|Cell Phone Use, Madonna Concert, Rome, 2006 (source)
|| Afterburners (source)
As I sit at my computer setting up Google Drive—embracing this digital convenience that further dissolves the spatial boundaries of my laptop’s contents—I’m reminded of how the term ‘cloud computing’ is as much an aesthetic category as a technical one. If the aether of virtual space has always been metaphorically atmospheric, the Cloud implies a meteorological array of information, imbued with uncertainty as much as it is mappable by fronts and isotherms. It is a way of capturing our own digital mystification, a casually vague gesture aimed at corralling the imagined nowhere-and-everywhere of the internet. It implies an environment.
And, like any environment, we lose sight of its extents. John Cage delivered lessons in how to freshly perceive an otherwise backgrounded environment by bracketing off a space and temporal duration in which to listen. The art historian Branden Joseph called it ‘acoustic immanence’—the heightening of those often less immediate aspects of our experience. Likewise, Brian Eno’s use of the term ‘ambient’ describes an admixture of that which is already there and that which is layered over it: ‘an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint’. His pieces pass in and out of direct consciousness, famously stipulated to be ‘as ignorable as they are interesting’.
This line of thought offers possibilities for highlighting our own relationship to the digital aether that tints our everyday milieu. After all, despite the interest we lavish on the technologies we carry in our pockets, this ‘surrounding influence’ is often ignored outright. The Cloud has not been rendered explicit, even as we glimpse its traces and byproducts. Debates about the so-called ‘New Aesthetic’, a curatorial practice that brought attention to the proliferation of technologically mediated vision, offer one possibility for seeing the Cloud anew, albeit as a thoroughly material manifestation. But the representational (and often metaphorical) languages of pixelation, low-fidelity, QR codes, glitches, and surveillance only go so far. There are more ways in which to see the concrete implications of an ambience that is consistently represented as an abstraction—an act introducing a kind of ‘digital immanence’. As our experience of the urban is further suffused by data and mediated by technovisuality, we could use more Cages of the information economy, or Enos of the Cloud.
James D. Graham
Consider this audio:
To an unfamiliar listener the contrast of sounds, overwhelming jet engines and the muffled pitter-patter of domestic upkeep, paints a bewildering portrait. One wonders how this woman on the stoop is going about her daily routine in the midst of such overwhelming aural activity.
If active listening comprises the normative way of hearing our environment, an opposite but equally important condition exists: not-listening. For the woman sweeping her stoop, not-listening seems to be an unconscious survival mechanism. In many urban situations an irritating sound (or ‘noise’) can be rendered imperceptible by conditioned not-listening. If this setting is the contemporary norm, then critical attention to sound—a distillation of ambiance into insight—becomes useful.
Studying these culturally inaudible sounds instantly destabilizes them, allowing the listener a certain empowerment over their environment. This destabilization of the sonic environment precipitates a potential awareness of the surrounding architecture, urbanism, or infrastructure. The initial audio sample could be framed as a comment on continued American imperialism or a record of the adjacent situations of civic and military urbanisms. Whereas pioneers like Eno inspired a hazy generalized appreciation for these cultural soundscapes, given the potential for environmental understanding embedded in its exploration, ambient is a sonic condition which should be highlighted and dismantled.
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