Co-written by Roksana Filipowska and Maria Murphy
How might ecologies of sound enrich networks of solidarity? The second essay for Ecologies of Data explains how sound bytes build a sonorous ecology of resistance and resilience. Various recordings of protest constitute the data points or nodes to a network, or “forest,” of voices and perspectives that have been traditionally marginalized by power regimes worldwide. As DataRefuge advocates for evidence-based democracy, Service Sound defines the edges and contours of democracy as a dynamic exchange, or an active assembly of oddkin, and asks you to contribute your sound to its growing database. Catch up on Part I here.
-Patricia E. Kim
Service Sound is a growing database and project of international protest sound against Fascism. Coordinated by Penn PhD candidates Roksana Filipowska and Maria Murphy, the project aims to increase communication across national borders and give form to potential constellations of solidarity during a time of divisive politics.
The database was initiated with a call-to-action sent in early January 2017 inviting receivers to contribute a 5 to 10 minute audio recording saved as a .wav file. Other than these instructions, the nature of the sound was left completely open, encouraging creative uses of silence, silent interludes, whispers, pauses, and field recordings. The instructions related to the duration of the sound and its format ensured that the submissions would be compatible with Forester, an open-source software that generates a sonic “forest” of aleatoric music, or a composition where at least one element is left to chance.
Forester maps disparate sounds into overlapping patches within a vast space. Each aleatoric path gathers at least three sound files from the database, transforming a vertically-oriented list of titles into a horizontal plane of coexistence. While the current administration is enforcing exclusionary policies and engaging in mass deletions of persons and scientific data, Forester’s horizontal form maps a nonhierarchical landscape where disparate sounds and modes of expression coinhabit. The use of this free software to reimagine protest sounds across geographic distance offers a way to consider the universality and temporal immediacy of the current struggle against Fascism. Service Sound also explores issues of media ecology—each sound takes on new resonances every time the audio “forest” is regenerated at random.
The call-to-action was e-mailed to UPenn’s community and international artist collectives with the instruction to circulate onwards. Even prior to the current state-of-emergency given the bans on refugees and wall building, it was imperative that Service Sound would expand beyond our own networks to welcome voices, composers, noises, and sounding bodies rendered most precarious by racist, sexist, ableist, classist, and fascist policies.
Within two weeks of the call-for-action, Service Sound acquired contributions from Mexico, Argentina, United Kingdom, Cameroon, Poland, and the United States. We entered the registered sounds into Forester and played the emergent compositions at the Women’s March in Philadelphia on January 21st.
Participants were asked to name their sound files so they are searchable within the emerging database. The act of registering or being registered in the eyes of the state has taken on renewed importance in the wake of threats to create various national registries as well as the activist potential to flood and undermine such databases. With this in mind, Service Sound transforms the language of the state from a surveillance mechanism into an invitation for participants to register a sound against fascism in a database that will comprise materials for the second component of the project, an upcoming Protest Sound Tool Kit. This free guide will offer tactics for mobilizing sound and remaining safe during marches and protests. Within this guide, the Service Sound database becomes a tool to coexist with protest song and chanting, while also combatting possible uses of sonic and ultrasonic weapons against civilians.
"The Rich Gobble Taxes" is a recording of one Forester configuration featuring five different sonic contributions. This audio forest was played at the Women's March in Philadelphia on January 21st, 2017.
Rather than merely reacting to the policies of the new administration, the project invites participants to consider the service that they would like their sound to perform, offer, serve, entrust, and create. It is not enough to negate fascist politics--now is a time to articulate causes, imagine alternatives, and recommit to actions and universal values that leap beyond the toxicity of party politics and current state apparatuses.
We, as Service Sound, stand for care, activism, tenderness, awareness, intimacy, and resilience. Approaching democracy as an ever-changing rich dynamic between the individual and the group, Service Sound encourages independent thought and collective action.
If you would like to contribute a sound and receive a Protest Sound Toolkit, please e-mail Roksana at rpfilipowska [at] gmail.com. The database and toolkit will both be hosted on http://listeningtocyborgs.com .
Roksana Filipowska is a PhD Candidate in the History of Art at Penn. She was the 2015-16 Doan Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Her dissertation analyzes artists’ experiments in thermoplastics and the way that theories of plasticity—or the propensity for change—found a material basis in synthetics between the years 1965 and 1975.
Maria Murphy is a PhD Candidate in Music at Penn. Murphy's dissertation is on the pioneering performance and multi-media artist Laurie Anderson. She focuses on Anderson’s work during the 1980s, which used sound technologies to address issues such as war, censorship, and the AIDS crisis.