Would you like conversation with that?by: Jennifer

I have always had a remarkable ability to drown out conversations around me and retreat into my own world.  I remember back to high school, when my drama teacher tested my secret superhero talent by posting me up on stage, reading a random page of The Crucible while the entire theater class swirled around me, shouting at me, saying salacious things in my ears, and otherwise tried to distract me.    Afterwards, I had a quiz on what I read–and I missed not a question.

What used to be a childhood form of cloaking and escape–of controlling my space when I had no other way to do so–now helps when I work at coffee shops, which I do frequently so as not to feel  entirely alone. A bit ironic, now that I think about it–when all I wished for when I was young and afraid and clutching a book was to be left alone.  But solitary work as a professor can be a little too quiet for days on end, particularly in the summer.  I like the energy of a coffeeshop and studies have shown that the background sound can make you more creative and productive.  There is even an app, Coffitivity, to reproduce coffeeshop sounds  when you toil away in your basement office or at home in your PJS.  It actually sounds a lot like what I hear while I type the hours away–but I prefer having a reason to get dressed.

So for this week’s challenge, I had to consciously focus on undoing years worth of practice “tuning out.”  I found that the conversations I was most attuned to were those of the folks that work at “my” Starbucks.  I realized that, because their voices were so familiar to me–I come here almost every day for at least a couple hours–I did not automatically tune them out as “background noise.”  I realized that their conversations, in part, were why I had come to feel an attachment to this particular coffee shop above all others, as well as how much information I knew and remembered about the employees–who was originally from Arizona, who liked the air conditioner set to freezing, who was moving to California. . .

Their youthful, passing-the-time conversations also induced a feeling of restlessness in me–reminding me of the retail/service jobs that I myself have worked in my life–hawking stationery at Papyrus, roast beef sandwiches at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and wrapping gifts at Party-on-La Cienega–and the afternoons I passed in pleasurable conversation with people I may not otherwise have known, but grew to like and sometimes love.  In some jobs, where the customers treated us especially poorly, our conversations did more than just pass the time–they were salve for our wounds and reminders that we were more than a lowly “helper class.” At one job, I helped a German coworker learn American idioms–”my dogs are barking” was her personal favorite. . .as we could not sit down.  Another time, an older coworker, realizing I liked music, told me about her punk rock past in the 1980s and took me to a party in the Silverlake Hills where I met the drummer from Blondie.  Sometimes these were not “conversations” at all–I used to have dance offs at the mall with a friend who worked across from me to the music that pumped so loudly out of “DJs for Men.”

While it is easy now, from another time and place–with much better and more stable employment–to remember the good things about those jobs rather than the low wages, lack of health care, and regular rations of shit we all received from the general public, this exercise made me realize that the afternoon conversations of Starbucks–sometimes silly, sometimes serious, sometimes inane, sometimes while dancing, often about Game of Thrones–can enliven me as much as the caffeine.

Elisa on the phoneby: David

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elisa on phone

elisa on the phone

Earwigby: Richard

As luck would have it, there’s somewhere called Earwig Corner near here. And, here in the UK at any rate, “earwigging” is another word for eavesdropping. So this challenge was right up my street.

And, boy, do I love to earwig. It’s the writer in me, I suppose. I’m interested in other people, in their stories. I’m interested in who they are and what’s going on in their lives. And then I’m also fascinated by the language they use and their tone of voice. That’ll be the thesp in me.

For the most part, my earwigging is non-interventionist and harmless. I’m not a spy, just curious. For the most part, everything I hear is entirely mundane and washes in and out of my brain, leaving nothing behind except a tide mark – a general impression of how everyone is. For the most part…

This week the barometer of the populace read “unsettled”, with a side helping of “disconnected”.

A word from myself: the promise of an excavated eavesdropby: Damon

If only I could eavesdrop.

I would if I could, but I’m afraid my unceasing self-absorption means that this week – the week in which we were challenged to dip in and out of other people’s chatter – I failed to listen in to anyone but myself. Or more accurately, I attempted to eavesdrop on my own solitary, one-way conversations, but as you’ll hear if you click on the sound file, it turned out to be harder than you’d think.

At least, until I found an old audio cassette, whose secret monologues were last unleashed in 1982…

Some Strange Seaby: Robin

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.

Number Six – dont waste your time Eavesdropping on meetings.by: Thendara

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The Eavesdropper.

a blend of psycho babble combined with ambient sounds of the week.

I listened to quite a bit of a meeting and took the amusing bits and made it into more of a psychedelic meeting.

The interesting bits were few and far between.

more short phrases said in a way that tickled me.

nothing that would make you wish to be a fly on the wall here, no sir.

the meeting you have after the night before that isn’t quite what you intended it to be.

maybe you drank too much, maybe other things were involved.

the walls are pretty close to melting and now you are sweating.

why are they all laughing?

is it me?

Purple Monkey Dishwasherby: Alan

I have done tests in the past that proved to me that we also hear with our eyes.  Walking around blindfolded you become aware of your eyes trying to focus in on the sounds and gather more descriptors as to what it is and it’s exact source.  When you couple this with both the source and the observer in motion an array of effects happen to hinder a sound’s understanding, location, and in the case of words, meaning.

In this piece there are 47 samples containing dialogue, which also include sound from the environment in which they where recorded.  The average sample is around 6 seconds long.  In recombining/reconstructing this material I wanted to manipulate some of the positional cues that help us locate sound.  I did this by exploiting “boosted bands”.  These are particular frequency ranges that we always sense coming from a certain direction.  Of course there is also movement in the sound, by the source, myself, or both, which create a Doppler effect.  In this piece (as far as I can tell) the languages are; German, Turkish, French, Polish, English, and Spanish.  What’s interesting is that while this piece is a construction, it does not feel like it.  I was not attempting to create a naturalistic recording by I guess hearing fragmented sounds and conversation is a normal experience of daily life.


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The remote Aboriginal community of Watarru, central Australia

The Eavesdropper : The Collection of Databy: Elizabeth



It is quite overwhelming to start to take in what is being said around me from a conversation that I am not directly involved in… notice the use of the word “directly”, because we are most definitely involved passively in conversations where we may not be one of the participants.

All of this noise simply piles on top of itself after a while and becomes a mess of information and words. The imagery that came out during this study is that of a sea of blocks, towers, shapes that represent that overlapping. Just as this drawing is disjointed and not easy to follow, so is this type of personal observation.

Noise Challenge # 6: The Eavesdropperby: Nikita

On the bus, listening to the usual sounds of traffic, conversations, music from within headphones, etc. These sounds are ordinary and your body doesn’t respond to them because you hardly hear them. It’s become white noise. The extraordinary happens though. It did happen. It wasn’t a conversation between two or three people. No. It was a monologue. The language was unknown to me. But the tone of frustration and pain wasn’t. Listening in on this conversation was not eavesdropping but it was like intruding on something very personal. Listening to this one person conversation was, to put it simple, awkward. It is uncomfortable when something out of the ordinary happens. That is because you are not accustomed to respond to such events. They don’t happen everyday. And your body doesn’t know how to react. Your mind doesn’t know what to do. All it wants is to escape to a place it knows. To sounds that are familiar. Away from the unfamiliar.

Challenge #6by: the

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and yet I wasn’t surprised.

It was like the combination of a hurricane and a runaway train. The roar of pure chaos. The sound of the color red.

The voice. The tone. The attitude.

A relentless verbal barrage unleashed upon an unsuspecting victim. He didn’t stand a chance. She was ready to pounce, conquer and devour the instant he took the call.

Some business should not be conducted over speakerphone in an office whose door is wide open.

Reluctantby: Kathryn

I had been putting off this challenge all week. Years ago I had an uncontrollable habit of listening to other’s that I have finally shed. I’ve also had a busy week, and the idea of slowing down to listen to those I shouldn’t wasn’t very appealing. Tonight, I headed to a fast food restaurant with the intent of listening in. As soon as we sat down with our meal, a politician I had met briefly and would be meeting again in a few days sat down at the table beside us. I froze. Should Ire- introduce myself’?  Should I mention the event we’ll both be at shortly? Should I thank him for his continued investment? … Should I eavesdrop?

I didn’t say anything. In regret, I sent a quick tweet after dinner mentioning the event. The only thing I overheard from their table was “Do you know what A&W stands for?” I think one of them had the answer, but I didn’t hear it.

Noise Project #6by: Melanie

Eavesdropping is Lonely

I spent time on the train without headphones on just listening to the silence of the train or fellow passengers chatting to each other or to their cellphones.  I was surprised by the isolating experience of conscious eavesdropping since it forced me to be keenly aware that I was outside what I was listening for.  I was also surprised by how much of the eavesdropping was done of only one half of a conversation, as most people talking on the train were either talking on the phone or to themselves.  At times it was difficult to tell who was on the phone and who was having a conversation with someone imaginary.  All in all, I observed mostly people being kind and friendly to one another exchanging smiles, kind words, and giving up seats to those who needed them.

Overheard-Understood?by: Mike


This work examines the notion of eavesdropping. In the video I’m seen interviewing artist Wanda Koop for my TV program Artsync. Unlike interviews I’m involved with this one shot outside of the cameras used for the program. The gallerist used my iphone to eavesdrop on my conversation with Wanda. There are questions that must be asked when one eavesdrops on a conversation or situation. Is what I’m hearing in the context that is being possibly portrayed? In the case of my project the sound is almost incomprehensible. The conversation is echoed due to the vastness of the space as well as it is intimate in its projection. The situation, which is being observed, is also open to interpretation. The perception could be sketchy in its analysis. What is being discussed and who sits in those chairs and why is there a discussion going on?

I have to admit that a portion of my life is eavesdropped on. I host a television show so every time an interview is played the spectator takes on the role of voyeur and/or eavesdropper. They always assume through their own lists of empirical evidence of what maybe happening.