I’m working out some of the details of antistrophe in my own work. It has been very helpful for me to experience how the works I’m making function — they are teaching me as much as I am making them. For more detailed observations with an emphasis on the hard-to-get-at aspects of the theory, hit the jump.
As a summary, antistrophe is a term from classical Greek drama which translates as “against turning” or “turning against” in the syntax of English. In Greek drama, antistrophe was (usually) the function of the chorus — a nuanced and fluid way of weaving in perspective in the real-time performance of the drama. I’m appropriating the term to describe how sound can function in a piece that combines sonic and visual elements (or any multi-sensory or synesthetic work). A reference to Yasunao Tone brought Genette’s notion of the paratext to my attention, which is helpful as a subset of antistrophe in its broader sense. Antistrophe can be thought of as another stream of meaning which changes the tone of its counterparts. So, if the central character in a drama is unselfconsciously prideful and vain on his way to destruction, the chorus can provide the audience with validation of this reading while the character himself remains upon his destructive arc. Text one is the dialogue of the character. Antistrophe is provided by the chorus and can be thought of as “text one prime.” I say “prime” because antistrophe never stands alone. Its meaning is provided by its relationship with something else.
What I am arguing is that this is a very useful way of understanding how combined works of sound and sight can function. This is hard to see because (for largely technological reasons), the text of the visual image and the antistrophe of the sound which accompanies the visual image have become commonly linked in the public and artistic imagination for over a century. There is the movie and there is the “sound track.” It is worth attending to that phrase for a moment — the “sound track” runs upon its tracks — it accompanies, lockstep, the visual track. Even when there is no sound, it advances at one second per second of visual stimulus. This has helped to hide the idea of antistrophe from modern eyes (at least my own).
But take a step back and breath new life into antistrophe through technology. Decouple the 1 second every 1 second rule of sound and sight by producing a static image and a dynamic sound. What emerges is a variety of ways in which antistrophe can be accomplished. Following Genette’s lead, lets arbitrarily assign the visual image the status of “text.” What relationships can sound have to the text?
1. Paratext — as Genette describes.
2. Meta-text — a stream of meaning that rises up and out of the visual image and comments back upon it.
3. Con-text — Providing the broader scope within which the text should be understood.
4. Anti-text — a semantic refutation of the meaningful stream of the image.
5. Re-text — a reinforcement of the image (this is what the “sound track” does, in most cases).
All of these are examples of antistrophe (a turning against or away from the main emphasis — an un-equivalent co-presence), and all of them are productive tools for the artist working with synesthetic works (which sound art can be, depending on its design). That all of this sounds rhetorical is no accident.