“Hearing and Seeing Voices: Speaker Identification at the Stasi”
Abstract: “The Lives of Others,” a film released in 2006, has informed a wide audience on the practices of eavesdropping on telephone calls and private conversations in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). By the end of the 1980s, GDR’s Ministry of State Security (Stasi) had developed such a fine-grained infrastructure that it was able to execute 20,000 wiretapping and eavesdropping actions in East-Berlin at one and the same time. This frantic activity required specific techniques such as the use of automatic recording technologies. Moreover, from the 1960s onward, the GDR worked together with the USSR on the issue of how to identify speakers by the characteristics of their recorded voice, as Stasi employees did not always know whom they were listening to. This resulted in a voice data bank. Yet how exactly did Stasi staff members make sense of taped voices? Which aspects of voice, noise and language did they consider relevant for their diagnostic purposes? And how did their “sonic skills” become “legitimate” ways of knowing in this context? I will not only answer these questions by referring to the Stasi archives and the Cold War, but also by showing how the Stasi built its concepts of auditory knowledge, such as voiceprints and hearing collectives, on visual ones like fingerprints and eyewitnesses. Despite its local legitimacy, however, the Stasi’s speaker identification program ran into many problems, one of which concerned the retrieval of information. This gives food for thought on modern-day forms of eavesdropping.
Bio: Karin Bijsterveldis an historian and professor in the Department of Technology and Society Studies, Maastricht University. She is author of Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 2008), and co-editor (with José van Dijck) of Sound Souvenirs: Audio Technologies, Memory and Cultural Practices (Amsterdam University Press, 2009). With Trevor Pinch, she has co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (Oxford University Press, 2012). She coordinated several funded projects at the crossroads of STS and Sound Studies, and has been awarded a NWO-VICI grant for the project “Sonic Skills: Sound and Listening in Science, Technology and Medicine.” She has edited Soundscapes of the Urban Past: Staged Sound as Mediated Cultural Heritage (Transcript Verlag, 2013), and is co-author (with Eefje Cleophas, Stefan Krebs and Gijs Mom) of Sound and Safe: A History of Listening Behind the Wheel (Oxford University Press, 2014).
“Long Story Short”
Abstract: I will be discussing and screening parts of my project, “Long Story Short,” a film, an installation, and an interactive website. The project is drawn from and linked to an archive of 75 video diaries made by very low-income residents of Northern and Southern California, who describe, reflect on, and analyze poverty’s effects on their lives, families, and communities. Instead of a single narrator, there are dozens, with voices layered, and narrators at times appearing to speak in unison, suggesting the scale and multiplicity of poverty, and imagining collectives and social bodies that may not yet exist, or are difficult to see in single video diaries alone. Video diaries were made using webcams and laptops, some of the same technologies – high tech and digital – that ushered in hardships for low-skilled workers and their families in the first place. Here these tools amplify their voices. The installation draws inspiration from one of the more promising aspects of network culture and social media – the shift away from a focus on single voices to that of many, and the expansion of who gets to speak in public and of what we consider to be expert knowledge. Yet participation depends on access, and visibility depends on public and popular affirmation (likes, clicks, shares, remixes). “Long Story Short” represents those mostly misrepresented or invisible on our screens. It reimagines a more social media and explores how depictions of poverty and inequality might benefit from, as well as reflect on, current modes of digital and image mobility, dissemination, and display.
Bio: Natalie Bookchin’s work addresses the social, political, and aesthetic ramifications of mass connectivity and effects of the digitalization of everything on our identities, our desires, and the truths we tell about ourselves and the world. Her work “misuses” technology, commercial platforms and media, using the Internet as a site for art interventions, appropriating security-camera footage found by means of an unexpected glitch in search engines to document global landscapes, and producing collective narratives from isolated individual expression circulating on YouTube. Bookchin’s work has been written about, screened, and exhibited widely, including at LACMA, PS1, Mass MOCA, the Walker Art Center, the Pompidou Centre, MOCA Los Angeles, the Whitney Museum, the Tate, and Creative Time. She has received numerous grants and awards, including from Creative Capital, the California Arts Council, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and most recently, the MacArthur Foundation. Bookchin has been on the faculty of the Art School at CalArts since 1998, and is currently Professor of Media Art in the Visual Arts Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University.
“Power and the Circulation of Digital Musics”
Abstract: How can we better theorize the workings of power in the circulation of digital musics? In this presentation, I bring this question to recent research on music’s transformation by digitization and digital media in several countries of the developing and developed worlds. I do this with reference to studies of, inter alia: the upsurge in North Indian movements for the digital recording and archiving of vernacular musics, with an ear both to local, national and “world music” markets; the growth of a “born digital” recording industry in Nairobi, Kenya rooted in the patronage of international NGOs aiming to foster both economic development and a Kenyan popular music to salve postcolonial anxieties over Kenyan national identity by providing the “soundtrack of civil society”; and political and legal struggles within the state in Argentina attendant on attempts to “modernize” copyright institutions so as to support an ailing popular music sector both stimulated and undermined by the combined effects of digitization and liberalization. In face of radical shifts in dominant regimes of circulation, I suggest that power has to be conceptualized anew: its operations have to be traced through social processes at distinctive scales as they interfere with and refract one another. We have, in music, to trace power at work in the face-to-face socialities of the music festival, the recording studio, the outdoor market, and in the transforming divisions of musical labour. But we have to also analyze how music becomes a mediator of global and national processes of adjustment to the crises of capital, whether in the idea of “creative economy” as it is translated into development, or in the conflictual attempts to reform copyright institutions as they obstruct or ameliorate new digital-music-financial regimes in relation to older forms of musical capital. To analyze power in these cases means addressing both micro socialities and macro political and economic formations as they are mediated by music, since both are material. However, the aim – as the presentation will show – must be to analyze them not in isolation, as is too often the case, but, critically, in their mutual interference.
Bio: Georgina Bornis Professor of Music and Anthropology at Oxford University. From 2013-15 she is Schulich Distinguished Visiting Chair, Schulich School of Music, McGill University, and in 2014 she is also Bloch Visiting Professor in Music at the University of California, Berkeley. Earlier, she was active as a performer and improviser, playing with Henry Cow, the Mike Westbrook Band, Derek Bailey’s Company and the Feminist Improvising Group, among other groups. Professor Born’s work combines ethnographic and theoretical writings on music, media, cultural production and interdisciplinarity. Her books are Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde (1995), Western Music and its Others: Difference, Representation and Appropriation in Music (edited with D. Hesmondhalgh, 2000), Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC (2005), Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience (CUP, 2013), and Interdisciplinarity: Reconfigurations of the Social and Natural Sciences (edited with A. Barry, Routledge, 2013). She currently directs the research program “Music, Digitization, Mediation: Towards Interdisciplinary Music Studies,” funded by the European Research Council, which examines the transformation of music and musical practices by digitization and digital media through comparative ethnographies in six countries in the developing and developed worlds. In 2014, Professor Born was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.