” The reduction of listening–as an embodied practice–to the quantification and control of the audible spectrum, is, in other words, the history of compression”, – this post is relevant for the discussion about how to store ‘ the analogue’. I would argue that not only the mp3 is an expression of a tendency towards efficiency and making money, – any recording in any format is an expression of an industrial way of thinking. The logic of the recording as a sequence of small bites of information gives us a framework which makes us reproduce an idea of analogue storage as something linear and object like. Storing the analogue becomes an exercise similar to producing a good instead of being a culturally embedded practice, which is open and flexible, allowing for variation, chance and adaptability according to the moment, the use, the participants, etc..

Sounding Out!

SO! Reads3The point that had lingered with me after first reading Jonathan Sterne’s essay “The mp3 as Cultural Artifact,” was the idea that the mp3 was a promiscuous technology. “In a media-saturated environment,” Sterne writes, “portability and ease of acquisition trumps monomaniacle attention . . . at the psychoacoustic level as well as the industrial level, the mp3 is designed for promiscuity. This has been a long-term goal in the design of sound reproduction technologies” (836).  A technology, promiscuous? I did not have to look far to find support. Like germs, I could find copies of mp3s that I had downloaded from Napster in 2000 scattered across generations of my old hard drives. Often they were redundant, too – iTunes having archived a copy separate from my original download.

But, for Sterne, mp3s are also socially promiscuous. They accumulate in the hard drives of the working class and are shared, almost…

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Building streetstruments: paint-bucket-bass, drain-trombone and sewer-chimes

First workshop: constructing streetstruments

The street dressed for the streetstrument workshop

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Materials from the construction site are lined up according to their characteristics

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The participants are constructing streetstruments

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Sewer chimes

Second workshop: Collective improvisations on electrified streetstruments

Improvising using the paint bucket bass

After the workshops: The streetstruments are left in their street, inspiring passers by to make their own street improvisations

Paint bucket bass and drain-trombone entrusted the passers by

Related posts:
Construction site interacts musically with neighbors

Quotation: Lefebvre about the living disorder of the street

The street sound activist’s toolkit

Anthropomorfer – a tool for intercontinental collective sound art improvisation?

We are all virtuosos with our voices. Imagine being able to improvise over the sounds around you using your voice as an infinitely fine-tuned  controller. While  real time jamming with someone on the other side of the planet.

The mission is: I want to find the optimal tool to allow people to improvise sound art in collectives across the planet, in a creative, pleasurable, and reflective way. I have developed the Anthropomorfer as a desktop application, allowing collectives to improvise, while being in the same place. Now, I want to extend the functionality from a local wifi based context to a global web-based one.

The tool is intended for anyone interested in working with sound as a means for expression, but these contexts are of special interest:

  • working with children developing their analogue literacy and their divergent thinking
  • in organisations enhancing communication skills

What will the participant experience:

1) Open your app. Start a group or sign up for one. Select a sound, either by recording it on the spot, or from a database of sounds that other users have chosen. 2) You now hear your audio while viewing it as a waveform on your smartphone. You choose which part of the sound you want. 3) When all the participants in your group has chosen and cut their sound, start your session 3… 2… 1…. and:  4) improvise together. You can turn volume up and down, pan, and you can shape your sound with your voice via the phone’s microphone. 5) afterwards, you listen to the improvisation, give it thumbs up or down, and if a majority votes for it, the improvisation is saved on the server. Here you can comment and discuss it.

What lies behind:

Technically, there must be a server where the program runs, and audio files are stored. From each cell phone the server receives  1) an upload of a short sound file (max. 15 seconds). Or a selected audio file, which is already on the server. 2) A flow of analysis of the voice. Not the voice. Just analysis of pitch and volume. The server streams audio from the collective improvisation to the participants.

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Analogue illiteracy in the Urban garden

I was at a workshop in urban gardening. In this collective of people sharing an eagerness for ecological and economic sustainability, I experienced a situation that would have required a similar interest in cultural sustainability. In the break, with mint tea and home baked cookies, one of the facilitators – a 2 meter tall man – was engaged in a vivid conversation with one of the participants about home gardening, herbs, and other important issues. They stood right in front of the table with tea and cookies leaving very little space for the participants to serve themselves. Someone with basic skills in reading analogue information would now experience a flood of messages about potential movement and intention emanating from the participants fighting there way to the tea and cookies. The central characters noticed nothing, engaged as they were in ensuring the world’s food supply through urban gardening. Why didn’t they make room for the 10 – 12 people having a clear intention of getting to the table? And why didn’t anyone supply their analogue communication with a digital one, emitting the following line of phonemes: “excuse me, could you maybe step back, so that we can all get to the table?”. I suppose it’s because of shyness, or maybe nobody actually noticed anything?

In our culture, we use the body as a vehicle for bringing our brain to where we need it to engage in digital communication. If another brain-vehicle comes in our way, we either wait until it has moved by itself, or  – when pressured – resort to digital communication. “Could I get by, please?”. Our incapacity in reading the intentions and potential movements of the other is an example of what I would call analogue illiteracy.

“I have never experienced anyone belting before I have put the little divider up, but I can not abide people that feel the need to go heel-to-toe with me in a queue!

I have terrible anxiety and any sort of crowd or claustraphobic enviroment makes me pespire, shake and feel nauseous.

More than once I have had to dump my shopping and walk out because of some one literally breathing down my neck as if it is going to get them served any faster!

Claire L(571) on netmums.com

Not being aware of the other’s physical space, because you cannot read the other’s potential movements, is parallel to lacking awareness of the other’s mental space. Analogue illiteracy is threatening the physical and emotional well-being of people. It means wasting a lot of energy on unnecessary actions and detours. Being unable to attune to the situation, we develop overcompensating behaviour, and we all end up like Claire L.

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How do we store the analogue?

Why is it so important to store analogue knowledge? Because our collectives with their extended analogue illiteracy waste to much energy and develop too many negative behaviours, instead of inspiring people to solve common problems in sustainable ways. Developing sustainable forms of analogue interaction is crucial to our collectives, but without an efficient method of storing this knowledge, it is soon lost in our ephemeral societies.

If you are confused about my use of the terms analogue and digital, please read my blogpost Analogue and digital processes

In collectives sharing a strong folklore, dance, music and storytelling are efficient sites for developing, storing and retrieving analogue knowledge. The activities are inclusive, cross modal and open ended. Participants are guided by a common knowledge about steps, rhythms, scales, etc., and possible ways of combining them. Events develop according to a number of open factors, being sensitive to context and to the participant’s intentions. They are improvised, and may turn in several directions, like a dinner conversation.

A strong, inclusive and open ended culture for dance and music gives a collective the means for  developing a refined attunement to the physical and mental space of the other, giving the participants a common, codified language for analogue interaction.

In our welfare society, our capacities for dancing, music-making and storytelling have been colonised by market economy, setting up clear boundaries between producer and consumer.

A major obstacle for our communities to have an efficient replacement for our lost folklore is our fragmented way of life. What about the new technologies, can they be the glue that restores our lost proximity?

Since analogue processes are gradient and embedded in context, storing information about them is an enormous challenge. We might think that the new technologies for making traces of visual and auditive elements give us the sites necessary for storing and retrieving analogue information. To some extent, I believe they have the opposite effect. Since film, sound recording and photography are so seemingly close to our instantaneous perception, we are easily tricked into believing that what they depict is a somewhat true picture of the actual event. This is of course only a surface point of view since we all know that a movie actually just consist of many pictures/frames taking in a row, – remember the root of the word: moving pictures – and a sound recording is a “mechanical inscription of sound waves” as it says in Wikipedia. Whether done by what we call ‘digital’ or ‘analogue’ equipment, these inscriptions are basically digital, in the sense I use here, since they proceed from a linear approach, taking one frame or sample at a time, storing them in a long row, on a disc or a tape. The procedure shares its conceptual framework with writing, and you might say that we merely have rebuild the (phonetic) typewriter into an audio and an image typewriter. It is true that the bitrate of our devices makes these small images/sound samples appear so rapidly one after the other that our senses are completely tricked into perceiving movement. Nevertheless, the linear character of this method for storing analogue information makes it inefficient when it comes to building up a culturally sustainable collective:

  • A recording is myopic. It can only collect information that it is constructed for collecting, ignoring all the other types of analogue information we receive in an event. The hegemony of the video recording, as stated by the success of Youtube, boosts the existing  hierarchy of the senses, where the visual is by far the most foregrounded sense.
  • A recording is uni-directional. The different interactions in an event flow in multiple, and often contradictory directions, and since the one who produces the recording must make a choice about which stream(s) to follow, the consumer is left with limited if any possibilities to follow other streams of interaction. These underprivileged streams might be present as traces, but you cannot follow them further since they are cut away or continue outside the frame. New supposedly revolutionary technologies like 3D video and surround sound broaden the field of the linear recording, but they do not come with a solution to the basic problem about the decision of the viewpoint, which still lies in the hands of the producer of the recording.
  • A recording petrifies potentiality. In a given event, there is an infinite number of potential combinations of interaction between the participants, whether human or non-human, animate or inanimate. In order to interact adequately in a situation, you must be able to read the potential intentions, movements and reactions of the other participants.

Directors , photographers,  and composers are tweaking their respective media in order to challenge these build in limitations. Just like the writers tweak text in order to convey the totality of an event. Being a competent user of text requires years of study.

Related: http://immanentterrain.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/gilles-deleuze-on-framing-2/

For some reason we believe that visual literacy and auditory literacy is easier  to achieve. Although the technologies are available to everyone now, the users’ possibility for  impregnating the process of recording with significant analogue  information is limited. The abundance of apps, programs and gadgets that should help us do ‘as the professionals’ result in an enormous amount of works that appear ‘professional’. Nevertheless, since these tools are generally based on a surface understanding of the choices in artistic processes, they give you ready made options that will mimic (commercially) successful works, while impeding you from making choices according to an understanding of the context your process is embedded in, with all its potentiality, agency and … analogueness.

Our folklore-deprived collectives  need new sites for analogue storing. Although the new technologies for recording sound and image are now completely democratised, their capacity for giving the average user a site for storing and retrieving analogue information doesn’t compete with the capacities lying in a strong culture for dance, music and storytelling.

Our current level of analogue literacy leaving us with an almost autistic society, where we are challenged in reading the non-binary information in our interactions, a need for new methods is apparent. We allocate most of the time available in our childhoods to the development of (phonetic) literacy and numeracy, and it seems improbable that this is going to change in the near future.

Can we develop methods and tools that will shortcut the steepness of the learning curves for analogue literacy?

Music, dance and storytelling didn’t come out of thin air. They are rooted in our inherent competencies for prosody, gesture and speaking. Everyone is capable of expression through these modalities, and this is where the key to new sites for developing analogue knowledge lies.

These tools and methods for developing, storing and retrieving analogue knowledge must enable the extraction of information about the existing (rudimentary) analogue infrastructure of a collective, providing a site for the playing around with these elements, and
offering simple methods for reassembling them into enhanced and sustainable analogue infrastructures. The tools and methods must deliver intelligent, humanised interfaces, ready to read the analogue information in gesture, movement and speech, while being sensitive to context and the agency of the participants, not only human, but also non-human or inanimate. They must be open ended, open for the users to tweak and hack them, developing extensions or ‘plugins’, including new elements from the local context, and the surrounding processes in society, in popular and elite culture. And finally, they must include storing methods that facilitate the sharing, distribution and efficient  retrieving of analogue know-how in the collective over time, and between collectives working with similar processes.

Related reading:

“No ear, no piece of apparatus could grasp this whole”  (www.akutsk.tumblr.com)

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