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I have just returned from the Sonologia conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sonology is the term given to Latin American Sound Studies by the research group, who facilitated the conference. The range of papers was fascinating, with a particularly strong compliment of ethnographic studies and cultural and sociological reflections on the role and implication of sounds in everyday life.

It was interesting to note there was little discussion about the placement of sounds in public spaces, a theme of interest in a concurrent conference at Leiden University. Mine and one other by Colin Ripley, were the only two. Most soundscape papers reflected on existing sounds, and the capacity of ethnography to reveal community relationships with these sounds. It now occurs to me why this might be the case, after having spent a week in the megalopolis of Sao Paulo.

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Samba dancing in Avenue Paulista

There is SO much sound in this city, why would you want to introduce more? The streets are alive with activity. In Avenue Paulista, in one day, I encountered music, protests, football and political chants, traffic, fire crackers and car horns. The city is extraordinarily vibrant and eventful. Alternatively, my work, which intervenes in everyday life with sound installations, has developed in the context of Australian suburban quietude, where I would argue we encounter cultural alienation manifesting as isolation.

After my talk some discussion occurred around the desirability of adding sounds to the urban environment. My feeling was (perhaps correctly, or not) that my Brazilian colleagues were less convinced by the idea of adding sounds, in distinction to understanding relationships with those sounds that already exist. Upon reflection, it occurred to me if addition is a worthy approach in a quite country like Australia, then perhaps subtraction is the favoured approach for such a noise-filled city as Sao Paulo.

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politcal protests in Avenue Paulista

And I don’t mean noise in the negative sense. I mean it in the sense of ceaseless invigoration, just as I mean quiteude as a type of cultural retraction. It left me with the sense that each city has its own particular challenges, thus further emphasising the importance of site-specific sound art practices.

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Salome Voegelin – artist and writer engaged in listening as a socio-political practice of sound – interviewed me about my listening practice, and the ‘sonic rupture’ concept that I outlined in my book, Sonic Rupture: a practicer-led approach to urban soundscape design (Bloomsbury 2016).

The interview includes sound files and images from recent sound works, and references to a number of projects I am presently involved in:

http://listeningacrossdisciplines.net/resources/interviews/sonic-rupture-means-introducing-sounds-urban-spaces/

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Anarchy has a bad reputation – no doubt. In recent years Anarchy has become synonymous with angry young men & women with red balaclavas tied around their mouths running through streets smashing the windows of Nike shops. Or in other cases dressed in white padding & holding home-made armour, ready to charge police lines, as did the English Wombles. These men and women are passionate about the future of society and strive to influence it. Feeling powerless in the face of a seemingly unconcerned society on the brink of destruction, this is their way of fighting back.

However, the problem with violent revolution is that it is ineffective. Society has a history of violent revolution that is never successful, because revolution is absorbed by a society that thrives on conflict and violence. It is everywhere all the time. In war. In the police force. In the criminal class. In the school yard. It is inherent. A system in which violence is inherent will never truly be overthrown by violence – it will just re-emerge in a new form (from feudalism to communism/capitalism or from communism to capitalism). The other problem with violent revolution is that it places too much faith in political power. It works on the basis that those in power are corrupt, and those without access to power would do a better job if they could take power for themselves. One only needs to look at the left wing revolutions around the world to see that society continues to chug on with disregard to wealth distribution, environment and humanity regardless of who is in charge.

The capitalist system is like a machine that carries out processes. And we all participate in its processes. The machines sole purpose is to increase economic output. The machine will carry on this function regardless of the fact that the human race and the Earth is being pushed into catastrophic territory (over population, climate change, ecological destruction). Now, we can say that Rupert Murdoch or some other rich and powerful person is responsible for this and he/they should be overthrown, but this is missing the point. Rupert is as much enslaved to the machine as any other member of society. How do we know that under his powerful smile a heart does not lurk that wishes for a more meaningful life? If he disappeared, someone would simply take his spot, which is true for any job. If society is a machine and we are its parts, then parts can easily be replaced. Violent acts of revolution can arise from anger and jealousy – they have more than me and this is unjust. But if you replace the rulers, you also have to take the stress, illness and complications that come with the rewards.

Calling society a machine is not as abstract as it may seem. Speak to many who work full-time and they will talk about its drudgery and meaninglessness. Talk about the problems of the world that our lifestyles are exacerbating and people will tell you how powerless they feel to stop it. That’s because we are! We are locked inside something that we can’t change. The machine carries on relentlessly. If in violent revolution we try to overthrow it the machine either flexes its muscles through the military, the police force and the media, which crushes dissent, or it allows its leaders to be overthrown and simply has someone else fulfilling the function of leader. Are the leaders of feudalism, capitalism and communism, in practice, really that different?

So what does Anarchy propose? And I am not talking about the Anarchy of angry protesters, but the Anarchy of organised alternatives to the self-destructive machine of human endeavour, which in our present case is Capitalism. I lift some ideas from the book, Bolo Bolo; (a bolo is a kind of anarchist collective that would survive through co-operative means by, for example, growing their own food). The only way to defeat the machine is to devalue the concept of work! This is the truly radical idea in the book. It is the obsession with work in contemporary society that threatens our existence. Work on an individual level, an organisational level, a national level, an international level is what drives the machine onwards, ever forward, toward the dangers we all can sense; yet we can’t stop doing it! (On tonight’s news Julia Gillard, the deputy prime minister of Australia, was interviewed and stated: ‘the most important thing to do in life is to work’). The author of Bolo thinks we should spend four hours a day tending the collectives agricultural needs. And the rest of the time we spend doing what we want. Sounds unlikely? Well yeah, of course it is. But in principle, regarding the survival of the human race, he’s right.

So having lost faith in politics or revolution to affect real positive change, I began to realise that trying to implement the ideas of Bolo Bolo on a personal level was the best way forward. Working part-time. Creating a vegetable patch. Making the home as environmentally friendly as possible. Cutting down on car use. Trying to leave as little an imprint on the planet as possible. Concentrating on creative tasks. There are some that have gone further, and pushed into the realm of the collective – (check the link, these people do not look like anti-capitalist crazies!).

It would take a mass transformation of consciousness for an anarchist system to work. People turning their backs on work, money, the demands placed on them from the cradle to the grave, and working towards a more Earth-friendly, human-centered co-existence. But it seems so implausible. Too easy to crush such a way of life, such is the incessant desire for wealth and power. Like John Lennon, we imagine.

Postscript:

Some years ago my wife and her previous neighbour agreed to pull down the fence that separated their front yards, and created a shared garden. Recently a new neighbour moved in and started pulling out all the plants they had planted and is demanding a new fence to be built. This is a micro-cosmic example of why anarchy will only ever be a Utopian dream, and never a reality. (Perhaps we can retreat into a practical-fantasy reality and build our own bolos within our physical-social networks?).

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Capitalism: the new cool?

There was a schism appearing in the minds of youth when I was at University in the early 90’s; between the old socialist mindset and the blooming Capitalist mindset. I still had a foot in the socialist camp – believing in ideals, the possibility of a people-led movement, the hope for equality. On the other side was what seemed a bizarre phenomena at the time (though now is completely normal), capitalism was becoming the new cool. This is well covered by Thomas Frank in his meticulously researched book One Market Under God, in which Capitalism’s ability to become the new cool is described. I saw it happen first hand with board members of the student union bragging about money, material goods and discussing which big brand they should invite to advertise on the new tele-info system spread throughout the campus. It was anathema to us left-leaning types. They simply laughed at us when we brought up points like – ‘a university should be a place of learning free from commercial influence’ and ‘a student union should be about collective action, not profit’. Twenty years later I’m back at Uni and Capitalism is now the order of the day. The majority don’t do politics, and they are certainly not anti-capitalist. There are a few socialists hanging on and even the outline of a student union or two, but they are essentially toothless.

East Berlin Crossing Man

In 2002 I was in East Berlin, visiting, trying to imagine life under the Communists. There wasn’t much to suggest it except for different shaped men at crossing lights, a few depressing looking buildings, and groups of people, who did not seem imbued with the stressful countenance of the Capitalist citizen, sitting around drinking . Sitting in a cafe I met a girl from East Berlin and her Mother. The daughter was about my age and the mother in her 50’s or so. They had lived in East Berlin, seen the wall come down and watched the resulting transformations in German society. I asked them what it was like to live under communism. After all, this seems as exotic and foreign a life as any to a boy brought up on the fat of Capitalist success in Australia. The mother’s answer has always stayed with me. ‘It was like’ she said with flat, tired eyes, ‘there was nothing to look forward to’. She waved her arms as if to suggest she never wanted to experience it again.

Recently, I was reminded of this conversation while watching the upsetting documentary ‘When Borat came to Town‘, which describes Sacha Baron Cohen’s unethical exploitation of a Romanian village when filming Borat. The villagers made 3 Euros from their involvement. Lawyers promised them a windfall if they sued. Nothing happened. (The uninformed being exploited by entertainers and lawyers – is this not the perfect metaphor for the West?). The man who led the law suit was broken by the end of the documentary and claims, ‘I have given up on dreaming. Without money there is no point in having dreams’.

Borat: the face of exploitation

So here we have two characters, both recent citizens of Communism, that see Capitalism if not as a shining light, at least as an opportunity to build dreams and have something to look forward to in life. Yet in my own country of Australia, a bastion of Capitalism, I see a community becoming fractured by the pursuit of money. Neighbours who don’t talk to each other, drivers that abuse one another, a society increasingly stressed. I don’t see much happiness in my country. But I do see a lot of people moving fast, climbing over one another to be the best and becoming increasingly suspicious of their fellow citizens. In East Berlin people seemed to have a lot a time to sit around and talk with one another. In the documentary I mentioned, people were dancing in the street and again there was a lot of sitting around and talking. There was community.

It seems the drive for Capitalism is irresistible (all that lovely stuff!), and its destructive impact only apparent when it’s too late. It’s all terribly confusing! We want to suck the fruits of Capitalism; even anti-capitalists seem pretty content with the lifestyle on offer i.e. embracing technology cheaply disseminated by Capitalism, yet when we have obtained it we become miserable, suspicious, competitive. Can we create the perfect society? Is happiness possible? Or are humans, like the Buddhists concluded, destined to suffer because that is the nature of life?

More time for this please…

It’s a fine balance, I think, between the different ideals and approaches to life. If any one extreme dominates (as Capitalism presently does and Communism once did) things go awry. I would like to be able to spend more time with my fellow citizens with a non-competitive, non-suspicious countenance, drinking and discussing life. But I would also like to be working toward something that I desire (not what the capitalists or the state tells me I should desire). Perhaps anarchy could deliver this balance (a system that has little hope of succeeding), or perhaps a people-focused democracy (rather than economic focused) is the answer. More on that in next week’s blog!

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I’m proud to say I am at the half way point of my self-imposed twitter project: one short story on twitter everyday for a year! Check my twitter site here. The ‘tweets’ are anecdotes, short-stories, vignettes, or simply imaginative captions for the photos. They range between humorous and serious!

Here’s a few examples.

It was a traumatic birth. The doctor who used forceps for the delivery was incompetent. The boy learned to adapt.

In the psychedelic hour she will come. From the sky she will drag a dark sun so all can see their buried shadow.

Two armies meet; bold shapes of rationality vs. random strokes of chaos. A war that forever hangs in the balance.

In terms of enlightenment he really was the thorn between two roses; a shadow ignored by the creatures of light.

My Great (×10^100) Grandfather was a grumpy old bugger. But he was a good provider & he looked out for the kids.

All concepts, regardless of the content, substitute the wholeness of reality for the safety of a stepping-stone.

 

I imposed a few rules on myself.  As you can see each story is attached to a photograph. When I am wandering around I take a photo with my mobile phone as something takes my interest . As twitter only allows a 140 character entry, and I have to include the URL linked to the photograph, each story has a maximum of 113 characters.

You can find my twitter site here. Have a look around. You can get a feed from my twitpic site and of course if you want to follow me, I will follow you.

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Exhausted

I am recovering from the efforts of putting on two musical evenings in Melbourne. ‘Blow the Fuse’ and ‘hiddensounds @ Horse Bazaar’. Its hard putting on events. You work your ass off to promote the event and bring in a crowd and in the end its your solid core of friends who come to support you. And I’m not complaining as it makes for a fun evening. But in the end I am left thinking, ‘why didn’t I just do that at home?’ Bring all my mates to my house, put it on in the backyard and have a good time. No need to charge that way, and the kids can come along and have a good time as well. Not to mention the fact I have control over my own sound system, rather than having to get to know another system that more often than not has been thrashed around. Here’s some photos of Bulke playing at ‘Blow the Fuse’. Get ready for a gig in my backyard soon 😉

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Fame has become an obsession hasn’t it? I mean everyone wants to be famous. Big Brother (remember that show), Australian Idol and Celebrity Chef are all examples of this. Is it good for us, this obsession with fame? Are there any people left simply content with there life, or are we all clawing for more – more recognition, more love, more more?  The greatest symbol of fame is Paris Hilton – she has done nothing of value, except be really good at being famous. She is our symbol, we need her, because we can all laugh at her and put her down, yet she has what everyone wants – fame (and money I guess).

What is the source of this drive that afflicts us? Capitalism is definitely a culprit. This system encourages us to accumulate more. To stand out from the crowd by how much you have, how much you earn. It encourages us to stand on our neighbour to reach the top. This is a logical precursor to a state of wanting to be noticed by as many people as possible. Hollywood movies are another cause. How many films are there (particualrly kids films) that tell the story of the under dog reaching the top and being loved by everyone. How many young minds have been distorted by this? And the half-baked philosophy of ‘follow your dreams and your dreams will come true’ has left a trail of depressed 30-40 somethings who have led their lives trying to be stars and be noticed and be the ones who stand out, only to realise one day, they have nothing.

What about me? Why do I write blogs and twitter and make music and get it out there and try to get people to read my stories? Do I just want to be noticed? Is the whole phenomena of the net a disparate collection of people shouting and calling – ‘hey, check me out, I’m cool, I’m interesting’?

In France there is group of anarchists called the Invisible Commitee that don’t want to be noticed (but do want to halt Capitalism). They don’t want to be noticed… I am thinking this might be some kind of political reaction to the obsession with fame. They say being ‘socially nothing is the condition for maximum freedom of action’. That kind of makes sense. If I want to get noticed and raise the ladder of fame I have to be nice to people and get people to think I’m amazing. Not much freedom in that.

But then again Charles Manson is famous, and he wasn’t nice to people. He is a crazy guy that killed people. What about all these gunmen in America that kill scores of people, then themselves. Usually they are misfits or depressed people who don’t get noticed and are thus really angry with the world. What best way to get noticed than murdering a whole bunch of people? Well, there are better ways to get famous and noticed. But the majority of us never will be known beyond a small circle of loved ones. And there are those few of us who are driven crazy by it and do terrible things.

Younger generations have the fame fever bad. They have grown up being told they can be whatever they want to be, they just have to set there minds to it. Thus we have a whole generation of kids who want to be rock stars and movie stars and just bloody stars. Who the hells gonna clean the toilets? Or maybe one day toilet cleaners will become famous and everyone will want to be a toilet cleaner? Like Kenny. Perhaps the problem is that it’s so easy to reach everyone in the world with YouTube and aeroplanes and mobiles that we all know we can be noticed and spend our lives trying to be.

Imagine being content with a few loved ones around you and an expressive life that was meaningful to you. How quaint. But then again, maybe the drive for fame is a democratic victory! That everyone has an equal opportunity to raise to the top. That you aren’t just born into fame & wealth, you can make it happen! The result being of course that we can all be miserable together, wishing we had more (Ha!). Maybe the anarchist ‘Invisible Committee’ will take over one day and we won’t be able to be famous anymore. Unless of course your the anarchist who started it all and you become famous and everyone knows your name…

I don’t think this blog entry has resolved anything. I am famous yet?

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