Noise Intercepted Collaborators

Robin Parmar - Reco(r)dist


Limerick, Ireland

Why do I want to participate?

In order to give up control and be challenged.



Some Strange SeaFeatured&Noise Challenge #6: The Eavesdropper

No information is more fleeting than the electromagnetic emanations in which we swim each day, as if we were blind fish in an ocean chasm. Cell phones, computers, cash points, security systems… all are loud and vibrant sources, could we but hear them. But since we are not so equipped, they continue to blare in relative obscurity, their effects on our physiology and psychology largely unknown.

Surveillance in a world of constant closed-circuit camera footage has become a given. Everyone is being eavesdropped on all the time. More subtle is our self-monitoring and self-reporting. No-one needs to look far to find us; our trail of SMS messages, Facebook posts, and website cookies paints an exact portrait of our lives: where we are, what we buy, and who we spend time with.

Combine those facts with a personal failure of the corporeal that constrained me to my house all week. The only person on which to eavesdrop was myself, so I turned to the task of making audible the electromagnetic. In particular, I recorded the EM field of my laptop while it booted up. Once mapped to audio waves, these spectra may be heard as varying rhythms, persistent electrical hum, and aleatoric interjections.

This field recording I processed using one of my live Reaktor patches. The result is a mysterious haze of sound that expresses for me the unknown world of radiation. The fact that it is not dissimilar to atmospherics pleases me.

considering sensory modalitiesFeatured&Noise Challenge #5: The Senses

two drummers drumming

My work as a sound artist has foregrounded the fact that not only are our “common sense” (excuse the pun) notions of the senses incomplete, in many cases they are utterly wrong.

The first orthodoxy in need of revision is that we have only five senses. Consider that we feel cold differently from pain, we have a sense of balance, we know where our body parts are in relationship to one another (proprioception), and so on. Likely we have something like a dozen senses, depending on how you want to catalogue them.

Second, senses are not neatly categorised according to which organs perform the task. Sound is notable in this regard. We hear with the complex of parts known (for convenience) as the ear, but also with the spaces within our body, our skin, and other tissues besides. Everyone who has been to a nightclub is familiar with bass pounding in the chest. Some personal speakers (sound transducers) work through bone conduction. High frequencies can make our skin crawl, or set our teeth on edge. This doesn’t even consider the ganglia that process the nerve signals on the way to the brain, or the role of the brain itself.

Hearing is a whole body process.

It is far from surprising, then, that the senses inform each other. I am not referring to sensational accounts of synaesthesia  in rare individuals, but rather everyday phenomena. Some of these are driven by our cumulative experience in the world. Take for example these photos, which I took this week while thinking about this assignment. Can you view the first without hearing the snap of a snare drum?

Does the second photograph not conjure up the distinctive sound of a typewriter?

the sound of a typewriter

Furthermore we look for patterns everywhere, and are likely to use these to relate otherwise disparate sensory data. For example, flowing lines in a painting might elicit a feeling of speed, of wind in the face, or of a flowing melody. Many visual artists have relied on these conjunctions; I am thinking here specifically of Jackson Pollock’s jazzy paint drippings.

My own experience is that I often take photographs to capture a sound, or recall specific visuals when listening to a location recording. I imagine this experience is quite normal.

To extend these ideas, I am currently working on a poetry film, in which I perform a reading in a specific location, and capture that place also through motion video and field recordings. The film is not yet complete, so unfortunately I cannot include it as an example in this post. But the process of developing it has been one of rich reflection on my practice as poet, composer, and photographer.

This work is ongoing and now The Noise Project is a part.

-Noise Challenge #4: The Soundtrack

In order to extract Manuel Noriega from his refuge in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City, the US military bombarded him with heavy metal music, including AC/DC, for fifteen days in December 1989. Learning from this episode, troops in Iraq have used music both to buoy up their own spirits and sap those of the enemy. Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is a favourite. “We’ve been punishing our parents, our wives, our loved ones with this music for ever. Why should the Iraqis be any different?” asked band founder James Hetfield. Prisoners at the infamous Guantanamo Bay incarceration camp in Cuba have been treated to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking”, “Sing-Along With Mitch Miller” Christmas carols, and, worst of all, the Barney theme tune.

The historical and mythological precedents do not go unacknowledged. Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Kuehl notes that “Joshua’s army used horns to strike fear into the hearts of the people of Jericho. His men might not have been able to break down literal walls with their trumpets. But… the noise eroded the enemies’ courage. Maybe those psychological walls were what really crumbled”.

In the siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas in March 1993, loudspeakers were used as a tactic of sleep deprivation. The sonic content programmed by the U.S. Department of Justice included Tibetan chants, Christmas music, sirens, squawking birds, laughter, and rabbits being slaughtered. Excessive volume and incessant playback had their effects, but so too did the specific content, especially the scream. As Douglas Kahn notes “Screams when trafficked in culture in their powerful self-evidence, in their amplitude and affect, simultaneously assert themselves and elude meaning. They resemble noise in this respect”. The scream is a product of our insides turned out; it is the audio manifestation of body horror.

This week’s assignment was disengeniously entitled “The Soundtrack”. It proposes a similar torture exercise to those discussed above. Any “song” (a term I assume was meant to be defined by pop standards) played repeatedly loses all referential meaning, not to mention emotional impact. It becomes only a delivery vehicle for normative sonic content. Knowing already this outcome, I refused to submit to this experiment.

Portions of this post are adapted from my paper “Becoming Noise: Unwanted Sounds From Helmholtz To Hegarty”.

Ignite and BurnNoise Challenge #2: The Little Things

“This week spend some time paying attention to the little things.” So goes the instruction, but this is pretty well all I do in any case! I pay attention and then reframe this attention, so that the new context might provide some intriguing experiences.

Our kitchen has a new stove and gas hob, so I naturally wanted to examine the sounds up close. The spectral transforms are particularly effective on headphones.

The Garden At MidnightNoise Challenge #1: The Pulse

After being tasked with finding the pulse of the city, several thoughts came immediately to mind: the flow of the Shannon river that winds through Limerick, the tolling of the St. Mary’s bells, the hum of tyres on tarmac, the roar of the crowd. But then I thought: a pulse is something we don’t hear unless we listen carefully. It’s always there, but drowned out by everyday sounds. So I went out into my back garden at night, to hear what was beneath the usual hubbub. I stood in the semi-darkness at exactly midnight, huddled for warmth in exactly zero degrees. And what I found, most of all, was myself.

a beginningPrepare For Challenge 1

Labspace Studio have gathered “200 collaborators, spanning 25 different countries” for this little listening experiment, and I am happy to be one, happy to give up some semblance of control and follow their lead. How to prepare? Well, simply by getting my little WordPress home in order and then going about my usual business…

Let’s see where this leads us over the next weeks. Exciting times ahead!