Alex Braidwood    MFA Candidate | Graduate Media Design Program | Art Center College of Design

Public Noise and Half Conversations

Final Presentation

Project Demonstration

Project Statement


Final Installation in the MDP Wind Tunnel Gallery. 12/01/2009

In his essay “The Art of Noises: A Futurist Manifesto,” Luigi Russolo states that “In the 19th Century, with the invention of machines, Noise was born.” He goes on to reinforce this theory that before the industrial revolution there was not noise, but only sound. It wasn’t until the invention and proliferation of the machine age that we as a culture became bombarded with noise form all types of man made mechanical sources.

With the introduction of digital technology, a new type of noise immersion was created. As I am writing this form my living room table I am “hearing” the laptop in front of me, 2 or 3 hums coming form the kitchen, and thebuzz of the monitor and tower several feet to my left that I can’t even see. (Which I forgot were on and just turned off after having written that sentence.) We barely even notice this anymore. Now that we are not only surrounded by digital technology but the advancements have been such that it has become increasingly portable, an entirely new type of noise has become so pervasive that it is commonplace. But there have also been interesting side affects of these occurrences. One of which is the common nature to encounter one half of a private telephone conversation in public.

Sure, its annoying when a lack of phone etiquette holds up the line at the grocery store or causes confusion in determining just who someone is talking to (thanks small hands-free headsets). But at other times, the voyeuristic temptations to listen in and fill in the other half of the narrative are just too great to avoid.

The reworked rotary phone explores both of these characteristics of digital public noise through the use of a familiar single-user device that caries a sense of direct connection to the communication experience along with a certain nostalgia or celebration for not being assumed to be “always available.” There are 2 aspects to the audio experience created. Both of these experiences are controlled and manipulated through the use of the single rotary dial.

The first is the public display of the performance. Parts of conversations are mixed with ambient, mostly digital, sounds collected from public spaces to create textural compositions reflective of public spaces invaded by these sonic washes and injections. The ambient sounds are given priority in the composition and through the continued manipulation of the rotary dial, the sounds have the ability to deteriorate over time in a manor consistent with the ways that mobile phone conversations break-up and cut-out.

The second is the individual experience of listening to the audio performed through the handset. The original handset speaker was utilized to provide the appropriate texture for the sounds relevant to the device used. The material for the individual display is provided in a way that composes the conversational language and digital ambiance with more priority given to the voice-based narratives. The composition is also reminiscent of attempting to listen to someone who insists on using their phone in a public place.

Through the use and manipulation of the rotary dial of the phone, not only is the user affecting the sounds that they hear through the handset, they are also affecting and manipulating the compositions performed publicly which they are able to hear as well. The individual experience is intended to include both the intimate handset audio performance along with the public composition so that they can build upon each other to create new moments of silence and chaos, depending on how the user is interacting with the device.