Friday, April 13, 2012

Yet Another Way In

New Media scholar and producer Nathanael Bassett has recently produced what he calls Proslambanomenos, "after an archaic term for low notes, the lowest note in the Greek musical scale."
The sounds are taken from NOAA’s Vents Program index of unidentified sounds, very low frequency recordings captured by autonomous hydrophone arrays throughout the Pacific Ocean, including SOSUS (which was designed to detect Soviet submarines during the cold war). Although a researcher speculates some of the sounds are the movements of ice, its also very likely they’re biological in origin. The original recordings were sped up to 16x and 20x their original speed to make them listenable – I have restored them to their original speed (for the most part). Nobody really knows what made these sounds.

Bassett writes, and here is the way in for this course, "My thought behind this involves intentionality and non-human agency, or biocentrism (as opposed to anthropocentrism)." Furthermore, he writes,
I wanted to explore truly unintentional sound which is not given over to anthropocentric classification, since we often use natural sounds as acoustic symbols (a volcano explosion is powerful, a dog howl is mournful, etc). How can we divorce the sign from the signified? It’s a good start if we don’t understand the sign.
Part of what this course is after is to make the nonhuman present by making it strange. What we take for granted quickly becomes what Bruno Latour calls "the missing masses."