Artistic Research Autumn Forum, Zoom 13.10.2020
Script, Lecture Performance No. 1
BEEP (short, like BIPP) Power On
Where are we now? We are all here, in the same room listening to the words being said. Listening to the timbre of the voice, the tonality, texture and the rhythm. These words resonate differently in all of us, depending on our background, personality, nationality, gender, profession etc. We’re all located in our bodies, present here on Zoom, situated in different rooms, and different locations. We’re listening to the words beings said, we’re listening to our bodies, to our breath and we’re listening to the spaces we’re sitting in right now. Maybe one of your windows is open and you can hear some activities from outside, cars passing by, one by one or just a constant stream, like a drone, an infinite loop. A crow chattering or a magpie screeching shrrrrr from an apple tree nearby. Maybe your window is shut, but you can still hear some muted sounds from the outside. You move the focus from your inside to the outside, you’re aware of your surroundings and your position.
Hearing is the act of perceiving and receiving sound waves through your ears. Listening is observing, sensing and processing what you hear. In 1989, the artist and performer Pauline Oliveros coined the term ‘Deep Listening’ to describe a practice of radical attentiveness. Listening is an inherently empathetic act, requiring receptivity to the intentions of others and the natural world.
You can define which sounds are distant and which are nearby. You move your focus inside again and start listening to the words being said. You shift in between these states, you’re able to separate them one by one and you’re able to listen to them all at once. You’re an active listener. You’re present, right here, right now. You are a deep listener. You can hear a distant airplane. You can hear how the sound moves, its direction, its position and how it bounces up and down. You can hear the overtones, how they fluctuate into each other like dancing lines, how the sound changes pitch and resonates in the landscape. You choose to focus on this sound only and follow it for as long as possible. The sound becomes rich and immersive, you move inside this sound, it surrounds you like a cocoon, like the experience of a Sunn O))) concert, you can’t escape, the sound is so physical, almost violent, you like it. You are entangled in sound, it fills you, you have become one big EAR, you close your eyes and drift into a dark and cosy abyss. The border between fiction and non-fiction becomes blurry. You are the sound.
Ambient Sound ON
You open your eyes again. You are still drifting, but you can sense that the environment around you has changed. You’re in a different room than before, it’s brighter, you’re in a moving vehicle, the seat is comfortable, you’re moving forward at full speed, flickering images passing by, you notice there’s a high pitch sound mixed with a deep rumbling bass, it doesn’t annoy you, it doesn’t please you, you just register that it is there, the atmosphere is quiet, yet very charged. You are able to listen to all the energy around you. You’ve become a multi-dimensional listening device. You have become a non-human apparatus with non-human listening abilities. You’re able to listen to hidden worlds. You can hear all the frequencies and energies fluttering around you. The air is thick, the air is loaded. You can almost not breathe. Tilting your head just a little to the side changes the quality and the tonality of the sound. Moving your head in circles, creates a spinning effect like a wave hitting the beach and slowly dissolving backwards while the pitch is rising shhhhhHHHHH.
A voice calls out and takes you back into your chair. “Raise your seat, lift your tabletop. All electronic equipment must be shut down and stored during take-off and landing”. We hit the ground. Ever since my kids were small we used to score landings from 0 to 10 points. This flight gets 7 points, it’s smooth, but a bit hard. The airplane moves fast along the runway, it rattles a bit, before the speed decreases and it turns toward the gate. The engine is turned off and the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign is switched off. Everybody is relieved, the flight went well.
In 1978, Brian Eno made the album, ‘Music for Airports’. The music was designed to be continuously looped as a sound installation. It was installed at the Marine Air Terminal at New York's LaGuardia Airport in the mid-1980s. “Rather than brightening and regularizing the atmosphere of an environment as typical background music does, Music for Airports is "intended to induce calm and a space to think,” Eno explains.
Everybody jumps up from their seat and starts to take down their luggage. The mood is polite, but competitive. One of the suitcases pops out and starts to bounce on the top of people’s heads, like it was a surrealistic ball game, it flies through the cabin and into the rainy sky. The rain makes funny syncopated patterns on its surface, like an African drum ensemble performing tribal dance music, deep repetitive patterns that drag you in, and make you want to move. Slowly you start to move your arms, then your neck, your hips and lastly your feet. You’re dancing in the sky, and you realize you can fly. You turn your neck backwards, until you turn around. You make spiral loops into the sky; you stretch out your arms. Your fingers have become feathers. You are a bird, a swallow that screams out loudly with your voice and turns in circles hunting for insects. Suddenly it stops raining, the sky clears up, far down you can see valleys, hills, mountains, a river and fjords, some tiny roads are winding slowly in between the mountains, we move down and follow the road, we’re passing a fertile landscape with small farms, some sheep are grazing on the hillside, we’re passing through a dark and wet tunnel, you can feel the moisture and hear the water dripping, lights pass, creating elongated lines of light, in the end there’s a bright point, it becomes bigger and bigger, on the other side, a small valley opens up, there’s a river and a railway, first there’s a small cluster of wooden houses, with steep rooftops made of slate, then we pass the train station, an orange wooden building, my glasses are steamed up and my eyes are shifting in and out of focus. I’m trying to read the blue sign, but I can only see some blurry white characters; Think the first one is a D, D for Doris, not sure if the next one is a Æ or A, next one is L, L for Lucas, I think the last one is F or maybe an E, E for Evelyn.
Just after the train station there’s a white factory building with an undulating roof. There’s a big board which says ‘Dale of Norway’. We move a bit further along the river to a big white building in the design of functional architecture, which is located above the river. We move to the back of the building. We stand outside a glass door, it’s pretty quiet, I can hear my own breath and I’m a bit hungry. It says ‘DaleTech’ and ‘Kryptovault’ on the glass door. The corridor is empty, I’m waiting, I’m a bit nervous, my feet are cold, then a man comes through, he has a moustache and dark hair, he must be in his 60s, he looks confident and healthy, he reaches out his hand and introduces himself as Arild, the site operator, he has worked at the factory for more than 40 years. The textile factory was established by the Norwegian businessman and politician Peder Jebsen in 1879 due to the proximity of waterfalls and hydropower. He married twice and was the father of twenty-three children. The textile factory needed a lot of water and energy. So that's why it was established here. The community was built up and established around the business. At most, more than 1,400 people worked here. The company built a church, it functioned as a social office, as was the case in many industrial communities in the early 1900s.
We walked further down the yellow hallway and moved into Arild’s office. A large school world map covers the right wall, in the middle of the room a messy table with stacks of paper and various floor plans, surrounded by a collection of old wooden-framed, leather chairs. Above Arild’s desk, an oil painting of the factory’s glory days hangs.
Arild continues. The workers received loans from the company to buy land to build their own houses. The advantage of this company was that it was one of the foremost in technology, quality and a leader in technically innovative products and machines. The factory always had a turnover of people who travelled abroad and took further education, from 1-10 people every year, continuously, upgrading staff and machinery, but it was extremely noisy, the weaving process was particularly noisy, the highest measured level that I have encountered was a constant 122 decibels, which is significant.
As the technology progressed, there was a greater focus on noise, especially vibration and movement. There were oscillations in the machinery. Then production was slowly moved abroad to mainly Asian countries. It started in the eighties, then it developed further in the eighties and nineties. In the 2000s, production ended completely here.
What about the wildlife, you mentioned that the river is regulated, that changes the sound of the cultural landscape? Did you experience that there were more birds here before, or that the sound of nature has changed?
I would say, I am very active both in hunting and as an outdoor person and this type of thing, and we own large areas here, so the sum of what you ask, about animal and bird life, it is probably the case that the wildlife with deer has increased throughout Western Norway, so I have no indication of that, they are probably not the ones who make the most noise, but I was born and raised here and in the sixties there were significantly many, many, more birds, sparrows, swallows and those kinds of birds, in particular there were many swallows, but this had to do with the fact that they found cotton remnants and dust, and that they built nests in the factory here. In fact, there was much more birdlife than there is today. Today, many of these small birds have disappeared, but we often see magpies.
I talked to someone who was researching this, probably twenty years ago now. He researched dippers. There used to be many dippers in this river twenty years ago, he had counted so many nesting pairs and everything, and now today I maybe see maximum one dipper a year. If it has to do with the regulated river, it may have some effect on the basis that it is so much more regulated, it is really just a small herring stream until there is precipitation, then it increases, there is probably not a stable water flow level, if it can affect the other small birds, I don’t know?
In 2018, the Norwegian government published a Data Centre Strategy which led to subsidized electricity for the establishment of new data centres in Norway. The intention was to attract big companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook to create new growth. Several crypto companies established themselves in the countryside of Norway. KryptoVault is a Stavanger-based company that builds and operates data centres for clients using Blockchain technology. At the moment, they run two data centres in Norway, one in Hønefoss and one in Dale. The plan was to establish two more centres in old industrial facilities in Sauda and Glomfjord, but this was shelved after the parliamentary decision to cut subsidies as of 1 March 2019.
A young man, a bit younger than me, showed up and led me down to the ‘mining’ room. Already when entering the hallway leading down to ‘the mining factory’, you could hear the humming from the many hundred computer fans, oscillating, creating tones and overtones. Hundreds of computer servers mining for crypto currency, day and night. It sounds like a choir of ghosts moving forward at full speed. Maybe the voices of all the workers that used to work here? At least that’s the image I get in my head. I wanted to start recording right away, but my guide was very eager to talk. We walked around, and he mentioned all the rooms by number, Room 5.1, building number 18. All spaces are connected by cables. The place is labyrinthic, I wonder how he can navigate?
I organized my equipment, a SoundDevices MixPre-6 hard disk recorder, a Røde shotgun and LOM’s Priezor, an electro-magnetic antenna.
In the late 1970s, the German sound artist Christina Kubisch began to use electromagnetic receivers for her sound installations. As a principle of acoustic transmission, it is based on the sounds resulting from the mutual interaction of magnetic fields. Later, Kubisch improved the freedom of movement, tone quality and listening experience by developing wireless headphones, with which it is possible to move freely in space. Every movement, even a slight turn of the head, results in different texture and tones. She coined this work ‘Electric Walks’ and it is part of an ongoing series.
I started to move slowly against the walls with the electromagnetic antenna, moving it towards the fans, the sound is so rich, so dense. They sound a bit different, in a variation of four octaves. A melancholic lullaby made from current industry. It must be comic to watch me from the outside. What is he doing? I’m thinking of the Ghost Busters film. I want to be left alone, to be able to explore on my own, at my own tempo, to be able to record and listen, without being exposed or interrupted, but he is still there, I just have to cope with the situation, it’s not optimal, but at least I am here, inside a bitcoin factory. For me personally it was a great achievement to get permission to come inside and record there, to see how it’s like, to talk to the people working here and to listen to this new kind of production. This place is strange, but attractive.
Listening back to the recordings, there’s an endless amount of talking, apart from the electro-acoustic recordings. It’s interesting how people sometimes do not reflect that what they actually say and do will be on the recordings. I remember reading about neighbours complaining, thinking about what Arild said about the earlier production, that it was so loud, then it has been quiet for years and then new production started again, and the neighbours complain. Is it the sound level or is it the quality of the sound? When I was there, they had already built insulation walls to regulate the noise.
After the recording session, we got back to the control room for all the 2000 servers. Only a couple of hundred were active when I was there. They were a small team of three people operating the farm on a day-to-day basis.
I’m leaning towards one of the screens, it’s soft like lukewarm water, I can touch it, my hands go through. I can feel the wind on the other side. I’m sucked in (ljouh) I’m falling downwards, like a waterfall, I’m closing my eyes, I’m not afraid.
BEEP, Battery Low!
The air is cooler, the landscape shifts from horizontal to vertical, we’re getting further North. Green mountains painted in bright autumn colours, yellow, orange and red. Some of the peaks are covered with snow. We are on a boat, the Hurtigruta (The Norwegian Coastal Steamer), surrounded by Germans, British, French, Swiss tourists. I know this path, I’ve travelled this route so many times, it’s under my skin, yet it always feels new and different every time, the landscapes slowly transforming, the seasons changing, the weather changing.
Since I was a kid, I’ve travelled by Hurtigruta with my mother, from Bodø across Vestfjorden to visit my grandparents in Svolvær. I recall waking up on the night train from Trondheim, in windy Bodø. It felt like travelling back in time. The conductor would wake us up an hour before arrival, just after Saltfjellet. I would sit in the hallway by the window, watch the landscape passing by. People would go by on their way to the toilet. I recall the rhythm of the train, the rattling and squeaking sounds of the wagons, the sound of the railway crossing bells. Sometimes the locomotive would hoot. I love those sounds. It’s a bit nostalgic, but it also has a warm and analogue character.
I remember trips with big crashing waves and nausea, Coca Cola and Wasa crispbread with poppy seeds for breakfast, the smell of seasickness. I’ve been interested in the Hurtigruta as a phenomenon, from being the most efficient way for locals to travel along the Norwegian coast or exchange goods, to becoming a cruise ship for retired tourists. I decided to travel by Hurtigruta along the coast from Tromsø all the way up to Kirkenes, it was a stunning experience even for me as a local. I love the slow pace, the landscape passes by in slow motion and that you feel that you are in the middle of everything. Safe, but also in danger? Around me there are tourists speaking loudly. This is a closed unit, a guarded community, sailing along the Norwegian coast.From the white Bose roof speakers playing country music covers. The voice of the Swedish captain announcing in three different languages that we’ll soon meet the southbound coastal steamer. I can feel the waves and the bass vibration of the engine pushing forward. Constant air conditioning. Some streetlights in the distance, some houses, maybe a farm or a factory. Listening to the resonating overtones that propagate through the hull. I’m fantasizing I’m travelling inside a big old modular synthesizer, floating around at sea.
We’re morphing deep into the skeleton of the ship, through the floorboards and deep into the vibrations that resonate inside this massive forward-moving metal construction.
Covid-19 caused a drop in worldwide seismic noise levels. In geophysics, seismic sound refers to vibrations within the earth caused by earthquakes, volcanoes, humans etc. There has been a significant decrease around the world. With fewer people travelling by car, bus, train, plane. And regarding industrial activity, there are fewer vibrations impacting the earth’s crust on a daily basis (CBS, News). The global median high-frequency anthropogenic seismic noise (hiFSAN) dropped by as much as 50 percent. This period of reduced noise lasted longer and was often quieter than the Christmas–to–New Year period.
BEEEP, please recharge headset, power off!