[Ron then continues to describe his sound installation 'The Weather, at Six' from 2009/2010, using the digital simulations of the carillon at Wesleyan University. The installation uses temperature data to select pitches causing, over to the course of the year-long run, a subtle upward trend]

(RK - from Almat proposal, spring 2017)

The sociality of algorithms
One of my fundamental interests in algorithms is in their ability to forge new relations to sound. For example, the very first sound installation I ever imagined arose from the structure of the Music building where I was a student. The building forms a long rectangle that divides the arts campus in two. However, it has a pass through at its center, that serves as a portal between the two halves. My thought was to place a sound at that point that would only occur immediately after the portal emptied of people. A sound that could only be heard at the margins of one's attention. This might seem at a distance from a focus on algorithms. But, recalling Walter Benjamin's dictum that "Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction", I would claim it identifies an important feature of the social reality of both algorithms and art: they have become forms of architecture often received in states of distraction.

(RK - from Almat proposal, spring 2017)

While the individual iterations of the Weather are derived from historical weather data, the piece was not imagined primarily as an essay in data representation. Rather it is an environmental presence that enacts similar patterns of variation while also undergoing a slow, persistent, and composed process of transformation over many months. My hope was that the gentle but persistent presence of the installation and its gradual passage from the 'plausible sound' of an early evening carillon performance to something increasingly 'electronic' and implausible would at some moment allow passerby to realize that "something was going on" that required their attention. That would be a sonic experience resonant with the problem of accepting that humans have made the weather strange.

(HHR - 02-Oct-2017)

When I first read this paragraph, I was intrigued by this linkage between "states of distraction", public space, and the idea of working with the margin of one's attention. One of my favourite examples would be Max Neuhaus' work at the entrance of the Menil Collection in Houston which I encountered a couple of years ago. This work is installed so that it moves around your threshold of attention when you approach the gallery's entrance from the street. At some point I would pause and wonder that the traffic caused a strange acoustic resonance, then a moment later realising that this harmonic sound could not possibly be caused by mere resonance and must therefore be a deliberate intervention. Speakers are hidden outside the gallery, producing that subtle sound just at a particular crossing point, and with a level and composition that could credibly be linked to the environment, the traffic, etc.

 

Of course, in Graz we have another of Neuhaus' pieces installed on the outside of the Kunsthaus, audible for a short period once every hour, although its volume is stronger and, for my taste, already quite distinctively above the threshold of attention.

On the "Implausible"

(RK - via e-mail 28-Sep-17)

I will follow up with a bit on "discovery" vs. "uncovery".

The term "plausible" refers back to Max Neuhaus and his creation of a permanent public sound work carefully designed to blend with its auditory environment.  Such pieces can be contrasted with concerts, where people gather at an appointed time to give their attention to music, and with many public art works, which assert presence through some combination of scale and intervention in the normal operations of their sites.  Plausible sounds enact  a "passive aggressive" relation to potential listeners, they lie in wait for the listener who is ready to observe them and no schedule pertains.  But the margin of attention this exploits extends also to those aspects of experience one has never learned to observe or has learned to ignore or simply does not believe actually exist. 

A carillon is a familiar soundmark now mostly associated with colleges and universities. But it also carries nostalgic overtones of a period when bells so strongly defined their communities that, as Alain Corbin has described, they could become sites of political contention between church and state. But of course it is the diffusion of easy listening and/or light classical muzak to discourage undesirables from lingering in parks and parking lots that seems closest to the lost power of the bell. And, the anonymous carillonneur who sounds those bells out of sight of any listener enacts an "acousmatic" diffusion of sound that is not so different.

The Weather at Six takes an active carillon as its "plausible" sound and creates its electronic doppelganger. On a daily basis over a period of months this electronic version plays its mimicry of that carillon becoming increasingly erratic and unfamiliar in sound and behavior.  Structuring this piece as a long term transformation slowly stretches the faux carillon from a state of 'plausible' familiarity to utterly implausible eccentricity.  It is my hope that this will create moments when the listening passers-by are led to change cognitive categories, to re-consider and re-hear what they have been hearing all along.  That is the moment when an aspect of the margin moves to the center, a moment with a certain moral resonance and possibly even a certain moral force.

While the piece was made within a thematic context of climate change, skepticism concerning its human origins and skepticism about need for changes in human behavior, its focus is on human attention and moments of changed belief.  But of course the experience of that long-term effect requires short term attention as well.  Here compositional algorithms refer to long-term and short-term weather patterns to shape the sounding music.  Patterns of rain and sun over 100 years or in the few weeks that surround that day.  The slow increase in average temperature only becomes discernible when temperatures are averaged over the long-term.  That there is no way to experience those averages directly may explain why meteorologists remained skeptical far longer the climatologists.  In the context of this piece, this effect can be heard as a very slow sharpening of the pitch of all the bells in the carillon over each of its daily episodes. These approaches are not an exercise in data representation so much as a way to allow the weather to give slightly different life to each day's sounding.

(HHR - 02-Oct-2017)

I find the idea of a piece changing over time intriguing. I have implemented algorithms that continuously rework material over the time of an exhibition several times - for example, in 'Dissemination' (2010), an audio database is constantly written, although the system is environmentally closed. In 'Writing Machine' (2011) audio is continuously captured from a source such as a TV, although the piece only ran for a short time. In 'Voice Trap' (2012) audio is captured from the environment, although I had to take counter measures against the built-up of feedback. And in 'Imperfect Reconstruction' (2016) short microphone recordings drive the evolution of sound synthesis functions, although the evolution is way too slow to produce radical convergence within the frame of the exhibition. In all these examples, sounds change over time during an exhibit, but an even more radical approach would be to change the structure of a piece altogether. This is in my list of things to do in the future, knowing that the implementation of real structural changes is quite difficult.

(HHR - 02-Oct-2017)

A crucial point here is, in my eyes, indeed the question of what one "has learned to observe/to ignore". Several decades into the history of sound art, I feel the medium is still quite marginalised in contrast to the dominant visual culture. I am still often surprised at the indifference of people to sound, or more precisely, an indifference of the aesthetics of sound - of course, people discern noise, speech, music, but all in neat categories and nothing in-between; this is perpetuated by a culture that employs sounds and "music" in very stereotypical ways. And I think, the "political" dimension of sound work often lies in this very basic programme of providing ways of learning to observe sound, tiny sounds, subtle sounds, sounds that refuse to fall into categories, etc.

The image of "Doppelgänger" is very interesting to me. It's exactly about the margin between same and different - this Cooper, the other Cooper - and I have worked several times with differential processes based on similarity, so you imitate something, or an algorithm imitates something, but an element of error or transformation is introduced, voluntarily or involuntarily, that serves as a generator of trajectories. More precisely, Doppelgänger denotes something that is phenotypically the same, but genotypically different.

How do margins manifest themselves? I can see two principle forms. The first is the gradual change, something that you employed in The Weather… Actually it's a double gradual change - one that is with respect to any visitor passing by, as a function of time, the other being respect to the same visitor passing by repeatedly on different days. It reminds me of a piece I did in a former prison, Zelle 148 (2006), although this is inside a dedicated exhibition space, and the visitor has to put on headphones, so the situation is quite different from an encounter in public space in a "state of distraction". Nevertheless, it reminds me. The piece is re-triggered as the visitor puts on the headphones which are mounted so that one has to sit in a very particular spot on a plank bed. The headphones are closed, but one hears the acoustics of the space which had been recorded in the same position, giving the illusion of open headphones. Then after a while, a sound is introduced, a heavy stone that is being dragged across the floor of the prison cell, emphasising the acoustic illusion, as it is seemlessly resolved inside the acoustic of the space.

I don't know if this counts as a gradual change, though. Another example would be a live performance I did once with my friend Ludger Hennig inside an old forge. I don't remember which way the transition went - from real space to virtual space or vice versa - but we were using the fan belt of the forge to start (or end?) the piece, a fantastic sound that goes all across the old building, and we slowly transitioned to or from that sound to recordings thereof, transitioned to or from the multiple speakers installed in the space.

I want to contrast this gradual change with a more abrupt change that marks the margin by going discontinuously from the Doppelgänger side to the other side. This is most effective in the "negative" direction, for example taking away the "Doppelgänger". In the piece Sliding (2013), I installed sound on two indirect speakers hidden in the ceiling of the entrance of Graz's local state broadcasting studio (ORF). That entrance is particular in that it is only a short - few seconds - transition between the outside, located in a green park, and the inner rondel that connects to the studios and offices. The entrance opens to both sides using sliding doors, and I wanted to portray that ambiguity between outside and inside by simply playing back, alternatingly, recordings from the outside and from the inside. Both recordings are "credible" or "plausible" in that when you pay attention to the sound in the space, not much indicates that the sound is artificially installed (of course, if you pay attention, you realise that the acoustics can't match). Then in short intervals, so with a slight chance that someone passing by intersects with them, the sound is abruptly stopped, revealing the mark made.


Another useful term may be "irritation", which I guess is the moment where we move from plausible to implausible and passing the margin of "something bothering us", or something "not fitting". I wonder, how we can move this discussion towards questions of algorithmicity. One strand, perhaps, is the transparent interface in Mark Weiser's concept of ubiquity. Intuitively, we want to introduce an opacification, we want the algorithms to become bothering in some way. Is this an inherent potentiality of algorithms, or something we bring to it from the outside? Or are algorithms turbid by default, and transparency is just the ideological program of "design" and "engineering"? Another question is, if algorithms are particularly useful to play with the transition between plausible and implausible?