“Users” [Sound Collage Proposal] – Miles

This post builds on the “Pings” idea I described in my Three Sound Collage Ideas post. For this collage “Users” I will use a single sound – the Facebook notification sound. I focus on this sound because 1.2 billion people have semantic associations with it. The sound says: “someone is trying to talk to you”, “someone needs your attention” or “someone has replied to you”. Just as gunshot sounds in Wishart’s “Red Bird” evokes violent imagery, the Facebook notification sound triggers anxiety and excitement in the listener.

The collage should affect the semantic impact of the sound, as well as its inherent sonic qualities. As such, I can play the sound over and over as a stand-in for conversation. Or I can modify the sound itself by pitch shifting, stretching and compressing it in time, and layering variations of it in different combinations. All that said, I don’t want the simulated chatter (i.e. the modified ping) to overpower the unmodified ping. So the collage will use silence to make the chatter distinct from the individual pings. I’m not sure yet how I will organize these elements in time, however, I want the first sound to be a single Facebook ping.

I found “Facebook Bliss” by net artist Anthony Antonellis, a project that simulates the experience of receiving Facebook notifications by clicking a “bliss” button. The success of Antonellis’ experiment makes me think that instead of distancing my piece from Facebook itself, I should use consider more of an intervention into an otherwise closed experience. Concretely, the collage will exist as a standalone application that “floats” above the browser window (presumably with Facebook open). Sounds in the collage will be coordinated with instances of the notification counter visibly increasing or decreasing. Superimposing my piece on the Facebook website itself gives it a lot more contextual and semantic weight. By placing the artwork in the home turf of the listener (the website), it can begin to act on the subjective experience of receiving notifications.

I’m curious about desensitization. If I say the word “cow” over and over to myself, I start to forget what it means. By the end of the piece – after the meaning of the ping has been violated many times – I wonder if the listener will have switched from a semantic listening strategy to a reduced listening strategy.


2 thoughts on ““Users” [Sound Collage Proposal] – Miles

  1. Hi Miles,

    I think you are spot on that working with the website context itself will make this a more powerful project. I think you’ve chosen a really interesting, and really challenging idea. Interesting because of the associations you’ve already laid out, and challenging because of the nature of the sound itself. It’s not a particularly interesting sound, sonically.

    Your piece seems like a particularly interesting candidate for exploring different approaches to time. You mention the end of the piece…is it a fixed duration? If we are using the website, how do we know the piece has ended? Is it just that the sounds become themselves again? Do we have any control over the structure of the piece as it unfolds? (Is it interactive? Do we think it’s interactive even though it is fixed?)

    The experience of the user/listener will be interesting to explore since you are drastically altering the experience of a familiar sound in a familiar context. I’m not sure people really listen to facebook pings, normally, so much as respond to them – either by checking the notification, or turning off the sound. I’m curious to see this piece in action, once the listener loses control of the sound…


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