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In the context of the public presentation and discussion of Sound Studies Lab’s Functional Sounds research project in the beginning of February I had the chance to experience Anke Eckardt’s und Tiago da Costa e Silva’s sound art performance DYSFUNKTION: EINE HOMMAGE AN BRUCE NAUMAN´S DAYS. The philosopher da Costa e Silva and sound artist Anke Eckardt worked together to create this impressive piece operating on the threshold of functional and dysfunctional sounds.
The basic setup consisted of a number of directional speakers originating – not surprisingly – from old military stocks. Apparently they work using a high-frequency carrier wave. They were positioned in a circle facing inwards, in such a way that the individual sounds met at the circle’s center. As material, da Costa e Silva prepared and recorded a text of which fragments were emitted alternately by the speakers. At the beginning and end though glitch-like sounds were used instead which over time morphed into the text before the procedure was inverted at the end. This morphing addressed the functional/dysfunctional qualities of speech in dependence of the sound source.
The special qualities of this performance lay undoubtedly in the use of the directional speakers. For me, in correlation with the use of language and the physical shape of the speakers, which were residing on stands making them as tall as humans, they appeared to me a lot more anthropomorhpic than any speakers I witnessed before. Astonishingly, when I was standing in the way of one of the speakers, the sound seemed to whisper or hum directly in my ear(s). It was very intense. For anybody who hasn’t experienced it yet it is of course also fascinating to step in and out of sound streams. The speakers itself produced a quiet high-pitched buzz which nobody could really explain. Interesting were also the patterns of movement the setup induced in the audience. Of course there was a focal point in the center, but people also sometimes lined up in the direction of one or the other speaker. Others moved slowly in circles in different orbits. I am sure that the hitherto existing uses of directional speakers in military and police contexts or advertisement in public places like shopping malls could be expanded in more pleasing ways. In places were large crowds gather or pass through a discreet setup of directional speakers could e.g. help to reorganize mobility and immobility to everybody’s advantage.