Fluorescene – Light Feedback Chain


In the opening pages of Understanding Media, when introducing his most controversial and well-known claim, McLuhan presented electric light as an example of a medium without a message. This concept finds a literal incarnation in the audio domain in the practice of generating sounds directly from a mixing desk with no external input sources, that is to say in the use of a sound system without a signal. Amongst those active in the no-input mixer practice, Phillip Stearns has been conducting performances that explore the interferences arising between analogue representations of sound waves. By manipulating the electronic resonances of the mixer’s circuitry during long-form improvisation sessions, he articulates feedback processes that give rise to intense sonic outputs. In a performance entitled “Fluorescene” he extended this approach further by inserting compact fluorescent light bulbs into the feedback chain, so that signals from the mixer cause the lights to ignite. These in turn emit radio waves that are picked up by induction coils and then fed back into the mixer, closing the circuit between his autopoietic sound system and McLuhan’s no-content medium. Acting like the operator of a small scale particle accelerator, Sterns supervises the flow of electrons cycling through the feedback loops, pushing the system through different states. Each state fluctuates in a delicate balance, amplifying textures and rhythms visible in the flickering of the fluorescent lights. Embodying a pulse-flash duality axiomatic to audiovisual performances stressing synchronism, here a physical system is configured whose inherent limitations generate a perceptual field that interacts spatially with the senses.

Matteo Marangoni