listening to the history of listening


yesterday sarah mosca and i went on a mission to teufelsberg in berlin – to the old NSA listening station. a proper structure for sound/listening in the public realm.


and oh my god, it was fucking amazing.


we had a string of excellent luck: the weather was great, we found our way ok, dodged fences, security and ticket inspectors.


we were like two of the famous five off on ad adventure. we even had a packed lunch – a thoroughly modern version of ‘slices of ham and lashings of ginger beer’.


the station was unbelievable – visually and acoustically.


sarah and i did an impromptu quasi-performance of sorts, fucking around with the zany acousitcs of the listening dome – something that both blixa bargeld and alice hui-sheng chang would have been proud of.


i then tried to squeeze in a quick listening project of the lift shaft before die sicherheit arrived. fingers crossed i can go back soonish.

here’s wikipedia’s history of the place, just to put it into perspective.

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this is not art*

*not a post about the upcoming brilliant festival in newcastle, australia.

mauthausen walk

last week i had a free day in linz, after i’d seen enough of ars electronica, and was considering some good old-fashion sight-seeing. there’s a beautiful church on the hill i was going to see.

then i met my friend thomas‘ friend, josef. he is a guide for the mauthausen concentration camp and of course after that, i decided that i needed to go there. he was kind enough to give me a lift there (and back!) and, as well as the official audio guide, i got my own personal guide – extra info and sites that i wouldn’t have heard/seen otherwise. especially not in english.

mauthausen yard

i didn’t take many photos – i just really didn’t feel like it, but the place was amazing.

i tried to not imbue it with my own interpretation/nostalgia/meaning/drama but it was still a really loaded place. i almost didn’t go into the gaz kammer (gas chamber) because, well, i don’t even know why – i just didn’t want to trample all over that sacred space. something from learning about aboriginal history must be sinking in.

but i did go in. not to ogle, but to pay respects and to learn from the horror. if i make myself a witness, i can sign up to making sure that kind of stuff doesn’t happen anymore. the more i face it, the more i can be part of the solution, hopefully.

i cried at the women’s camp, when i heard about the hundreds of female prisoners who were shipped from other camps and forced into prostitution for the male prisoners and guards. when they returned to their original camps, they were ostracised and most didn’t make it alive. any that did were denied rights of a pension for those years in prison, because they were prostitutes – technically there were criminals.

mauthausen prison2

i marvelled at the intuitive monument that has developed in the ‘bunker’, the prison. the walls are scrawled with graffiti from younger visitors all over the world and, as yet, hasn’t been removed. it reminded me of the kiss marks at oscar wilde’s grave in paris.

at the moment, it’s the young people’s heartfelt monument, compared to the official plaques from the organisations run by adults. i think i liked this idea, although i can’t see it sticking.

after the regular tour, we drove down to the bottom of the quarry, which is now a beautiful little waterhole – a natural denkmal (monument), but it was the site of the terrible hard labour and suicide jumps.

mauthausen window2

and then we took a side tour to the gusen monument and the weirdness that is gusen village – a working burg on the sites of the massive camp: people live in the guards houses, on the site of the brothel, where the prison accommodation used to be. i think i know how indigenous australians feel a little.

i’m really glad i took the time to visit and to have a better picture of recent european history.

i kept thinking about other recent genocides, including the rwandan and sudanese genocides, wondering why the holocaust shocks us more. are we really that racist? or is it the fact that this killing was so calculated and injected into the very fabric of a very sophisticated state and public – its documents, its politics, its legal system and its media.

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she’s just a girl

it’s amazing how quickly a year passes.

i guess the old peeps knew it to be so by the seasons. we realise it by the time since major events. celebrity deaths, say.

on the weekend it was a year since michael jackson died.

i want you back is my favourite song of all time, but to be honest, i wouldn’t have ever called myself a fan. i liked the rest of his songs well enough, but i was pretty shocked when he died. i saw how deeply it affected friends of mine – mostly men – who found in him an identity, a role model other than mucho macho.

i went to see this is it and i was reminded how much his dancing and his attention to musical craft inspired thousands of young men [who weren’t white and middle class] to embrace such a sensual and vulnerable vocation.

he was such a complex man. may he rest in peace, finally.

this one’s for jol and raphael. thanks to age.

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sound on demand

the other night i went to the MSO performance, to the new world. it was a freebie through the test-drive the arts program (ace program, by the way).

and whilst i was being swept away by dvorák, i was thinking about the experience of music and composed sound. that all-encompasing, performative artistic expression which is seen ‘out’ – in public. i don’t know a lot about the history of music, but i can imagine that prior to, say the 17th Century, music was not an altogether “accessible” experience. at least not in a dedicated space. you would probably hear chamber music during the dances and (depending on your station in life) perhaps an orchestra once every 6 months, or a year. maybe not even as much as that.


fast track 400 years (not all that long really, in the history of ‘civilisation’) and now, we’re all walking around with own private soundtracks all the time. even if we’re not rockin’ the latest 32G iPod touch, we’ve got car stereos, walkmans, mp3 players, turntables, ghetto blasters, transistor radios, etc. all ‘dedicated spaces’ for hearing an all-encompassing sound. my friend from apple calls it ‘on-demand’.

perhaps it is just me, with a slightly warped focus on sound in public at the moment, but i think this is amazing.
given that i’m now listening to a nick cave and the bad seeds slam their way through ‘i’m on fire’ at about 8, it’s pretty incredible to imagine that my 17th century compatriot might only ever listen to music that loud once a year. no wonder symphonies had such a profound effect on people. and that the cultural significance of a song lasted so long (see faris’ interesting article on latency with regards to that)

MMOP Headphones

i’m about to start some research on threshold shifts, but given what we hear now, given that we carry 100 db around in our pockets on a daily basis, plus we have to deal with cars, HVAC systems, trains, buses and much larger populations, it’s pretty astounding how quickly we have adapted to that level of sound (or noise, depending on which side of the fence you sit on).

unsurprising really, that our ‘dedicated spaces’ for listening to (electronically) amplified music have become an architectural/design category in their own rights: up there with the MRC, the sydney opera house and carnegie hall.

expect more in this in the future…

images: turntable by josh sandler
mso by tengtan

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life in a northern town.

this fantastic song by the dream academy was on the very first vinyl i ever owned: just hits ’86. even at 9 years old i knew it was the story of an amazing and dramatic place. and i remember the film clip being so foreign.

HXB ValleyWall

well, for the last couple of days i’ve pretty much been living on the set of the dream academy film clip and it’s been so ace – the perfect restorative.

after catching up with some of the northern boys and girls last night, i woke up this morning to the most amazing view of hills, hills and more hills. all green. in fact, i enjoy just hangin’ about on the hills so much that, instead of checking out all the galleries in manchester, i stuck around.


i spent rather a lot of time staring out the window. it’s still here. like properly still – with no perceptible movement and i feel like i’m watching the passing of time. it’s almost like being in a photograph. except a photograph can’t replicate the absolutely stillness – the complete absence of noise that i felt today.

Pecket Well Across Valley

the moors are like big slabs of paint, or marble cake icing, or licorice – greeny browny licorice. it’s quite tactile here and i feel like touching it all the time, or putting in my mouth like a 2-year old does to get a feel for things – to really taste it. sadly i think my palette has matured past the hills of west yorkshire to prefer builders tea and a salad sandwich with rocket, hommus and avocado.

Pecket Well D

i feel like i can think in whole sentences here. that i don’t have to speed read through my thoughts and get to the final conclusion – they can brew. and i crave painting when i’m here. i just want to get the oils and the canvas out and work on stuff. my friend has a richard diebenkorn book on her desk and i can’t think of a better match than pecket well and richard diebenkorn.

Pecket Well Mist Comes In

and even as i say that nothing changes, that the stillness is final, the mist has snuck in and all of a sudden it’s mostly white out there and the green is all damp.

Middle of the Road

walking back from town was fantastic. the cold was so sharp that my eyeballs felt like they’d been tattooed on. and, while it wasn’t raining, everything was wet. the greens and the greys, the browns and occasional splash of red berry were all so luscious. and whilst coming down the lane, i realised exactly why the phrase ‘middle of the road’ just oozes safe, comfortable thinking. the track, all slippery and slidy from the car tracks, was quite textured and nobbly and actually traversable on foot, so i kept to the middle of the road. it was absolutely safe so i didn’t look like a twat, on my arse, covered in mud.

HXB Red Beret

i also realised how strong heritage can be, even when you try to ignore or deny it. my great grandparents were raised in west yorkshire and there’s something that just runs through my blood when i get onto the ground here – like i’m planting myself in the unknown genes of my family.

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the stripe in art deco

hi. i’m back. things are looking up again. and last week i went to the art deco exhibition with my nanna. we had a lovely time, listening to the cairo jazz band, watching the balancing act (people, balancing on each other, not my work/life schedule) and having yummy food. the show itself was kind of disappointing – lacked a certain rigour that would have produced a fantastic survey. unfortunately, the NGV is starting to make this slap-dash blockbuster approach a bit of a habit, really.

anyway, going through the exhibition, i started to notice how much the stripe featured in the decorative arts from the 20s/30s. especially out of germany/austria, but lots of other works as well.

of course, not being able to take sketching materials and/or cameras, my visual evidence of the supposition is a little, well, light-on. but trust me, once you start to see it – it’s there. a lot of the collection from the NGV itself (as opposed to the V&A, which the rest of the show is from) has furniture designed in vienna, all featuring detailed striped inlay edges and stripes across handles. other stripe to be seen:

Old High Point Courthouse 1

Los Angeles Union Station waiting room

ok, so i may have a stripe obsession at the moment, thanks to the candystripers stuff i’ve been working in with miss jones, but it’s still interesting to think about. especially in terms of what the stripe has meant in fashion/civic life.

the stripe is a particular mark because of its balance between space and non-space; colour and non-colour. i think derrida would like the stripe (it might reflect his hauntology). which is even more interesting in terms of political times of art deco – post/pre-war, depending on what country you’re in and a time of economic flux. the relationship of the stripe to prisoners of war is also looking a bit sinister, in relation to the art deco period.

i’m not sure how purposeful or considered the stripe was as a motif in decorative arts of the early 20th century, but now that i’m starting to see them everywhere, i have a feeling i’m about to find out.

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