Discussions, Readings, Interventions and Presentations on Art and Politics with Sound in “Public” Space @ Eyebeam
Acoustic Infrastructure is a project investigating street-level sonic cultures, acoustic ecologies and personal interventions available to us that that have, during this long 20th Century, become proliferated by speakers, microphones, synthesised and recorded playbacks, beeps, buzzes and alarms. Roving gangs of indignant mobile-phone music-listeners disrupt the public transit experience. iPhones chirp out the sound of something called ‘crickets’, creatures many a listener may very well never encounter. Airlines pass on the extravagant levy of ‘noise charges’ to their customers, a kind of psychic and acoustic bandwidth fee. Microwave ovens, automobiles and authoritative inhuman voices chime out an acoustic ecology that is neither ‘natural’ nor ‘cultural’, neither ‘societal’ nor ‘technological’, but something that is a heterogeneous mixture of all of these sources, causes and categories. These are ‘acoustic infrastructures’, and although human-made, they are naturalised by their ubiquity and always-on-ness, along with our allover, everyday, experience of them.
The work of the “sound artist”, or perhaps even more interestingly the post-media practitioner who undertakes investigations related to sound, acoustics and live and recorded audio, takes shape in a host of environments and architectures. Most often these days, it a space of utmost privacy — the headspace of the single listener, through the technology of the headphone, in isolation from the world, others, and bodies (including their own). There are also, of course, spaces either permanently delimited or temporarily converted for sonic performance (clubs, concert halls, improvised warehouse venues, art spaces, studios and living rooms). There are street corners where you can make noise if you have secured an appropriate license. There are ‘public’ institutions where sonic acts and art with audio elements have (fairly recently, it is always supposed) been brought into art-historical discourse and prominence.
The acronym “P.A.”, we often forget, refers to the “Public Address” systems that have evolved within our mediascapes as means of addressing, guiding, convincing, consoling and controlling ever larger ‘publics’ within their earshot. These systems are amongst the earliest of infrastructures of mediatised urban and suburban experience that have disappeared from awareness, along with visible media architectures like LCD screens and poster advertisements. In expanding this phrase to “public address”, a host of other expansions become available: “Who is this ‘public’ that needs addressing?” “Who has the right to address this public, publicly, anyway?” “What spaces can we presume to still be public, in which such an address might take place?” In this issue of continent. we ask the question: through what devices, technologies, infrastructures and systems are the politics of public space debated? What are the mediations and interventions possible in an art involved in sound that are, in our troubled world of multitudinous crisis, necessarily addressing and controlled by states of emergency, homeland security sound systems, consumer prompting PA’s for the incentivisation of purchases and the effective affectation of Muzak.