BEDLAM (ˈbɛdləm)
-n 1. a noisy confused place or situation.
Listening to the Farm – Drips, Pens & Tills

This morning a very large storm cell rolled through with claps of thunder so loud and violent that it woke most of us as it rattled the walls and windows of the 100+ year old house in which we were staying. A sharp reminder of something that I talk about great a deal when discussing the importance of listening. Our hearing does not turn off, even while we sleep. Evolutionarily, this was probably very important for millions and millions of years. Rest is important but so is remaining safe from predators and other dangerous elements. This storm also afforded me two other opportunities this morning to witness how important keen hearing is in this type of environment (the farm) in which maintenance and awareness of the facilities and resources is of key importance. Joe Lucina, founder and co-director of the Grin City Collective is also responsible for much of the upkeep of the house, property and buildings. This morning, he and I were sitting at the dinning room table eating and all of a sudden he jumped up and went out the to porch. What been a slight dripping sound from the ongoing deluge of rain suddenly made a different sound. It was subtle but it could have been something major. Turns out it was not a portion of the roof collapsing but instead something else that outside and on the roof, maybe a clogged cutter finally hitting the overflow point.

Roof as floor

Roof as floor

Later in the morning, I was finishing my coffee and a chapter from a book I’m reading when all of sudden Joe came running down the stairs. It’s the weekend and him and I are the only ones in the Brick House and awake. From his upstairs studio, he had heard a noise outside in the strong wind that sounded out of the ordinary and when he looked out, noticed that the turkey pen he and Carolyn Grace Sherf had built was overturned by the wind and the small turkeys were walking around the yard. He raced out to make sure none of the birds were hurt or trapped and then he and I worked to flip it back over, heard the birds back in, and re-secure it using some heavy weight and few properly tied bowline knots. None of the birds escaped and once we cut some vents in the tarp roof to give some wind somewhere to go, the birds seemed perfectly safe and content.

Being connected to the soundscape of the farm is an important aspect of the work that is done here. I had a great conversation last night with Jordan Scheibel who runs a CSA garden from the Grin City farm called Middle Way Farm. During the open studio, he had tried on a set of my modified headphones made from hearing protection earmuffs. He told me a story about how when runs the till, it is incredibly loud and in order to reduce the risk of hearing damage from exposure, he wears earmuffs while using it. The other day, he was trying someone else to use it and let them use the earmuffs for their own comfort which provided him the chance to hear the machine running with open ears. “Holy shit that’s loud!” he said. He also realized just how much information was in that listening experience. He could better hear how the till was working and when it hit obstacles like glass or metal. He has no interest in operating this thing entirely without the use of hearing protection but the headphones that I created got him curious about other ways in which he might be able to mitigate the noise so that it is both less dangerous to his hearing yet maintains his connection to the sounds of the machine functioning.

Listening connects us to our environment. and provides information about what is happening around us. It warns of danger and provides us with pleasure. It lets us know if something is as it should be and can inform us if anything has gone wrong. Listening on the farm is a great experience for me as an agricultural tourist but last night and this morning reminded me that the necessary listening is as much functional as it is enlightening.

Audium: A theater of sound-sculpted space

1.12 Arrived in SF in time to see Audium, a 176 speaker sound-sculpture space

Last spring, I traveled to San Francisco to experience the Audium in person. This trip was supported by a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation in Los Angeles. What follows is a writing that I created after the performance as part of the final grant report.

Originally written on July 2nd, 2012
A large room with a suspended ceiling and a floating false floor houses this permanent audio-performance-as-sound-art-installation created from a composition performed through a series of 176 different speakers mounted throughout the space. There are square acoustic panels mounted in concentric circles at the ceiling. Speakers of different sizes, for frequency and response, are hung from the ceiling facing down, under the floor facing up and along the wall facing toward the center. The audience is seated in a series of 3 concentric circles facing the center. There are speakers mounted directly under many – if not all – of the chairs. Some of the walls are solid but some of the curved forms used to define the space are created from stretched white fabric. The area where the performer sits is a very Kubric-esque station opposite the entrance that contains a custom mixing area with a series of dials and switches. The entirely custom-built interface is marked with glow-in-the-dark labels so that they can be seen by the performer but won’t give off any projected light. This aligned with the initial announcement that requested people remove any watches with illuminated faces or anything else that might light up during the performance. As the sound began, the room was slowly taken to complete and absolute darkness. In fact, during the second movement, the gentlemen sitting next to me got a silent phone call and the light emanating form his blue jeans pocket was incredibly bright, emphasizing the darkness after 30 minutes of being without light.

A primary technical feature of the space is that it provides sound the ability to move through the space and be composed with other moving sounds. The tape performance consisted of a mix of musical instruments, synthesized sounds, field recordings and even some voice samples. These sounds create a dream-like state that flows through a series of emotions and compositional movements. It deals with issues of tension, beauty, memory, child hood innocence and scientific exploration. There are moments that are heavily rhythmic and draw the listener’s attention around the space and other times the sound comes to the listener during the experience.

The presentation throughout the space functions in a way that a normal projected listening experience cannot. The sound moves through the space in a way that directly reflects one’s listening ability in real space. Sounds come from all around us. We hear in 360° and we can’t turn it off. Our ears don’t blink – as the famous John Cage saying goes. This installation / performance explores this and presents a composition in a way that creates a different relationship to recorded and projected audio. The listening experience is quite amazing. Hearing a performed composition distributed through space in such a way draws the listener in and blurs the familiar lines of experiencing recorded sound, usually limited to 2 channels of stereo or at most maybe, 5 channels of surround sound. Having sonic distribution at this granular level to compose against creates a great deal of questions and opportunities for composers. As a media artist, I am intrigued by the questions this raises about the methods by which an artist would perform in this type of space. How does one perform within such a dramatically complex and interwoven sonic environment? What are the interaction implications of a controller for 176 distributed, discrete audio channels? And how might this controller work in reverse if instead of distributing sound out to many channels, we consider ways that our binaural listening system might be hacked and modified to perform this space surrounding a listener? While considering the role of the listener within this rich, dynamic performance environment that the Audium presents, these are some of the questions that the experience of this multi-speaker audio installation and performance has raised for me.

Mysterious Hums – Collective Listening

There’s another aspect of the mysterious hum phenomenon that I find particularly interesting and it has to with characteristics of the noises being experienced and the relationship that listeners develop with both the noise and each other. When discussing their initial reaction when hearing a mysterious hum, people regularly make statements about wanting to know if other people hear it too. They express relief when they discover that others are hearing and feeling the sound as well. Once they know they aren’t the only one, they don’t feel crazy anymore.

What an interesting characteristic of a sound. When a sound is heard and the source is known, wondering if other people hear it too isn’t something that is even considered. If I’m home alone and I drop a pan, I’m probably the only one to hear it. That doesn’t make me crazy. With the mysterious hum noises, people need to be comforted by knowing it is some type of shared experience. Similar to that of a jet engine or train whistle. This results from the lack of a determined source, the frequencies involved and the sporadic timing and amplitudes of the sounds. They occur in such a way that the listener is in fact questioning wether they are hearing them at all or if they are the result of some other phenomenological occurrence. Like a ringing in the ears, listening being refocused to hear bodily functions or some type of neurological short circuit. Once a community of hearers forms, these concerns evaporate and the focus then becomes attempting to identify the source in order to address the issues raised by the noise itself. After all, it can be fully considered a noise once it’s heard by a community.

That time I wore those things and ʍɐs ʇɐɥʇ ɟɟnʇs

Wearing Upside Down Goggles by Carsten Höller. Photo by Kosta Startigos.

New Museum – New York, NY – 2011
Carsten Höller: Experience

Wearing the Upside Down Goggles by Carsten Höller which flip and reverse everything that you see was a wild experience. I have to admit, when I first put them on, it was very disorienting and I was so curious about what was around, I turned around very quickly and nearly ate it right in the middle of the gallery. Did I mention that I was there with some well known interaction designers and hoping to make a good impression? I was. But so be it. I almost bit it wearing the Upside Down Goggles. I only wore them for a few minutes, 2 different times. Once was in the middle of the gallery on the 4th floor near the carousal under the bird mobile / kinetic sculpture. The other was in the infared video wall room. Each time was not very long at all, 3-5 minutes maximum. One of the most interesting aspects of it is that after taking them off, I felt odd for a time period much longer than I had them on for. The best way I can describe how I felt was “fucked up.” It was sort of dizzy, but not in a falling over kind of way. I didn’t feel sick or tired. I wasn’t off balance. The world visually just wasn’t quite making sense. My friends that were with me commented on the same thing. The lasting effects of having worn the device were much longer than the original experience.

hear the rest >

Asynchronous Collective Residue

Collection of customer reward cards pinned on the wall at a coffee shop in Soul, South Korea

I can’t get away from this image. I keep stumbling on it in my image collections and I love what it stands for. It is a community visualized. It is an asynchronous interaction. It is the gamification of the coffee ritual. I was a tourist within this structure and so my contribution and what I have taken away from it may not be accurate at all.

It is a visual representation of a community that never existed in real space. It’s an asynchronous collective. Each card is a person that was, at one time, there. Some of the cards have names on them and some don’t. A couple had marks like stars and smily faces. It represents locals that frequent the establishment and tourists that are just passing through. The first visit I made I got one stamp and pinned my card up. From then on, each morning I went into the café nearest our resident inn, I took one from the board and helped someone else towards a free drink. But my original one was still there.
hear the rest >

All content ©2014 Alex Braidwood unless otherwise stated.

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