Posts tagged with voice

In December, 2011, I visited a protest outside of the Credit Suisse offices in Manhattan to make sound recordings. Below is the podcast that resulted. The event was staged against that day’s military contracting meeting, hosted by Credit Suisse, but connections to Occupy Wall Street were evident on many levels, from the organization of the protest to the perceptions of observers.

Image from

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Klong Toey Market

Klong Toey market is a sprawling way station for something like half of the produce that reaches Bangkok’s restaurants every day, and no small amount of its meat and home goods either. Industrial-sized clear garbage bags full of limes are tossed from the backs of trucks, palettes of morning glory and parsley block the footpath, and whole pigs dangle freshly- Read the rest of this entry »

Last week, PD and I went to a carnival near Din Daeng. The main attraction was an outdoor Lam Sing performance starring จีรพันธ์ แว่นระเว่ and วัชราภรณ์สมสุข, which was just getting good when a heavy rainfall ended the night prematurely. Here is a snippet of the show, complete with a dramatic build-up and some positive mid-song adjustments to the mix:

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Wat Dhammakaya, just north of Bangkok, is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world. Built in 1970, it is the epicenter of Dhammakaya Buddhism, a large, rapidly growing, and at times controversial sect. Architecturally, Wat Dhammakaya is a palace for the age of mass media.

The UFO-like Chedi (inner memorial hall)

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We hear many voices when we’re in public. But the logic between which ones we engage, ignore, or get frustrated by isn’t always apparent, even to ourselves.

One of the most perplexing examples is the cell phone conversation. To wit: if we’re sitting in front of two people on a bus, and they’re talking in a reasonable tone of voice, it’s very unlikely we’ll care at all. But if it’s only one person, and he’s talking at the same hypothetical volume on the phone, we might think bad thoughts about him, or have trouble concentrating. Why are we bothered by the latter and not the former?

We develop and adjust auditory filters throughout our lives. Our annoyance with overhearing cell phone chatter suggests that we’ve become accustomed to telephone conversations – however innocuous – being private. And so the sound of them in public space registers as a breach of etiquette, even if it’s no different in pitch, volume, or timbre than an old-fashioned, in-person conversation. This may change over time, perhaps after we’ve spent years and years confronted with the practice. For now, the memory of landline custom still obtains.

The following recording is a good example of this phenomenon, starring one of those much-despised Motorola walkie-talkies. As the F train went above ground during a snowstorm that had severely delayed train traffic, a man got a page (presaged by the famous tone) from a friend, and commenced telling him where he was, how long he expected to be there, and so on. There was a whole lot of eye-rolling on the busy car. The tones kept coming, and the voice of the man on the other end came through covered by a harsh, almost mean-sounding distortion. This mixed with the sound of train announcements which, as you might expect, were filtered into the normal bin.

Putting sound in the workplace is a two-edged sword; it inspires efficiency, but also, at times, insurrection. Cuban cigar factories have a centuries-old tradition of employing readers, who sit at the front of the factory room announcing their way through a stack of printed matter, to entertain the labor force.

Cigar Factory Reader

The practice continues today. A BBC piece from last week describes how the readings, the content of which includes the newspaper, self-help books, modern novels, and classics, “help[s] workers pass away the day.” The repetition of the job makes it easy to concentrate on other information and, in turn, alleviates boredom with the original task. (Which, as you might imagine, can be immense.)

The factory owner is arguably the main beneficiary of the reader’s work, since he’ll end up with more cigars to sell. For their part, the workers are – for both better and worse – mentally shielded from their shitty jobs.

But the segment also suggests an educational benefit. Cigar factory employees often have little or no contact with literature elsewhere in their lives, so the readings offer them access to useful information about the world. What the report doesn’t mention is that reading to laborers was an idea originally organized in prisons. The modern tradition of factory reading stems directly from that history. From the Cuban Heritage Collection:

In 1861 activist and intellectual Nicolás Azcárate proposed reading to prisoners in jail as part of their rehabilitation. His idea was implemented and, since many prisoners rolled cigars to earn wages, a direct link to the cigar industry was established. The wages, received by prisoners at the end of their terms, were managed in the meantime by the prison administrators and used in part to replenish the book fund.

This is liberalism in a classic sense. But education had effects beyond rehabilitation:

Factory readings became popular, attracting passersby who stopped to listen outside. Several newspapers dedicated articles to the subject and published reading lists. But the custom also had detractors who claimed it encouraged revolutionary ideas. They were not entirely wrong: tobacco workers became the best informed working sector and vital in the fight for independence, both inside Cuba and in Tampa, where they organized in support of the Independence movement.

What other stories about sound and labor are you aware of?

Thanks to ST for the original link.

Precious, out for about a month now, was a tremendously complicated movie to attend. Audience members were divided on how to respond, vocally. How should people react to difficult art? Loudly or quietly? And if loudly, how? This problem took on an ethical dimension, and the sound of the theater became one of the key ways that viewers experienced the movie as a document of race and racial difference.

Amina Robinson

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Something “lite” for Friday. (Trying to make this the routine.)

Most of the interview snippets concern race, obliquely or head-on. If you ask New Yorkers open-ended questions about anything, the conversation will almost always end up there sooner or later. The movie anthropomorphizes common New York objects in a generally random fashion (with the exception of the Italian luggage, I didn’t read any associations between thing and identity), but the matter of race remains, both explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, when the red emergency services box speaks about her pride as a black woman, when the big and little newspaper boxes discuss their Cherokee ancestry, etc., and implicitly when accents and other vocal details suggest individual histories – the smoker’s cough of the Bronx-born free-used-car-info box seemed, to me, particularly suggestive. Also notable was the Asian (?) pay phone’s awkward reference to “some black people” blasting music from their car, although the remark was obviously well-meaning.

Thanks to TM for the original link.

Next week: the ethics of recording involuntary outbursts, and the sound sculptures of Harry Bertoia.

Fair warning: unlike the majority of Halloween content, this post is quite genuinely frightening.

Okkulte Stimmen

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The city of Pattaya, Thailand, closish to Bangkok, hosts an annual laughing contest.

The winner of the 2008 contest, who laughed for more than 12 minutes and reached 110 decibels

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