A discussion of transduction, transversality and transmateriality, based on a forthcoming issue of the Fibreculture Journal…..
Digital, networked and informational media are extremely dynamic, and constantly diversifying in form and function at a dizzying rate. They fuse with social (and “natural”) worlds in a manner with which established powers find it difficult to come to grips. For many, from seriously challenged newspaper proprietors to established media disciplines, it might be time to pause for breath, if only for a moment—to regroup and adapt established practices and ideas, to count the survivors from among the old media worlds of just a few years ago.
Yet, if we pause for breath, it is to take in the new air. We can also embrace the accelerated evolutions of media forms and processes, and the microrevolutions in the social (and even the natural sciences) that dynamic media foster. We can forge ahead, embracing and thinking through what must be embraced and thought through, establishing new forms of critique, or new forms of design, in order to fully engage with the emergent conditions of our new engagements with the world via contemporary media. We can rethink the complex forces and ephemeral forms of digital and networked media via a “radical empiricism”. Relations and dynamic ecologies come first, before fixed forms and established disciplines or business models.
In short, we can seek ideas that will give voice to the transformative nature and powers of contemporary media’s new worlds and engagements. We can critically explore the
specific dynamics of digital, networked and informational media in the light of the constant transformations, micro and macro, that are these media’s very power. We can address these media’s own ecologies of ongoing transformation, and/or their co-evolution with other worlds (social and political worlds, natural worlds, the worlds of science, or art, of pleasure, of philosophy and theory).
To give this precision, we can engage with contemporary media worlds within the parameters (or “conceptual parametrics”) of three concepts: transduction, transmateriality, transversality (defined more precisely below). We begin from the assumption that transductions (the relay of forces, for example in a corkscrew or in the modulation of a video signal by audio data) and transmaterialities (the transformation of material flows, whether voltage in a computer. globalized distribution, or the movement of affect within social networks) are the lifeblood of digital, networked and informational media. These constantly generate transversals—lateral connections that transform all the fields they cross. These are often at once material, technical and social. The concepts/practices of transduction, transmateriality and transversality are meant as catalysts for experiments in radical empiricism, for immersions in the dynamic relations that distribute themselves within new media worlds.
Some examples of “trans” effects:
* cross-signal processing, relay and modulation, in VJing, dance and technology, and elsewhere.
* networks—wired and wireless—as ongoing transducers/tranduced, individuators/individuations, micro and macro and all this at the same time.
* the way in which metadata and feeds—and the generation of taxonomies or semantic webs—are indeed generative and transformative, but perhaps of taxonomies (categorisation tables of knowledge or elements of data) that are as destabilised by their own relays as they are stabilising .. the transformation of economies of knowledge that results.
* the implications of “trans” media events for cultural, social and political theory and practices. The new ecologies of practice (Isabelle Stengers) that result; new concepts of community, or of the commons (Michel Bauwens, Elinor Ostrom), or activism or democracy, that are adaptive, or fed by, “trans” media events and technics.
* art or design that brings together “strange constellations” of transduction, transmateriality, transversality.
* the challenges to, and/or transformations of, disciplines or established ecologies of ideas and/or practices in philosophy, cultural theory, economics or science as a result of “trans” media events and technics.
* new “transmaterialisms” and their implications for older materialisms.
* open access: design, publishing (whether of books, 3D objects, or perhaps genetic, genomic or neuroscientific data), education, data, ontology, etc and the new kinds of social, material and technical transactions allowed by “trans” media events.
* new concepts of invention.
* “trans” media events at the junction of virtual and actual.
* images, sounds and sensations as transducers/transduced/transversals, via “trans” media events, across bodies and social fields.
* the transformation of Capital by “trans” media events.
* biomedia—mutual inscription and incorporation (Hayles), between computing and social and natural ecologies.
* “counter-transversality” … rethinking computing and sustainability, “trans” media events and environmental crisis or social crisis.
* “trans” media events and the production of subjectivity.
* reactionary and radical transductions or transmaterialities.
* contributions to the theory of transduction, transmateriality and transversality at the junction of media and other ecologies.
* contemporary media and transience.
* generative ecologies and “trans” media events.
Transduction, Transmateriality, Transversality Defined:
o transduction: the active transformation of forces that allows an ongoing individuation—or coming together of relations into novel assemblages—to occur. This might be in the assemblage of a corkscrew and wine bottle, or in the relays which are also modulations between video and audio signal in VJing. (see Adrian Mackenzie’s Transductions: bodies and machines at speed [London: Continuum, 2002] or Steven Shaviro’s blog entry, “Simondon on Individuation”, http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=471).
o transmateriality: is a term recently developed by Mitchell Whitelaw. If computing allows for an “incredibly dynamic, pliable set of techniques for manipulating the material environment” (Whitelaw, http://teemingvoid.blogspot.com/2009/01/transduction-transmateriality-and.html), then transmateriality suggests “the extension of transduction to an understanding of the material relations and transformations involved in a computing immersed in the material world”. In this, computers are taken to be “material machines dedicated to propagating a behavioral illusion, or call it a working model, of immateriality” (Matthew Kirschenbaum—http://www.otal.umd.edu/%7Emgk/blog/LeavesATrace.pdf; http://mkirschenbaum.wordpress.com/). “Concepts like ‘data’ are functional abstractions for describing the propagation of material patterns through material substrates. But that at the same time these material patterns – and here I mean everything from optical pulses to hard disk substrates, luminous screens and speakers pushing air – these material patterns, and the sensations and aesthetics that result are profoundly shaped by data acting as if it were symbolic and immaterial. Transmateriality is an attempt to ‘ground’ the digital without losing sight of its (let’s say) generative capacities” (Whitelaw). If ‘Transduction suggests a way to link practices like physical computing, fabrication, networked environments, and many more… We could add tangible interfaces, augmented reality, and locative systems. … perhaps we can call this expanded computing: digital media and computation as material flows, turned outwards, transducing anything to anything else” (Mitchell Whitelaw, as above)
o transversality: a transformative mobility though different systems (that can be at once technical, but also social, political, natural). It tends to be lateral, rather than hierarchical. A transversal connection does not just connect fields or sets of pre-existing relations. It transforms the things/events that are brought into connected networks. Any ‘individual’/individuation/social or natural ecology is to some extent a network, and any network involves an ecologies of transversals. Crucially, the micro-reconstitution of relations is as important as, if not more so than, the macro- reconstitution of fields. (see Glen Fullers’ blog entry, “Transversality”, at http://eventmechanics.net.au/?p=675; Andrew Murphie’s account of Guattari’s use of the term, “editorial”, FCJ 9, http://journal.fibreculture.org/issue9/issue9_editorial_print.html; or Gerald Raunig’s “Transversality: In Search of a Non-Instrumental Relationship Between Art and Politics”, http://www.acfny.org/transforum/transforum-2/transversality/)