To Say The Least

To Say The Least, 2007

collaboration by Nicole C. Russell & Kate Henningsen

Contemporary urban culture inundates us not only with visuals, but also with sound.  Beyond the commonplace din of daily industry and transportation exist the customizable sounds of cellular ring-tones, and email message alerts.  We are in a constant flux of either blocking out or redirecting noise and sound as we move through space, often reprogramming it to meet our own needs.  In rings, dings, and monosyllabic electronic sounds we experience a Pavlovian knee jerk that stands in for a hug or handshake.  We know a message has come for us; we are not alone at the drive-thru, the gym, or the cubical.  We are reassured we have friends, family, or important work that needs our attention.  We are transported from our current environment into a hybrid one, consisting of present visuals with a new, often disconnected, audio overlay; a limbo between what we desire, and what we aim to avoid.

In To Say The Least, a laptop workstation was set up in the Long Beach arts district.  Using a bulk SMS text program, a series of 5-10 text messages were sent over the course of the evening at timed intervals to willing individuals. This action created numerous compositions of clustered cell phone beeps and rings intermixed with “naturally” occurring ones throughout the SoundWalk.  The text messages consist of idioms, clichés, and brief phrases that draw attention to this dichotomy of connection and disconnection brought on by our use of technology. The deployment of cell phone ring-tones creates both an active audience that must in some way respond to this audio prompt, as well as a more passive audience that becomes obligated to navigate through the electronic cacophony. Calling attention to the feeling of expectation that has come to be associated with everyday electronic sounds, the coupling of sound and text allows the audience to further consider how we move through the world and interact with society.