Sirmadamsir: Oriented Performativity or What Does Judy Want?, 2019
HearSay International Audio Art Prize: Best Radio/Sound Art 2019
HearSay International Audio Art Prize: Best Radio/Sound Art 2019
Sirmadamsir: Oriented Performativity is a work for thinking about the demarcation of bodies and our geographies. It speculates how the indexing of gender and sexuality may be reconfigured through our intimacies with recognition software and speech-based communication technologies.
I produced this piece with the view to express an entanglement of loose ends – interrelated thoughts I have accumulated through my practice-based research, books I have been reading, cities I have spent time in, conversations about love and aliens, and the sounds and music I have been listening to.
This work stems from an ongoing inquiry, which began through my considerations of the delineation between “inside" and “outside" and other binary divisions associated with the body. This work considers mechanisms used in the production, erasure and transformation of sovereign states and bodily borders; the movement of bodies in and through the dimensions of geographic and virtual space.
Materials / Processes
Sirmadamsir: Oriented Performativity explores an ongoing fascination with synthetic voices; human-glitch-bot-stutter-ambiguous-awkward-aural-non-normative-presentation. The work features recordings produced by an iterative digital recording/playback methodology that I developed through a practice-based research project. These recordings are threaded with field recordings from time spent in New York City.
The work is bookended with an excerpt of an electric piano piece I played and (re)recorded through a series of digital to cassette tape conversions. I am interested in the tactility and inherently nonlinear process of analogue recording, the materiality of the recording medium itself, and what is revealed and shifted through the repeated process of translating a recording from digital to analogue (and back again). The work begins with a reversed version of the cassette recording, once the reversed iteration is two-thirds through its duration it is met with the original recording. These two pieces of music then begin to produce indeterminable loops; reoccurring pitch and rhythm follow a non-linear sequence that is layered upon itself. This tonal drifting is the melodic home of the piece.
This piece features content accumulated through exercising the practice-based methodology that I developed during my research project, Sonic Entanglements: Bodies of the Valley. The development of my research methodology began by taking the infrastructure of the recording/playback technique that features in Alvin Lucier’s I am Sitting in a Room (1981) and applying that model to the conceptual frameworks of the research (queer ecology) using digital audio processes. This methodology is an iterative and generative audio recording/playback technique. It was chosen because I observed that the realisation of I am Sitting in a Room (1981) produces four fundamental events (which speak to queer ecology).
1. Provides a decentering of the performer
2. Draws a listener’s aural attention to the space/s
3. Creates an intimate awareness of interdependence
4. Problematises the inside-outside distinction between self-environment
I am interested in how this technique disrupts the aural perception of spatial relationships, which leads to a complication of the perceptual separation of sounds (or lack thereof). Regardless of proximity, emerging sounds in a composition are often foregrounded by a listener, which then places the preceding sounds into the midground and background, however, the recording technique exercised through this methodology works to complicate these conventional relationships/process. This complication occurs when the primary sound source (the speaker) introduces sounds that do not hold independent sonic content, rather they are ‘sound-shapes’ (Denis Smalley, 1997) that have occurred in a previous cycle, which are caught in a loop and being amplified and fed back through microphones over and over again. Thus, the boundaries and relationships between the sound of my voice, the environment and the recording/playback devices are complicated, not only by the process itself but by a listener’s (in)ability to hierarchise and perceive these sounds independent of each other. Hence the complication of the distinction between strict boundaries (of humans and non-humans) primarily occurs through the practice of listening to the several recordings of the human voice become technologically entangled in the sonic environment.
I am Not a Robot
The opening passage of this work is for thinking about the CONFIRMATION OF HUMANITY.The archetypal sovereign subject - “Man” - has historically acted as the primary measurer; to verify, categorise and confirm the humanity of others through relational and negative difference. Sirmadamsir: Oriented Performativity speculates how machine interaction performed through recognition software may affect the way humans are identified in socio-political settings, and facilitate power-shifts between humans and non-humans.
The work questions: what may fragment in the event of machines being given the task of confirming a person’s humanity?
The design of the opening passage was initially prompted by my experience with reCAPTCHAs – (/kæp.tʃə/, Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) – For me, being asked to verify that 'I am not a robot' by a machine; tickles. Historically(?), the verification of a person's humanity has been contingent on specific markers of identity, i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, geo-cultural lineages. Vinay Shet, Product Manager of reCAPTCHA Google, suggested that in a 'NoCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA' context ‘you don't have to verify your identity to verify your humanity’. This suggests that software recognition can somewhat negate common practices of categorisation, enabling the verification of a person’s humanity to exist independently of specific identity markers.
You Began Inside a Body, Different to the One You're in Now
The phrase that reoccurs throughout this piece is speaks to the ambiguity and permeability of the body. The intention is to evoke and complicate thinking around strict insides and outsides that are inscribed upon bodies. A listener could construe the body to be: culture, anatomy, group, mass, object, aggregate, politic, substance, social, sexual, water, human. Or, some other kind of body. One explanation of the text’s ambiguity is as follows: the first sentence may seem to invoke being inside the maternal body, however, it could also reference being born at a certain point in sociocultural and geological time that is different to the present. The multiple senses in which the speech can be heard functions to reject strict distinctions between “self” and environment: to question what constitutes the centre or edge of a body, if anything at all.
This text holds that the body is that which is never complete. Whether it be thought of as the permeation of ideologies upon the human body, or the human body marking other human bodies; animal bodies; bodies of space, bodies of substance, the premise is that bodies, and their boundaries, are perpetually reconfigured through one another
A/Not A Dichotomies
I am interested in the accessibility of power mechanisms and the critique of dichotomous relations, particularly those which are defined by an organising structure of negative absence. I’m interested in the reorganisation of these forms of difference, their inter-relatedness and the tools, technologies and applications that could be exercised in rethinking their relations; specifically, the conventional categorisation/s associated with the term human.
"Dichotomous thinking necessarily hierarchizes and ranks the two polarized terms so that one becomes the privileged term and the other its suppressed, subordinated, negative counterpart. The subordinated term is merely the negation or denial, the absence or privation of the primary term, its fall from grace; the primary term defines itself by expelling its other and in this process establishes its own boundaries and borders to create an identity for itself." Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism, 1994.
Sara Ahmed’s essay, 'Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology', has been a formative contributor in shaping ideas for this work. Ahmed suggests that ‘Bodies as well as objects take shape through being oriented toward each other, as an orientation that may be experienced as the cohabitation or sharing of space’. Holding the notion of Human-Computer Interaction/Identification and devices of orientation together along with Rosi Braidotti’s call to rethink the indexing that is associated with the term ‘human’ produced numerous questions, many of which are embedded in Sirmadamsir: Oriented Performativity. Such as:
1. How does the absence of the common socio-demographic characteristics used to verify identity open space for queer bodies and non-binary perspectives?
2. How might our ever-growing intimacy with recognition software and speech-based communication technologies facilitate or impede this opening?
3. How are bodies being shaped through the repetition of orienting ourselves toward recognition software and online spaces?
4. If human bodies (continue to) take shape through being oriented toward digital communication technologies - how does this influence the way humans orient (our performative behavior) toward other bodies?
5. What comes from intimately orienting our bodies toward digital technologies?
6.What effect/influence does orienting our bodies toward digital technologies have upon our desires and our performative behaviours?
What Does Judy Want?
The phrase ‘sirmadamsir’ was prompted by Judith Butler’s recognition-related anecdote