Art of emptiness

Marshall McLuhan created a distinction between "hot" and "cool" media. I think it is a productive conceptualization of media because it stimulates thinking, even though it suggests thinking in terms of binary opposites.

The longer I enjoy art, I think I tend to prefer "cool art". The following is a comparison of hot and cool styles of art, with a particular focus on music. I hope this will not result in a death from metaphor, but rather in a productive use of it. First, let's start with what McLuhan called the "hot media".

Hot art

Hot art is an art of sensory overload. It provides rich, overwhelming, super-stimuli that lower our ability to parse our sensory input. Hot art needs a space to inhabit; it is an environment-seeking art. Art is always situated in a host environment, in a wider context; and hot art needs space to live in. For instance, for visual arts it is the space of plain, white walls in an art gallery.

Hot art enforces a single interpretation, it is not open for a creative use. It guides a person through a linear, pre-defined experience, without a need for participation. In this way, it achieves a temporary oblivion by the means of hypnosis. The source of super-stimulation occupies our brain, blocks any other input, and forces the person to pay attention only to it.

For the most part, hot art is perceived on the conscious level. Hot art is digitally mastered, manufactured product that is made to achieve the maximum effect possible. The result of such process feels artificial, perfect, and error-free.

A typical example of hot art is pop music. For example, this manifests itself in the "wall of sound" method which uses a plenty of different layers of sound to provide a compelling listening experience.

Cool art

On the other hand, cool art is an art of sensory deprivation. It uses under-stimulation to create emptiness. Cool art creates space, and thus it is an environment-creating art as it puts the person perceiving it in an environment of its own.

Cool art is open and invites a multiplicity of interpretations. It inspires people to undergo a non-linear experience, while requiring a high level of active participation. Participatory art evokes hallucination, which manifests itself as a furious fill-in or completion of sense when all outer sensation is withdrawn (source). Left with minimal sensory input, human mind starts to create its own content. This is a mechanical process, a natural reaction to under-stimulation of the sensory apparatus. Left alone, mind tends to wander, fill in the blanks, and complete the missing parts. Cool art inspires to create by the means of hallucination.

The experience of cool art is mostly an unconscious one. In contrast to hot art, it is based in analogue, non-discrete forms, which grow in organic ways. For instance, this can be achieved by the techniques of field recordings or employing non-deterministic or random processes. Such art is in a way more natural, it embraces error (cf. esthetics of glitch in music).

A typical example of cool art is dub techno. Dub techno got rid of the usual elements of music, such as the melody, and confined itself to conveying music mostly through subtle, slowly evolving changes of rhythm or timbre. This is the minimalism that manifests itself through extensive repetition and limiting yourself to the expressive power of bare rhythm.

I prefer cool art to hot art. However, this is a matter of taste, which implies it may change. To conclude, let me give you a couple of examples of what I consider to be cool art.

Visual arts: Unloud painting

Cinema: Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky

Music: cv313 - Subtraktive (Soultek's Stripped Down Dub)

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