TransX Transmission Art Symposium, May 2013
Table of Contents
Elizabeth Shores & Vikram Patel
Jeff Kolar & Meredith Kooi
Alyssa Moxley & Ramona Stout
Matteo Marangoni and Angel Faraldo
Leif Bloomquist & Tricia Postle
Steve Bull & Scot Gresham-Lancaster
Featured here is a selection of articles presented at the now 2nd annual TransX Transmission Art Symposium in May 2013, presented by New Adventures in Sound Art.
Please see the TransX Transmission Art 2013 Sessions page for the paper and events schedule.
The Trans-X Transmission Art Symposium, part of the Deep Wireless Festival of Radio & Transmission Art, focuses on Transmission Art, with a particular interest in contributions that summarize, examine or reframe traditions and histories of transmission art practices, technology, education, and pedagogy. Additionally, presentations that went beyond the local contingent to give a sense of how new technologies of international transmission activity might be experienced were encouraged. Proposed presentations and performances related to the theme “Sonic Geography” were also especially welcome.
Rooted in the earliest experiments with radio, transmission art has continued to flourish into the 21st century with experiments using wireless communications technology over the past 100 years, including the exploration of a variety of mobile-based platforms and lesser-known forms of transmission, such as VLF. The terrain of transmission art is dynamic and fluid, and always open to redefinition.
live performance and sound installation, where I balance on a tight rope. The duration of the piece is about 15 minutes and was performed indoors.
making the doing happen
There is nothing more exiting than experiencing doing, when it is already happening. However, entering the creative process often means to first carefully compose the circumstances for creativity. In order to invent new movements in thinking, to find alternative ways within a pre-constructed, conditioned setting (which means both external and internal systems) I create various durational escape routes – this time; a choreography of circumstances for balancing.
I am interested in teaching my body to walk again – to be able to balance on a one inch wide slack line – not as an acrobatic act, but as a strategy for thinking differently. It is through embodied experience that I find this difference. The thought created by movements, sounds, confluences with the line and the environment is not a product of analysis; it undergoes many stages of transformation from pure sensual perception through diversion by all kinds of personal evaluations of that experience to conscious thinking. This transformation carries a potential for novelty.
By devoting time and energy to practice the repetitive movement series, I observe it in its everydayness and discover the details of the process that are populating the experience; the need for alignment with the inner rhythm and the momentum of the movement, the relationship between desire for security and overcompensation, the re-valuation of minor movements, the role of changes in breathing, the sense of subjective time-in-the-moving, the ways movement sounds through.
the line is a sounding field
In terms of the event, there is no sense of linearity in the walking on the line. It is a field of experience. Not a collection of steps, a constant proceed towards something but a sequence of occurrences; walking on the rope, falling down, getting back on it again, going to the other direction, falling again. The event of the performance is continuously co-composing this field with all the factors experiencing it: the performer, the spectator, the space, the sounds. Through them, the line is experiencing its own potential for sounding, balancing and resonating the event. The forces and intensities created by these activities move around and inhabit the field in the duration of the performance and change the all factors inevitably. I am interested in this change as an opportunity to renew, to question, to refuse remaining the same not only within – also in the changing ecology of the event.
The nature of the sounds during the performance derives from the experience of practicing. When doing movement, the recollection of the similar but not-the-same-movements interfere with the live experience. As if every movement would oscillate on its own frequency and the closeness of the next almost-the-same- movement’s frequency would interfere. In this sense, time within the repetitive experience is not linear either. In every movement’s germ, there is the previous movement incorporated, therefore in every present there is the experience of the past-in-the-present. The vibration of the rope created by the movement is recorded through contact microphones, so is the breathing of the performer. The performer’s sounding derives from the immanence rhythm of the movements with the line and is recorded by the microphones (listening instruments) attached to her body. This intimate relationship between the line and the body creates a vibration that is amplified, so the line, the performer, the audience and the space all become part of the same acoustic arena. Other recordings of the movements are added to the soundscape; the air’s resistance through microphones placed on the hands, the feet’s rubbing on the line, the sound of falling / arriving on the floor, the reverberation of the room, the sounds of the moving audience. These different vibrations are accumulated live by a delaying effect referencing the layers of the learning process during the referencing the layers of the learning process during the performance.
This results an open ended, unstable and dynamic system of mutating thoughts, sounds and movements – a space to invent, create and experiment. To learn how to balance – or rather: to learn how to be able to lose it and get it back again.
The Best is Yet to Come – 2013
Elizabeth Shores & Vikram Patel
How can we come closer to understanding seemingly unquantifiable systems? Is it possible to hear the differences between the frequencies of statistical events? What does it mean to commit ourselves to exploring them together?
In ‘The Best is Yet to Come’ we explore our understanding of existence and objectivity through performance, transmission, and lecture. Inspired by the concept of a ‘New Year’ and its related arbitrary system of time, we create a series of tones scaled to cover the range of human hearing with the smallest theoretical unit of time as it’s highest frequency in order to express the frequencies between different contemporary events.
Using an FM micro transmitter, microphone, and tone generator, we express the sounds of the frequency of the radio that the transmission occurs on, the time that exists between global human births and deaths, the time that exists between marriage and divorce in the USA, the time that exists between the discovery of a new species and the extinction of a species, the sound of a year, and the time that occurs during the lifecycle of a star very much like our sun.
These tones are first played independently and then in tandem with one another in various combinations. At the same time we discuss the discovery of Planck time (theoretically the smallest unit of time that can exist, roughly 10−44 seconds), and it’s relationship to our understanding of objectivity. As the sounds fall in and out of harmony, we consider different systems of representation and our new relationship to one another in our first artistic collaboration at the start of a new year.
Planck time – 13,440 hz
Radio – 4,050 hz
Births – 2,583 hz
Deaths – 2,532 hz
Weddings – 1,770 hz
Divorces – 1,719 hz
1 year – 500 hz
Life cycle of a star – 5 hz
We have a huge range of time periods, but we wanted to compare them in terms of tones in the human hearing range.
First we take our time periods and turn them into frequencies by taking their inverse: f=(1/T)
Then, we take the logarithm of our frequency in order to change the scale to something more manageable: f_new = log(f)
Finally, we do a linear transformation (multiply by a number and then add another number) so that our frequencies fit within the range of human hearing: f_final = (A*f_new)+B
RADIO IN ITS PLACE – HERE THERE NOWHERE NOW
Hello, thank you for coming out this morning. My name is Steve Bates. I’d like to thank Nadene and Darren for inviting me to speak today especially since the topic of sonic geography and transmission art is something I’ve been intensively working in over the last month but the histories of these two are recurrent in my practice.
Sound and Border
Sound and Scale
Sound and Threshold
Sound as Leakage
Sound as Infiltration
I would like to discuss some ideas of sonic geography and transmission through some of my recent projects while also referencing the work of others that I find particularly interesting.
I’ve been considering ideas of border, both enforcement and blurred lines, and leakage in sound work lately. This has expanded to considering threshold and scale.
My background in radio art comes from an active participation in solidarity work with Salvadoran media projects during the civil war and later as direct support for one of the radios of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the FMLN. This was my introduction to community, participatory radio.
My earliest connections between sound and place was through late night shortwave radio listening sessions – to hear voices other than English on the radio was important for me and the sound of electricity was interesting to me in phenomenological ways I couldn’t yet explain.
And later influence was the urgent dispatches from punk rock records and the distant and unknown places they sang about that seemed to be in trouble.
The Guns of Brixton. Bournemouth Runner. Nagasaki Nightmare. Columbian Necktie. Jordan, Minnesota.
Oh, here we are in French Indochina…
If I’d known you were afraid and the riots in Belgrade…
…and even more abstracted space like
…the supermarket, the chain-store, the West End, and tube stations at midnight…
I will briefly mention what I believe to be my first ideas of a sonic geography beyond the gauzy atmospherics of shortwave radio that produced more of a mood of wonder in me than any clear ideas about sound and space.
In 1982 I bought a record in my hometown of Winnipeg by a band that lived a mere 500 miles away (quite close by prairie distances). I bought it because I thought it had a cool cover. I had never heard of the band at that point. The cover was black and white and had a photo of caskets with American flags draped over them and the strange words “Hüsker Dü” and “Land Speed Record” were written across the cover in bold uppercase letters.
Hüsker Dü – Land Speed Record (New Alliance Records) (1)
Song titles included All Tensed Up, Don’t Try to Call, I’m Not Interested, Guns at My School, Don’t Have A Life, Tired of Doing Things, You’re Naive, Strange Week and… Lets Go Die. There were others. A total of 17 songs clocking in around 30 minutes.
Apart from still liking this record a great deal, I think about the first few seconds of it a lot. It was a live record and at the beginning, before the band starts, you hear a fan scream as Bob Mould, the guitarist, launches into feedback from the voices to start the set. I’ve come to mythologize this moment, or at least have it represent for me what was a critical border to cross – that of the audience and band. A sort of Death of the Author moment. You can hear in the recording that it’s a small room, I’ve been to it many times since. It’s tiny. The audience is inches away from the band and you can hear this intimacy in the recording. And you can hear it in the way the musicians play. And it rocked my world.
And in a sense the almost microscopic sonic geography that separates a band and an audience was my first articulated thought on sound and place. Sound and production. Distribution and reception. It changed everything for me. As it did for many others. It’s how I came to think that I could make art, and play music.
As a little more background. I will quickly mention some early projects that used site-specific recordings and transmission in their attempts at uncovering place.
Sound and Border:
A border crossing
An enforced detour in the city streets
Winnipeg Square (Blunderdevelopment Remix)
As part of FREQUENCitY, 5 programs curated for
Kunstradio – Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF)
(Austrian National Radio) (2001-2002)
In 2001 I was invited to curate a radio series for Kunstradio, of the Austrian national radio service. Due to a last minute cancellation, I had to produce one of the programs myself. The result was Winnipeg Square (Blunderdevelopment Remix). A somewhat clunky title to see it now.
For those of you lucky enough to have visited the strange port of Winnipeg, you will probably know that it is illegal to cross the main intersection of Portage and Main as a pedestrian. You are mandated by law – and barricade – to go underground through a sterile shopping mall to get to the other side, like so many chickens. For some Winnipeggers this is just another quirk in a very quirky city ( those of you who have seen Guy Maddin’s ‘My Winnipeg’ will know what I mean). Others still burn red with a fury to think that developers working with city councillors hatched a scheme to force people to enter their flaccid mall.
Site-specific recordings of muzak and bank machines, footsteps in empty hallways, escalators, and not much else are what make up my piece. Listening back now, it’s not a very strong piece, but it was a start for me at working through sound and the physical manifestations that bring spaces to be.
Bedford Square Park, London
In 2008, while teaching a sound course with Douglas Moffat and Joshua Bonnetta at London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture located in the Bloomsbury District of London, I couldn’t help notice the beautiful garden across the street. But it was completely empty on a busy day. I noticed office workers sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the wrought iron fence eating their lunches while a gorgeous grass covered park sat empty behind them. Upon some investigation, I saw that it was locked. A private park in full public view. How strange for a Canadian to see.
The next day I attached contact mics to the fence and did a 30 minute recording. Not much is audible in the recording other than the sound of the locked gate opening and closing as the odd key-holder entered or exited the park. Most of the openings were actually made by the gardener tending to the empty park.
The 30 minute recording was broadcast on, AAIR Radio, the now defunct Architectural Association online radio station then run by Ema Bonifacic.
The recording is almost nothing. I intentionally did not increase resonance or EQ much at all to make it more interesting aurally. I liked how the blandness of the recording almost mocked the emptiness of the park. I did have thoughts of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up’ inspired by the Julio Cortazar story, and imagined straining to hear some mystery or fascinating sound in the recording of the park. Something to uncover or reveal. But in the end, I preferred the vacant. The almost nothing.
Much has been said of the nowhere of radiophonic space. A nowhere that is everywhere at the same time. An all encompassing ether brought to life recently by Joe Milutis in his book, Ether, The Nothing That Connects Everything.
I am curious about the nothing and the nowhere. And the things that fill those actual spaces. The noise and the silence. And so one of my projects begins here. Since November 10, 2012 I have been transmitting a silent radio broadcast in my neighbourhood of Little Italy in Montréal. A Year of Radio Silence will continue until November 10, 2013 as a sort of open space in a field of static. A quieting of the radio dial for my neighbours. And also as a signal of potential space.
Occasionally I take recordings in my apartment of the sound of these silent broadcasts. The recordings are very quiet, usually just the odd bit of static – taken when the dogs are sleeping. I place the microphone in various locations and proximities to the radios throughout the house all playing this same signal at varying volumes.
In May I took these collected recordings to Vienna where I spent three days recording and mixing a radio project again at Kunstradio. The idea for the piece was to take my quiet recordings of radio silence and try to cause them to resonate the Bösendorfer grand piano in their studio with various chord configurations we held down with weights. But it didn’t work at first. Using contact microphones on the sounding board and frame of the piano provided almost no results. Certainly not useable levels.
So we kept increasing the level of the speakers playing back the sound in the studio. Once we hit a maximum volume, the sound was so massive we could not make out the piano chord. The signal to noise ratio was too low. And so we killed the sound and to our relief the decay of the piano chord could suddenly be heard beautifully ringing out in the studio. As is often the case, failure leads to new methods.
And so we continued blasting silence at the piano with various chord configurations, collecting these new soft tones The resulting piece is a composition of these decaying piano chords created from silences made in Canada, a former French and British colony to crash down upon a former colonial power, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Broadcasting policy at the ORF states that after 30 seconds of signal less than -30 dBs causes the Emergency Broadcast message to begin. Much of the finished piece considers this threshold with instructions given to the playback engineer to set levels to ride this threshold of signal to noise. The emergency of silence.
Of interest to me with this project, is partly the sonics of war. A sonics that have many geographies – unfortunately. As electronic warfare becomes ever more sophisticated, tactics of signal jamming and total electronic failure are utilized, resulting in a an eerie silence before the storm. A blackout that produces a very high signal to noise ratio. A wartime version of what R. Murray Schafer would call a hi-fidelity soundscape just before the bombs fall. Or before the whistle of the first drone strike.
I recently became interested in radio silence, in part as a childhood obsession with World War II. In wartime, radio silences are strictly maintained as a matter of surveillance and keeping channels open. As such, they indicate imminent danger and threat. But it is also a space of potential discovery. This was famously shown in Jean Cocteau’s film, Orphée, where the protagonist listens to a mysterious poetry being broadcast from an unknown place.
Silence goes faster backwards. Three times. Silence goes faster backwards. Three times. I repeat. Silence goes faster backwards. Three times. Your attention please. A single glass of water lights up the world. Three times. I repeat. A single glass of water lights up the world. Twice. I repeat.
- Coded radio transmission in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée (2)
The poet, Orphée is seduced by these words which he claims are better than any of his own. Ultimately these poems were transmitted from the underworld, coded messages from Death to Orphée. In the film Cocteau references clandestine radio broadcasts from Britain to Europe during World War II as a means of passing on information to agents in the field.
My interest here also stems from a brief text by Walter Benjamin, On the Minute. In the text he describes accidentally broadcasting radio silence on German State Radio when he thought the program had ended. Much to his horror, moments later he realized his mistake and described the resulting silence as the “oldest shudder known to man.” This death rattle caused him to feel he was being snatched away to “…thousands of ears and thousands of homes.”
. . . in the same instant the silence, which had just been so comforting, suddenly enveloped me like a net. In this chamber made for technology and the people who rule by means of it, I was suddenly overcome by a new shudder, which was related to the oldest shudder known to man. I lent myself my own ears, which suddenly perceived nothing except the sound of silence. But I recognized that silence as the silence of death, which at that very moment was snatching me away in thousands of ears and thousands of homes.
- Walter Benjamin, On the Minute (3)
Another example of radio silence from the literary world is that of Heinrich Böll’s short story, Murke’s Collected Silences. Here though, we find the story of a radio producer, again on German State Radio, finding comfort in radio silences. So much so, in fact, that he would collect the blank bits on reel to reel tape and later listen to them in the comfort of his home.
This story was a reference for my piece, Radio Silents, exhibited at Open SPACE in Victoria in 2011 as part of the OFF Label Festival. Radio SIlents was a collection of recordings of blank reel to reel tapes. The Argentinian group Reynols used a similar technique with cassettes to produce their CD ‘Blank Tapes’, released in 2000.
Canadian artist, Matt Rogalsky’s radio works with BBC radio silences is also of interest here.
Radio Silents, OFF Label Festival, Open SPACE, Victoria, B.C.
BBC silences, is a collection of twenty-four CDs of twenty-four hours of silences extracted from BBC Radio 4 on December 12, 2001, the 100th anniversary of Marconi’s wireless, transatlantic broadcast. BBC Silences takes as its inspiration commercial radio attempts at “compressing” time by removing gaps and pauses to allow more time for radio advertisements.
Rogalsky’s project highlights the old adage that time is money. His more overtly political track on the Sonic Arts Network compilation CD A Call for Silence, entitled “Two Minutes and Fifty Seconds for the USA,” credits Matt Rogalksy and George Bush as the authors, and it extracts the silences and pauses of George Bush’s ominous speech threatening Saddam Hussein to step down or face the consequences.
I imagine these transmitted silences as having a geography like any radio signal. I can imagine them as an aural corollary to an opening, a silent space in a field of electromagnetic static.
This opening, like a cut in a Gordon Matta-Clark building where an architecture is cut open, not as an act of violence but as an opening up to reveal space and structure, to provide new lines of sight, to filter light where there was none before.
I imagine, as a sort of broadcast version of Matta-Clark’s cuttings, Bruce Russell’s 2001 radio work Tunnel Radio (Detour Autours), curated by radioqualia’s Honor Harger and Adam Hyde as part of their isol series of five broadcasts commissioned again for Kunstradio. For the isol series,3 subtitled A Cartography of New Zealand in Sound, Tunnel Radio sets up a scenario where a geographic structure, in this case the mountain that the Lyttleton Road Tunnel cuts through, interferes with, or obfuscates, the signal of Radio New Zealand 675 kHz on the AM band.
Russell’s intention was possibly to create the piece as much out of the sonic rapture of pure radio noise, as much as a comment on a national radio’s signal being obliterated by a pre-nationalistic, pre-colonial landscape. A primordial interference pattern.
It is important to consider landscape here, as even “geography” holds nationalistic sentiment and intent that may or may not be what Russell was considering. But I think of this broadcast as a way that landscape opened up the radio dial, even temporarily.
Using different cars, and their radios, to record the subsequent noise of the trip through the mountain, Russell then took these recordings and rerecorded backing tracks also sourced in tunnel recordings. This multilayered broadcast of “erased” signals sets up another “silencing” of the radio dial. Although we know that, in this case, this “silencing” of signal was, in actuality, a joyous racket, a complete inversion—noise to signal. Or more accurately, noise as signal.
For this brief opening, a listener is confronted with a dense composition of noise where there once was a national radio. An act of composition by an individual to overthrow, even temporarily, a national radio signal. We know that Russell’s composition didn’t actually silence Radio New Zealand as a broadcast entity; it simply changed his own personal experience of the broadcast. And it subsequently reinserted this interpretation on (again) Kunstradio on Austrian State Radio (ORF). An erasure of state radio doubles as a second erasure on another state radio. This time it was an erasure by a former colony over a former empirical entity.
Radio Conservatory, AKVK, FOFA Gallery
Bruce Russell’s hand can be heard all over these recordings. His work as an improviser and with the long standing New Zealand free rock group, The Dead C, is unique. In interviews he has discussed the impact living in the geographic remoteness of New Zealand has had on his work and that of other sound artists in the country. This remoteness is felt, I believe in the sound produced by these artists, but can also be heard in the marketplace as being largely not-existent. In this sense a sort of void in the sonics of the market due to its strangeness. Another erasure of sorts.
The idea of someone’s hand on a radio dial and the shift from analog radio broadcasting to digital broadcasting was of interest to AKVK, a shared studio project consisting of landscape architect and artist Douglas Moffat, filmmaker, Joshua Bonnetta and myself.
This is a very interesting project.
This is a link to a recording from my car currently parked at Pod Slovany street in Prague. It is from 3rd January 14.20 local time. It is 87.5 to 105.0 MHz. It is mostly spoken Czech, Czech and English songs, but there is also Slovak and a bit of French and German. I did stay longer on some frequencies than at others, intuitively.
If someone recorded this 20 years ago on the same place it would be completely different. I asked my dad about this. Apparently during communism the radios from abroad got cancelled out by the government (especially BBC and Free Europe). On Czech radios the language of the songs was restricted as well e.g. one song in English per nine in Czech. The singers had to have their songs checked by the government in advance, many people could not perform at all, because of their political views. There could have possibly been a Russian radio for the soldiers as well.
I think the fact that I recorded this in a car is also interesting as well, because if I parked somewhere else (even 30 min drive away would do), I would get different stations and therefore different recording. I would be in the same space (car), but it wouldn’t really be the same space, what would happen if the car was moving etc.
All the best in 2010
- Email from Eliska Pilna
We invited friends and acquaintances from around the world to send us recordings of radio scans from wherever they were. They usually sent us stories with the recordings explaining their approach. These recordings were played back quietly through speakers placed in Mason jars for preservation.
In Pilna’s text we can see an overt politics to the geography of the radio dial. I would like now to come back to the influence insurgent radio has had on my work as an artist…
Concertina, Québec Trienniale, Musée d’art contemporain du Montréal.
Image: Guy L’Heureux
Concertina was a recent work exhibited during the 2011 Québec Triennale at the Musée d’art de contemporain in Montréal.
Concertina is two lengths of barbed wire stretched out in mingling spirals across the gallery floor. Attached to one end of the wire is a low-power radio transmitter. In the space are FM radios receiving this signal. The signal is a composition of sine waves with 50 and 60 Hz as the fundamental frequencies. These two frequencies are the same as the two electrical power frequencies throughout the world. Octaves of these two frequencies expand the compositional pallette. Also present is a concertina accordion. Harmonic notes from the concertina are also part of the sound.
A double referent, Concertina refers to the free-reed instrument, constructed of bellows, and barbed wire fencing, also known as concertina wire, stretched out accordion-like across a landscape, used for border enforcement.
During the civil war in El Salvador, the FMLN radio stations operated in the countryside. Broadcasts from these stations included Salvadoran and international news, Salvadoran troop movements, community news, poetry, music and even some sports coverage. They became very strategic tools for the armed resistance. As such, the Salvadoran military, began an intensive campaign against them. Using helicopters supplied by the United States government, the Salvadoran Air Force could triangulate the broadcast location of the guerrilla’s transmitter and greatly increased their ability to interrupt and harass the broadcasts and even to potentially capture or destroy the transmitter, which was the ultimate goal.
Stories have been told of the guerrillas using the barbed wire fences that ran at great length through the countryside as antennas. This allowed them to broadcast safely while the Salvadoran Air Force was faced with kilometers of antennas to chase. (4)
Concertina uses this story as an idea to have military and colonial technology of barbed wire act as an antenna to broadcast an omni-directional signal. A signal that breaks the barbed wire in a sense. The boundless radio signal breaking from the form of the concertina wire.
The invention of barbed wire stretches back to the American homesteading of the great plains. A westward expansion to the Pacific Coast that required land developers to mark and enforce space for both cattle grazing and border protection. The earliest military use of barbed wire was in the Spanish American War where a line stretched across the island of Puerto Rico. Later, expertise in military deployment of barbed wire was used by the British in their attempts to battle the Dutch in the second Boer War in South Africa distributing thousands of miles of wire stretching across the landscape.
Wire fencing has another history in sound art, specifically Australian musician and sound artist Jon Rose has utilized wire fencing in his compositions and the WIRED LAB located in Australia’s Riverina District has permanent wire installations for sound recording and experimentation.
Barbed wire, New York City
For the month of April I was at the Waaw Centre for Art and Design, in Saint-Louis, Senegal where I produced two new projects.
Radio 16º 16º is a series of site-specific radio broadcasts made in Saint-Louis, or Ndar as it is called in Wolof. Saint-Louis is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site on the basis of its colonial history, town plan, architecture, and particular natural setting on an island at the mouth of the Senegal River.
Radio 16° 16º, a shortened version of the latitude and longitudinal coordinates of the city, references these ‘neutral’ coordinates while considering the ubiquitous military apparatus through which we operate daily, namely in this case, location and navigation coordinates and satellite surveillance. The latitude and longitude measurements link site back to a colonial mapping of the Earth’s surface along with the known contortions and warping of a 3 dimensional surface onto a 2 dimensional paper mapping system and the resulting inaccuracies of scale and distance.
The history of navigation is, as English writer Tom McCarthy notes, a difficult art. Latitude was not so difficult to establish with the equator as its starting position and relationship to the Sun and stars. Longitude however, had no fixed natural point to start from. On a rolling ship at sea, coordinates were adrift as finding a bearing on three shifting dimensions is tricky. But the desire for expanding empire made the search for longitude a priority. In 1714 the Board of Longitude was established by the British Government and a handsome prize offered to the first person to reliably establish longitude.
Without latitude and longitude, navigation was difficult and dangerous resulting in lost ships and dead sailors. In short, an ineffective Navy. Eventually chronometers and wireless telegraphic time signals made for reliable navigation way points.
The first electronic radio time-keeping pulse emanated from atop the Eiffel Tower on July 1, 1913. This signal, transmitted outward from Paris as a result of an international conference of capital stakeholders, also marks the first radio broadcast of imperial time, a new level of temporal control of empire and colonial coordination. Stephen Kern outlines this history in his book, The Culture of Time and Space 1880-1918. (5)
The independence of local times began to collapse once the framework of a global electronic network was established. Whatever charm local time might have once had, the world was fated to wake up with buzzers and bells triggered by impulses that traveled around the world with the speed of light (ibid.).
Taking recordings at various locations in the city of Saint-Louis, I edited two programs together. The first was a montage of unprocessed field recordings using contact microphones, hydrophones, coil induction mics to amplify electromagnetic signals and airborne condenser mics. The second program was a collage of heavily processed radio signals recorded over a few evenings and later assembled.
The first program really reflected my initial investigations into the sounds of Saint-Louis. Part of the city is a fishing village, the island part where the residency is located is like walking back into the crumbling french colonial space of Saint-Louis. On an architectural tour of the island, a beautiful former merchant house stood abandoned and crumbling. An eerie, quiet basement space with little light or air movement was the disembarkment space of slaves en route to other foreign places.
Senegal is over 90% Muslim and so the call to prayers occurs throughout the day and so this is in the recordings as well. Fish feeding in the Senegal River can be heard with the distinct clicking sound as jaws snapped and their bodies broke the water’s surface for a fraction of a second to catch a morsel before they were caught by the hunting seagulls.
The second program, was heavily influenced by the sound of one of the Muslim brotherhoods, the Baay Fall, and their late night, all night, prayer sessions using voice, echo and delay pedals and feedback. It was truly the most psychedelic music I had ever heard.
Perhaps the most interesting element of the radio programs was happening during the recording sessions where people would curiously approach me and ask what I was doing. This almost always resulted in me passing them the headphones so they could listen. And almost always this resulted in big smiles and then long conversations about sound:
Why are you interested in these sounds?
What do they mean to you?
How are they different from where you come from?
Is this how you will remember us?
The sound of the ocean lets me know I am home.
When they changed the surface of the Faidherbe Bridge, I couldn’t sleep any more because I missed the old sound too much. It was how I fell asleep.
As anyone who has done field recording knows, it is primarily a solitary activity. If others are with you, they tend to talk or make noise at inopportune moments. It can be very frustrating!
When working in Senegal, this interaction with locals made me think about the difference between sound recordist and the people who were kindly interrupting me. Was it similar to my love of the breaking or bending border between band and audience? And after all, I was a visitor. It was appropriate to engage with people asking questions in their home. And so it changed the way I recorded in Saint-Louis.
These exchanges changed my physical behavior and the way I moved through town – literally, the way I walked changed. Not consciously at first, but I became aware of the difference.
It shifted how open I became to people passing by and allowed for conversations to be shared.
And many photos of people wearing my headphones.
And so I will end with one final project and thought on sonic geography and transmission.
Thrift Store Radio, AKVK, FOFA Gallery, Montréal
Image: Guy L’Heureux
AKVK’s Thrift Store Radio existed in a storefront from February 25 to March 20, 2010 as part of our exhibition, Ghost Acoustics, at the FOFA Gallery in Montréal.
The idea was born of a simple, but loaded, question: What if every neighborhood had its own little station?
Expanded further: What if every neighborhood’s thrift store made the station’s music library? What would be revealed about that community in such a case?
The rule was this: participants, with or without any previous radio production experience, could schedule a radio slot, but all sounds had to be sourced from records from a neighborhood thrift store. They could choose the neighbourhood. Each programmer was able to discern what stylistic focus they would take.
In the end the DJs revolted. Why only focus on records? VHS tapes, alarm clocks, water pistols, 10 cent novels, cooking implements, and children’s toys, all became sonic tools—each, in their way, revealing neighborhoods and communities.
Thrift Store Radio, AKVK, FOFA Gallery, Montréal
Image: Guy L’Heureux
The DJ booth was in full view of passersby on the street as programs were being made. This allowed not only for a visibility on how radio might be made, but also an immediate influence on how people make radio. Perhaps not exactly the two-way radio Bertolt Brecht imagined, but an immediate, audible, and visual exchange nonetheless. We put radios outside so people passed this temporary radio space on their way to elsewhere. In place of the usual commerce in a storefront was instead a temporary-community radio.
This revolt of the DJs also marked a significant point for me. that given the opportunity to make some noise and be heard, people will come up with a poetics that rocks my world.
Hüsker Dü. Land Speed Record. New Alliance Records, 1982.
Cocteau, Jean. Orphée. DVD, Directed by Jean Cocteau. (1950, 95 minutes. France, Criterion Collection), Film.
Benjamin, Walter. On the Minute, in The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility and other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin. Harvard UP, 2008, 409.
Vigil, Jose Ignacio Lopez. Rebel Radio: Story of El Salvador’s Radio Venceremos. Translated by Mark Fried. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 1994.
Kern, Stephen. The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
Radius RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe
Jeff Kolar & Meredith Kooi
Jeff Kolar, Director
Meredith Kooi, Editor
TransX Transmission Art Symposium
Deep Wireless Festival of Radio & Transmission Art
New Adventures in Sound Art
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Radius is an experimental radio broadcast platform based in Chicago, IL, USA. Radius features a new project monthly with statements by artists who use radio as a primary element in their work. Radius provides artists with live and experimental formats in radio programming. The goal is to support work that engages the tonal and public spaces of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Radius does not operate as a 24/7/365 broadcast. We do not require artists to adhere to a strict durational format. The platform functions similar to an exhibition space, meaning artists are given access to present work in the electromagnetic spectrum. Accompanying each episode are statements by the presented artist.
Since Radius began in January 2011, Radius has produced 165 individual broadcasts by 77 artists in 39 episodes from 16 different countries. Radius has also curated 3 series, been presented at 2 exhibitions, held 1 concert that was broadcast live, and published 1 booklet. Radius has hosted 1 day, 2 hours, 26 minutes, 47 seconds of originally produced audio material.
Radius broadcasts using the Audio Relay Unit, an autonomous mobile radio unit developed in 2002 by the art collective Temporary Services and the Intermod Series, a project of artist Brennan McGaffey. The Audio Relay Unit transmits 4-watts using either AC electricity or solar panels that charge a 12V car battery. Since the broadcast range of Radius is limited to a particular geographic area in Chicago, the works are also archived and available for free download through Radius’ website licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. The website acts as a comprehensive digital archive, a secondary stream, with the actual event of broadcast being the primary output.
In 2012, Radius commissioned three artists and artist groups for a series called RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe. The location-based series, consisting of three parts, sought to explore the phenomenon of signal strength. Radius’ curatorial statement particularly claimed that its goal for the series was to “break, bend, and highlight the economic, political, and technical dimensions of the electromagnetic spectrum.”1
The artists commissioned were asked to respond to a specific broadcast range, or coverage area – either Local, Distant, or Fringe – and its particular politics and geographies. RANGE uses the criteria found in proprietary mapping software that plots radio station coverage areas to analyze the importance of place in the event of radio broadcast. RANGE is explicitly aware of this software and what it takes into account in its processing of various information, including that of transmitter power, antenna height, frequency antenna pattern, etc.
RANGE taken as a whole works to complicate, trouble, or generally prod the ways in which signal strength broadly delimits radio territories and how that impacts policy, station-specific power, and public affairs. RANGE seeks to challenge these issues of signal accessibility and question radio’s role as a distribution tool.
For the first in the series, Local, Radius commissioned the artist duo Emile Mouchous and Andrea-Jane Cornell, who originally met in Montreal in 2008, use a myriad of handmade instruments, objects, resonant bodies, and voices to expand normative expectations of sonics in the FM band. Mouchous and Cornell created a work responding to the signal strength “local.” The culmination was their piece Rise & Shine, the result of a morning improvisation session held in the live broadcast studio of CKUT 90.3-FM in Montreal. Their statement describes the work as responding “to the clarity of local signals in Montreal that are obscured in areas directly adjacent to the main radio transmitter site atop Mount-Royale.”2
Further, they describe that “the areas situated in the shadow of the mountain, where there are no sight-lines to the tower, have poor reception because the signal must pass through the ground to reach the receivers.”3 Even in areas described as “local,” radio transmission and reception are still subject to the particular topographies of the place. Montreal, with its terrain of hills – Mount-Royal – is susceptible to an interruption of radio signal. In the interview with Cornell and Mouchous about the piece published in the accompanying booklet RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe, they describe the experience of traversing the hills and secluding themselves in the space of the radio station’s studios. Speaking more specifically about the relationship between the busy city center and the radio station, they state that “the broadcast studio insulated [them] from the frantic activity and bathed us in a calm environment to wake up and create in.”4 This insulated space that exists within the city, a home-base, home-center, is the comfortably local.
Not only does the audio of their episode mimic the “intermittent signals in the mountain’s shadow; a rising and falling, an ebb and flow of tones,”5 but their process of creation gestures towards this flow as well. For their improvisation session, they used a set of graphic index cards designed by Boston-based movement artist Joe Burgio. Like the signal that is affected by the particular contours of Montreal, their audio production depends on and is controlled by the playing of a card. Their improvisation also took place in the morning, which they describe as an undulating process of waking up that influenced the improvisation that took place. Rise & Shine emanates from and returns to the body’s circadian rhythms and the interruptions of the events that take place during the day in the life of the body. As we see later in Rob Ray’s work, the natural environment, including the sun, is and has been a source for electromagnetic wave activity long before the invention of the radio device, which was able to harness waves as a tool and a site. In the interview with Mouchous and Cornell for the publication, they speak about the relationship to time and space that they were exploring in the piece and pointed to the importance of expanding the listener’s aesthetic capabilities.
“It is definitely a journey that passes through fields of daylight and darkness. We could imagine the piece being played in a loop over the period of 24 hours with each cycle having a different meaning and affect related to it. Morning is a bright, slow time of day with overtones of grumpiness that are easily overcome when a sound art activity is planned … Life is fast-paced in the middle of a weekday in busy Montreal’s city center. It is unusual and certainly a privilege to be able to broadcast such a long improvisation in the morning on the FM dial, “en pleine lumière.” … It’s important that sound and radio not be relegated to the nocturnal hours of broadcasting. Experimental forms of sound communication need to exist during all hours, to shake up the norms and expectations of what can occupy radio space during ‘drive time’.”6
For the second episode in the series, Distant, we commissioned Damon Loren Baker, an Assistant Professor of Interactive Entertainment at CUNY CityTech in Brooklyn, NY, USA and member of ManifestAR, an augmented reality artists group. Baker produced an audio work that responds expressly to the phenomena of “distant” coverage area and signal strength coupled with the ways that FM broadcasting handles these signals in stereo.
His work, a one hour piece titled Distant, plays with the specific locations of transmission and reception. The piece is in fact activated through this distinct relationship. Baker’s statement for the episode describes the work as consisting of “sine waves that are beyond the range of most adults’ hearing. They are arranged carefully in chosen phase relationships amongst signals that are completely inaudible and have no apparent effect on the final sound. However, when broadcast using a radio transmitter, those phase relationships become mangled by the interaction of the broadcast with the environment it fills and activates.”7 However, the transmission is also contingent upon the place where it is received: “When the listener is too close to the signal, the subtleties between the phase relationships are lost. When too far, the subtleties become inaudible.”8
Responding to the ways in which stereo signals are handled by FM broadcasting, Baker decided to exploit the typical FM broadcasting choice to sum to mono. He describes the process of making the piece in relation to the broadcast by stating that: “The white noise in the left channel is 180 degrees out of phase with a copy of itself in the right channel. Which means when the signal on the left side is increasing, the signal on the right side is decreasing by an equal, yet opposite amount, and vice versa. When summed to mono (imperfectly) by the broadcast process this causes destructive interference. The more accurately the signals are played, the less there is for you to hear.”9
Like Mouchous’ and Cornell’s episode for “Local,” Rise & Shine, the relationship of radio transmission to geography is explored in Baker’s work Distant. The main difference in Baker’s work, however, is that his work itself self-consciously subjects itself to the phenomenon of geographic interruption. He uses this phenomenon as the instrument to create the work. When asked in the interview with him published with the series about the ways in which the broadcast completes the work, he states that “the audio file that is transmitted is like the scraping sound a bow makes on a string. The interaction of the transmitter with the geography between it and the receiver is like the resonances of the body of a violin that shape the raw sonic material into a musical sound.”10 His work functions as a commentary on the ways in which place and the space of air waves affect the content that it is broadcasted over, in, and through. Not only does the work comment on the manipulation of the content in its broadcast, but he uses this phenomenon to actually produce the work. Again, from his statement, he describes “the entire distant range of the broadcast radius becomes an instrument or an organism.”11 The Audio Relay, the mechanism that creates the life of the episode breathes through Baker’s work. He states: “Distant is the breath that brings this organism to life.”12
For the third episode Fringe, we commissioned Rob Ray, a Los Angeles-based media artist who makes site-specific electronic installations, psychogeographic games, and experimental sounds and videos. Ray produced a work that responds specifically to the fringe location of a signal’s coverage range and also the fringe spaces of our understandings of the world. The result was a four-part piece titled Subject to Greater Uncertainties. Ray describes the work as an interweaving of his “interests in military operations, the desert, and natural resource extraction operations as expressions of human comprehension at the fringes of the complex system we call ‘the world’.”13
The first two parts, titled X:1 and X:2, were created in the Mojave Desert region of southern California at the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Desert Research Station, whose mission statement claims to be “dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived.”14 The work Ray produced there involved using a 5-watt solar panel to voltage starve a BoardWeevil and the recording of sonic booms that emanate from the nearby R-2508 Special Use Airspace Complex. X:1 and X:2 also explore the phenomenon of X-class solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections and their ability to destabilize global radio and low-orbit satellite electronics systems. Ray has been interested in the sun as a fringe source of energy production. In the interview with him in the booklet produced for the series, he describes his realization one day that the “sun is circuit-bending us.”15 In these two parts of the work, policy and art, communications and the military, the natural world and our manufactured technologies, find themselves explicitly in the same system together. Like Mouchous and Cornell’s work that explores the relationship of the event of transmission to geology and temporality, Ray examines the ways in which the sun’s emanating electricity generates and manipulates the waves and electrical impulses that surround us in our everyday lives.
The second two parts, Furnace and Swarm were made in the abandoned Wildrose beehive charcoal kilns of Death Valley. The beehives, constructed in the 1870s, were originally used to convert wood into charcoal for the smelting of silver-lead ore extracted from the company’s mines in the Argus Range. The wavering of a radio signal at the fringe space echoes in the way Ray uses the empty space of the beehive chambers – reminders of America’s industrial past which now stand vacant. Ray is interested in what it means for an artist to make work in a conscientious way. What does an audio work need to consider and take into account about the place it is responding to or recording from? In these two parts, Ray describes the importance of the particular place of the beehives as sites of labor, resource extraction and exploitation, and invented industrial technologies.
Ray’s piece, Subject to Greater Uncertainties, points to the precariousness of our world and our ways of inhabiting it. In the interview with Ray, he also describes the importance of exploding the limitations we set on the listener’s aesthetic experience and the boundedness of the typical concert venue. He wonders why we don’t open up more of the world to sonic events. He states that he’s “looking for places that aren’t necessarily pretty, but instead suggest themselves as intriguing sonic or conceptual collaborators for improvisation, performance, or recording.”16 The places themselves occupy the position of a collaborator capable of generating material for artistic work.
In a recent article published on Radio Survivor, Paul Riismandel describes Radius as a Hertzian gallery and that the episodes “emanate on different days, at different times, originating from different geographic locations, but all existing in a certain Hertzian space.”17 The series RANGE fully captures this aspect of Radius’ project and the phenomenon of transmission that it explores. RANGE takes the project to a new level of complexity, troubling notions of geography, history, politics, and relationality of receivers and transmitters. Rob Ray pointedly states in his interview about his episode that we need to continue to complicate our understandings of spaces and the ways in which we inhabit them. He claims that “We can blame our own biases, but we’ve also been led there by lazy, if perhaps well-intentioned, historical interpretations crafted to try to simplify a site for us when we need the site complicated for us instead.”18 Radius, through the phenomenon of the event of transmission and the electromagnetic spectrum, seeks to push forward with this very complexity. Using radio and the waves that emanate to and from it as the starting point, RANGE explores the potential of manipulating these waves and those that emanate from other sources and are interrupted by landscape and other natural bodies.
1 “RANGE: Local, Distant Fringe,” Radius, http://theradius.us/range.
2Emile Mouchous and Andrea-Jane Cornell, Interview, RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe (Chicago, IL: Radius, 2011),.
4 Ibid., 9.
5 Ibid., 7.
6 Ibid., 10.
7 Damon Loren Baker, RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe, 12.
9 Ibid., 13.
3 Rob Ray, RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe, 15.
4 “Desert Research Station,” The Center For Land Use Interpretation, http://clui.org/page/desert-research-station.
5 Rob Ray, RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe, 18.
6 Ibid., 18-19.
7 “Radius: An On-Air Exhibition Space For Transmission Art In Chicago,” Radio Survivor, http://radiosurvivor.com/2013/04/29/radius-creates-an-exhibition-space-for-transmission-art-on-the-chicago-airwaves/.
8 Rob Ray, RANGE: Local, Distant, Fringe, 20.
Take a moment and think about the undercurrents that may shape your own listening. Language in a sense speaks us; it is a system that shapes our expression. We take in information, interpret it, and express it all through the filter of language. Audio technologies are also a system which shape our expression. Most educated people understand that media shapes our concept of the world, and that the power of the disembodied “voice,” which I’ll be focussing on in the coming pages, is extended and expanded through audio technology. Though we’re not always conscious of it, these two greatly systems both influence and constrain our thoughts and actions.
We’re about to examine how audio awareness reveals choices that we might otherwise miss; particularly how sound and voice conspire to inform our ideas about what is possible. When a sound or message makes its way through and resonates with us it, we pause, and a cognitive or emotional shift takes place. These often fleeting and elusive consciousness shifts can take many forms, waking us up to the present moment, and for that instant, communicating something about ourselves to ourselves. I will argue that this is precisely the moment when we are most capable of challenging and expanding our preconceived notions of reality.
Interpelled is an ongoing project that blends research and practice to explore how an innovative use of sound can be a unique tool for creative activist intervention.
Interpellation is the ways in which ideology speaks to the individual. My work with interpellation is the result of being troubled by questions of morality in the face of the climate crisis. This led me to wonder how I might creatively use hyper directional sound to inspire reflection and dialogue around what I considered to be the world’s most pressing issue.
During several one-on-one interventions at the annual 2010 UN climate talks I used a HSS (hyper directional sound) speaker to project recordings of children laughing and playing at individual conference attendees. I wanted them to hear the sounds as if they originated from their own bodies, as if the sounds were the voice of his or her conscience speaking.
Fueled by the belief that we are greatly influenced by what we consciously and unconsciously hear my creative goals in this project lie in what happens when the way in which we hear the world shifts and the impact this has our lives.
Let me explain. These conferences function like an intensified microcosm of the scripted interactions that often take place in many other situations. Through my attendance at such events I have come to understand, that how we hear and remember hearing, affects the way we participate in our environments.
Direct action succeeds when it plays on the unexpected to achieve results. Effective activism today requires innovation, new strategies and tactics, and experimentation. Effective art plays with expectation, interrupts, and challenges the way we think. Art at its best inspires reflection. My experiments at COP16 aimed for all of that by venturing to expand ‘reality’ through the creative use of sound and gesture.
Working creatively with a technology that most people don’t know exists but that plays with people’s expectations and perceptual reality is not easy. As a dialogical project where the research will inform the practice. Interpelled raises phenomenological issues. People do not consent to advertising nor do they to surveillance. Ethics applied to research are quite different from the ethics we apply to surveillance. With sound and interpellation added to the mix, we begin to see the complexities that directional sonic tactics reveal.The research and creative potentials of directional ultrasonic sound politically and ethically are largely uncharted.
Due to recent political events there has been influx of commentary on art’s function and relationship to activism. A review of the current literature out there is that this project couldn’t be more timely. There appears to be a perspective shift that considers audio research as a valid form of inquiry. While some methodologies may still be in infancy, it is becoming more evident that there is a need for solid experimental sonic research.
Interpelled examines the psychological undercurrents involved in unexpected and conceptualized hearing, underscoring how words become voice (even when they are never heard aloud), how sound and voice mediate our spatial relationships, inform our psychological associations, and affect the ways in which we navigate our physical and social environments. I believe sound and voice can interrupt, influence, and ultimately intervene at key moments in ways other intervention art strategies can’t. In the context of COP16, or even during a fairly recent Black Friday intervention, I saw and continue to see this strategy as having potential and the possibility to yield poignant and surprising reflections and responses.
Who Should I Say Is Calling?
Voice is a paradox, for it can motivate or paralyze its listener. Captivating speeches, heartfelt stories, and evocative audio work grab our attention and challenge the way we think and feel, moving us to act or stopping us dead in our tracks. Sounds enter our consciousness and provide a structure for interaction. Voices validate and punctuate our existence. Sounds of swarming starlings signal seasonal change in audible black clouds every spring and autumn. Cautionary parental voices are resurrected from memory intervening during moments of indecision or transition. Even our cell phone, whether ringing or not, speaks to us when we are longing to hear from someone. Sometimes these sounds are just a sound. Other times what we physically hear becomes internally significant – sounds that become more than a sound, take root in our minds, and become voice. Depending on our emotional state it could be anything from the cacophony of a busy restaurant, to a misheard phrase, or the sound of a stranger’s strained breathing while you’re in a physician’s waiting room that could that transform sound into voice.
How well can you remember sounds? Take a moment and think about the sounds that registered with you today. Try to remember the last thing you heard before falling asleep and what you heard when you woke up. It’s likely harder than you initially think. That’s because our daily lives are layered, complex, conglomerates of sound. For most people sounds trigger memories, shift in moods, or a heighten states of awareness. Sound permeates boundaries and inherently invokes doubt because hearing takes more work than other sense modalities. What we hear incorporates both identifiable objects and unseen forces. Sound’s seeping qualities make it hard to contain, locate, an identify with certainty. Mindful listening takes practice and the elusive qualities of sound only compound this challenge. As difficult as it may be to remember sounds from today there are, however, instances when we overhear something seemingly insignificant and it makes a lasting impression. The absence of a sound such as the disappearance of traffic from a busy intersection could cause pause and a momentary shift in consciousness. the tone your lover has when they mention someone’s name to the emergence of insect sounds may be “insignificant” examples that cause you to refocus your attention. We are acutely aware that we listening to something that is outside ourselves and yet seemingly this “other” speaks to use and the meanings we attach to what we hear are just for us. But what is it that suspends preconceptions and causes reflection? What exactly is resonating with the listener? Who is calling and what is being conveyed?
Sound invites us to respond just as questions do. When we hear a voice or a peculiar sound we instinctively respond and our ears zero in. Hearing is unique sense modality because sounds speak directly to our emotions and reflect our personalities – choice exists in listening much more than, for example, smell. We tune in or out to sounds and what we wind up tuning into says something about us personally. This is specifically true if what we hear catches us off guard and exceeds our expectations of the situation or location. Whether we decide to investigate this overheard source says something about ourselves too. If we associate personal experience with what we hear then those unexpected sounds take on figurative existence. Sounds conceptually become creative interpreters when we transform sonic material into personally or socially significant. Interpellation is what happens when individuals identify themselves as the recipients or subjects of a perceived message. Sound and voice combine and take on internal conceptual existence that then influences our behavior. In many everyday situations sounds become signified and sometimes interpellated. Interpellation signals our attention through voice. When this happens identity suddenly becomes intertwined through what is heard. In unexpected resonating moments we experience a heightened sense of awareness. Sound and voice collide in a way we can perceive. We identify inflections, interpret hesitations, and sense mood shifts by attributing meaning to the spaces between words as much as the words themselves. Dimension is added to perception when we tune in and listen; understanding deepens and questions arise. We wake up … if only for a moment.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Hearing is more complex than just the mechanics of our ears. What we hear and how we hear is mediated by culture, ethics, psychological history, and our neurobiological make-up. Quickly, through hearing, we can access what is intriguing, safe, inviting, dangerous, and reasonable. We are hardwired to make split second decisions based on our ability to interpret information acquired through hearing. The success of our species is no doubt partially due to this kind of neurobiological relay.
Let’s take a moment and analyze hearing. Physical hearing is the pressure of airwaves on our eardrums, but it is as instinctual as it is corporeal. The ability to detect external sounds involves a bodily interaction with the world that is both conceptual and physical. Conceptual hearing exists internally; it is a private process where imagination, intuition, and intellect dialogue. Unlike physical hearing, ideology and our psychology frame our interpretation of sound – this is what differentiates conceptual hearing. So what we physically hear and what we internally or conceptually hear are not always the same things.
Complex associations develop whenever physical hearing blends with conceptual hearing. Suddenly a voice within the sound calls to us. This phenomenological distinction between the two types of hearing, however, does not diminish the affect of the heard voice on the listener. Auditory perception is further complicated by the fact that we often hear things that we don’t see.
Ephemeral and temporal, unless the sound we hear registers as close, we often perceive sound as neither here nor there but everywhere. Perhaps this is why a disembodied voice arouses feelings of wonderment, fear, instability, and inspiration in us. Voice whether spoken or internal has an immediacy that people are just unable to ignore. It is our most accessible and expressive vehicle. Voice catches our attention in a halting way. The term ‘hearing voices’ conjures up all sorts of imagery and associations. As an artist this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. As an artistic medium sound’s strength is its subjectivity. When the audio source is indeterminate, sound is experienced as a disembodied voice and our subjectivity is intensified.
For a sound work to speak, it literally has to call to and connect to the listener’s headspace. Conceptually, this means that the sound used must be situation specific along with being personally and socially significant. Reciprocity is implied when one recognizes they are being called upon.
When using sound as a creative form of activism interpellation also beckons the listener to respond. This response was something I considered when I imagined the Interpelled project functioning as a conscience at COP16. When using sound as a medium, ethical implications are increased especially when dealing with the possibility that someone will hear the sounds as if they were originating from their own body. My sonic intervention had a couple of trajectory points. The first came from a desire to do something with the haunting climate crisis voices in my own mind that whisper to me that time is running out. The second was to create a reflective space through sound for COP16 attendees to reflect on the core issues and what’s at stake.
Imagining how a sound might be perceived is not an easy task and this is a challenge sound artists face when making work that is contextual and situation specific rather than work that is spatially or algorithmically motivated. In my experiments and especially at COP16 I hoped to be able to detect when someone heard or felt the beam of sound hit his or her body. The reality wasn’t that simple. In most cases there wasn’t a recognizable ‘ah-ha moment.’ Interestingly though, working on this project encouraged me to enter into a deeper dialogue with myself. I went into my own head and began to equate the climate crisis with a crisis in morality. I began to wonder what a significant opening of internal space through sound could look like and what would be the ripple effect. I recalled things I remembered hearing years ago but didn’t seem particularly all that significant when I first heard them. We hear and remember what we hear because we perceive it as emotionally significant. What we hear affects the way we participate in our environments. This led me to start wondering what happens when the way in which we hear the world shifts and how does this have an impact on our lives?
Are You Talking To Me?
The current intersection of sound research and aesthetic experimentation puts us in a very interesting time ‘sonically’ speaking. Artists, advertisers, educators, and everyday people all have access to audio technologies that have creatively redefined public and private space. Everyday we use a myriad of devices to communicate our thoughts and connect with each other. Interestingly, the development of these technologies was not driven by a desire to communicate but rather a desire to manage populations, control space, and gain military advantage. This section will investigate sounds commonly heard in our environment, explore power dynamics of sound and voice, and continue to address the relationship between what is heard and choices we make. We’ll look at examples of how audio seized popular attention, influenced masses, and examine agendas that use manipulative abilities of sound.
The voice conveys far more than just information. Inherent tension exists in the dynamic of who is able to be heard and who is kept in silence. In power struggles it all depends on whom, how, and when silence is used. In this way, silence sometimes says more about a situation than the words that are spoken. What is left in and what is left out of communications are strategic political moves especially when powers that be attempt to control public opinion. The ways in which sound has been conceptualized says many things about the concerns of a culture. Governments often use sound to subdue the public and regulate order while advertisers use sound to influence the market by playing upon perceived desires. Audio has been manipulated not just to pronounce ideas but also to dominate populations. Efforts to enact social control have been aided by the manipulative use of audio technologies.
Sounds in public space are designed to direct attention. In most modern cities there are sounds that prompt us to complete a variety of tasks. We have beeps and buzzes that indicate when it is ‘safe’ to cross the street or which elevator has arrived. Alarms and sirens are used to navigate traffic to alert the public to danger and urgent situations. Electronic sounds confirm that an ATM transaction is completed. We are in a feedback relationship with these indicator noises; often becoming impatient or confused when a button doesn’t make a sound when we expect it to.Usually this mixture of sounds fades into the background of our more pressing thoughts.
Forces that can shift and capture our acoustic attention are directionality, volume, and frequency. Changes in volume and frequency affect our sense of physical and psychological security. The US Military treads ethically questionable territory especially when it comes to their employment of sonic weaponry. Beyond the more popularly known examples in the media of the US Military blasting popular music at prisoners in Abu Ghraib, today the military conducts extensive research in virtual soundscapes, infrasonic frequencies, and directional sound lasers to gain advantage over the imagined enemy. Sonic weapons are the dark side of what happens when sound and voice forcefully employ agendas of control and anxiety.
Working creatively with a technology that most people don’t know exists but that inherently plays with people’s expectations and perceptual reality is not easy. Working on this project I began to realize that it brought up skepticism and fear. Fear especially is a hard thing for people to acknowledge let alone talk comfortably about. Often I found when I explained the project it took people some time to imagine positive possibilities of any technology originating from the military. The mere description of the project seemed to cause a form of conceptual hearing or listening in itself.
vimeo video https://vimeo.com/26556970
Can You Repeat That?
Having been to a UN Climate Conference ten years prior, I was aware that delegates, ministers, activists, business leaders, and organizations come to these meetings already knowing what they will or will not say – they have a “script” of some kind. Divisive discussions are common at these events and open meaningful dialogue is not. These conferences in a way mimic many of the scripted interactions that we can all imagine; talking with sales people, meetings at your job, perhaps even interacting with extended family.
After learning more about Hyper Sonic Sound I wondered if I could break through this scripted blanket and inspire a different type of reaction and reflection. Banner hangs, protests, scripted and shouted chants seemed almost destined to go unnoticed by those who attend these conferences because they fit in the paradigm. Understandably measures activists often take at these events tend to be less about opening up space for innovative solutions and more about dogging, pressuring, and guilting officials in the hope of achieving concrete results.
I knew I needed to be careful and considerate for my work to function as an inner mirror in this context. I certainly did not want my project to be experienced as more rhetoric. I didn’t want to project statistics at delegates or make a cute clever rhymes about the planet’s destruction. I wanted conference attendees to pause and deeply listen. To be effective, there were logistical restraints I needed to consider. I thought about how hurried and crazed these ten-day conferences can be. I knew most of the attendees would be sleep deprived and wanted to respect what I imagined to be their semi-frazzled mental states.
Keeping in mind the frequency requirements of the HSS, I limited my audio material to the human voice. During my experiments pre-conference I tested a variety of sounds that could be recognizable to an international population. Uncertain of accessibility, I had no idea how long I would have with my any one person so I thought about sounds that would translate if heard only for a few seconds. Since memes function in a contagious way I thought about using a meme for the audio material. Realistically I had to plan around the possibility of only having about ten-seconds with people. I tried to think of how snippets of constrained audio could create space while communicating context. I wanted the idea of the work and the sound to take root both with people who experienced the intervention first hand and those who heard about it second hand or through documentation.
What was good for the project may not have been so good for my mental health. I spent the weeks before the conference obsessively listening to ten years worth of archived climate conference meetings. I then took snippets from past conferences that I found moving and edited those statements and sentiments down to their essence. In an effort to speak to the passing of precious time my plan was if the opportunity presented itself I wanted to reflect and haunt COP attendees own words from the past ten years back onto them.
It was a struggle, I have to admit there were moments during this process when the whole project felt too big and I worried if I would ever find the right sounds. Beyond words, what sounds would be symbolic and contextually appropriate?
And then one night it came to me as I was walking downtown. Whizzing past me in a car the sound of children’s voices jolted me from my train of thought. In that moment, I realized that the voices of playing children translates no matter what your nationality. Instinctually this kind of human utterance registers and pierces through the noise by speaking to the heart. Under the looming climate crisis, the idea that a conference attendee would hear children laughing and playing with laser focus as they left late night meetings and in between events resonated in many ways.
STILL HERE: An Interactive Installation for an Empty Room.
Alyssa Moxley & Ramona Stout
We made all of the recordings featured in Still Here on Santorini, in Greece, as it is today. Many of the sounds were recorded in Vothonas, a village of around three hundred people in which Ramona has lived for the past two years. Vothonas is nestled in a valley around a now dry riverbed. It is mere minutes from the airport and a busy junction, yet there is no sign to indicate its existence and as a consequence, not of its remoteness but its ordinariness, it is shielded from traffic. The land surrounding it consists of small-scale viticulture and fallow fields in which donkeys and goats graze. There is more foliage in and around the village than is typical for the island as a whole, so the bird population is large and varied. Other sounds were recorded in northern coastal areas, on a boat, under water, and in a number of other rural locations. Some of the sounds are hard to avoid hearing – the church bells, the sea, the summer wind; all are soundmarks of the island. Others require long-term exposure or careful listening; the rhythm of dogs barking in the evening, the satisfying thud of a rug being beaten, or the movement of pebbles beneath the surf.
Although our soundscape has its origins in the aural experience of living and listening in a real place, Vothonas, where the sounds are much as they have been for a century or more – it also functions as an idealised soundtrack for the island as a whole. It is a soundtrack that glosses the extremes of silence and noise that have come to dominate the island and recreates a bygone era in which there existed a host of functioning communities like Vothonas, of which there are now far fewer. It is our recording of the pulse of a place that now exists in suspended animation, a place that is alive but no longer clearly living – Santorini.
To give a little context for those who don’t know the island, the BBC dubbed Santorini ‘The World’s Best Island’ in 2011. It is a tourist mecca. It has a permanent population of less than 10,000, but every summer it receives at least 500,000 visitors, and they are expected to rise to a million with the re-opening of its main archaeological site. Although these visitors bring clamorous noise with them, of equal importance to our piece is the deafening silence their visits have helped to bring about.
The top destination on the island is the village of Oia. It is, they say, one of the most photographed places in the world. When Ramona was a child it still functioned as a community, there were small cafes cum barber’s shops, homespun bakeries, and an active fishing fleet. Over the decades the majority of the community died off, sold out, or moved away. The village now has fewer than a hundred permanent residents. ‘Off-season’ it is a ghost town and quiet, as they say, as the grave.
I [Ramona] remember the sound of fishermen cleaning lobster traps, of women calling their husbands back to the village for lunch from the port below, and most of all, the sound of the wind playing the electric cabling that formed a web above the village. In the 1990’s – to complete their picture – the village municipality sank the electric cables below ground so that they no longer need be airbrushed out. With that move the sound of Oia, one of my earliest aural memories, was all but laid to rest. In Santorini, the more pristine the visual landscape becomes the more barren the native soundscape is rendered. This is the eerie ‘silence’ brought by the tourist economy. Sabine Breitsameter, interviewed for a short documentary called Soundwalkers, gives a definition of silence that works well in this context. ‘Things can be silent,’ she says, ‘because before there was something non-silent.’
There is, of course, another soundtrack playing in the summer months; it is the hum of chaotic traffic, the clinking of a thousand sets of cutlery, and the buzz of hungry commerce. Rafael Toral, a sound artist and musician also featured in Soundwalkers, defined noise as anything that was “…a perturbation on a communication process,” and gave music as a prime example. This is ultimately so in the case of Santorini. Tourism and those participating in it (purveyor and consumer alike) have created a din that is both a catalyst for – and an emblem of – a severing of communication between inhabitants and their environment, and with one another.
During the summer months we plot a course around the island that avoids the intrusion of tourism. We scramble down broken donkey paths to beaches long abandoned, we walk on dirt roads, we shop during siesta, and in doing so we avoid not only the tourists but manage to strip almost all human influence from our visual and aural scape. We create our own private unreality. It is a moving image of the island in which all that offends our delicate sensibilities has been airbrushed out – along with their sounds, and those of almost all of the people.
However, we don’t feel that by achieving ‘silence’1 – our soundtrack having become limited to ‘natural’ (i.e. non-human) sounds – we are experiencing the island as it ought to be. It seems, in fact, entirely unnatural. The island has been inhabited for millennia, it has had indoor plumbing since the Bronze Age, and it has been a hub for trade, a pirate haven, and the go-to destination for vampires. This is why, in our soundscape, we draw the people and their sounds back in. 2
Perhaps it is simply because so many of those that work in the world of soundscapes live in first world cities that human generated sound is so often thought of solely as noise. It seems to be almost revelatory that people, even when accompanied by their machines, can make non-pollutant sounds. 3 It may be too great a stretch to expect listeners to imagine the sounds of a city as organic counterpart to those of an abundant forest. However, we hope that by including ‘organic’ human sound as well as the sounds borne of the interplay between man-made technology and the environment in Santorini, we make a convincing case for the value of cultural soundscapes. 4
The wind in the electric wires that I mentioned earlier is a prime example of this interplay. The guttural hums of mopeds disappearing through valleys, or the sound of a lone fishing boat engine on a darkening evening are further examples. While these sounds signal modern era they also transmit the bustling life of a place. A case in point: Santorini has mobile markets that are run out of vans and pick-up trucks, whose sounds you can hear in Still Here. Their owners use megaphones to announce their approach and their wares, calling ‘fresh fish’ or ‘nice clothes’ as they meander through villages. These mobile markets are banned from Oia in the summer months; their sound is considered a pollutant.
In Vothonas, in contrast to the island as a whole, the balance between biophony, geophony, and anthrophony is effortlessly maintained. As in most other villages on the island the houses are cave dwellings, many stretching deep into the soft pumice. These caves were borne of practicality; there were few materials for building on the island and naturally occurring caves were quickly repurposed, first for animal and then human habitation. The agricultural lives of Santorini’s residents also lent a hand in shaping this ‘negative architecture.’ All the land that was arable or that could be terraced was used to grow either grapes or tomatoes and could not be wasted on domestic space. In sum this structure of human habitation, whereby villagers are living not on the land but actually in it, and where there is little or no demarcation between ‘town’ and ‘country,’ gives rise to an unusual harmony in the soundscape.
In practical terms the building’s design renders heating and air-conditioning redundant, as the earth itself serves to both heat and cool them. Large walled terraces, built with volcanic rock and natural concrete, that act to trap sound within domestic space, surround most buildings. Furthermore, living within the earth alters one’s experience of sound. Sounds are not only heard but also felt; a hammered nail resonates as a pulse within, rather than simply as a noise without. This, we believe, gives rise to an increased awareness around sound production. The village’s psychogeography has altered our understanding of the stark distinctions made between biological and geological sounds on one hand, and human generated sound on the other, maybe even eradicating those distinctions altogether.
We have described Still Here as the pulse of a place in suspended animation. A useful analogy is the aural equivalent of a Fata Morgana (also known as a superior mirage). A Fata Morgana comes into existence as a result of a thermal inversion in the atmosphere between hot and cold air. This inversion interrupts the atmosphere, distorting the electro-magnetic field to create light rays with a curvature stronger than that of the earth. The resulting mutation of an object, with its own skewed reflection on the horizon, can be so convincing as to lead to the mistaken discovery of non-existent mountains and landmasses. In 1913, for instance, Robert Preary led a very expensive but totally fruitless expedition to Crocker Land, a Fata Morgana in Antartica. Most often, Fata Morganas appear on the horizon above the sea, an image of a real landmass or ship, transmitted to us at a delay in space-time. We can see its passage through time as a distortion of shape.
The comparison works well when we think about those who are listening to Still Here. To see a Fata Morgana one needs to be at the appropriate angle in relation to the horizon, a position that relates to the “duct” between hot and cold air. A person on the shore may see a ship as approaching dangerously close to a phantom land mass, yet the sailors on the ship may not see this ‘land mass’ at all.
A listener’s position within the space of Still Here is key to their hearing our soundtrack. We’re broadcasting on one frequency, but the signal is weak enough that we can use several micro-transmitters. Together, they create a surround sound “hovering island”, a fictionalized soundtrack of Santorini. The position of others in the room gives the impression that the work is fully sounding, but when a listener with a receiver positions themselves near a transmitter, the soundscape they receive (through a radio built into a birdcage) is temporarily central.
The radio static is akin to the haze that surrounds a Fata Morgana, an electro-magnetic hum that distorts and transforms its origins. Using hand built transmitters increases the chances of sound artefacts, of interferences from travelling through and experiencing the local, here and now, present space. These marks obscure the pure “realness” of our field recordings, and emphasize the possibility of fiction. The recordings are definitely of Santorini with its distinctive mix of bells, winds, birds, and human activities, but to someone who has never been to the place, the sounds compose an illusion. Even to someone who has been there frequently (or lives there) this soundscape has a distinctly evocative composition.
There are also less associative and more abstract sounds that create a texture of the place: the cracking open of an urchin’s shell on water, the crunching of a dog’s bone on a pebbled beach, rustling fig leaves, pigeons roosting in an abandoned winery. These are very much sounds that are specifically of Santorini, but hard to articulate in terms of the effect it lends towards creating an impression of the land. I [Alyssa] find that my imagination is piqued by the less immediately identifiable sounds and my recollection latches on to associative sounds: the sea and the bells.
We’re interested in listening to the voices of the landscape, and from this listening, creating a psycho-geography of sounds. It relates to our experience, but also to our experience in relationship to the movement of other people, creatures, and natural phenomenon on the island. The listener in Still Here experiences a unique and fleeting sonic map of the island dependent on the position of the other listeners in the room and which transmitters they are picking up. There is the possibility of multiple listeners emphasizing one transmitter and playing with the location of the sound in a spatial way. There is also the possibility of interference.
Our hope is that the movement Still Here requires heightens curiosity, and raises awareness of a soundscape that can be drowned by the magnitude of the visual beauty on this island, as well as offering an interesting composition of timbre and rhythm. On Santorini, the term “negative architecture” refers to the use of cave dwellings, occupying space within the land rather than on it, hollowing out rather than building up. Sound in Still Here creates a habitable impression from reverberation and resonance rather than from a solid structure. The island can be occupied, traversed, and explored through displacement. Sound allows for a more intimate relationship to the landscape than the visual in this instance. It moves through, reverberates, and occupies the body that experiences it, whereas images are often presented on a clearly separate and defined surface. The natural landscape, the inherent architecture of the island is given a voice, malleable by the bodies that cause its resonance, rather than definition in physical/visual form.
We chose hand-made birdcages to house our receivers as a result of conversations we had with island residents. When asked which sounds on the island were most evocative of the place, almost all of those who lived there year round chose the songs of the finches that are trapped in these cages. Many islanders own between ten and twenty of these birds. The birds are not a native species; they are caught in watering holes as they fly over Santorini fleeing storms in North Africa. We liked the idea that the sounds that we find most evocative could also be captured in these cages and moved around the space to decorate the air; just as listeners might pick and choose from the sounds we have presented and catch their own.
As listeners move through the space, they create their own psycho-geographic map of the island. The five soundtracks are composed of elements from the Town, a Village Terrace (Avli), the Cliffs and Hills, the Sea, and a variety of Motors. The association of sound with physical movement creates a unique memory for every individual in a place. Most people regularly return to a place because of unique qualities of the landscape, but most often these are shifting qualities, and this is part of the appeal of returning: to have a new experience in familiar surroundings and to feel subtle change. The more time one spends in a place, the more sensitive one becomes to its subtle details. In Still Here, we have aimed to create a sound portrait that is always in a state of flux. The interruptions of local radio transmissions further highlight its distance from the actual island, and the mutability of presence.
City Sondols – Toronto
City Sondols is the title of an ongoing series of public interventions exploring architecture and public space that employ performative practices and mobile audio technologies to induce perceptual shifts within the built environment. In the following text I will present the background of this project and I will summarize the trajectory that has lead to its current state of development. This research has been recently facilitated by NAISA through a two week residency in Toronto, which included a series of performances that were featured as part of the 12th Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art.
Understanding space through echolocation
When entering a building, we are often greeted by the echo of our own footsteps. Most buildings have their own acoustic character. In a few cases this can be intentionally designed, as in concert halls, but more commonly the acoustic character of a building it is not the result of conscious planning (it is clearly not the first priority of the architect). I have long been fascinated by the variety of acoustic responses that unintentionally arise out of the coupling of architectural structures and the activities that they host. Initially I fed this interest by making recordings in public spaces, like churches during mass, squares during markets and fairs, sports fields during games or narrow alleys late at night, where loud air conditioning systems hum and blow. I enjoyed the contemplative state of letting the world play while my consciousness merged with the fluctuations of air pressure around me. I then Ibecame interested in actively probing spaces to hear how they responded to my own presence. I discovered that through the technique of echolocation it is possible to conjure detailed mental images of places by listening to the reflections of short clicking sounds off hard surfaces. It was a great surprise to find a whole new way of understanding the spatial proportions between things. It was after attending a performance of Alvin Lucier’s Vespers in The Hague in 2010 that I managed to obtain, from an engineer who had helped build the instruments used in his performance, the technical designs to build my own sondols. A sondol is a small electronic device that emits a directional stream of pulses. As far as I understand, it was originally intended as an aid for the blind. I was deeply intrigued by the use Alvin Lucier made of this instrument and I was curious in which other ways it could be employed. I went on walks through several cities and pointed my sondols at buildings to hear how they would respond. It felt like having an extended limb with which one could touch the surface of far away surfaces.
City Sondol – London
In London in the winter of 2010 I took several walks through the financial district late at night. The area was completely deserted and I could play with the gigantic buildings as if they existed for my own entertainment. Constructions of this size must exist to make the individual feel powerless. With sound I could take temporary possession of an area thousands of times my body size. It was exhilarating to have this liberty in such a highly surveilled place. I imagine the inside of these offices as one of the most hectic and tense places in the world during the daytime. If art must live on the leftovers of other activities, then these deserted streets, alleys and courtyards can be my open-air theater. (A similar stage setting attracted the like of Philippe Petit and the Al Qaeda hijackers). I felt the desire to share my experience with other people, so I made some recordings holding a compact video camera in my hand together with a sondol. With this method the recorded image captured the surfaces against which the sound from the sondol was being reflected. But the quality of the recorded image was poor and the sensuality of the experience mostly lost outside of my memory.
Another kind of sound walk
The sound walk has become a common presentation format. In many cases the audience is invited to listen to a pre-composed track over headphones while following an indicated route. This can be a beautiful way to compose music (or tell a story) over a landscape, interweaving time and space, the imaginary and the real, musical development and bodily movement. But I find that there is something disturbing about how the private listening space created with a pair of headphones is superimposed on the public space in which the sound walk takes place. It is difficult to have any interaction with people not participating in the walk. What I find most interesting about working in public space is the possibility of involving people who just happen to be there. In terms of mobile audio technologies, the boombox is better suited then the iPod to this purpose.
City Sondols – Delft
In the summer of 2012 I asked Ángel Faraldo if he was interested in developing a performance in which we would lead an audience on a walk around an area of a city while probing the surrounding space with sound. Ángel has been working for many years with feedback processes that excite the resonances of specific spaces. Together we were invited to develop our concept for the Blikopener Festival in Delft. After visiting the festival area, we settled on the new neighborhood just north of the Sint Sebastiaansbrug. The site offered a shopping area centered around a main square and several apartment buildings of recent construction. I was attracted to work within this standard contemporary architectural style which appears as if modeled on the polygonal vector graphics of computer simulated environments like Second Life. I wanted to highlight the sense of unreality that I perceived as emanating from the buildings. While in the City of London I was spurred to attack the glass, concrete and steel towers of financial corporations with thick bullets of sound (later I discovered that Bill Viola had recorded rifle shots echoing down Wallstreet a few decades earlier), here the small scale of the mixed commercial and residential zone suggested a more subtle approach. During Blikopener Festival we lead several walks around a planned route. In addition to projecting pulses we also worked with electroacoustic feedback processes modeled by Ángel and we manipulated environmental sounds, projecting acoustic images of the space back onto the space itself. We invited the audience to move around freely during the walk and to compare different acoustic perspectives. A few people joined the walk spontaneously as they met us by chance on the street and later gave us enthusiastic feedback about the experience.
While preparing the performance in Delft, we made video recordings using a different method than the one I had previously employed in London. I started to think about mediating our experience in terms of cinematic relationships. This time I placed a camera in a fixed position and we played with motion between off-screen and on-screen presence. While soundtracks for films are generally composed in the post-production studio, we were performing the soundtrack on site while shooting. Our intention was not to create music that would comment on the images, but to actually convey by aural means the spatiality of the place and to merge our own music making with the local soundscape as it unfolded around us.
City Sondols – Toronto: preparations
At the end of 2012 Darren Copeland invited us present our work in Toronto during the Deep Wireless festival scheduled for May 2013. We worked with NAISA to obtain support for the project and received a grant from Stroom Den Haag as well as travel funding from the Dutch Performing Arts Fund. We used these resources to redesign our sondols and to obtain suitable recording equipment to document our interventions. Ángel developed the software for the sondols in Pure Data and Edgar Berdahl was extraordinarily helpful in getting the Satellite CCRMA distribution to run on one of our Raspberry Pi boards, which had revealed itself as an overly stubborn piece of hardware. Meanwhile I hacked away at some PVC piping, following the example of Erfan Abdi’s Notesaaz, placing small faders and thumbwheels around the handle of the loudspeaker horn to control the software processes while performing. Ángel got his hands on a sewing machine and made a pair of bags to hold the rest of the gear, which included a car audio amplifier, the Rasperry Pi boards, a cheap usb sound card, a microphone preamp and batteries. Then we integrated this combination of consumer and self-made equipment with a pro audio wireless transmitter-receiver system as well as a pair of decent shotgun microphones.
Documenting the work was the other aspect of the project that required preparation. I learned to operate a photo camera with a bright lens and HD video recording capability and made a mounting bracket to hold the camera on top of the sondol. We practiced playing with the sondols and making recordings in The Hague. Unsurprisingly controlling the sondol and the camera at the same time proved to be a challenge.
City Sondols – Toronto: the loud and privatized city
Arriving in Toronto after a 15 hour flight from Amsterdam via Vienna, the first thing we realized was how loud the city is, something that can go unnoticed when scouting for locations on Google Street View. The sound of air conditioning was almost overwhelming downtown. Car traffic was reduced at night, but never ceased.
Darren Copeland suggested a route for our performance near NAISA’s headquarters at the Wychwood Barns. The area between the Barns and St.Clair West metro station promised interesting acoustic responses but I was uncertain about the sense of performing our work in such a suburban residential area. At the start of our first performance, as we were walking through a narrow alley reflecting pulses off garage doors we attracted the rage of a lady who emerged from one of the houses. Ángel and I ignored her and moved on, unable to break from our role of performers, so she took it out on our kind hosts, harassing them verbally for 15 minutes. The entire discussion was recorded and it was troubling for us to listen to it the following day, realizing the tension that we had brought about. Later I walked back down the same alley many times on my way to the Barns and listened to the airplanes fly above and to the construction site at one end of the alley and to a rock band rehearsing in a garage and wondered about tolerance.
We did most of our field work downtown, working late into the night in the financial district, around the baseball stadium and in a strange development area beside a loud expressway that looked like something out of Dubai. Ian Jarvis assisted us with recording our interventions and we experimented with a few different ways of positioning the video and sound recording equipment. In one instance Ian would wear binaural microphones and stand behind the camera mounted on the tripod while we performed in front of the camera. This coincident positioning of ear and eye would produce a coherent space (the problem with realistic representation is that it is taken for granted). During other takes Ian would stand with binaural microphones in front of the camera, while we would walk around him playing our instruments, in order to dissociate the two perspectives, placing the aural perspective within the visual perspective. Working with the tripod at any single location had the disadvantage that security personnel usually intervened requesting authorization, which we obviously did not have. We were very surprised to discover that even the sidewalks and the pavement of open squares in Toronto are often private property. A series of calls to the managing offices of the Dominion Center, which were inevitably routed to answering machines, discouraged us from seeking official permissions.
Performing while keeping on the move was the more effective way to avoid security. At a certain point we had this idea of recording a performance in a single shot “à la Russian Ark” while zig-zagging between a few of our favorite banks. The map of the walk would be our score and we would practice it until we were able to record the whole thing in a single take, unlike Gould’s Goldberg Variations. But time ran out on us before I was able to fluently combine the skills of focusing a camera while playing the sondol and dodging cars or security guards at the same time.
City Sondols – Toronto: post-production
Setting back off towards Holland at Pearson Airport we received a farewell gift when we ran into a sculpture of Richard Serra formed by four large convex steel plates facing each other in such a way that they created an acoustic lens. I used an acoustic clicker to excite the sculpture while Ángel recorded it. My activity was rather superfluous, since children were having a great time with the thing already. Amazingly we had less trouble recording in the airport then in the open spaces in the city.
I have not yet counted the hours of recordings that we made. The daunting task of sorting through the video footage has so far been postponed by more pressing work. A detached moment to get back to this material will likely emerge at some point in the future. Hopefully by then the memory of the experience will have faded and the recordings will appear worthy of attention.
“Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?”, Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter, MIT press, 2007
“Reflections – Interviews, Scores, Writings 1965 – 1994”, Alvin Lucier, Edition MusikTexte, 1995
“A new sense of City through Hearing and Sound”, Eva Kekou, Matteo Marangoni, 2010
Bill Viola, Street Music
Erfan Abdi, Notesaaz
Edgar Berdhal, Satellite CCRMA
Stroom Den Haag
Performing Arts Fund NL
My thanks go above all to my tireless partner in this project, Ángel Faraldo,
The Dancer From The Dance:
Mapping Motion With Sound Via Radio Transmission
Leif Bloomquist & Tricia Postle
New Adventures In Sound Art
TransX Transmission Art Symposium – Toronto, ON, Canada
May 19, 2013
Leif Bloomquist – Programmer and Composer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tricia Postle – Artistic Director, Majlis Art Garden (email@example.com)
We present our work on the development of a device by which a dancer may wirelessly transmit bodily motion to a MIDI-capable device or computer in order to produce or alter sound, creating music that is immediately integrated with and inseparable from the dance.
“O chestnut tree, great rooted-blossomer, are you the leaf, the blossom, or the bole?
O body swayed to music, o brightening glance, how can we know the dancer from the dance?”
William Butler Yeats
(from The Tower, 1928)
Yates was very much into cross-disciplinary art. You might not expect that from someone considered an old-school poet, but he did all kinds of experiments in theatre, quite experimental theatre for the time. So we believe he is an appropriate introduction.
With experimental and electronic music, there has always been the issue of how to add visual interest to the performance. In many settings, such as when performing among peers, it’s understood that we’re playing music and producing sound created by devices, and there might not be much to see. In a more commercial environment such as a nightclub or concert, people want a show, a spectacle.
When electronic music was in its infancy, artists such as Kraftwerk would often stand there, rigidly, at their computers on stage. The electronic music industry has responded to audience demand with devices that are little MIDI controllers intended to make sound more interactive, so that you have something to look at, to see what the musician is doing, not just pressing the spacebar on his laptop and stepping away.
One modern, and gregarious, example is Deadmau5. To add visual interest to his performances, Deadmau5 uses lights, lasers, strobes, projected visuals, and his “mouse head” costume.
We started thinking about dance as a part of the performance. How do you extend that, how do integrate a dancer (someone who’s there and very physical and present in the show) and integrate them into the performance as more than just eye-candy, make them part of what’s going on musically.
The Past: Movement Mapping and Dance Notation
We have been doing collaborations with dancers for the past 20 years or so, with music, and creating structured improvisations and more completely choreographed works, and what our project brought to mind immediately, was dance notation.
Beauchamp-Feuillet Notation, c. 1680
This is one of the earlier forms of graphic dance notation. (There had been earlier, non-graphic, dance notation types before this.) This system was commissioned by Louis XIV, who was (without getting into monarchy and those implications) someone with a very good day job that allowed him to focus on dance, which could be argued was his main interest. He commissioned a system of dance notation, because he felt that dance would never really get anywhere unless dance had a system of recording that was as comprehensive as music, for instance. And this was the dominant form of dance notation for about 100 years after that.
Friederich Zorn’s system from his “Grammatik der Tanzkunst” (1887)
In the late Victorian era, there was a proliferation of different styles of dance notations. Zorn’s tried to be the cross-cultural system, and as you can see here it’s derived from the human body, whereas the Beauchamp-Feuillet notation was very specifically geared towards Ballet and other kinds of baroque dance. This was an attempt to bridge all the European dance systems, all the varieties of dance across Europe.
This is probably the most interesting kind of notation for anyone who’s working in robotics. Labanotation developed in the 1920s and it’s been in continuous development ever since then. Laban tried to create a complete geometric system, and there are several different groups who have developed it. It’s kind of like a computer language, there is the core language and it’s been developed in different directions, by different people, for different uses. So there is one group that’s developed it for robotics, there’s one group that’s developing it for physiology, and one group for dance. This is widely available on the web, there are teach-yourself-Labanotation websites, for instance.
So far, this has all been about one directional movement mapping. We would like to briefly mention that there are also systems for more improvised work, which have been built in traditional systems or forms.
Flamenco: Llamada and Kathak: Hastak
This puts a bit of a constraint on the form. There has to be a preexisting agreement, there have to be rules of engagement, and everyone involved has to be on the same page in advance. The flamenco Llamada is probably one of the more famous ones, with a series of tapped beats that indicate to the musicians that we’re going to switch into a different rhythm now.
In Kathak, it’s a storytelling dance, originally, although that’s a bit like making some sweeping statement about ballet. There are certain key gestures which indicate things happening in the story, and also there’s a quite developed language called bols, which can communicate back and forth between the musicians and the dancers. So she could say “Well, when I come to the Kran, you’ll know to shift” and people can create fairly detailed improvisations very quickly.
The Present: Arduinos, XBee Radios, and the MotionMIDI Device
These dance movements can be captured with video tape, motion capture suits, or other sensors. Some of those motion capture systems are very expensive, that’s the realm of Hollywood blockbusters to do it really precisely.
However, for people on our budgets and more of the hobbyist realm, something wonderful has been happening, in that more capable computing power has come down in price and really exploded in availability. Technology has become available to make various artistic projects very affordably. A prominent example, and the technology we have chosen, is the Arduino.
Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.
(From http://www.arduino.cc )
Arduino is based on an Atmel microprocessor, and the Processing language, which is a simplified version of C++. One of the key driving aspects of Arduino is that the designs are “open”. The hardware and software is open, it’s there for anyone to use, appropriate, create, modify. This creates a very strong community focus; everyone is building on everyone else’s efforts.
There are countless variations in sizes. For example, there is the LilyPad Arduino, which is about the size of a quarter. You can sew it into your clothing and it’s meant to be washable, but it’s a computer that’s built into your clothing.
The Arduino is more than just the microprocessor, there is a whole system surrounding it. There are add-ons called shields. You can get kits with these shields. You can attach sensors. You can attach actuators and other devices.
And that brings us to the key focus of this paper: There are radios. We are using XBee, which is a point-to-point serial radio, using the Zigbee protocol. You can also get shields that do 802.11 WiFi and many others, such as Bluetooth. These devices are quite ubiquitous and amazingly accessible, and they can all be ordered online with all the source code and all the documentation.
Below is a picture of the device. The dancer wears an ADXL 335 accelerometer, which runs with wires back to an Arduino, the XBee Shield and the XBee wireless transmitter. Then the XBee is transmitting wirelessly to its twin, connected to a laptop.
The MotionMIDI Device as Worn by a Dancer
When the dancer moves, the movement and the force of gravity is detected by the accelerometer. The accelerometer puts out three analog voltages representing the X, Y, and Z components of the motion as described below. The voltages are fed into the Arduino, which makes it simple to sample the value of these voltages.
Block Diagram of the MotionMIDI System
Acceleration forces in 3D can be represented as these three components, X, Y, and Z, and this includes gravity. So this gives you the direction and the magnitude of the acceleration. There is one of these chips in your smartphone. This is how it knows which way you’re holding it. Smartphones use this exact same chip we’re using, actually. So you can determine both the orientation and the magnitude of the acceleration.
Components of a Force in a 3-Dimensional Universe
We’re also calculating the force magnitude with the Pythagorean Theorem, and putting that into a MIDI continuous controller message as well.
The Arduino software constructs these MIDI messages, puts them into the XBee wireless transmitter, which transmits them over to its twin. It’s read by a USB to serial adapter, and runs through some software machinations. Then it’s available as a generic MIDI device and you can plug it in to any MIDI-aware software, whether it’s FL Studio, or Garageband, or Cubase, or Ableton, or others.
In electronic music, latency is something you’re always concerned about, but even with path the data must take, the system still keeps latency down to a few tens of milliseconds which is more than acceptable.
So this sort of continuous control where you have a flow is ideal for controlling pitch, filter sweeps and effects like that.
The Future: What’s Next?
Some of our future plans for this device include looking into additional sensors. We’re just using an accelerometer, there are also inertial and magnetic sensors available for Arduino. So that gives you more precision in the rotation and the directional pointing. So you could map the inputs to a compass direction: If you’re pointing true north, the input has this value, if you point west, it has a different value, and then you could map the spacial orientation of the dancer to a specific effect or series of sounds.
Something we want to investigate is using these inputs to generate notes, right now we’re using to for filter sweeps and more continuous inputs. But you could generate notes from that directly, or use that as a seed for a fractal generating algorithm.
We want to work on a few more pieces and get feedback from the dance community. For example there’s an experimental dance community here in Toronto called CoexisDance, we want to get a few of these into their hands and see what they do with them.
Next, we want to make a few of them in a small production run. Then we can get these into the hands of artists and dancers and see what they can do with them, and iterate, and explore and have fun. We realize we’re just scratching the surface, so we’re having a bit of fun with it.
There are some other people exploring in this space, Imogen Heap being the most prominent example with her Gloves Project. SonicWear, an OCAD project, locally, very similar to ours, we’re looking for ways to collaborate.
There is also the Kinectar, which uses an XBox Kinect for wirelessly mapping motion to various instruments. Coming in July 2013 is the LEAP Motion, which is a little device that lets you map where your hands are, without any wired connection.
Special thanks to Seth Hardy from the Site3 Collaboratory, for assistance with XBee programming, and to Deepti Gupta, an experimental kathak dancer, and Gauri Vanarase, who I’ve done some presentation on dance history with, and who’s been immensely helpful.
About the Authors
Leif Bloomquist has been creating computerized sounds since the days of the Commodore 64. Trained in clarinet and percussion, he now composes using sequencing software and homebuilt hardware. His music can be heard in environments such as gothic nightclubs, CBC Radio 3, ambient music festivals, and churches. He has released five albums to date through his Schema Factor and Interweaver projects. For further information please visit www.schemafactor.com .
When not creating experimental music, Leif is a senior engineer at MDA, an aerospace company best known for their work on the Canadarm. He holds a BASc in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo.
Tricia Postle is the artistic director of Majlis Art Garden, a multidisciplinary seasonal space in Queen West presenting poetry, music, dance and storytelling. This summer Majlis will host a salon-style evening on the intersection of music and technology. For further information please visit www.majlisarts.com .
Tricia is a lyric mezzo and poet, and has been known to play the hurdy-gurdy, psaltry, and qanun. She has recently started setting contemporary poetry as art song. She holds a BA in Medieval Studies and Music from the University of Toronto.
Cellphonia: Toronto SONicGeo
Steve Bull & Scott Gresham-Lancaster
Associate Professor in Sound Design
University of Texas at Dallas
Multi-media and Code Artist
New York City
Cellphonia explores the social, technological, and creative possibilities of cell phones with bias to encourage new applications for cultural growth. Over the last 10 years the authors have created 11 + productions using this new approach to the use of telecommunications in conjunction with the new online technology as it reveals itself with each new year. This paper provides a detailed account of the performances and installations created in this context and the accompanying technological and artistic improvements and changes that were fostered over the course of that time. The work has been an ongoing, ever changing platform for the investigation of the ideas outlined in the mission statement, but has lead to deeper and more interesting discoveries, as new techniques and unexpected participant reactions lead the way to unforeseen approaches and changes.
The first realization, March 2-3, 2006 - Mobile Music Technology - Cellphonia: Work-in-Progress at 3rd International Mobile Music Workshop, Brighton UK5 was an attempt to use the day’s headlines and synopsis from the “International Herald Tribune” RSS feed to prompt callers to “sing or say” these phrases. This was rendered in one scene with 20 slots to hold each of the consecutive calls. As the number of messages exceeded 20 they were returned to the beginning position. This was executed on a RedHat server in NY from which a Macintosh G5 tower in Oakland, CA was notified of new incoming calls. The wav files from the new call were downloaded via ftp to the ChucK computer music program that rendered a new output file that was the length of the piece as generated by the number of incoming calls. In this way, the initial rendering was on the order of about a minute, but as new calls came in the length of the rendered file increased. Eventually, when all twenty calls were placed, the overall length of the playback of each new version was 6 minutes and 34 seconds long. This resulting wave file was constantly being streamed out over a local “Icecast” audio streaming server that was set up peer to peer to the computer that was in the exhibition hall in Brighton, UK.
Cellphonia: In The News (2006) was a locative-based karaoke opera cued and performed by the cell phone with lyrics daily RSS newsfeeds which generate both the score and moving images, available anytime anywhere small groups gather, and also allowing outside users to contribute as a remote chorus as part of @ZeroOne, San Jose and the ISEA conference held in downtown San Jose.
For this realization, a much more elaborate schema was set in place. Callers were prompted to select one of 6 possible “scenes” that were prompts automatically generated from the various RSS feeds of the San Jose Mercury in real time. The categories were local news, hi-technology, sports, religion, house for sale followed by an “interlude” or recap that took material from all five other scenes and combined it to make a synopsis piece that played before the entire piece repeated again.
The complexity and arcane nature of the structure of this piece led to several “on the fly” editions to the original schema. Callers were always selecting the first scene when they called in and so almost immediately an asymmetry developed that needed to be corrected. To alleviate this problem, script was modified to place each caller into the subsequent scene. In this way, each of the scenes got an equal distribution of calls.
Another unforeseen problem arose when callers, disoriented by the details read to them at the beginning of each scene, would not react by repeating the “headline” or text recited to them, but just start talking about random information or asking questions about what was happening. As users got acclimated and more familiar with the Cellphonia mechanism, calls began to come in that were short electronic pieces and non sequitur excerpts from radio and television shows.
Ultimately, as the piece was left on for several months, one user became enamored, even possessive of the recordings on the server. By this time, all the callers were completely ignoring the prompts and just saying or playing whatever, but this particular individual started bumping all the other callers off the system by making the 48 separate phone calls needed to replace a given “new call”.
Identifying himself as “the security guard” the designers began leaving messages that ignored the scripts as well and asked this individual questions regarding his motivation and feelings about the piece. It was through this mechanism that he was informed that the telephone linkage to the system was going to be discontinued, which was followed by a series of laments from this individual. “Please don’t take my piece away” was the repeated plea … Certainly not the expected outcome of the initial design.
On a more technical note, the ChucK language had proven too unreliable for the realization over extended periods of days and weeks and the transition was made to the Csound computer music language. The advantages of this transition were immediately clear as the system robustly and automatically rendered the new output files to mp3. Also, Icecast was not easy for other users to connect to, and so the transition was made to use a flash/browser based playback system using the jwplayer and accompanying playlist.xls to support the various “scenes” that the system generated. These technical improvements proved to be very solid and many of these design decisions are still integrated into aspects of the current Cellphonia engine.
Cellphonia: WET (2007) was a cellphone interactive sound/video installation at NIME 2007 at the EYEBEAM gallery in NY,NY. 6 Visitors experienced a 6-minute looping vocals of “naiads” lamenting the loss of the world’s fresh water with projected video accompaniment. This installation was done in conjunction at the RedCat Theater in Los Angeles of an opera production of the collaboration between composer Anne LeBaron and librettist/novelist Terese Svoboda on the same topic.7 The approach in this instance was technologically similar to the previous performance, however the structure of the cues was completely reimagined. At the front of each of the consecutive sections a prerecorded, studio quality recording of a melodic fragment from the libretto was sung to the participant with no further prompting. The immediate result, in most cases, was that the caller would sing back as much of what they had just been prompted as they could remember. This installation only ran for two weeks, so the opportunity for the sort of sociological interchange that happened with the previous installation did not materialize.
Cellphonia: Tempo Variabile (2008) “Tempo variabile” is Italian for “changeable weather” and a memorial concert for John Cage and David Tudor. This cellphone interactive sound/video performance installation at the Stevens Institute of Technology April 5th, 2008. This was a realization of Cellphonia done at the request of the Harvestworks organization of New York as part of a week long event commemorating the anniversary of the now famous Art and Engineering event “9 evenings”. 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering was a series of performances from October 13–23, 1966, where artists and engineers from Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey collaborated on what was to be the first event in a series of projects that would become known as E.A.T. or Experiments in Art and Technology.8
Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center and the Art & Technology Program at Stevens Institute of Technology organized a weekend of events entitled “Experiments in Art in Technology (E.A.T) Revisited” to examine and honor E.A.T.9 From the program notes:
Cellphonia: Tempo Variable (Cellphonia: Changeable Weather)
A Performance * April 5, 2008 * 5:30 p.m.
by Scot Gresham-Lancaster and Steve Bull with: Phil Edelstein, Hans Tammen, and Brooks Williams.
The performance of this piece grew out of several initiatives and ultimately was a unique version of Cellphonia that was the most interactive and live of all the realizations. The major difference here was that, while it was given in a large gallery space with many media installations, Cellphonia, in this context, was performed as a live musical performance. Audience members with cellphones were encouraged to call into the Cellphonia system in real-time so that their responses and reactions to the sounds they were hearing would, recursively, then become part of the sounds that were in the piece as it played.
The space itself is a magnificent 5 story window on the gallery facing off a bluff in Hoboken, NJ that looked across with a stunning view of the entire skyline of Manhattan. Our initial planning was to make the “script” in this case about the observed changes in the weather. The configuration and idea for Cellphonia: Tempo Variable had come from a cancelled commission to perform this same work at a theater festival in Naples, IT in June of 2008, hence the Italian title for the work. There was no way to know when we were planning the script that the audience would be looking out over a vast expanse of “changeable weather”. Augmenting this bit of luck, was the fact that it was a blustery day with a great view but lots of small clouds and occasional overcast.
This was a sophisticated technical setup that included much other interactive electronic interaction, beyond the Cellphonia element of the performance, but for purposes of this discussion and the subsequent performances and installations of Cellphonia, this particular event was a rich demonstration of a potentially more expansive realization of the work. Demonstrating that live music performance with interactive reactions from audience members with cellphones that are integrated into the overall soundscape of the performance were not only possible, but an interesting new variation on the Cellphonia concept.
The performance of Cellphonia: Tempo Variabile 5 + minute edit of the performance was provided by the Harvestworks organization and is available for viewing on YouTube for the interested reader.10
Cellphonia 4’33″ (2009) was a re-imagining Cage’s classic piece using cellphones contributing to an infinite loop 4 min 33 secs long and was installed at the Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University – New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) Conference – June 3 – 6, 2009.
Here is a description from the program notes of the conference:
Cellphonia: 4’33” is a tribute to the concept embodied in John
Cage’s landmark piece, 4’33”. It is a structural and aesthetic
construct that is a formal expansion of the piece. Technology is
used to examine the sounds around us, but also to include those
parts of our personal sound scape that are augmented by technology,
by the addition of the cellphone to our acoustic world.
There are two distinct audio elements. The first is a “bed”
created by an ambient microphone. This recording is regeneratively
looped at intervals that coincide directly to
the timings of Cage’s original score. Changes are injected
in key parameters of the “looping” to perturb and rearrange
the material already captured in the previous section.
The second element is the “cellphone opera” score that
takes input from participants and redistributes the audio
material from the calls to specific slots in a prearranged
“score”. Each new call rearranges the entire score as the
recordings move to a new temporally ordered location in the
4 minute and 33 second time frame. “At the beep” participant
callers are prompted to respond to randomly chosen
requests. “Make the sound of a radio out of tune” “Tell us
about Cage’s 4’33” performance.” “What is your mother’s
name?” “Did David Tudor like mushrooms?” Each cellphone
call will be recorded for 4 seconds and 330 milliseconds11.
This description from the program of the installation does not perfectly reflect the way the installation was finally realized, but it is very close to how we structure this piece. The major difference was that we initially got such confused responses from the participants to our various scripted questions that we ended up replacing them all with the much simpler statement of:
John Cage asks in the score for your “attentive readiness”
Please call 212-225-2175 and you will have 4.33 seconds to provide your response <beep>
Once we made this adjustment the participation really picked up and the since this was a conference music technology user/makers we began to get many electroacoustic style recordings coming in from users. This type of interaction gave this instance of Cellphonia a very unique character that was a great surprise and delight to all.
Cellphonia: Blues (2010) was an installation piece that was associated with the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) in NY in June of 2010. Here are the program notes that accompanied the installation:
Sing a snatch of the blues to 212-937-7725 into your cell phone. Your musical angst will join and transform the blues song by all the other callers over Cellphonia’s bluesy backtrack. Using a pachinko like random generator every call changes the score that you hear real-time stream to the installation
This dynamic installation version of the Cellphonia concept received favorable reporting in the column Nocturnalist | Taking the Canvas Digital for the New York Times.12 For two weekends in June for Analogous Projects at Devotion Gallery, 54 Maujer Street, Brooklyn, NY
Building on the success of using musical prompts from the Cellphonia: WET experience, users in this case were responding to a short excerpt of blues singing or guitar playing and expected to react to this non-textual prompt. The results, again, were quite successful and point up an interesting phenomenon relative to user interaction to vocal and musical cues. It was an unexpected long term finding that participants would react more predictively and consistently with audio cues that were not derived from speech, but rather just sung or played prompts. This continues to inform the design decisions surrounding each new realization of Cellphonia.
Cellphonia 9/11 (2011) Program Notes: Voices from around the country are heard as they give their heartfelt comments on this American tragedy. The opening musical piece in the marathon concert at Joyse SoHo theater on 9.11.11, proposed by Music After, co-produced by Eleonor Sandresky and Daniel Felsenfeld.
Steve Bull has been a resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan for decades. As a recognized media artist/performer that was living with this tragedy ten years prior to this concert, he was asked by the concert organizers to contribute a piece to the concert that they were planning. This was then framed in a new context as the organizers expected a completed performance piece and not a dynamic live and interactive sound work as all the preceding Cellphonia performances had been. Two months before the concert, a solicitation for contributions to the piece was sent out nationally asking interested participants to call into the associated number and contribute their thoughts and expressions regarding the events of 9-11-01 for this 10 year remembrance concert.
The concert organizers wanted to hear the resulting piece a full week before the performance so participation was cutoff two weeks before September 11, 2011 and then a piece was constructed from the resulting pool of phone calls using the ProTools audio editing software. This mode of constructing a Cellphonia piece was totally new and in many ways very different. Previously, the form and juxtaposition had been dependent on “chance operation” and procedural aleotoric configuration as discussed earlier. In this instance, the process was much more akin to conventional electroacoustic compositional processes. The material was audited for content and categorized and from this distinct sections and gestures were created from within the compositional framework of the audio editing program. This approach had the appropriate respect for the topic and material and additionally gave the opportunity to craft a piece that reflected the consensus of the participants.
Cellphonia in D and G (2011) The death of David Gamper came within a month of September 11th, 2011, so the mechanism for realizing the performance was fully in place. Pauline Oliveros has been a close collaborator with David for decades as a member with trombonist Stuart Dempster of the Deep Listening band. “Deep Listening” is a concept developed and practiced by Ms. Oliveros13 that has great depth and has become a standard of practice and meditation for a large community of participants and advocates. This was an opportunity to reach out to the “Deep Listening” community and give all of them an opportunity to honor their mutual friend and mentor. This seemed like an obvious action to take in the context of the collective grief in that community regarding David’s passing.
An interesting aspect of these two last pieces Cellphonia: 9-11 and in D and G were that the solicitation for participation was done not only by the more conventional means of poster, postcards and email, but also via social media of twitter, facebook, tumblr etc. As a matter of fact, it was the solicitations on facebook that yielded the most significant response. This points up the strength of this essentially social means of performance expression as being more likely to evoke a positive level of participation among users that have accepted and are using social media in other contexts already.
Cellphonia for the HUB: 4’33″ II (2013) Program Notes: Installation at the 2nd annual Network Music Festival in Birmingham, UK where participants try to record non-speech sounds, but no other rules. The “Cellphonia” system takes each new call and adds it to a slot in the dynamically shifting score. You can listen to this ever changing score, that will include yours and every other participants recordings.
As a member one of the earliest computer network music groups, the HUB, Scot Gresham-Lancaster was asked to come with the group as the headlining performer to the 2nd Annual Network Music Festival in Birmingham, UK, accompanying this request was also a commission to do an installation piece based on the previous Cellphonia work. It was in this context that the Cellphonia for the HUB: 4’33” II (the sequel) was conceived.
It was the intent of this realization to create a new engine for the now aging technology of Cellphonia and it was in this context that the use of the new cloud based PBX/IVR software resource Twillio was instantiated. More technical detail regarding this follows in the technical description, but relative to the history of the Cellphonia concepts, this was a major change and improvement. It was clear from the outset the capabilities and flexibilities afforded from this new technological approach were far superior to the previous Asterisk technology. The construction of the new work was relatively painless and changes in the structure and ideas for the use of different aspects of telecommunication capabilities are evident. The inspiration of being able to build on sophisticated scripts that are already in the open source community opens up many new possibilities for expansion of the Cellphonia concept.
Cellphonia: OurVoice (2013) for the “Contemplative Practices for a Technological Society” Conference at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. April 8th and 9th 2013 was realized. This instance of Cellphonia is a unique new attempt to create a collective result from all the participants. “Cellphonia: Our Voice” creates an evolving meditative chant-loop of the voices from every telephone call made by the participants. The prompt is “”At the tone please speak or sing a one word prayer and let the word be as long as your breath.”-beep ”.- followed by a drone key pitch that will be sung by the participants.
Since there is no way to be assured that the participants will be reacting with singing or if they do sing that this singing will be on key or in character with the desired result, a sophisticated reverb algorithm is put in place to blur the initial call and fully blended it with all the other contributions so that there is the auditory sensation that these are voices in a large cathedral or sanctuary. In this way, whatever the participant adds to the mix will be automatically fits into the combined chorus of voices. Each new voice adds new variation and depth to the harmonic result without disrupting the meditative quality, fitting the criterion of the overall intent of the conference.
Cellphonia: Toronto SONicGeo (2013). Finally the piece that the prompted this paper was developed and coded for the “New Adventures in Sound Art” in conjunction with New Music 101 and the 12th annual DEEP WIRELESS Festival of Radio & Transmission Art. This paper was presented at TransX Transmission Art Symposium. The production received additional support from the Toronto Reference Library. Cellphonia: Toronto SONicGeo is based on the theme of the larger symposium entitled “Sonic Geography”. This production was formulated around the concept of moving through time and the landscape of Toronto. The participants asked to “press” a number to answer one of the three questions:
Where have you been?
Where are you now?
Where are you going?
The server side script then puts their various responses into one of three sound storage locations: Then, Now or Future. The score reflects the decision of the participant with the caveat that each new call is placed at the very beginning of the piece in a prelude as all the older calls ripple down into the score to be played in a new time in the context of the re-rendered score. In this way the piece is completely recreated with each new phone call. Cellphonia: Toronto SONicGeo ran for the length of the festival from April 27 – June 1, 2013.
Since this piece will continue to be available in Toronto until the end of 2013, it will be interesting to see if the sociological phenomenon of a single participant or set of participants repurpose the intended structure and begin a process of “ownership” that happened with the Cellphonia: San Jose instantiation.
As is evidenced by this ever evolving texture of online, audio and telecommunications technology that is the Cellphonia project, this is an ongoing project of dynamic and interactive reactions to culture, tools and contexts as they are presented to the authors as opportunities. It is a great adventure in the creative act, to paraphrase Duchamp, that always presents surprising and unpredictable results and interactions. Please feel free to contact the authors for advice and pointers to realize your own versions of this technological approach to online interaction as it was always our intent that the work be open source and that it proliferate and change in the ways that only new concepts that are free for development and innovation can. Our intent to “to encourage new applications for cultural growth” can only happen if the techniques and experiences of this work foster new works of this nature.
“At the beep please create a new cultural meme that effects positive change in the world”
Be Here Now: Meaningful Strategies for Embodied Presence at Live Music Concerts in the Age of Techno-Mediation
‘“Be Here Now”: Meaningful Strategies for Embodied Presence at Live Music Concerts in the Age of Techno-Mediation’ offers an in-depth analysis of the state of modern-day live music concerts in the age of techno-mediation, where social media platforms, wireless communication and mobile technology play an integral part in our social identities and the ideologies that surround us. After briefly examining the dichotomous logic that informs many of the technological sceptics and musical purists, the paper offers an opportunistic argument for the inevitable convergence of new media and sensory-enhancing technology in the live music arena. Several crucial questions are posed that serve as foundation for the theoretical survey: How can we innovate and maximise our state of presence as technologically driven individuals and through the familiarity of visual media in live music? Where does this leave the unique physicality, temporality and ‘liveness’ of live music? And in extension, as posed by performance scholar, Adrian Heathfield: “How might the temporality of performance be connected to the contemporary experience of time [in a mediated culture]?” To fully examine this pro-mixed media assertion, the dissertation draws on a large breadth of scholarship and is organized into four sections: Antiquity, Erosion, Alternatively, and Recuperation.
Antiquity begins with a historical survey of the progression of live music as accompaniment for religious ritualism to the development of the entertainment industry. It considers the value of live music and its role in the subjective experience of concertgoers, individuals who were initially fuelled by a desire to bring meaningful things ‘closer’, both spatially and humanly.
Erosion unpacks the discourse surrounding the modern-day, post-industrial lifestyle, the importance of technological advancements in the drive for efficiency, capital and ‘timely’ living, and the corresponding implications for human interaction and social development. Taking the 18th century gratification in the physical presence of performance and virtualizing it through inventions like the gramophone, and eventually accelerating and transmitting it through radio and television, media presented an opportunity to makes this meaningful experience accessible to everyone, everywhere, all the time, a particularly tempting concept that has filtered into all corners of modern-day existence.
Alternatively diverges from the preceding techno-scepticism with an investigation of several notable case studies of theatrical/mixed media/music performances in the last 50 years. This includes spotlights on jarring theatre companies, such as Forced Entertainment, who experiment with immersive performance techniques, on pluralistic Sound Art and Visual Music installations that challenge audience’s sensory perceptions, and on bands like The Velvet Underground and Gorillaz, who exhibited unique approaches to live concerts. As the examples illustrate, by foregrounding mixed media rather than harnessing it to construct an artificial spectacle, live performance can create an unusual and stimulating ‘distancing effect’ that has garnered very positive responses from a broad spectatorship.
Recuperation offers a strategic proposition for industry artists and facilitators that does not discount the active inclusion of other forms of media and technology in the musical production. Above all else, regardless of the shape it takes, the most crucial factor in the development of a mixed media music concert – and the use of technology in any context – is the curated message and motivation behind it; that the inclusion of media and technology be thoughtfully considered. Television, computers, the Internet, smartphones – they are all mechanisms people use to orientate themselves in the world on a daily basis, and all serve to promote the televisual as the pinnacle of social understanding and interaction. Even when people choose to engage in live performances, to opt for the concert hall instead of the iPod, the act of physically inhabiting the experience without fragmenting one’s temporal state with technology is a steadily more challenging task. The development of music videos, in particular, has directly altered the audience expectations of a ‘realistic’ live performance, as these visual representations define what must be included to effectively communicate with a techno-mediated audience.
Ultimately, ‘Be Here Now’ asserts that there is a fundamental difference between the use of smart phones at a concert, for instance, that create an altered temporal state of being, and the transmission of a meaningful mixed media concert; and that there is a distinction between using technology clandestinely to enhance the seeming ‘reality’ of a concert spectacle, and using it thoughtfully, to connect audiences with the live experience and construct a trans-local extension of meaningful creative energy. The challenge for industry professionals must be to resist the simple capitalist and consumerist benefit or function that visual technology can offer to a mass audience, and instead focus on how these visual mediums can illuminate the meaning behind the music, the compounded aesthetic metaphors, to an engaged spectatorship.
Grey Ecologies: Sonic Transfers and Monuments
This text, delivered in primary form as a live presentation, focuses on mobile urban transmission projects in Los Angeles and Houston. These clandestine radio broadcasts, collectively entitled Sound Sweep, were broadly informed by ideas and reflections outlined here.
Sound Sweep utilized a car outfitted with an FM transmitter. The broadcasts were conceived as soundscape transfers/interventions comprised of audio documents from interstitial urban spaces and agents – ‘soundmarks’ of terrains vagues and nomades.
1. TheAir Library: Charles Babbage and a World of Permanent Impressions
In 1837 Charles Babbage, the English polymath and inventor of the mechanical ‘proto-computer’ published The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, A Fragment. In the 9th chapter of this text Babbage describes what might be called super-patterns or deep traces left by sounds in the universe, portraying the world (earth, air, and ocean) as a material archive where sounds are permanently impressed and forever bearing testimony to the actions from which they first emitted.
“The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever [sic] written all that man has ever said or woman whispered…[standing] for ever recorded, vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled, perpetuating in the united movements of each particle…”
Space, as a record of everything.
“Whilst the atmosphere we breathe is the ever-living witness of the sentiments we have uttered, the waters, and the more solid materials of the globe, bear equally enduring testimony of the acts we have committed.”
For Babbage, an immanent or impending justice hangs on tenterhooks.
“The soul of the negro, whose fettered body surviving the living charnel-house of his infected prison, was thrown into the sea to lighten the ship…will need, at the last great day of human account, no living witness of his earthly agony. When man and all his race shall have disappeared from the face of our planet, ask every particle of air still floating over the unpeopled earth, and it will record the cruel mandate of the tyrant. Interrogate every wave which breaks unimpeded on ten thousand desolate shores, and it will give evidence of the last gurgle of the waters which closed over the head of his dying victim…”
2. Accelerated Places: J.G. Ballard and Spatial Dread
Two novels by the English author J.G. Ballard add to the themes in motion here: Concrete Island (1974) and High Rise (1975), respectively. These novels involve psyco-political pressures and accelerations, structural glitches and entropy, urban space as an explosive vector where nearly anything can happen, and paranoia itself as a kind of ruinous by-product produced by spatial populations.
In Concrete Island an architect loses control of his car one afternoon and careens through crash barriers to become marooned in a residual ‘island’ just out of clear view of overhead motorways. The architect is injured enough to prevent himself from hiking up the steep embankments for help, and is thus forced to survive in the doomed wasteland using the few things in his car, or what he scavenges on the island itself. Needless to say he soon unravels into a kind of paranoid and desperate madness, leaving the reader to wonder if he will (or is even able to) re-join the ‘civilization’ constantly buzzing above and around, yet remaining just out of reach.
“He moved through the grass, looking around calmly at those features of the island he had come to know so well during the past days… These places of pain and ordeal were now confused with pieces of his body. He gestured towards them, trying to make a circuit of the island so that he could leave their sections where they belonged. He would leave his right leg at the point of his crash, his bruised hands impaled upon the steel fence. He would place his chest where he had sat against the concrete wall. At each point a small ritual would signify the transfer of obligation from himself to the island.”
High Rise is set in an ultra-modern luxury high-rise building. At first residents are thrilled to live in this new and efficient utopia where all the necessities of daily life (restaurants, schools, shops, launderettes, supermarkets, swimming pools) are provided in the building itself. Aside from those who work outside, there is no real reason to leave the building at all and the residents begin ‘bunkering’ down in spite of the increasing number of power failures, elevator outages, and jammed garbage chutes. Structural and social conditions quickly degrade, and the inhabitants divide into primal clans, raiding and warring with each other in an orgiastic regression into violence and random impulse. The residents begin to forget their own identities and even language itself in this de-evolution. Utopia convulses into dystopia, and no-one calls upon the ‘outside’ world for help. The power of the territory itself is like an infection, mutating and deteriorating its inhabitants. Some, unto death.
“A night patrol creeps along a dark hallway past a barricade of desks; a flash of white birds leap into the air like a fluttering flag of surrender; a dog lies drowned in the middle of a community pool…”
3. Sonic Worm: Transmissions as Perforations
The Sound Sweep project launched in Los Angeles, California and reiterated in Houston, Texas. The project primarily involves sonic transfers – moving the sound of one urban space through the membrane of another urban space. As mentioned, these took the form of mobile FM radio transmissions, temporarily overpowering the city’s most popular radio broadcasts through proximity.
Some transmissions were made in collaboration with homeless persons who were invited to make field recordings and document their own soundscapes. They had creative autonomy in making their recordings, and license to literally speak to the city via the transmission if they so desired. Sometimes this did happen, but often it did not. The recordings nonetheless seemed to capture much about the sonic lives of the recordists – constant ‘walls’ of machine noise, occasional atmospheres of emptiness…improbable pockets of wilderness erupting in the city.
In the transmissions, ‘small’ sonic marks and gestures were emphasized with a goal of producing strangeness – glitches in perception and the envelopes supporting certainty. Sound, a sonic worm…boring through ‘solid’ places, but briefly.
Distant Touch and a Faraway Feeling
Distant Touch and a Faraway Feeling (DTFF) is a suite of wearable electronic apparrel equipped with radio transeivers, vibrating motors, and touch sensors. Participants wear haptic sensor gloves that use radio to control vibrating motors embedded in hats, gloves, wrists bands, underwear, and socks.
Marshall McLuhan described the immense network of electronic connections that made possible the distant transmission of television and radio as a sort of external central nervous system for the whole human race. In a local and intimate way Distant Touch and a Faraway Feeling experiments with externalizing our nervous system. The project allows people to feel another’s touch not through physical closeness but as a result of transduction by electronic sensors and translation into radio waves. Using XBEE radio modules and custom circuity caresses can cross rooms and go through walls.
While there is something comforting about being touched across a distance it is also somewhat eerie. The limits of our body no longer coincide with the limits of our feeling. There is a tactile sense of inescapility- a feeling of being captive. DTFF tries to walk this razor’s edge between comfort and captivity. In many ways, society’s grand network of electromagnetic connections has forced us all onto this same razor’s edge. The comfort and convenience of being a click away from our loved ones and our needs and our desires is coupled with an urgency to click, to check our connections constantly. Having tasted the tremendous conveniece of instanteous transmission, we now wonder if we can ever feel whole without it. It is as if some of our self escaped from our body and is now discretized and digital, stored in the cloud and not our own cells. DTFF hopes to make this feeling palpable by offering a physical enactment through vibration motors and force sensitive resistors of the disembodiment of our nerves.
1 This word is in direct reference to Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence project, which aims to protect an area of Olympic National Park, WA from all ‘noise intrusion.’ From their website:
“Olympic National Park was chosen for One Square Inch because it has a diverse natural soundscape combined with substantial periods of natural quiet. Because there are few noise intrusions in the backcountry wilderness, noise sources are easier to identify at Olympic than at other parks. The variety of natural soundscapes presented by different habitat types [provides] meaningful examples of soundscape beauty. When a noise intrusion has occurred at One Square Inch and the responsible party is asked to quiet down, a sample of the natural soundscape of Olympic Park is provided on audio CD [that] ends with a noise intrusion, making it easy to understand that noise causes real destruction of the park experience. The need for corrective action is obvious.”
2 Why have we chosen not to include tourism as yet another phase in the life of the island, especially given that it is now the primary source of income for many of its inhabitants? Where some types of human industry encourage investment in the domestic infrastructure of a place – in pursuit of the security and longevity of said industry – tourism stands in stark contrast. Many of those who work on Santorini in the summer do not stay there year round, and there is little to no investment made by them to improve the quality of schools, hospitals, or services in general. This has no impact on their economic gain; the place need only be a facsimile of itself to satisfy the majority of visitors, whose stays are brief, and for them, whose real lives are based elsewhere. Tourism is the reason why the island exists in suspended animation.
3 Two examples from others’ experiences in India come to mind. Hildegard Westerkamp writes of the sound of traffic in New Delhi,
“I realize quickly that carhorns “speak” differently here. They rarely shout “get-out-of-the-way.” They talk. “Hallo”, “watch out, I am beside you”, “leave me some space”, “I want to move over to your side”, “don’t bump into me”, hallo”, “I want to pass”. What seemed like chaos initially starts to feel like an organic flow, like water.”
In a far more recent recent radio program on NPR, Listening to Wild Soundscapes, a listener calls in to speak about the sound of Darjeeling in a similar vein,
‘We were staying on the second floor of a small hotel that was up above sort of a central square, and there were no cars, no mechanical vehicles around that particular area and it was a very unique sound that I had really never heard before, and it was very comforting because you were sort of part of this community. You could hear conversations going on. You could hear people selling in their shops. You could hear laughter. But nothing stood out. It was just sort of a background, soft hum of activity.”
To which Prof. Pijanowski, a soundscape ecologist admits,
‘There are cultural soundscapes that are also important to humans. There are human environments that are actually good. So, you know, one of the things we say in the article is that not all human-produced sounds are bad, and maybe we shouldn’t even label them all as noise. They become part of the way in which we associate the human being with the landscape, with nature or the environment.”
5 Gresham-Lancaster, S and Bull, S Proceedings of the Third International Workshop On Mobile Music Technology Pages 22-25
7 “Anne Lebaron and Terese Svoboda: Wet” http://www.redcat.org/event/anne-lebaron-and-terese-svoboda-wet accessed March 10, 2013
8 Hultén , P and Königsberg, F “9 evenings : theatre and engineering”(New York: Experiments in Art and Technology : The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, 1966)
12 Maslin, Sarah “Nocturnalist | Taking the Canvas Digital” New York Times http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/nocturnalist-taking-the-canvas-digital/ acessed on March 2013
13 Oliveros, Pauline Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice, (New York: iUniverse, Inc 2005)