“Distributed Listening” – silent sound art

http://mixlr.com/conundrumer/ (only available during live performance)

Instructions: The performer goes on a soundwalk while wearing binaural in-ear microphones and live broadcasting the captured audio to a remote audience.
I attempted to create the web app myself, but the available communication APIs all compressed the audio into mono, which defeats the purpose of binaural audio. Then, I tried to use Google hangouts and other online video chat services, but the audio quality was atrocious, so I finally settled with this webradio broadcasting service.

The original idea was a lot more complicated. Something like Twitch Plays Pokemon in real life. The audience would be on a website where they would listen to the performer’s audio and look at a map of where the performer is currently located. The audience will also be able to choose (independent of each other) or vote where the performer should go by placing markers on a map. The performer will be wearing video goggles (blind to real world) and a white cane (the one used by blind people) and a gps navigation system (to stream position/orientation information to the internet), in addition to the in-ear microphones. The performer’s video goggles would display instructions on where the audience wants the performer to go. Well I only had tonight.

This piece can be interpreted as a variation of Peter Ablinger’s Empty Chairs, where there is no indication of an audience or the implication that there is supposed to be one, except that the audience is virtual and existing with the performer. Nobody where the performer is would be aware that an audience even exists. But the sounds are heard, and the music exists.

This piece can also be a variation of Blind walks by Francisco Lopez. While the performer is not necessarily blind, the audience is effectively blind, though stationary. The performer will then be the audio guide. The audience will not really feel the experience of moving around blind, so this toned-down blindness will, perhaps, let them more easily focus on the sound.

that one piece for a listener with lots of notation and a title with too many big words can be performed by the audience a lot more easily with this method somewhat maybe with an additional performer with an acoustic shield selectively blocking out sounds from certain directions. The audience will be a lot more aware of what the performer listener is actually listening to, and maybe the performance would be more substantial.

The actual inspiration is from how I was video chatting with my s/o and how I was attempting to explain binaural recordings, where I realized that I could demonstrate it through the internet. When I got the setup working, she was pretty speechless at how she was virtually listening through my ears. Through the internet. It also blew my mind that I could do such a thing, that I could share this highly individual experience of listening. The other times I demoed my in-ear microphones with people, the majority had an intense, maybe disorienting, maybe uncomfortable experience.


One thought on ““Distributed Listening” – silent sound art

  1. Hi David,

    I thought this piece was quite effective. A number of things contributed to the success of the work:

    1. Having your audience listen in the same space, communally, but via headphones was very effective. Obviously the headphones are required because of the binaural aspect of the work. However, even if this was not a consideration, I think the headphones would be ideal. It creates a one-to-one relationship with the performer, a sense of privacy…and although we all knew we were listening to the same thing, there was a certain uncertainty around this. As inside, private jokes, funny moments were all the more funny.

    2. I saw the simplicity of the piece as a strength. That said, I suspect your original idea would be interesting, and quite effective in its own right. In submitting the performer to the will of the audience it brings to mind a piece Mitsuko posted a while back: http://vimeo.com/71952791 I think it would be great if you finished this version some day. However, I’d encourage you to continue to perform the current version of Distributed Listening. Your audience, in giving up control over their (your) movement through space, gains intense freedom as listeners. We lose this the moment we are given the responsibility of directing your movement through space…we would also lose the sense of wonder that your wandering brought as we tried to mentally follow you through space and time.


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