Noise Collector


This research in progress is about the relationship between political nature of noise and public space. As an artist working in the public space with new media and performance, I am intrigued by the material nature and political potential of noise. Noise is the invisible and under utilized dimensions of urban public space. It can also be understood through philosophical lens as the unnecessary excess created by efficiency of modern movement and spatial production. I would like to activate the unclaimed space of noise and utilize it as an open space for creativity and communication, much like how I intervened in the under utilized public spaces of cities to create a temporal sense of community. My intention is not to make a music by using the unclaimed territory, or to claim that every noise is music, thus everything is art work proper. It is rather to use noise as an artistic material for mediation and augmentation, an immaterial machine to investigate the urban space. Noise is one of the important aspects of urban experience, along with smell, sight, and other senses that we are more aware of.

First task to find the relation between noise and public space is to eliminate the distinction between productive and unproductive sound; from motion to stillness, labor to leisure, creation of commodity to production of excess, intentional and accidental sound and thus noise to music. There is a definite spectrum of discomfort caused by certain characteristics and pitch of sound that are considered noise. Most arbitrary distinction is largely a matter of personal and social judgement, thus a private space. Noise is, among many other things, the sound created in the space between architectures, it is the tactile texture of the city and the sound of public space.

My initial experiment was creating field recording in sites of intense political struggle, like audio journalism. The recording was made to assist me to remember the urban experience for archive and the recreate the moments of spatial production in future. The recordings were played in the site after the struggle has settled, thus agitating the present with memory of the past. The recordings were made during Occupy Wall Street movement and other protests sites around the world between 2008 and 2012.

Noise music becomes uninteresting when it tries to make a boring music out of interesting noise. On the other hand, city is a giant sound instrument. Elements of urban space can be thought of as different musical instruments. For example, cable-stayed bridge is like a giant chordophone, such as violin, because the wind vibrates the string attached to the chamber, deck. Avenues of high rise buildings is like a giant aerophone, such as flutes, because as wind travels through the avenue, it creates sound when interfered with different building shapes. The elevated railroad is like percussion of metallic symbol, while subway tunnel is a idiophone such as xylophone. The list of metaphor continues as long as we can think of different instruments, but what about the sounds created in the public spaces like park, city square, alley ways, road, bus stops, highways, train stations, town hall and semi public spaces like coffee shops, libraries, sports stadium and church? There is not only sound created by architecture and the built environment, but mixed with sound of people and traffic, amplified sound and live music, all mixed together as an urban texture.

The second phase of my work was inventing analog and digital circuits that compute simple logic and interact with the surrounding environment, producing oscillating sound in response to the system of circuits and the space. By using a combination of logic gates (AND,OR, NAND,NOR) and dividers (CD4040?), I was able to make machine that produce noise. The idea of noise making machine contains a paradox, because for most machines noise is something to avoid. I was teaching myself about basic electronics, and sound was a very useful sensory experience to understanding different function and characteristics of Integrated Circuits, Capacitors, Resistors, and electrical behaviors. I used the prototypes in breadboard to perform in public spaces, such as Zuccotti Park in New York City. During the Occupy Wall Street movement, noise created by the occupants was one of the reason for eviction, along with sanitary and private ownership of the space. Performing the breadboard in Zuccotti park made complete sense for the project.

The third phase was designing more solid machines on PCB. Learning from the schematics of ‘Little Bits’, modular blocks to create interactive projects, I made versatile circuits that can have interchangeable inputs, outputs as well as variable conditions for the circuit. It is called Noise collector because it not only produces noise, but also collects noise as a garbage picker collects recyclable material among piles of trash.

Lecture slideshow presented in 319 Scholes.


6~10, 2012