Update: I appreciated Shannon Mattern’s encouragement to consider historical precedents to my project such as those discussed in the work De Architectura (“On Architecture”) of Vitruvius. This type of historical contextualization is invaluable for considering the contemporary situation and appropriate design.
What follows is a writeup that chronicles the development of my thoughts regarding my exploratory sound piece. It is a piece still in the early gestational stages.
The original sound piece consists of samples that I recorded during my time in Lahore in September 2010 and soundscapes of the area surrounding the New York headquarters of the United Nations which I captured this past Saturday (18 Feb 2012) afternoon.
This work was inspired by one of the works being exhibited at Shifters in The James Gallery at The CUNY Graduate Center. I’m grateful to those who made helpful suggestions for my conceptualization of the project during Saturday’s tech lab.
I used the following technologies to produce my piece: Canon point-and-shoot camera in Lahore, iPhone for the images and sound (using Recorder Pro app) in New York. I used the software Audacity to edit the audio.
For the larger project described below, I can’t specify the precise equipment necessary, but will suggest that a high-powered, high-focus directional speaker will be necessary, a microphone to pick up the bounced sound, and a hardware-and-software package to appropriately adjust the output to match the desired input.
The critical issue under consideration in this piece is the status of historical sites in today’s expanding societies where new development is often prioritized over recognition and protection of historical sites that occupy sometimes much-coveted public space.
The critical issue under consideration in the larger project is the role of central lending and development institutions as they determine the type and scope of projects which receive recognition and funding.
What I’ll be presenting today was the initial premise of the project. Upon reflection, I’ve further developed my conceptualization of the overall piece. However, the constraints of time and material limit me from executing this more recent conceptualization, so I’ll share the idea.
The context of the piece are sites in New York and Lahore which are related by the functions of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The piece’s initial intended aesthetic effect was the juxtaposition of global spaces through the composition of sounds captured in each space.
I was inspired by the video and sound installation of Egyptian artist Hala Elkoussy whose work “delves into intimate and overlooked sides of communal living to highlight the underlying dynamics at play within the complex urban structure that creates the city of Cairo.” I thought to take such principles of silence and noise and compare them to my own experience of historical sites in Lahore. I crafted the piece to compare the relative density of noises present on the streets to that those present in historical sites.
After Saturday’s tech lab I went to the UN’s headquarters which is walkable off the Grand Central subway stop.
As I walked about the UN headquarters, capturing video, images, and audio, the monolithic architecture stood out. I began to think of it as a speaker and further thought that buildings have their own frequency and structural resonance. I continued to develop this idea of thinking of the UN as a sound-based authority that not only sends out written dispatches but also sends out aural ones through the bodies of diplomats and other functionaries.
After Wikileaks, Umberto Eco postulated that diplomatic communication would return to forms of communication that are less mediated by technology. Instead of electronic and written dispatches, he proposed we could expect the return of aural dispatches and other non-digital forms.
In thinking about all of these issues, it struck me that perhaps a more interesting project, especially in light of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the global Occupy Movement, would be to consider institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Last spring in a reading group I read theoretical analyses of the re-structuring that has taken place in the last 30-or-so years as such organizations have adjusted how they disburse loans to countries and how they collect returns.
During the fall Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, I’d heard that people had projected images onto the façade of the Verizon building in lower Manhattan. This act suggested thinking about the acts of projection and reflection. By reflection, I mean that we can conceptualize such acts as having two steps. The light is first projecting onto the building. Then the building materials reflect this projected image which is what we perceive. In consideration of our discussion of sounds, I considered if similar effects can be had with sound. That is, we project sound onto buildings and their materials reflect the sound. We use building, corporate- or government-owned, to reflect and amplify the projected sound. I will leave it to acoustic and material engineers to determine if such use of buildings as acoustic amplifiers is possible and feasible.
This use of sound seems an appropriate response to the presence and rumored presence of sound cannons to quell the public gatherings of bodies during the Occupy protests.
I apologize for the technical difficulties in presenting my sound pieces in class. After trying the flash drive on multiple computers, it seems to have stopped working. Below one can have both pieces playing simultaneously or alternating. The video is not necessary to the piece, but I thought some might enjoy the view.
Please find below a street scene outside of Badshahi Masjid and the surrounding fort in Lahore.
Please find below my recording of the UN headquarters soundscape.