Mengi, Reykjavik, 10 March 2016
2,000 ISK, 9pm sharp, BYOB
Mengi, Óðinsgata 2
As will hopefully be clear to anyone familiar with this project, audio illusions arise as side effects of the mind’s ability to employ “perceptual hypotheses” – what in plain language we’d call intelligent guesswork – to restore streams of intelligible and coherent meaning, in situations in which accurate perception has been compromised by listening to interrupted or unusually quiet or distorted speech. From time-to-time this faculty leads the mind to guess wrongly, and it is those (very occasional) mistakes that we think of as being auditory illusions. It’s important to remember however that this exact same faculty also helps us to make sense of all speech. Because that mental guesswork is (usually) so sophisticated however, we perceive most speech accurately, and tend therefore to remain more-or-less blissfully unaware of the important role that psychology of illusion – it might be more accurate to say psychology of projection – plays in normal perceptions of everyday events. In this sense, the “Rorschach Audio” narrative extends way beyond a simple analysis of the role that audio illusions play in fringe activities such as EVP listening, into a much more general analysis of psychology of perception.
As anyone who attended the “Rorschach Audio” lecture-demonstrations should also be aware, a whole battery of cognitive psychology experiments can be used to show that this faculty is active rather than passive, and not only projective, but compensatory, restorative and sometimes predictive as well. This faculty is also creative, and perceptual creativity lies at the heart of what we think of as being fine art, and also emerges in that other great art form – humour. As it happens, the communications theorist Marshall McLuhan characterised advertising as the folk art of the 20th century, and illusions of sound are familiar to the public from (for example) a classic advertising campaign that the agency HHCL devised in 1989. The HHCL adverts promoted the sound quality of Hitachi corporation’s high-grade Maxell brand cassette tapes, under market pressure from the new CD format. So, in parody of D.A. Pennebaker’s promotional film for Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, song lyrics for “The Israelites” by Desmond Dekker are misheard as “me ears are alight” (the joke is that the illusion kicked-in because clear perception was compromised by listening to inferior quality audio cassettes).
More recently a very similar gag was used by the agency VCCP to transform perceptions of a (frankly) bland-sounding on-line brand into a market leader – comparethemarket.com being actively misheard as “Compare the Meerkat”. Interestingly, although this time in the visual realm, a version of what’s almost the same joke was used in the “Should have gone to Specsavers” campaigns (devised in-house). Incidentally, if you check out “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on You Tube, that’s beat poet Allen Ginsberg chatting in the background. When it comes to perceptual creativity and active listening, your ears really are alight!
Article copyright Joe Banks © 24 Jan 2016
Illusions of language as illusions of sound – “Random Exhibition Title Generator” by Rebecca Uchill – http://www.mit.edu/~ruchill/lazycurator.html
See the “Rorschach Audio” book pages 95 (last sentence) and 102
From 8pm on the 12 Dec 2015 to 4am the following morning, New York based sonic arts organisation Wave Farm broadcast a radio feature about the Disinformation sound art project – featuring nearly 8 hours of content, including almost all the commercially published Disinformation LPs and CDs, plus interview material and performance recordings. Although the very first Disinformation recording – VLF radio sounds contributed to a track by Andrew Lagowski’s S.E.T.I. project – was released on CD in 1995 (see link for “Mesmer Variations”), the Wave Farm broadcasts cover Disinformation’s earliest experiments with electromagnetic noise, with electrical interference, VLF and shortwave radio, plus extensive remixes and collaborations, during the decade from 1996 to 2006, plus a smattering of more recent tracks, and material connected to the “Rorschach Audio” project. All the programmes are produced by Bianca Biberaj, with special thanks to Bianca and to Galen Joseph-Hunter. Those already familiar with Disinformation CDs and LPs etc are likely to find programme 8 the most interesting…
https://wavefarm.org/wgxc/schedule/a0e3t1 (then click on the word “Audio”)
Programme 1 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/t3xaf0
Programme 2 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/w7y0as
Programme 3 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/s5xwxh
Programme 4 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/nnkmqt
Programme 5 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/yy0r6f
Programme 6 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/94551v
Programme 7 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/5a14b4
Programme 8 – https://wavefarm.org/archive/mmg0p3
“Potent drug-like trances of utter black mysteriousness” Sound Projector (UK)
“Engaging… illuminating, fascinating” The Wire (UK)
“Surrealists on ketamine” Vital (The Netherlands)
In terms of describing and explaining the ideas explored in the early Disinformation recordings, Disinformation features in (among many others) Immerse magazine (1997), Merge (1998) and Themepark (2000) for instance, openly advertise this project’s sources and inspirations, further document the activities themselves, and also help show how these ideas (and a great deal of practical information) were transmitted to and influenced other practitioners in electronic music and sonic art…
Issue 10 of the art and culture magazine Shoppinghour, originally published in 2013, is now available as a free download. The magazine features “Cockneys vs Zombies – Rorschach Ink Blots & the Auditory Undead” – an article which provided an invaluable opportunity to take ideas from this website, some of which emerged after the publication of the “Rorschach Audio” book, and commit them to print.
Contributors include Minjeong An, And-Or, Sam Beste, Martyna Dakowicz, Alexander Goodson, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Human Fiction Tartini, Mandy Kahn, Mikhail Karikis, Michal Kosakowski, Nico Krijno, Lefty Le Mur, Niall Macdonald, Isabella Martin, Chandler McWilliams, Audun Mortensen, Sara C Motta, Dave Okumu, Amy Pettifer, Jacek Plewicki, Penny Rimbaud, Brian Roettinger, Mikołaj Tkacz, Gee Vaucher, Hayden White and Mushon Zer-Aviv. Shoppinghour was edited by Peter Eramian and Yasushi Tanaka-Gutiez, with Martyna Dakowicz, Mika Hayashi Ebbesen, Dora Meade, Ania Micińska and Oliver Gordon, with design by Think Work Observe. Print copies are available via Ti Pi Tin.
“Art is not necessarily science, but science is always art”
“Speech synthesis at Bell Labs dates back to the 1930s and Homer Dudley’s Voder, which was exhibited and publicly demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair. Because understanding all aspects of the conversion of speech to electrical signal was a core interest of the Bell System, speech synthesis research continued at the company in the ensuing decades, entering the computer era in the 1960s, with articulatory speech vocal tract models created by Paul Mermelstein, Cecil Coker, John L. Kelly Jr., and Louis Gerstman, among others. Text-to-speech programs were researched from the 1960s all the way to the present day. This film specifically documents the output of an early text-to-speech program. Cecil Coker worked on this project, which is an articulatory synthesis program. Coker most likely first presented this film at… the 1967 M.I.T. Conference on Speech Communication and Processing, or the 1968 Processed Speech Symposium in Kyoto. Coker was also one of the scientists at Bell Labs involved with the E.A.T. collaborations with artists program; he added technical expertise to art performances by John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg.” – Footage and text, AT&T Archives & History Center, Warren, NJ.
Referring to the section of this recording that starts 1:14 into this video, in terms of further demonstrating how prior knowledge conditions perceptions of ambiguous sense-data, and, as with so-called Sine-Wave Speech experiments (see links below), when you hear Cecil Coker’s AT&T demonstration for the first time (please listen now before reading the rest of this paragraph), the speech comes across as almost completely unintelligible. When however you read the transcript that your author has painstakingly prepared (!) and then re-play the speech in the original sequence again, comprehension suddenly becomes much easier… “The North Wind and the Sun were arguing one day, when a traveller came along wrapped in a warm coat. They agreed that the one who would make the traveller take his coat off would be considered stronger than the other one. Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the harder he blew, the tighter the traveller wrapped his coat around him. Then at last the North Wind gave up trying. Then the Sun began to shine hotly, and the traveller took off his coat immediately. And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.”
See the reference to André-Marie Ampère – “Rorschach Audio” book page 154.