeum and the private nymphaeum. Two principal types are evidenced in both cases: the rustic grotto niche, in imitation of the Arcadian cavern, and the architectural fountain-temple type (for example the, now chiefly collapsed, immense Nymphaeum Hortorum Licinianorum, or the extant Castell dell'Acqua Marcia, both in Rome). In private hands, the interior nymphaeum was often located within an architectural apse or in a large niche comparable to the cavea of the theater. The apse/nymphaeum constitutes the primary feature of the House of the Great Fountain in Pompeii, for example. [185]

    Clearly, entry into art noise space is not so much an entrance into earthly expanse as it is a representational passage into non-space ad infinitum. Noise is the space of access/excess we know as part of the instantaneous computer communication world. Noise is also encoded into the nymphaea origins of the garden grotto with its legacy of immersive exaltation of the feminine and its endorsement of sumptuous love. Thus, it is upon the garden grotto's roots as a sacred/sexual nymphaeum grove (based on the sacred omphalos-pudendum) where we shall begin to build upon the previous section's noise recognitions by continuing to trace the outgrowth of noise culture as detected in arcane archaeological sources and philos-theological traditions, both of which are open to interpretation of course. What is stimulating about the noise nymph and the omphalos-pudendumic nymphaea tradition for our purposes is its usefulness in tracing the cast-around 360° ideal aspect of noise within an enclosed, or partially enclosed, container.

    The grotto can be seen to embody the bucolic or the idyllic, the sacred or the profane, the mythological or the prescient, and/or simply be eloquently ornate. In a sense, it is the space of anti-noise. The grotto's space is the space of tranquillity, coupling, solitude, seclusion, obscurity, and cool pathos; but most significantly it is traditionally a metaphorical space symbolizing the human vector within the unbroken universal matrix. [186] But any metaphorical topos for the universe must be in its very constitution indeterminate, noisy, complex, unified and unsatisfactory in its denotation. The nymphaeum is that too, as its various definitions and types are capriciously broad while all sharing an accordant meaning.

    We can take the labyrinth as a symbol of immersion itself, as the entire point of a labyrinth lies in getting lost and searching about, [187] along with the self-discovery encountered through the search. That and their necessarily willed abandonment, all of which is salient to noise consciousness. Hence, labyrinthine understanding offers an understanding of works of noise art in that it grants us experience by penetrating space/time and, in a sense, secures that space/time for us.

    The labyrinth is a cultural noise space blending both landscape and architecture into an intricate search. In ancient times, when pregnant animal carcasses were cut open and disembowelled in preparation for consumption, there inevitably would be a great outpouring of the winding intestinal tract mixed up with the foetus. Not knowing anatomy as we do, it is supposed that primordial people took the winding intestines to be the birth canal. As a result these beliefs became part of Pagan lore.

    The earliest surviving labyrinths, all of classical seven-ring design, are rock carvings and graffiti and patterns on coins, seals and ceramic vessels, rather than full scale forms that could be walked through or upon. Full-sized labyrinths were too vulnerable to survive thousands of years against the combination of neglect, erosion and overgrowth. Early surviving labyrinth designs are found carved on part of an ancient dolmen at Padugula, Nilgiri Hills, in southern India which dates back to 11,000 BC, on a 1,300 BC ceramic vessel found in Syria, and on a 1,200 BC inscribed clay tablet found at Pylos, Peleponnesos, Greece. The labyrinth carving found inside the Tomba del Labirinto, a Neolithic tomb [188] at Luzzanas, Sardinia, could conceivably date to 2,500 BC if it is contemporary with the tomb, but later burials make this uncertain. There are at least five labyrinths carved into rock faces above the town of Capo di Ponte, Val Camonica, in northern Italy, ascribed to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (1,000–500 BC).

    Crete, considered the place of origin of all of the Greek Gods and Goddesses, was a highly developed Pagan civilization before its volcanic destruction in circa 1400 BC, with active trade routes to and from Egypt and other lands in the Mediterranean. Various Cretan coins between 43 BC and 67 BC bore the classical seven-ring labyrinth design, both in square and circular forms. This classical labyrinth design is believed to have originated with the Cretan parable of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to Greek mythology, King Minos of Crete had a craftsman (Daedalus) construct the labyrinth in order to conceal the Minotaur; the half-bull/half-human progeny of Minos's wife Pasiphae and a bull-Zeus. Queen Paisiphae, evidently sexually unsatisfied by King Minos, had ordered the inventor Daedalus to construct a convincing full-size model of a cow in which she could conceal herself, exposing only her vagina. Zeus, greatest of the Gods (who was born inside Idean Cave on the island of Crete) descended in the form of a bull and mounted and impregnated her, resulting in the birth of the half-man/half-beast Minotaur.

    There are several variations of the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, but the main story is certain. Crete had won a victory over Athens and as a cruel tribute required that every nine years seven young men and seven maidens should be sent to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur, who was now confined in the labyrinth. The fourteen victims were chosen by lot, bringing terror to every family in Athens whenever the tribute became due. Finally, Theseus, son of King Aegeus, volunteered to resolve the matter by slaying the Minotaur. Aided by a ball of golden thread provided by the King's daughter Ariadne, Theseus entered the labyrinth, slew the Minotaur and exited the complex space by following the golden thread he had unravelled on his arrival, thus finding his way out and ending the cruel tribute.

    This myth was widely known, as Zeus is a central figure in Greek mythology and, hence, became familiar in subsequent Roman culture. At Pompeii, where I visited, there was a square shaped seven-ring labyrinth scratched onto a crimson painted pillar in the House of Lucretius some time before the city was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. It has around it the cryptic words Labyrinthus, hic habitat Minotaurus. This demonstrates that the Romans were well aware of the Greek Minotaur's sinuous labyrinth.

    Although not in the classical design, the labyrinth motif was used in mosaic pavements throughout the Roman Empire and these are the oldest surviving full-sized labyrinths. A significant variation on the classical labyrinth design is the addition of a second entrance (or exit), so that a procession can enter by one entrance, reach the center, and then emerge by a short exit without turning around. The design is still essentially unicursal, however. The most enduring Roman labyrinths were built in mosaic as such mazes. Other Roman mazes are complicated networks of paths, like a labyrinth. However, unlike a labyrinth, they have multiple openings and possible directions (not just one as in a labyrinth) which succeed.

    The medium of mosaic offered much in the way of permanency to labyrinth and maze design. As well as being durable, many Roman mosaics were shielded from subsequent erosion by the collapse of the very buildings they once adorned, thus many examples have survived. Roman mosaic mazes consisted generally of a rectangular grid for most of the area which they filled, using the central area for pictorial illustration. Normally square and the size of a room, the most popular subject was the slaying of the Minotaur, but some Roman labyrinths simply portrayed the Minotaur, or other half-human/half-animal creatures such as centaurs. Eventually maze patterns were incorporated into the floors of some Catholic churches and cathedrals (less the Minotaur) such as in the nave of Chartres Cathedral which contains a majestic maze 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter to which penitent Christians peregrinated on their knees.

    In my noise vision view, the earth is a kind of wild vibrational arena in which one omnijectively experiences the pleasures of the flesh while being cognizant of the fact that one is an expanding noise projection immersed in an amplifying orchestration. The effectiveness of such a noise aesthetic realization depends upon one’s advancements in the area of intellectual and emotional conceptions rooted in noise. Fortunately, the pudendum-based grotto is possibly a site par excellence in which to scrutinize this obviously thorny province of voluptuous noise vision.

    To concentrate on the grotto is to summon all that was said concerning the archaic painted cave. Like in the treated cave, the art of the grotto uses (and then surpasses) nature to concoct an apparatus deemed suitable for shaping cognitive-vision/consciousness along the lines of the attributes of the omnijective expanding universe by modelling dilating connectivity in miniature. The discovery in the late-1920s by American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889–1953) that the universe was expanding implies remarkable things for the immersive space of the arcane grotto, as, like the painted cave, the grotto is a miniature zone of expanding liminality and cognitive crossing. It is a space of escape from the world of naive naturalism (for example, that proposed by the Italian theologian/philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)) and a zone of entry into the fluid, rhizomatic, and elfin world of connectivism where the spatial restrictions of conventional realism (think of the paintings of Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) or Winslow Homer (1836–1910)) need not apply, even while biological nature remains the grotto's starting point. Withdrawn into this zone of fay interchange, the immersant joins consciousness, not so much with the world outside, but with the classical Arcadian inner world of unconscious preterhuman existence, with its mantric cerulean rites of birth, pubescent passage, coupling, incantation and death.

    Porphyry (circa AD 233–303), the neo-Platonic and Neo-Pagan author of De Antro Nympharum, [189] tells us in the French translation that, even in the earliest times, certain caves and natural grottoes were consecrated to the gods and goddesses, long before temples were conceived of and built (citing the cave of Lycean Pan in Arcadia, among others). [190] By way of preparation for the grotto, archaeological evidence has indicated that there are traces of a 15th century BC Egyptian sacred garden grove in the temple complex at Karnak. I visited that old garden spot, which is tucked away deep inside the complex behind the sacred sanctuary temple of Amun (the hidden one), and found it barren but most immersively suggestive with its inner placement and diminutive scale.

    It was from the Assyrian civilization in northern Mesopotamia that we find sacred groves within which modest shrines were contrived for supplication. Moreover, archaeological evidence shows that some Mesopotamian structures had pits positioned into their rooftops which were planted with a variety of sprouted ferns and flowers that constituted a minute garden site for contemplation connected with the cult of Tammuz and/or Dummuzi. These sacred cults were later imported into Greece where similar sacred groves were claimed in the wild, but now based on dissimilar female divinities called nymphs. [191] The grotto's noise poetics can particularly be traced to the coves dotting the coasts of Greece, such as the dazzling caverns in the Peloponnesus along the bay of Diros [192] or the one I swam in daily in Siros for a week in 2008.

    Exactly where the Greek concept of the abounding sacred sexual nymph stemmed from is not known. I assume it is a descendent of the cult of Hathor from North Africa, but why this concept arose in North Africa, we do not know.

    Ostensibly, in ceremonial observance of this long fertile tradition, there emerged the previously mentioned pudendumic nymphaeum, an ancient Greek secluded area dedicated to the nymphs which typically included an extemporaneous grotto with waterfall or spring, nestled in a grove of trees (or sea cove) with a central devotional arena. This reminds us again of the Greek temenos, the spot removed from the common land, dedicated, in this case, to nymph Goddesses. The pudendum provides the nymph worshiper a full or semi-encircled sacred immersive space in which to enter into communications with the nymphs, for example with Syrinx, an Arcadian nymph who turned herself into a reed to escape the advances of the shepherd God Pan. [193] Pan, who lived in caves, was son of the nymph Penelope and is thought of as the God of fertility and unbridled male sexuality, known for engaging in sexual activity with various nymphs in the form of a goat. No cave dedicated to Pan and the nymphs is more renown than the Corcyrian Cave on Mount Parnassus which is celebrated as the site of numerous Bacchic orgies. [194] Yet Pan is not to be confused with satyrs, who were Greek woodland spirits. Satyrs had a human upper body and the lower body of a goat and were generally depicted as having dishevelled hair with goat horns and ears, and with an exacerbated erect penis (ithyphallic). In early Greek art they were portrayed as offensive in appearance, but later they were represented as being handsome and sexy. Greek vases occasionally depict post-coital sleeping or sexually active nymphs such as Thetis (who attempted to make Achilles, her son, invulnerable by dipping him in the waters of the river Styx).

    Few places testify more vividly to the development of the grotto than the cavern rich Bay of Naples. Insofar as the sea-based nymphaeum was incorporated by Roman culture into Italian gardens in the form of small grottoes with fountains or limpid pools of water, it advanced an eventually widespread European garden tradition (as Italy set the model for all early sophisticated European gardens). Grottoes in the Italian style generally present a pastoral, semi-nude nymph from Pagan fables (frequently Venus, the Roman adaptation of the Greek Hathor-based Goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite, whose myths she took over) tucked into a niche and accompanied by ferns and spouting or bubbling water. Venus, it must be remembered, was the Roman Goddess of love, originally associated with the biological fecundity of vegetal gardens. Amor, Roman God of love (the equivalent to the Greek Eros) was the son of Venus. Venus's cultural importance rose with the political fortunes of the clan of Julius Caesar (circa 100–44 BC) who claimed descent from Venus via Aeneas and Julia. Indeed Caesar instituted the cult of Venus and proclaimed her the Goddess of marriage and motherhood, Venus Genetrix, under which name he constructed a temple at the Forum in her honor. Her festival, Veneralia, is celebrated on April 1st. Most people today know of her from the 2nd century BC Hellenistic sculpture Venus de Milo, which was purchased by France and brought to the Musée du Louvre after her discovery in 1820 on the island of Melos or from Tiziano Vecellio Titian's (1485–1576) 1519 painting Worship of Venus at the Museo del Prado.

    Dionysos is Back

    What is also important to an immersive noise vision theory is that classical Greek chorus drew its associative power from the character of the thrice sacred impulse of the ancient agricultural Springtime Spree of drinking, planting and encountering ghosts. The Greek chorus is a remnant left over from the above mentioned ritual forms, in which all male community members participated freely and for which Jane Harrison uses the terminology dromenon (the thing done). [195] This ritual-action–turned-communicative-presentation is consistent with what Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995), in Totality and Infinity, says is the basis of the social relations: free gift-giving (so that referents can be held in joint to crystallize their communicative reciprocity). [196] But what is most significant to noise theory is the circular orchestra, the space on which the chorus noisily sang and danced. The relationship of that circle to eventual spectators shall illuminate just how noise art arose out of ecstatic ritual. One must remember that the tragic dramas of the poets Aeschylus (525–456 BC), Sophocles (495–406 BC), and even Euripides (480–406 BC), it is thought, were played not upon the theater stage but within the circular orchestra, one which marked out the sacred patch of the gods and goddesses.

    Originally, tragic drama in Greece consisted of a single actor and a large chorus, suggesting that tragic drama began as a choral celebration in memory of a dead hero (a replacement for the fawn or goat) in which someone, probably the leader of the chorus, at some point began to act out the exploits of the person being celebrated (after being symbolically eaten). In roughly 550 BC, the Greek Classical age began with Aeschylus, a notable participant in Athens' major dramatic competition, the Great Dionysia (a part of the festival of Dionysos). Aeschylus's influence on the development of tragedy was fundamental in that previously Greek drama was limited to this one actor and the chorus. Aristotle tells us that Aeschylus was the first to introduce a second actor. Aeschylus's tragedic production work was followed by that of Sophocles, work typified by tragic reasoned thought and polished phrasing. Aristotle tells us that Sophocles was the first to introduce a third actor into the tragedy. Sophocles' work was followed by Euripides, the tragic poet who is most responsible for severing the chorus from the action of the play. Aristotle tells us that, by Euripides' time, it is clear that the number of main actors has increased and the importance of the chorus decreased. Euripides' work also interests us in that he was predominantly an investigator of intense viractual [197] conceptions. A relevant example of Euripides' work, which was brought to my attention for its noise importance by Miranda Aldhouse Green, was the play The Bacchae, the last and greatest work of Euripides. Through briefly looking at this play I hope to show something of the noise nature of Greek tragic dramas as they were experienced by the Athenians at the Great Festival of Tragic Drama, an annual religious festival in honor of the God Dionysius.

    The Bacchae, which is narrated by the chorus (consisting in this case of female worshipers—played by masked men—of Dionysius called Bacchae, a name derived from Bacchus, the Lydian name for Dionysius) tells the story of Dionysius, the Greek God of wine, revelry and of nature in all of its organic and bestial prodigality. The Bacchae refers to a group of maenads caught in Dionysius's Bacchic frenzy, whipped up by the exacerbating attractive enchantments of Dionysius.

    In The Bacchae, Dionysian ritual is consistently connected with exultation and liberation as the chorus sings of the raptures of Dionysian bliss. Such Dionysian worship was only one of the mystery cults that flourished in ancient Greece, however, the most widely known being Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries. The word mystery here refers to the fact that these cults required that their rites be kept secret from outsiders. Most scholars believe, on the basis of testimony from Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, that the Greek Mysteries were comprised of three main components: the deiknymena (things shown), the legomena (things said), and the dromena (things done).

    In the play, by enflaming the Bacchae, Dionysius deliberately rouses the anger of the disrespectful but authoritative, youthful King of Thebes, Pentheus, who vows to put a halt to the Dionysian orgies (the Greeks called the rites of mystery cults orgia (i.e., orgies)). Enraged by Pentheus's refusal to accept his ecstatic authority, Dionysius whips the women of Thebes into a deranged and furious delirium as to castigate Pentheus's impertinence.

    The play's course covers Pentheus’s attempts to dissolve the tenacity of Dionysius's necromancy and his eventual humiliating demise at the hands of Dionysius when the disguised Dionysius shrewdly causes Pentheus to challenge (and ultimately relent on) the full force of his powers. By so doing, he compels the King towards his own destruction, notwithstanding efforts made by his grandfather, Cadmus, and an eyeless augur, Tiresias, to discourage Pentheus from his agenda. Dionysius deludes Pentheus by making the King see him as a bull, to think that the palace was in flames, and believe that a phantom Dionysius, which the King was trying to stab, was the God himself. Dionysius appears at the end of a tragedy as a deus ex machina (God from the machine).

    The orchestra in which this work, and others, were first played consisted merely of a circular plot beaten flat and sometimes edged by a stone periphery. This is perhaps best seen today at the Epidaurus Theater where the circle is now surrounded by a theatron (the spectators place) which was subsequently added on. The theater, for the Greeks, was simply the place of seeing, (where the spectators sat) and the scene (or skene) was a hut or tent in which the actors dressed. [198] The central focal point of the whole was the orchestra, the circular dancing/playing/singing arena where the chorus of men performed their tragic dithyramb. It is from this active arena where the ideal (an ideal ironically for both the totality of the Gesamtkunstwerk and for non-art) of the non-differentiation between artist and non-artist, between art and life, between noise and music, between various art disciplines, and between the final work of art and the spectators, originated in the West. All these impulses stem from the group revelry taking place in a noisy sacred circle which sprung from the hoary shrine. It is this relationship between the space of the chorus and the space of the spectator where we can observe, with the shifts of time, the emergence of art noise from its roots in participatory ritual—the move from dromenon to drama.

    The space is circular because its quintessence is the previously mentioned circular arrangement of stones on the ground. It procured a sense of fervent sanctity in which the undifferentiating dance-rite revolved around some sacred/sexual focal point at the circle’s center. As previously outlined, this centering point (omphalos) represented the centered place where heaven joined with the earth and where communications with the gods and goddesses were possible. It is from this metaphysical hoop's omphalos that occult noise perception generally looked inward at cocooned inner space and outward towards an expanding immersive space of the vast cosmos. At first this point was marked by bundled stalks of reaped oats that sat in the center of the circle and only later became a stylized male phallus or female pudendum or the figure of a homo erectus god or goddess, and then still later their extra-representational maypole or altar. This sacred centring point of encircling immersive space reflected the belief of the centered place of the community member in the cosmos.

    In the circular space of the proto-orchestra circle, the entire licit Greek male society would gather and ardently rotate around the omphalos cum stave. [199] There is no division at first between actor and spectator, as all Greek men participated in the dance-worship with its consolidated emotion. In all respects, the amphitheater seating, which we know well today, developed when the Greeks moved the omphalos-based sacred orchestra circle up against the side of a slopping hill so that those excluded, but watching (the uninitiated, the women and the children), would have an unobstructed view of the Dionysian festival. The Theater of Dionysos at the Acropolis is a chief example.

    With this new arrangement, more and more uninitiated people would gather to watch the ceremony and it is precisely at this period where the Dionysian ritual, the thing actually done, turns into the abstraction of art—and into show. Thus a bulk of western art as it has been conceived for about 2,400 years begins with the demise of immersive noisy participation and the advent of passive contemplation through the watching of something prepared worthy of attending. Now the noise eye and ear has been removed from the action of the rite and separated from the whole and placed at rest, aloof and detached through distance by the mounting stone seats which semi-circle the spherical omphalos-based orchestra pit.

    What an emphasis on aesthetic immersion into noise does, is to place us back into a ritual position by dragging art down into the felt 360° noise-perspective of the enthusiastic and participatory (if we fight to overcome cultural impediments).


    1. Deleuze, and Guattari, On The Line (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983) 2. return to text
    2. Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema. ( New York: E. P. Dutton and Co, Inc., 1970) 41. return to text
    3. Non-communication.return to text
    4. That is, disorder, chance, and the exceptional.return to text
    5. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984) 271. return to text
    6. R. G. Collingwood, Principles of Art (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1938) 223. return to text
    7. Robert Stewart, ed. Ideas That Shaped Our World: Understanding the Great Concepts of Then and Now (London: Marshall, 1997) 93. return to text
    8. Janet Wolff, The Social Production of Art (NY: New York University Press, 1993) 1. return to text
    9. Wolff, 92. return to text
    10. Teresa Brennan, and Martin Jay, eds. Vision in Context (London: Routledge, 1996) 31. return to text
    11. Hal Foster, ed. Vision and Visuality , (Seattle: Bay Press,1988) x. return to text
    12. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1976). return to text
    13. Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision (London: Verso, 1986). return to text
    14. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1979) 201. According to Foucault, the major effect of the panopticon (a circular prison designed by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) based on his principles of “happiness calculus”) is to induce in the prison inmate (and by extension anyone) a state of consciousness that assures the automatic functioning of power.return to text
    15. Jane Ellen Harrison, Ancient Art and Ritual (Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts: Moonraker Press, 1913) 21. return to text
    16. Homo Sapiens with large frontal-lobes who migrated from the Middle East about 17, 000 BP. At first their art consisted of intimate body decoration such as beads, bracelets, pendants and necklaces.return to text
    17. L’Oreille d'Enfer in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil and Grotte de Pair-non-Pair in Gironde are good examples.return to text
    18. Brigitte Delluc, and Gilles Delluc, Discovering Lascaux (Pollina à Luçon: Editions Sud Ouest, 1990) 46. return to text
    19. Delluc and Delluc, 55. return to text
    20. Carla Hoekendijk, ed. Interfacing Realities (Amsterdam: V2 Organisatie, 1997) 21. return to text
    21. Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality (New York: Summit Books, 1991) 379–82. return to text
    22. Alfred Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Philadelphia: Saunders, 1953) 615. return to text
    23. Begining about 45,000 to 38,000 years ago and ending around 10,000.return to text
    24. Delluc and Delluc, 57. return to text
    25. If one accepts the point concerning an infant’s rapport with voluminous breasts.return to text
    26. The concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total-artwork) is a proposition rooted in the Neo-Platonic heritage of Romanticism. However, for Richard Wagner, it took on a narrow and precise meaning as he re-theorized it in his 1849 hypothetical essays "The Artwork of the Future" (Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft) and "Art and Revolution" (Kunst und Revolution). "The Artwork of the Future" has two principal themes. The first proclaims the doctrine of an "art of the people" which idealized art in a way that would necessarily engage the masses (inasmuch as it was a narration of the masses own thoughts, feelings and aspirations) as Wagner had imagined existed during the period of the Greek dramas. This is the Gesamtkunstwerk ideal in the kind-hearted political sense. In order to attain this level of idealized democratic-communist amiable social blend, the formal characteristics of the Gesamtkunstwerk were theorized as necessarily being the product of a fusion of the separate arts in pursuit of a "total effect" which would be achieved through a total synthesis in which all of the individual arts contribute.return to text
    27. Officially discovered by Emile Cartailhac in 1906.return to text
    28. Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record (New York: Abrams, 1987) 82. return to text
    29. Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Completes: Lascaux: La Naissance de l'Art (Paris: Gallimard, 1979) 46. return to text
    30. Carbon dated circa 17, 000 BP.return to text
    31. Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Completes: Lascaux: La Naissance de l'Art (Paris: Gallimard, 1979) 37. return to text
    32. Some of the paintings in Chauvet cave are over 30, 000 years old, 3, 000 years older than the oldest cave paintings previously known and nearly twice as old as those found at Lascaux.return to text
    33. Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record (New York: Abrams, 1987) 81. return to text
    34. Full of interruption and corruption and ruptures of information.return to text
    35. Brigitte Delluc, and Gilles Delluc, Discovering Lascaux (Pollina à Luçon: Editions Sud Ouest, 1990) 74. return to text
    36. Steven Mithen, The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 165–67. return to text
    37. John C. Lilly, Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Bio-Computer: Theory and Experiments (New York: Bantam Books, 1974) 40. return to text
    38. Deleuze, and Guattari, Nomadology: The War Machine (New York: Semiotext(e), 1986) 13. return to text
    39. Deleuze, and Guattari, Nomadology , 36. return to text
    40. Deleuze and Guattari, Nomadology, 36. return to text
    41. André Leroi-Gourhan, The Art of Prehistoric Man in Western Europe (London: Thames and Hudson, 1968) 163. return to text
    42. Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record (New York: Abrams, 1987) 80. return to text
    43. Leroi-Gourhan, 315. return to text
    44. Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record (New York: Abrams, 1987) 146–47. return to text
    45. Ruspoli, 146. return to text
    46. Ruspoli, 171. return to text
    47. Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Completes: Lascaux: La Naissance de l'Art (Paris: Gallimard, 1979) 58–9. return to text
    48. Leroi-Gourhan, 315. return to text
    49. Albert Rothenberg, The Emerging Goddess (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1979) 342. return to text
    50. Bataille, 59. return to text
    51. Leroi-Gourhan, 316. return to text
    52. Brian Massumi, "The Autonomy of Affect," Cultural Critique (Fall 1995): 83–109 (91). return to text
    53. Hegel's notion of the absolute consisted of becoming other in spirit.return to text
    54. Richard Rudgley, The Alchemy of Culture: Intoxicants in Society (London: British Museum Press, 1993) 28. return to text
    55. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 510. return to text
    56. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus , 153. return to text
    57. Brian Massumi, A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992) 70. return to text
    58. Also further altered by the meta-nihilistic chaos of repressed excess.return to text
    59. Leroi-Gourhan, 33. return to text
    60. This idea ties into Simultaneity in music: attempts at interweaving sound fragments.return to text
    61. Transmission as Derridean différance.return to text
    62. Nigel Pennick, The Ancient Science of Geomancy (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979) 119. return to text
    63. Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953) 69. return to text
    64. Grotte in French and grotta in Italian.return to text
    65. Naomi Miller, Heavenly Caves: Reflections on the Garden Grotto (London: Allen and Unwin, 1982) 17. return to text
    66. Miller, 18–20. return to text
    67. Miller, 7. return to text
    68. Allen S. Weiss, Mirrors of Infinity: The French Formal Garden and 17th Century Metaphysics (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1995a) 48. return to text
    69. Jacques Bersani et al. eds. Archéologie: Les Grands Atlas Universalis (Paris: Encyclopedia Universalis, 1985) 38–9. return to text
    70. De Antro Nympharum is a consequential and elaborate interpretation and defence of Paganism, which adapted Plotinus's (AD 205–270) teachings while putting extra emphasis on the importance of theurgic magical practices. In turn, Porphyry's theurgic theories were succeeded by those of Iamblichus (circa AD 250–312) (who also emphasized the preternatural theurgic factors in Neo-Platonism) and Jamblichus (circa AD 255–315) who also maintained a belief in sorcery and theurgy (the art of compelling demons and other supernatural powers to produce desired results).return to text
    71. Porphyry, L'Antro des Nymphes (Paris: Pléiade, 1918) 20. return to text
    72. Vecellio Titien's (1488–1576) painting from the Renaissance era, Nymph and Shepherd (1576), now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, illustrates the nymph concept beautifully.return to text
    73. Miller, 13. return to text
    74. Depicted in human form with the legs, horns and ears of a goat.return to text
    75. Miller, 15. return to text
    76. Jane E. Harrison, Ancient Art and Ritual (Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts: Moonraker Press, 1913) 64. return to text
    77. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969) 72–7. return to text
    78. Viractualism is an art theory term I developed in 1999. The term viractualism (and viractuality) emerged out of my doctoral research into the philosophy of art and new technology concerning immersive virtual reality at Roy Ascott's Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA), University of Wales College, Newport, UK (now the Planetary Collegium at the University of Plymouth). There I developed this concept of the viractual, which strives to create an interface between the biological and the technological. Viractualism is central to my work as an artist. The basis of the viractual conception is that virtual producing computer technology has become a noteworthy means for making and understanding contemporary art and that this brings artists to a place where one finds the emerging of the computed (the virtual) with the uncomputed corporeal (the actual). This amalgamate—which tends to contradict some central techno clichés of our time—is what I call the viractual. Digitization is a key metaphor for viractuality in the sense that it is the elementary translating procedure today. For me, the viractual recognizes and uses the power of digitization while being culturally aware of the values of monumentality and permanency—qualities that can be found in some compelling analog art. A key influence on me was Gilles Deleuze's consideration of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century philosopher who merged mind and matter into one material. In his "Spinoza: Practical Philosophy," Deleuze pointed me towards an acknowledgment of desires' productiveness, as Deleuze indicated how desires drive us to stir towards greater or lesser states of exalted comprehensiveness depending on whether the thing encountered enters into composition with us, or on the contrary, tends to decompose us. I think that viractualism signals a new sensibility emerging in art respecting the integration of certain aspects of science, technology, myth and consciousness—a consciousness struggling to attend to the prevailing contemporary spirit of our age in which everything, everywhere, all at once is connected in a rhizomatic web of transmission. But the viractual realm is also a political-spiritual chaosmos in the sense that new forms of order may come up such that any form of order is only temporary and provisional. Within viractual creation, all signs are subject to boundless semiosis, which is to say that they are translatable into other signs. Here, of course, it is possible to find resonances and affinities between formal and conceptual opposites. I suggest that the term (concept) viractual (and viractualism or viractuality) may be an entrainment/égréore conception helpful in defining our now third-fused inter-spatiality which is forged from the meeting of the virtual and the actual, a concept close to what the military call augmented reality, which is the use of transparent displays worn as see-through glasses on which computer data is projected and layered.return to text
    79. Harrison, 65.return to text
    80. Harrison, 66.return to text