The Art of Listening

Over the last few days, I’ve been to a fantastic symposium called The Art of Listening – something I stumbled upon, but thankfully could capitalise on my time here and go.

(any day now peeps are gonna call me or invite when there’s something like this happening… guys? please?)

I’m not going to review it all, because, well, i want to keep some of the thoughts for myself for a while. But i might, down the track, talk about the fact that the organisers (across 4 institutions) kept speaking about it as a new area of research. And that, although not a lot of visual artists were represented*, there was a sense that this area that i’ve been focusing my life on is an interest point for those across a stack of disciplines and that they’re all conducive to one another: philosophy, architecture, history, musicology, engineering, media studies and sociology.

I’m going to mention just two things from the symposium, though:

I am now going to investigate the link between Edison Co‘s demonstration recitals of the Phonograph from the early 20th Century and the Steve Jobs/Apple model of business/promotion. I swear, from today’s presentation of Edison Co’s archives by Alexandra Hui, the similarities are uncanny.

And, I have a new brain crush on Jonathan Sterne, the Sound Studies Reader and his focus on a General History of Compression (which could also easily include Cory Arcangel‘s Essay on On Compression – especially the JPEG).

As you were.

image credit: reverb tests by wallace sabine for the new theatre, pinched from the soundscrapers blog

*except in a great paper on Christian Marclay by Lydia Goehr.

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hey listen. this is important:

According to French historian and sociologist Emmanuel Todd:

“Economic takeoff usually occurs 60-70 years after 50 per cent of the population achieves literacy.

Moreover, the higher the average age of marriage for women, the faster literacy spreads.

The more time a woman has had to live alone and acquire knowledge, the stronger her desire and capacity to pass it on to her children.”

Or, in the words of a female MC: 
“You get richer by teachin’ my bitches to read. geddit?”

If giving women an equal chance at education and knowledge isn’t incentive enough on its own, maybe could we at least think about this economic incentive for bit? At least until the other reason sinks in?

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PhD shopping

it feels like i’m shopping for a husband at the moment, because i’m doing serious research into possibly doing a PhD.

i still don’t even know if it’s the right thing to do, but i’m talking to peeps about it anyway.

and it’s quite a strange process to feel like you’re testing people for a commitment of 3-4 years.

part of me wants to research in an international university, for something different. although i do love the idea of working with some fantastic australian artists/writers.

and it has thrown me into a bit of a quandary about how to best extend my practice. through the ‘research’ model of academia, or through the ‘development’ model of studio practice and funding? i’m sure that i’m being a tad binary about that either/or, but it feels like two different very routes to take and i don’t know which one serves me best – i think i’d like a little from column A and a little from column B, please.

and perhaps i’m over-thinking the whole thing and i should just have some goddamn fun.

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public space has a soundtrack now

SSR_ 10

apologies for the lack of posts on this blog of late. i’ve had a big project hangin’ over my head, causing me a whole swag of stress. and as much as i love procrastinating in times of stress, i really haven’t been able to justify blogging 🙂

as i keep alluding to, my masters research this year is focusing on sound in the public space, especially within increased urbanity. i’m specifically investigating the divide between public and private sound – the choice over the kind of ‘noise’ you hear, through the groovy development of headphones, and what it is in public that we don’t hear when we choose to wear them.

the research i’ve done so far has involved a couple of smaller projects which are starting to flesh out the crux of what i’m looking at. and the main thing i’ve learned is that, actually, the crux is a whole lot further away than a final year’s project. which means two things: that i’m going to be presenting more of a ‘study’ rather than a final ‘masterpiece’ and, that both mayhem and lucazoid‘s evil suggestions that i do a PhD is looking scarily feasible.

mobile privacy units

MPU SideOn

these are headphone-based objects that play on the social codes and language surrounding the wearing of headphones and their role in creating acoustic privacy in public space.

Headsets have been augmented with art materials also associated with soundproofing/creating quiet: cardboard, felt, cotton wool (in your ears, mate) and take on the oversized form of DJ heasets. And a range of text has been added to state explicitly the kind of language and messages that are often and/or unsconsciously conveyed through the wearing of headphones in public whilst listening to portable music..

Just the image of headphones over ones ears can be enough of a ‘do not disturb’ sign.

These MPUs shout this need for acoustic privacy:‘sssh!’; ‘private’ ; ‘!sssh’ (in arabic); ‘quiet time’; ‘mon moment tranquille’ (‘my quiet moment’ fr. trans); ‘please leave me alone’.

the measure of the public soundtrack


Psychoacoustics, or the perception of sound, has links with psychogeography as one way to map, or
experience the city and die Öffentlichkeit (the public sphere). This project measured public/ambient and
private sound taken into the public space – primarily music through headphones and externalises this
liminal space through drawing.

Images were made by occupying a selection of public spaces and mapping the ambient sound using a variety of capture technology. The primary device was the online Voice Drawing Tool by ze frank, which responds to sound through basic form from a laptop in-built mic: low volume curves counterclockwise, medium volume is straight, high volume curves clockwise. HD Video, Microsoft Word and still images were also used to record sound environment.

The iphone/ipod touch application, Wide Noise was intended to be used, but didn’t function without an external mic on the ipod touch.

This has become a comparitive study of place through its sonic output and the images represent the nature – aural and otherwise – of these places in visual form. The drawings also mapped the conceptual action of being in the public space, listening and measuring sound through drawing and technology.

listening and dancing to the city

SSR_ 33

This project aims to draw attention to all of sound in the public space, the action of listening and headphones-as-device through the process and/or performance of actively listening to sites and their rhythms in the CBD.

By performing the acts of listening and then dancing to places in the city, over a reasonably prolonged period of time (well, an hour), the artists involved will become attuned to the city and its soundtrack. Passers-by will also notice the sustained process
of engaging with the sound of the city and question their own engagement or response to sound, listening, dance and the ‘soundtrack’ of the urban environment, both public and private.

This project also uses the artists’ occupation of space as a vital basis from which to make observations and to elicit change within the public realm. It places itself within the ‘political’, people-focused, process-based aspect of arts practice.

audio guide (test project)

using the mobile privacy units, i made an ‘audio guide’ for the underground art space at collingwood housing estate, during their Living Art project. the work, which caricatures gallery audio headsets, encourages the viewer to note what they see in the gallery, and what they hear. and when i say ‘note’, i mean it – the work comes with little cards with a list of 5 things they’ve seen and 5 they’ve heard.

whilst it wasn’t an absolute hit in this setting, i think i’m going to push it a little and see where it goes, in terms of gallery settings – maybe even public gallery settings.

the next lot of projects are slated to include:

emergency dance zone: public permission to rock out. for when you’ve got a killer track in your headphones and you’ve just gotta dance. kind of like a porta-loo for dancing. changes afoot, dates and locations TBC.

the listening to the city XL. i think i’m going to work this one up into a larger scale – 20 or so artists in a smallish city block.

the cone of silence – a ‘silent’ space in a public gallery. in september/october in melbourne.

i’d also love to do a workplace-based work, plugging into the whole culture of open-plan offices using headphones as privacy devices. but we’ll have to see.

these images and some of the text are from my first publication for uni – a durable visual record – which was made in the vein of a 7″ rekkid. with a DVD of ‘bonus material’, liner notes and a booklet. i’ve uploaded the main part of it as a PDF here. and as a presentation here. if you feel like it.

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mentor and muse

Where do you want to go today?

ok, to start off, here’s a bad art joke i saw on eddy’s blog:

Q: what do art lovers eat for breakfast?
A: muse-li.


but seriously, it reminded me about some thoughts that have been brewing about inspiration and guidance as an artist.

creatively, i have more ideas than i know what to do with. the muse is never far from my side and even if i found myself in some kind of equivalent to writers’ block, i would probably just do something else – write, or make music, or sew, or take anti-depressants. or something.

but what i am kind of struggling with at the moment is exactly what to do with all of my stuff. where do i go? how do i develop and manifest the kind of art career i aspire to?

i have influences at varying levels of artistic/professional “success” whom i look to for aspiration (for want of a much less-maligned word), but i can’t exactly ring up, say, rachel whiteread and say

“hey, after you had your grad show and charles bought your work, then what did you do? how did you go from step A to step B”.

i think i assumed that doing a masters degree would be an opportunity to develop that kind of mentor/protegee-type relationship.. wrongly so, it seems. maybe that’s just my course. in fact i get more insight and guidance from the likes of mayhem and lucazoid on their blogs.

and while i’m not shy about asking people for advice on specific projects (and have!), there’s something quite..eek!..about approaching someone to be a mentor. and then having them there specifically as a guide and point of reference for your whole practice – not just snippets and bits and pieces. and, like teachers, are good mentors also good artists (and obviously vice versa)? or is it better to have good, honest friends instead?

hell, maybe i’m completely out of touch and mentoring has been replaced by and i should get with the program 🙂

image credit: seb oehme

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