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The Acousmatic and the Language of the Technological Sublime

Dugal McKinnon

New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, NZ


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The acousmatic is typically positioned within the tail of high modernism. Yet, it is better understood as archetypal of postmodernism, within the framework outline by Fredric Jameson (in Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism). That is, as a postindustrial aesthetic practice characterised by a particular condition: that in which cognitive mapping is problematised because the spaces and materialities generated through acousmatic technologies relate only obliquely, as surrogates (Smalley), to the life-world. Thus, the acousmatic is a contemporary instance of the sublime (in Burkešs terms, a mix of terror and delight), as it threatens to efface the spectator and frustrates their ability to make cognitive sense of the acousmatic experience. The acousmatic is therefore in line with Jamesonšs description of the postmodern work as tapping Œthe networks of the reproductive process and thereby [affording] us some glimpse into a postmodern or technological sublime.