Location, Location, Location: The Art of Sound

Portable music technology has increasingly allowed us to create and dictate our own soundtracks, but DC has recently been the chosen site for local musical duo Bluebrain’s ‘location aware album.’

If we are willing to concede to the role of sound (natural, manmade, produced) in our everyday experience of a city, the album, entitled The National Mall, suggests that Hays and Ryan Holladay’s site-specific soundtrack possesses the unique possibility of simultaneously creating and altering location awareness and experience; serving as further proof that the emerging complexity of contemporary audiovisual networks is not to be dismissed.

In her book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler wrote, “there is a new venue for theory, necessarily impure, where it emerges in and as the very event of cultural translation” (1990, x), which implies that with interpretation, comes formation. While specifically aimed at addressing the issue of definitions in gender, this processual aspect of reading culture can be applied to many realms. Moreover, it proves highly productive in the ways in which it points us to ask what richest sites are for analyzing functions of audio-visual hybridity; those sites which stand at once as units and as amalgamations?

Representing an increasing engagement with hybridity, as stated on the artist’s website: “Each position on the map has been carefully considered, the music composed and recorded to be heard in their specific place in the same way you would hear a piece of music on a physical record. However, because each listener will explore the Mall in a different way and at a different pace, experiences with the album will be unique in sequencing and in arrangement.” Therefore, users will each gain a unique, instantaneous experience; something increasingly hard to come by in todays micro-mediated world.

Despite Bluebrain’s unique app platform, this is only one move in utilizing site specificity to address and reclaim location based sound. As was previously addressed, this year’s Turner Prize winning artist Susan Philipsz’s installation of her own a cappella remix of the classic British folk song “Lowlands.”

Moreover, in addition to ambient location, many sound artists will speak to sound’s transpirational properties. In a recent performance at Georgetown, artist Yoko K spoke to the fact that she wishes for her music to transport people, to take them on a journey outside of themselves, if for only a moment. Almost in opposition to Bluebrain’s task of creating a heightened experience of presence, this idea of sonorous transportation further speaks to the vast space sound and technology stand to inhabit.

Not only are we consuming more within these (technological) spaces, we are responding in ways which reflect an increased adeptness in understanding narratives through multimedia platforms. The idea and application of hybridity can of course be extended to every realm. However, I would point to our increasingly technologically mediated and audio-visual-based engagement with our cities as producing one of the most fruitful spaces for unraveling modern sociocultural analysis.

Certainly, globalization has at once opened a space for these practices while simultaneously complicating the ease through which we are able to assign clear-cut definitions to multimedia practices. As I’ve previously discussed, the work of these artists is not outside the realm of the next move; for mixing and evolving the possibilities of a medium has stood the test of time, and at present, what is more app than the App Store?

The National Mall will be available for download on the iPhone in the Apple App store in the coming weeks. Presently, Bluebrain has discussed projects for both Prospect Park in Brooklyn NY as well as PCH in California.

Alicia Dillon

Alicia is a former CCT Graduate Student.