The Resonating Interval:
Exploring the Process of the Tetrad
By Anthony Hempell

The Global Village:
Visual and Acoustic Space

The Mind and Eye: The Physiology of Visual Space
Western history has been dominated by the perception of the world as a linear thought: everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. McLuhan hypothesizes that this linearity is a side effect of the phonetic alphabet, which compresses the range of human speech and thought into a symbolic system of 26 characters. The result is a world view dominated by linear logic and the symbolic abstraction of meaning.

The alphabet and writing strongly biases our communication towards the world of visual space. Our discourse about our environment is constricted into ideas of lines, planes and grids. The universe is perceived as having a beginning, and at some point an end; time is constructed as a line. These models are not necessarily "truth," but abstractions based on our perceptive tools which are built to heighten our awareness of visual space. McLuhan states that it may be partly due to the physiology of the human eye (which perceives lines and perspective in great detail) that we are prone towards the visual.

The Lost Dimension: Acoustic Space
In contrast with the linear biases of visual space, acoustic space is analogous to the natural environment. Acoustic space surrounds us; it approaches from 360 degrees. It is a simultaneous process of "centers everywhere and margins nowhere." Acoustic space was dominant in pre-literate societies, where orality and myth were the medium between humans and the environment: "for hundreds of thousands of years, mankind lived without a straight line in nature."

Writing and publishing are the main technologies that have focused Western society on the visual; however, McLuhan claims the counteraction of two "acoustic" technologies (cash money and the compass), have kept us with some balance. Acoustic technologies focus on the intangible (cash as a metaphor for value/wealth; a means of increasing the "velocity" of the economy over barter) and the global (compass reconstructs the world as a navigable sphere).

Table 2: Attributes of Visual and Acoustic Space

Visual Space Acoustic Space
Left hemisphere of the brain

Linear, sequential; based on the line, plane, grid, perspective. Heightens response of the eye. Linear conceptualization, causality.

Right hemisphere of the brain

Gyroscopic, 360 degrees, reflective, reverberant, simultaneous. Heightens response of the ear (balance). Oral culture, myth, time as a cycle.

Modality: Achieving Balance
Modality is McLuhan and Powers' concept of the sensory preference of a culture. Our modality is presently visual, or at least visually-dominant. However, the increased use in video technologies (which increase the need for processing symbols, sounds and manufacturing metaphors and relationships) is shifting our modality towards the acoustic.

We do not always live in one modality: when we sleep, our senses are dimmed, and the hypnosis of a drum beat is caused by the "steady assault on a single sense." Therefore, our modality can change; but what is the "natural balance" of mankind's sensorium? According to McLuhan, we have overstimulated our visual sense, neglecting the diffuse and formless acoustic sense in favour of the "violence" of categorization and linear conceptualization.


Introduction | Tetrad:Concept | Tetrads:Past | Tetrads:Present | Tetrads:Future | Bibliography
copyright ©1996 by Anthony Hempell.