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Internet auditoriums - Distance listening

a new paradigm of the listening into the contexts of networked music and sound art

(Jérôme Joy)

Contents Internet Auditoriums(version française)

The proposed research project focuses on the act of listening modified by distance. The concept and the practice of listening is modified by the contemporary context of electronic networks (Internet). This context, which follows the development of telecommunications and in particular the telephone, introduces new dimensions to the act of listening related to the question of distance problematized by sound, and vice-versa. Although this question has not yet been studied, it is evermore present and identifiable in current networked art & music. I have been experimenting practically with these concepts over recent years, through my work as an artist and composer, exploring and developing various systems of networked music and of collective online listening systems. An essential part of my work concerns the investigation of the Internet as an extended musical space and the construction of interfaces based on collective and interactive listening.

My aim focuses an approach to a nascent paradigm of listening : ‘distance listening’ (listening at a distance), based on analyses and monitoring of historical references & contemporary artistic practice (probing at the same time correlated peripheral domains). Networks are unique in the sense that they allow real-time interaction and connections between places, and influence our perception of time and space. Thus the Internet has become a particular place, among others, of public audience. I’m interested in development of the use of streaming techniques, audio flux which do not have ‘a priori’ receivers. This places the act of listening as an active decision. Today we can question the nature and specifity of the ‘Internet auditorium’ in relation to developing practices of ‘distance listening’, related to combinations of local and remote sound spaces. To study this question is a complex task when we take into consideration that the technological context and the nature of the audience evolves continually. Indeed a comprehension of the history of the evolution of listening practices is essential for creating a context for the exploration of today’s music and sound art on networks. How are practices of ‘distance listening’ « instrumented », ie what are the modalities and effects involved in or provoked by the different types of Internet listening and to what extent can they be identified as a specific entities ?

My research will seek to identify typologies based on distinctions between recurrences and singularities observable in networked music & sound art projects. This will involve comparing existing definitions and typologies of practices related to the act of listening, such as the acousmatic nature of hearing without seeing the sound source, the ‘schizophonic’ property of adding sound to an existing sonic space, sound environments, etc.

A series of hypotheses will follow related to :

  • The potential of distributed and shared audiences contained in participative feedback and in remote-copresence ;
  • The characteristics of listening systems used as instruments (towards an organology, ie a classification of instrumental properties of these systems) ;
  • The possible ambivalences present in the operations of the ‘distance listening’ related to extension of the private life in public contexts.

A consecutive and practical aspect of this research will consist of experience and observation. Collaborations in, and experimention with, existing and future networked sound projects as a listener, and a player. This participation is essential in order to "test" the characteristics of the ‘distance listening’ thus elucidating & enriching the theoretical process. A secondary aspect of the documentary work concerns the development of a graphical interface connected to the NMSAT database (Networked Music & Sound Art Timeline), a documentation project I’m currently developing within the Locus Sonus Lab, a sonic practice-led research group based in France which focuses on ‘audio in art’ in the context of the electronic and telematic networks.

Objectives: (Edit)

My main objective is to distinguish the act of ‘distance listening’ as a new paradigm in sound practice relevant to networked music and sound art.

The first objective is to elaborate a repertory consisting of characteristics and criteria defining ‘distance listening’, completed by detailed analyses and references.

The second objective is to focus on the creative aspects of ‘distance listening’, by identifying the singularities and characteristics of : 1) Distance listening as a practice, 2) Types of networked listening systems based on local and remote spaces, 3) Networked auditoriums, 4) Audio networks considered as instruments 5) The conditions relevant to the part played by imagination contained in reception of sound at a distance.

The third objective is to create an online graphical interface connected to the networked NMSAT database offering a navigation and documentation tool through the cross referencing of concepts, with historical and contemporary references.

Historical context:(Edit)

The concept of ‘distance listening’ stems from the observation of the developments in technics and technologies of sound transmission and their progressive implication in our culture in general and in artworks in particular. It unites technological, sociological and cultural references.

Early references are found in anticipatory literature : the Frozen Words by Rabelais in the 16th century, New Atlantis by Francis Bacon, , Giphantie by Tiphaigne de la Roche, and Jules Verne & G. Apollinaire in the 20th century, …, and in publications by early inventors : such as Phonurgia Nova by Athanasius Kircher.

The concept of distance listening quickly became a horizon for intellectuals such as Paul Valéry (« delivery of sensory reality at home »), developing thoughts on ubiquity.

In parallel, the use of distance in music has been exploited since the 16th c. through the use of instruments localised in relation to architecture, and is pursued in sound spatialization in the 20th century. The first use of realtime distant sound as art appears in musical works by John Cage (Imaginary Landscape IV, 1951, and Variations IV, 1966, with the use of ‘telephoned’ sound). Thereafter the concept of ‘acousmatic listening’ is the object of many theoretical investigations, such as compositional structure (Bayle, 1994) or social-culture theory (Murray Schafer, 1977), although these examples fail to precisely identify the notion of ‘distance listening’.

Contemporary context:(Edit)

Today, with the development of electronic networks permitting immediate audio transmission, the concept of ‘distance listening’, (beyond basic remote-presence and remote-action), has become an essential central vector in all sorts of art forms - from sound transmission from place to place, e.g. installations by B. Fontana, through the use of the network as an acoustic space in itself, in which distance is re-constructed (e.g. A. Tanaka), to the recent and increasing development of networked concerts involving players and audiences geographically distributed (e.g. The Hub, P. Oliveros) and internet projects based on representation of sound locations (e.g. soundmaps ; geo-localization). At the time of writing, certain artists have begin to develop networked listening systems implicating feedback between a distributed audience (e.g. A. Black). Development in sound and distance is currently very active and new developments are constantly appearing.

Theoretical context:(Edit)

The question of modifications to our modes of reception, perception and attention related to sound transmission is at the core of recent research in Sound Anthropology and Sociology (H. Becker, J-P Thibaud, M. Relieu). Other studies in Musicology and Philosophy relative to the creative aspects of the act of listening and development of networked practices (P. Szendy, B. Stiegler, B. Gallet, E. During) also provide an useful theoretical reference for this research. I am also interested in theory developed by artists such as as J. Oswald or F. Lopez which is directly related to their artistic practice.

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