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UNSOUND 2020: Machine Listening sessions with Liquid Architecture

Text by CLOT Magazine

Machine Listening, a curriculum, is a new investigation and experiment in collective learning instigated by artist Sean Dockray, legal scholar James Parker and curator Joel Stern for Liquid Architecture, launched at Unsound 2020: Intermission. Today they are launching the first session. With the starting point that our devices are listening to us, Machine Listening will explore how to dismantle machines that listen to us, how to use them for our good, how they can include human beings in the conversation, how they can help to hide from them and how they will shape the post-COVID world of surveillance, over three sessions during Unsound 2020.

Previous generations of audio technology transmitted, recorded or manipulated sound. Today our digital voice assistants, smart speakers and a growing range of related technologies are increasingly able to analyse and respond to it as well. Scientists and engineers increasingly refer to this as ‘machine listening’, though the first widespread use of the term was in computer music.

However, machine listening is much more than just a new scientific discipline or vein of technical innovation. It is also an emergent field of knowledge power, of data extraction and colonialism, capital accumulation, automation and control. It demands critical and artistic attention.

The session today, Machine Listening Session 1 – Against The Coming World of Listening Machines, will offer a diagnostic of the near future: What will it mean to live in a world of listening machines? What would it require to make a machine listen to a contestation or emancipation field? Speakers include AI artist Lauren McCarthy, Yeshimabeit Milner (Data for Black Lives), Kate Crawford (AI Now), Stefan Maier, Hito Steyerl, André Dao, Jennifer Walshe, Tom Smith and more.

The second session (3rd October), Machine Listening Session 2 – Lessons in How [Not] to Be Heard will offer a series of lessons in how (not) to be heard by these devices, ranging from the structural to the technical and from the aesthetic to the activist.

How might we institute and provide a platform for a global community as a critical counterpoint to all the capitalists and solutionists, militarists and industry boosters intent on empowering machines with a sense of hearing? Speakers include Jules LaPlace, Halcyon Lawrence, Panoptykon Foundation, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Alex Ahmed (Project Spectra), Joel Spring and Jazz Money, Mat Dryhurst (Interdependence), DeForrest Brown Jr. (Speaker Music), among others.

The last of the sessions, Machine Listening Session 3 – Listening with the pandemic will investigate the coming world of listening machines in all its dystopian and utopian dimensions. From the perspective of the machine listening industry, the pandemic is not an intermission. It’s an opportunity: a dream come true. Thoughtlessness, touchless ness, wake-wordlessness: listening with the pandemic, these and other tendencies of machine listening are more apparent than ever, only blanketed now in the twin auras of inevitability and social good.

What’s clear is that machine listening will not be returned to its box. Imaginative work will have to be done to provoke something more emancipatory or constructive in the pandemic’s wake. As Shannon Mattern puts it: “When the sounds of the pandemic recede, how will our hearing be changed?”. With Sean Dockray, Mark Andrejevic, Thao Phan, Vladan Joler, Andrew Brooks, Shannon Mattern, Jasmine Guffond and others.

The Machine listening sessions will be accompanied by Massive Device Orchestration, a program of experimental artworks, accessible online throughout the festival, and an open curriculum comprising interviews, audio, video, and corresponding essays.

The sessions will last 2-3, and you must registerer to attend.

(Media courtesy of Unsound)
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