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Projets (2014)

Elena Biserna

Bio Elena Biserna

Réalisation : Expanded Sound Paths. Emphasizing the relationship between walker and urban space through listening

In recent decades, mobile technologies, Walkmans, MP3 players and mobile phones have entered our daily rituals and habits, taking on a substantial role in both our auditory urban culture and our way of crossing spaces. The use of these 'nomadic objects' (Attali 1977) concerns not only music consumption, but also our relationship to space: not only it re-contextualizes mediated listening in the growing mobility of everyday life, it also redefines our relationship to the city at large.

On the one hand, we can superpose our own sound track to the surrounding environment and mediate our experience of space, customizing the acoustic form of the city (Hosokawa 1984, Chambers 1997, Thibaud 2003, Bull 2007, Weber 2009, LaBelle 2010). On the other hand, such a stratification of an acoustic space to the physical space turns into an instance of privatization and erosion of our participation, isolating us from the contingency and unpredictability of urban experience and from fortuitous encounters (Flichy, 1994, Bull 2007) and producing a threat of constant surveillance and control (Kluitenberg 2010 among others). But in fact, mobile technologies produce a constant cognitive ambivalence between physical and acoustic space, swinging between a shared space-time and a private one: a process of multiple dwelling in which mediated and contextual experience interfere and hybridize (Thibaud 2003, Basset 2005, de Souza e Silva 2006, Beer 2007).

My research – in line with the Audio Mobility's call – argues that many sound art projects using portable media reshape, subvert or force everyday mobile listening practices intervening on the relationship between walker and urban space starting exactly from this interference between contextual and mediated experience. By showing different examples, this paper would like to contribute to map the various ways in which artistic projects negotiate the dynamics between listening, walking and urban space, proposing alternative behaviors, spaces and times that reinforce the potentialities associated with walking creating micro-practices of aesthetic inhabitation of ordinary spaces (through very different, recent or less recent, technological platforms).

In particular, some projects use a strategy of “revelation” emphasizing the aesthetic character of everyday soundscapes and listening as a relational act (Akitsugu Maebayashi's Sonic Interface, 2006; Atatu Tanaka & Petra Gemeinboeck's Net Dèrive, 2006, etc.); other projects “rewrite” the urban environment creating spatial-temporal palimpsests through the superimposition of a mediated acoustic space to the physical space and immersing the walker in a cinematic experience (Willelm de Ridder's The Walk, 1981; Janet Cardiff's audio walks; Circumstance's subtlemobs; Teri Rueb's Itinerant, 2005, etc.) or in a multiplicity of stories, memories and testimonies connected with urban places (Graeme Miller's Linked, 2003; [murmur], 2003, etc.); lastly, some projects emphasize the physical, embodied interaction with the environment and the ludic and creative nature of listening transforming the city in an interface of behavioral, perceptual and gestural improvisation (Christina Kubisch's Electrical Walks; Edwin van der Heide's Radioscape, 2003; Sonic City, 2004, etc.).

My proposal for the Locus Sonus residency is part of a wider research project entitled "Listening/Walking. Expanded sound paths in urban space". Its aim is to explore peripatetic and mobile sound art practices and the relationship between walking and listening in contemporary arts, with an emphasis on urban space. This project starts from my doctoral thesis entitled "Sound Walks. Mobility, art, sound, urban space", that was focused on sound and audio walks: aesthetic practices of auditory exploration of the city reshaping the old topos of urban walking and wandering in the sonic domain through participatory actions or systems using a variety of strategies, approaches and media (focused listening systems, guided walks, mobile and networked media etc.). Now, I would like to expand the focus of my thesis by looking at the wider constellation of practices connecting walking, mobility, listening and producing sound through performances, interventions, events, and installations. Given the interdisciplinary nature of this liminal area, my project is grounded on, and aims to connect, research in different fields – namely, contemporary art history and theory, music history and theory, architecture, performing arts, cultural, urban, sound and media studies – around an expanded notion of sound, listening and mobility.

By doing so, this project aims to contribute not only to sound art history and sound studies, but also to the literature on walking and mobility in the arts, to mobile media art history and, more in general, to theories of site-specificity, urban and public art.

Given the wide scope of this project, during the 3 months of the residency I plan to work, in particular, on the construction of a chronology and a reasoned catalogue of the many and manifold artistic projects using mobile media (Walkmans, MP3 players, portable radios, sensor based computing, mobile phones, applications, locative media and GPS, etc.)from the 1980s to now.

Through both empirical research and an investigation of the theoretical framework mentioned above, the purpose of this research is to create a critical survey on artistic projects involving mobile listening devices and to answer the

following questions: What is the significance of walking and moving in expanded sound practices? How can these practices be understood in terms of aesthetic experience and of urban engagement, appropriation, inhabitation? How do the many discourses associated with city walking (W. Benjamin, M. de Certeau, J-F. Augoyard, J-C. Bailly, T. Paquot, P. Sansot, D. Le Breton, R. Solnit, J-P. Thibaud, R. Thomas, A. Labbrucci, J. Jacobs, F. La Cecla, I. Sinclair, etc.) and its figures (the stroller, the flâneur, the psychogeoghrapher, the wanderer, the explorer, the detective, the demonstrator, the rhythmanalyst, the tourist guide, the cartographer, the traceur, etc.) resonate in listening and in sound practices?

What are the main strategies and tactics used by the artists and how do these redefine the relationship between walker, urban space and everyday experience? What are the possible connections between walking, moving and listening?

The desired outcomes of my research project are three. First of all, my overview on the phenomenology of walking and listening in the contemporary arts will be shared online through an in progress and open database in the form of a

Wiki that will gather information on every project (artist, date, place, short description, images, recordings, maps or other documents) in order to provide an exhaustive but also extendable body of projects. Then, the results of my theoretical and historical research could be formalized in a monograph and in an anthology collecting contributions by both established and younger interdisciplinary artists. During the residency, I would work, in particular, on researching and cataloguing sound projects using mobile media from the 1980s to now and on the implementation of the database.