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  • Writer's pictureChris Sciacca

Auditioning Waste

"Sound's ephemeral invisibility obstructs critical engagement, while the apparent stability of the image invistes criticism. Vision, by its very nature assumes a distance from the object, which it receives in its monumentality. Seeing always happens in a meta-position, away from the seen, however close. And this distance enables a detatchment and objectivity that presents itself as truth. Seeing is believing. The visual 'gap' nourishes the idea of structural certainty and the notion that we can truly understand things, give them names , and define ourselves in relation to those names as stable subjects, as identities. The score, the image track of the film, the stage set, the visual editing interface, and so on can make us believe in an objective hearing, but what we hear, guided by these images, is not sound but the realization of the visual. The sound itself is long gone, chased away by the certainty of the image." - Salomé Voeglin, Listening to Noise and Silence 2010

Before I get into this quote I want to say briefly what I am doing and why. The easiest phrase to sum up in a nutshell what I am doing is this: using waste to audition sites of waste. Whatever theoretical backing I choose to weave into the practice of taking everyday objects of waste, converting them into the technical apparatus of sound capture and reproduction. Therefore, the design process of this type of sonic thinking requires the forethought of approaching and addressing field recording, soundscape composition, and technical reproduction of sound must begin with idea of waste at its inception. Waste comes with its own socio-cultural relationships to the idea of it as trash, raw material, recyclables, etc first and foremost. Whether you call it the "West" or the "Global North", I am immersed within the corporate, political, and cultural systems where I live and experience it on a daily basis and this shapes my attitudes and position. An investigation from this perspective is the first logical place to start. Auditioning waste from a personal position in the global south comes with an entirely different set of ethical consideration and at this point is not the purview of my studies. The Basel Action Network, a global watchdog and advocate of environmental justice, has sent trackers embedded within devices to track their movement around the globe. Their devices were embedded within the United States, and as far as I know, I am not sure of any attempts having been done in the United Kingdom or Europe. While this type of investigation is necessary to expose the lack of transparency of the industrial infrastructure of the global waste trade, I have no idea of the legality of doing such a thing as an individual. Ethically justified means are often disregarded by the political power structure, so for me, BAN is a huge resource and important organization for understanding our relationship with WEEE. This video details their process at 1:03

Tracking plastic, a hyperobject that is a critical component in WEEE and functioning audio equipement, has also been done by Bloomberg. This is certainly looking at the industry of food waste which is a major contributor to the global waste crisis.

All of these forces shape one of the most basic human cycles: that of consumption and waste. Since the dawn of material culture, accumulation of resources has led to accumulation of waste. The ur-phenomenon of the dump has been traced back for tens of thousands of years. The principle is still the same despite the rise of the non-organic and the infathomable rates of production reached by modern industrial society. The accumulation of ostrich eggshells 75,000 years ago would surely vanish like a needle in a haystack to the piles of discarded inorganic waste that has encompassed the globe. Queue the Anthropocene music... If I am using waste to audition waste then creating reproduceable digital soundscapes for consumption to live on as sonic documents, am I on some level adding to the myriad digital sound objects on the internet as a form of digital waste? Is there an objective position to take - some fact that always ties the production of objects to the sliding scale of use value and discarded waste? What are the factual byproducts of waste produced by an mp3? Of course, how we assign value to objects or art is subjective, but objectively its hard to refute that one of the major problems right now for the entire globe is what to do with the clearly defined objects of waste.

I am trying to see what best serves the unique position of how sound might be beneficial as an epistemological medium when we audition or document institutional sites of waste. Philosophically there are many positions here - for instance, this phenomenological stance from Voegelin is in opposition to the new materialist/ object centered philosopher's dealing in sound like Christopher Cox, and Ray Brassier etc. I'm just saying this because to embed oneself in a debate over whether that quote above is "true" is itself embroiled in a debate that pits ontological positions against phenomenological poisitons. It's a bit hard to lean all the way to Voegelin's side as she claims that while vision is culturally understood as "objective" that hearing then is "full of doubt: phenomenological doubt". One of my main arguments will certainly be to claim the cultural hegemony of vision in the West as evidential truth. Photography as document relies on the ideological turth of the image, through the artefact. Sound is a different story, but while I agree that sound is immersive and therefore we are embedded within it , and it cannot not be heard from the "outside" in the way you can see something in the distance - yet vision is also an immersion in the liquid medium of light. Conversly we can hear from an objective distance. Hearing an ominous sound from far away as a quiet oddity may alert us to danger, not in a way that we are immediately immersed in it, but in a way that tells us of something real yet to come. This would be even less doubtful if we knew the source of the sound phenomenologically as an intentional object... ie an explosion happening at night from miles across the city.

This places sound more in the realm of one's experience of it rather than a claim that Cox might make which is that once something vibrates, it propogates another physical object unto itself that happens to be an object first and foremost, then experienced as a temporal event to us. It is whether we believe we can demarcate something autonomously objective or not or whether we believe there is no seperation between subject and object, that sound only exists for us through our own biological perception of it. Scientific study lets us know that sound waves propogate outside of our limited bandwith of perception in the form of ultra or infra sound. While this de-anthropomorphises natural phenomena and decenters anthropocentric thinking, this is not to claim it has no perceptive effect on the body and thus the mind. Yes sound is mediated between our ears through cultural context, which is the point of auditioning sites of waste - yet to lose site of the materiality of sound itself or its autonomy as an object because it is experienced as ephemeral, leaving us with the mute "certainty of the image", might not be giving sound its own credit as a "certainty". It could be argued that the extremeites of phenomenological approach is what has pushed a brash and perhaps equally exaggerated claim from the speculative realists and the object oriented ontologists that have grown tired of everything being a product of the mind and therefore "uselessly" subjective. In the end, everything comes back to Kant and the unobtainable noumena outside of our thought. Where we fall on this spectrum seems somewhat semantic but probably informs a lot about how we view and experience the world and its events.

So while I agree with Voegelin that sound art "necessitates a participation, rather than an enabled detached viewing position; and the object or event under consideration is by neccessity considered not as an artefact but in its dynamic production"... my experience with WEEE and waste in general has been forced to be one of detatchment. The sites of waste are always marked here with warnings and boundaries as a responsible safety measure.

Most places asscoiated with waste are considered dangerous and not accessible to the public except in brief interactions with the tip and on PR tours of facilities - there are clear boundaries where one cannot trespass or cross the boundaries of private property lines. The number one block to hearing... immersing oneself in the sounds of waste on the inside - at the source, in a position of a sonic certainty, will never be granted by the industry for health and safety reasons. They also stand nothing to gain from simply being auditioned. If I am not to be granted access to witness these places at the source to make a plea toward sustainability, better recycling practice, or pushing toward a circular economy of sound technology, then auditioning is a one way act of listening. Silent listening and documenting is then a form of objective listening to which one reserves the right to judge. It is then a document of truth in the same way as a photograph. The journalist exposes light into photographic evidence so that we may see a snapshot of the forces at work obfuscating truth. This also does not take into account the mechanical reproduction of sound, as a created entity, a document, or artefact in itself, both object and event. Listening and hearing may force us into the experiential event side of things but purposefully creating the art object may be more sympathetic in the case of waste since the global waste crisis demands that we contend with the objects of production as things - it may so happen that Jane Bennett sees these things as possessing a vibrational power, thus moving away from the ideologically position of waste as inert lumps, but as having an autonomous agency. Timothoy Morton is also in agreement with Bennett but has insisted on always first maintaining a distinction of the object and hyperobject, though imbued with the same, but darker autonomous agency. Bennett points out the relational systems involved in waste and vibrational matter, such as governmental law and economic pressure that are inextricable to casual events. Morton insists that perhaps agency fails the West unless things are considered real without having to justify any causal connections or systemic ties - the reason being that corporations as capitalistic entities spin causal relations in their favor to claim things are quite the opposite: not real: the cancer caused by smoking cannot be attributed to the thing itself, thereby loosening the political noose around those legally responsible in the Capitalocene.

So - I will audition from a position on the outside of the entity of the machinations of the industry of waste. This does not mean I will not seek the idea of intimacy, that say... recording instruments like contact mics can offer being directly pressed to objects and recording their vibratory output. It means that I am working in a way that falls along the spectrum of the objective and subjective - this is the very essence of the document in the realm of Anthropological research, of ethnogrpahy, whether visual or sonic. Just where along the divide I stand will be revealed in the work and evolve as a process as I continue to audition waste as a artist, individual, and as a complicit agent within a critical field recording practice.

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