One day in downtown Bangkok, I crossed paths with a blind man using a lead pipe to echolocate his way down the street. The resonance of the hollow pipe is especially well-suited to producing sonic images that can reveal large objects at a distance – walls or buildings or sets of steps, say. This is a useful supplement to the cane as a means of feeling objects directly. As the man walked, a gym in the ground level of a shopping center played a trancy jingle through loudspeakers mounted outdoors. The gym is called California WOW Xperience, and they’re all over the city, enticing natives and visitors alike with kitschy, oily body-building imagery that nevertheless gets its point across.
Music in advertisements, rather obviously, recruits consumers. Songs plug into associations between identity and sensuality that we often don’t even realize we carry around. The California WOW Xperience ad declares in sensual terms (i.e., without needing to use words) that the gym is high-tech and modern. The accelerated tempos of trance suggest not only the pace of exercise but of the modern more broadly. The use of this ad thus creates and maintains a space that might “feel” “right” enough to passersby to entice them into laying down good Baht for a personal trainer or a yoga class or whatever.
Any useful acoustic analysis has to account not only for primary sound sources as they come into contact with materials, but also for reflections and noise. Sounds interact with one another in complicated ways that can confound engineers attempting to manage sound environments. This recording gestures to another source of confusion, one that lies beyond echo or interference – listening. The taps happen to be audible acts of listening that disrupt or at least mingle with the advertisement, which is what makes this work as a piece (I think). But it should also remind us that listening is a kind of work we do every time we encounter a sound, even if it seems to be second nature.
The ad and the taps are also, finally, kind of amusingly indifferent to each other. I like this a lot, because it rightly insinuates (to my ear) that human encounters are only fleetingly cooperative and never truly systematic.