I ran across an interesting paragraph from Yasunao Tone in which he discusses his manipulation of paratext to change the audience’s expectations regarding his Parasite/Noise (2001).
Tone writes of,
“paratext, defined as ‘that by which a text becomes book and offers itself as such to its reader and more generally, to the public [quoting Genette]. Paratext is midway between the inside and the outside of the book, found in such places as the title, preface, note, blurb and dedication. These are the locations where the interaction between text and readership occurs. In other words, this is a study of literary institution. . . My installation piece uses audio headset guides distributed at the entrance and installed throughout the entire exhibition space. At first sight, they are similar to the audio guides museums distribute for information about the exhibited work. However, my headsets play a text read aloud, which has nothing to do with the exhibited work themselves. Accordingly, the text in Parasite/Noise is not exactly paratext in the terms that Genette implies, because it does not immediately mediate between the audience and a work.
My headsets are, so to speak, pseudo audio guides. Audio guides have a performative function. And just as the perforations dividing a sheet of stamps invite the user to ‘detach stamps here,’ my headsets invite the audience to expect a commentary on the works exhibited. . . . But the text in my headset installation neither informs about nor refers to the works in front of you. The audience will soon realize that the two names, the paratext, of the artist/authors, mean no more than a juxtaposition of two works. Parasite/Noise does nothing more than show the impossibility of the decodification or deciphering of a work. Instead, my headset makes the audience interpolate between listening from the headset and seeing the other works. Then the audience is no longer a passive observer and finds the headset to be a tool for use. . . this is a case in point for an artistic apparatus I call paramedia. [. . .],
What Tone is calling paramedia (media semantically or chronologically adjacent to the “main” media) here (or what would be the closely related idea of meta-media — media about the main media), can be seen as a sub-set of antistrophe — counterpart theory. Things can be counterparts as paramedia, as metamedia, or as parallel media. Tone is right that this involves the audience, driving them to integrate the streams of data into a unitary sensory whole or showing them the difficulty or the impossibility of the task.
Maybe then, another way of speaking about sound art is to talk about “counterpart art?” Paratextual art. Meta-textual art. Antistrophe. We wouldn’t be new to discover this (missing that distinction by a couple thousand years), but it offers a new way to frame contemporary art with a sound element with productive implications for practitioners and critics. How does the audio paratext work with the “main work?” What is the balance between the two? What is the phenomenological whole created by the synthesis (or at least unresolved juxtaposition) of the audio paratext and the visual stimuli?
Very helpful and interesting to see how Tone describes the issue (as one which shows the impossibility of deciphering or decoding). Not sure why he would jump to this nihilistic end-point — all perception is juxtaposition, integration, and the creation of a meaningful figure from a phenomenological ground. Life is a constant crush of paratextual elements, and yet we at least experience the illusion of an integrated and meaningful whole more often than not.