“Soft, Flickering Light”: Cave Paintings, Music, and Net

“Nothing is more destructive of the true values of primeval art than the glare of electric light in this realm of eternal night. Flares or small stone lamps burning animal fat, of which examples have been found, permit one to obtain only fragmentary glimpses of the colors and lines of the objects depicted. In such a soft, flickering light these take on an almost magical movement. The engraved lines, and even the colored surfaces, lose their intensity under a strong light and sometimes disappear altogether. Only in this way can the fine veining of the drawings be seen unsmothered by their rough backgrounds”.

-Siegfried Giedion, The Beginnings of Art

When the visual is emphasized, cave paintings lose their magic. With soft light, a cave’s texture is highlighted along with the paintings. Touch and sight engage together in what media theorist Marshall McLuhan calls “a translation of tactile space in visual terms.”

Cave paintings emphasize the cave as much as the subject matter. This is where the magic lies for Giedion. When one tries to get the paintings out of darkness, out of engaging with the tactile, the magic is lost.

Music is like a cave painting which is scrawled upon the cavernous Internet.

Being auditory, we tend to emphasize music’s hearing element. Sound only. Its isolation leaves a similar effect as the “glare of electric light in this realm of eternal night”. The tactile sense of music disappears if music on the Web is only perceived in this manner.

And that is where faint light is needed. Given to us by the Internet, this flickering comes as MP3’s, playlists, downloads, torrents, and the like. Music in these cases is treated as tactilely: moved, displaced, returned, disfigured, etc. Touch and sound fuse together.

Much like the cave paintings, music highlights the contours of the Internet as it does its the nature of the piece or artist. It is in this sense interplay that music is infused with a kind of magic that is unprecedented.

1 comment
  1. Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds
    me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this.
    I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read.
    Many thanks for sharing!


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