SCI 6343: Cartographic Audition | Instructor: Robert Pietrusko

By Ayaka Yamashita and Chelsea Kilburn

WEBSITE: extension/compression

With much of our work during this moment of quarantine taking place on online platforms, physical work has been reduced to more intricate, small-scale movements. Tight, controlled gestures operate the mouse/touchpad and keyboard, our most commonly used extensions, allowing for entry into greater digital spaces.

In this project, we propose recording the sounds inherent to working on a computer made throughout the day. The recording will encompass the sounds inherent to drawing, writing, virtual navigation and connections, and will function as a marker of routine in a time where normalcy has, for many, developed a new meaning. 

This experiment plays with sound as the result of work situated in both physical and virtual spaces. As Don Idhe notes in The Auditory Field, clicking sounds exhibit the greatest sense of directionality, yet when working with a mouse/ touchpad, a tool activated by clicks, we often relegate its productive sounds to the background. The clicks are not considered to be directional, but are instead neither ‘here’ nor ‘there,’ indicative of a virtually extended attention. 

We also hope to investigate the unconscious aspects of movement in this limited workspace. Clicking is intentional, but attention is concentrated in virtual space. Bodily adjustments made in response to producing work in this situation are often unconscious– we do not prepare to shift our weight, recross our legs, stretch, etc but do so when needed. By asking the researchers to wear an article of “noisy” clothing, we hope to capture unintentional movement. The sounds produced as response to a non-physical worksite will be the creaking or rustling of a jacket, an extended skin akin to the extending mouse.

In contrast to the sounds produced by clicking and body movement, we also want to engage with attention and physical requirements. When a researcher needs to get up (to eat, use the restroom, intentionally stretch, etc), they are asked to stop the recording and make a note of the time. Each break from work will be translated as a silence in the edited recording, marking the researcher’s use of time. In structuring the experiment around a work day spanning 8 hours, we hope to highlight the larger questions of what a work pattern sounds like, particularly within quarantine. While unable to physically go to a place of work, our jobs now occupy the same spaces our domestic lives do, and since many of us do not adhere to hours that would affect a typical office worker, for example, this recording aims to capture the flows in which we engage with our work and the ability or lack thereof to separate from it. 

Each researcher will submit a file of recordings per the instructions, and the composers will edit the recordings together as a means of equalizing the shared experience of work and as a way to abstract and draw attention to a set of sounds that become background noise. When compressed, what was previously recognized as individual clicks set apart by pauses becomes a chirping click chorus, an unrecognizable set of skittering flows. A density of clicks may appropriate meaning, perhaps indicating the amount of time spent working (a commentary on the transition to digital space) or marking patterns in daily movement. The individual shortened tracks can then be listened to as an abstracted version of the day with the resulting recording approaching the sounds of something situated between a machine and an insect colony. When all of the shortened recordings are put into a single track, we hope to investigate them for similar moments of silence or flows of sound.