The medium is the message.

Marshall McLuhan apparently coined the term “the medium is the message” … circa 1964 in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). I havn’t read the book. I’ve only read the wikipedia entry. But its enough (for what I’m thinking about).

My gripe with much of sound works today is that they dont do much more than explore what is possible with technology. So it is very easy to say, ok, fine, well I accept it, the message is in the medium. And so the message is about the possibilities of technology, and about how it can cast our thinking (or our sounds) into different worlds which asks us to perceive things differently . etc. etc. bla bla etc. etc.

This is not what McLuhan was saying. His point is more sinister. He is saying that the “real” message doesn’t just lie in the medium … it is actually *hidden* in the medium, obfuscated by the apparent subject of the message. For example; a news bulletin communicates that someone has been murdered. The real message is that we voluntarily consume horrific stories whilst sitting in our lounge rooms. Why do we do that? Its quite senseless … but it reveals something. Maybe something about irrationality.

I’m going to say that thought is the medium … and the content of thought (everything we think about) is the message. The content of thought (the stuff we think about) obscures the real message … which is the mechanism of thought. The mechanism of thought is the message… and it is a message that is heavily obscured by the contents of what we think about.

The content of thought … is heavy, rich, complex, deep, wide, chaotic, historic, memoric, unfathomable. The mechanism of thought is not that complicated … but it is hidden … deeply deeply hidden by the chaos of the content of thought.

Thought starts with a goal, and doesn’t stop until the goal is satisfied. That’s all. Some goals are either unsatisfiable or incessantly sporn other goals … that (or something like that) causes irrationality. Incessant goals pulling in different directions.

How can I express that in a spatial audio composition?

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5 Responses to The medium is the message.

  1. Marc Lavallée says:

    I think it was a metaphor, not a literal statement:
    ” … there are four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: “Message” and “Mess Age,” “Massage” and “Mass Age.” ”

    McLuhan was interested by contexts and the effects of production and delivery methods. My understanding is that spatial audio is a technique to create contexts and habits. I like his talk about our relationship to space (“Speaking Freely hosted by Edwin Newman features Marshall McLuhan”,

    • Hi Marc,

      Great audio recording. I was originally going to discuss McLuhan’s quotable quote WRT ambisonics … because I think ambisonics is cast as a medium …. but really ambisonics *is* the message. The contents of an ambisonic piece is irrelevant… in fact the contents of an ambisonic piece is just stuff that hides the message (which is embedded in the medium). And the message is about hyper-reality. I’m going to blog it.

  2. Lee says:

    I think the message of the medium (in this case the hyper-reality or disassociated reality of spatial audio in particular) is not the medium itself but is “of the medium” and inherent in it. It is a different thing and of a different nature than the medium itself, yet is formed by it and indivisible from it. In this sense there is always more than one level of messaging in any communication. The content conveys a message at one level, in a more obvious superficial sense. The medium conveys another, which is a different kind of message entirely, in addition to usually being about something different. Both messages are similar in form (they are not technology, they are not a medium), yet exist at entirely different levels, separate from each other. The message of the content is on the face of things. The message of the medium is not as obvious or as easily observed, it is a message at a more profound level, and there needn’t be (and usually is not) any connection between the message of the medium and the message of the content.

    However, when we are able to craft the message of the content so that it also reflects the inherent message of the medium, we create something profound and potentially enlightening for the observer. At best this can provide a window through the superficial content which may call attention to the the normally hidden deeper-level message of the medium.

    Not “art about art” in the sense of art using prior art as the material from which new derivative work is deconstructed and reformed, but “art about art” in the sense of using art to expose what art is and what it does. The message of the medium.

    • Hi Lee,

      Yes absolutely, … if there is a common strain that exists in the best media art of the 20th Century, it is the attempt to expose the underlying biases of the mediums explored.

      Please note that all these blog posts were written way before my PhD … and a lot of them present ideas and approaches that I would criticise now …

  3. Lee says:

    Etienne Deleflie says: “My gripe with much of sound works today is that they dont do much more than explore what is possible with technology.”

    I cannot agree more!
    We need more works which reach for goals more profound than simply highlighting the possible.

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