Cognitive Mapping and Radio Drama by Alan Beck - Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Volume 1 Number 2, July 2000

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6.1 Perspective

So I have set out some of the theoretical issues in this cognitive mapping approach to radio drama: reception theory and referentiality, phenomenology and virtual environments. And I have mentioned my overall 'degradation' approach to core radio theory - how radio compresses time-space-motion. My next step in this article is to give the relevant basics of perspective and to go on to link these with aural way-finding.

In real-life interaction, we see from a current vantage point (egocentric or ego-centered perspective), and we reckon position via salient landmarks, especially that which is foregrounded and in movement - shapes and colours (hue, saturation, and brightness) in our mental visual images (focus, brightness, depth of field):

[W]hat is foregrounded is always more salient than the background, since we are evolutionarily wired to react to an attacking enemy than to the far away hills. (Tarnay, 1997)

6.2 Consummatory field

In eye-scanning, we are pre-cognitively attracted to whatever is found interesting - eye-catchers - at a given moment. It is useful to make a comparison with the study of perspective in Renaissance paintings and its figure-and-ground construction here, as it gives some insight into rationales of our patterning and of our visual memories.

There is not, however, an easy equivalence with artifacts and with how our perceptual apparatus works under normal conditions (Tarnay, 1997) - one of the problems of referentiality. As artworks, paintings offer satisfaction for the optimum viewing position in their linear perspectives, allowing the image to appear in correct proportion. Similarly, the radio listening zone is in the listener's 'consummatory field'. This latter term is taken from Belton 1999, on the visual arts and negotiating one's way around the art gallery.

6.3 Perspective and the vertical

For the viewer/listener or the viewer, orientation in the consummatory field depends on the vertical. Paintings are hung on the vertical axis, vision is oriented from the standing (art gallery) or sitting position (cinema, TV and computer). The listening modality, however, is free from the vertical, or it need not be vertical. It could possibly liberate itself from relations with the vertical gaze, with its connotations of power and domination. That brings in other issues of 'talking heads' in radio dialogue and realism in the 'mise en scène'.

But it is significant that broadcast radio drama makes so few attempts to break free of the vertical, partly because of all art forms, radio has little or no broadcast avant-garde (though Derek Jarman's audio piece, 'Blue' (1993), is an obvious exception), and there is little connection made between sound installation works and broadcast.

6.4 Renaissance perspective and invariance

There is considerable discussion in artwriting (David Carrier's term) on perspective in paintings, and especially Renaissance projection-point perspective methods, and their relation to perceptual aspects of depth and space. Projective perspective rationalised the presentation of space in the compelling illusions created in Renaissance paintings.

Theorists, then and up to now, have debated empirical claims that linear, or central perspective was a scientific translation or replication of the mechanisms of human visual processing. Are there perceptual invariants - elements perceptually invariant even under transformation - in what was founded in Renaissance perspective? (Useful authorities are Kubovy, 1986 and Deregowski, 1980.)

Invariance under transformation is well known from the psychology of perception, e.g., size and color constancy, invariance of melody under change of pitch. Some invariants are 'wired' into the nervous system, others - including many involved in conceptual tracking - are learned (MacLennan, 1998). (See Millikan, 1996 for a philosophical defence of Gibson's affordances (Gibson, 1979)). A

gain, another direction, for which there is not space in this article, is to investigate possible invariants in radio listening-in.

6.5 Saccades

Viewing a painting depends on a single-point perspective or, more complicatedly, two or more vanishing points. (This refers to Euclidean space - occupying spaces with X,Y,Z dimensions.) Changes in tone and colour value are observable in objects receding from the viewer. Monocular vision is inherent to perspective setting and it is the argument of this article that the radio listener is positioned, indeed 'raised', to a 'point' or point-of-listening (Beck, 1998) directly opposite the vanishing point.

We also scan visual images via foveation and saccades, which are our rapid, successive and overlapping glances, building up to recognition. The process is experienced as simultaneous rather than sequential, along the perpendicular axis rather than the horizontal - 'relatively simultaneous perception' (Ungar, 1998, 'The Past: Getting the Question Right').

This works by simplifying the information. Human vision research shows that, by these rapid, repeated saccades (glances), we extract information from the visual scene rather than building an intricate three-dimensional model.

Part of this mental work is central to cognitive mapping - orienteering and path-finding. Saccades (rapid glances of the eyes) are a bottom-up process (Branigan, 1992, 37-8), a pre-cultural aspect of visual perception. Cognitive mapping is one of the ways we actively categorize and integrate incoming information.

TO - SECTION 7 - Way-finding in radio drama

 SECTION 1 - Introduction - Way-finding  SECTION 2 - Previous discussions
 SECTION 3 - Cognitive mapping  SECTION 4 - Referentiality
 SECTION 5 - Phenomenology, Reception theory  
 SECTION 7 - Way-finding in radio drama  SECTION 8 - Problems with radio reception theory
 SECTION 9 - Listener positioning  SECTION 10 - Objects in outline Gestalts
 SECTION 11 - Cognitive mapping in the radio studio  SECTION 12 - Final remarks
 Glossary  Notes
 Works sited - bibliography  Welcome Page for 'Cognitive Mapping'




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