Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Listening Post

I finally got to see the Listening Post, which has been displayed at various places in the USA, and is currently on display at the Science Museum in London (until Feb 2009).

The work is a collaboration between an artist (Ben Rubin, who teaches at the Yale School of Art) and a statistician (Mark Hansen, formerly of Bell Labs/Lucent and now associate professor of statistics at UCLA).

The work has been evolving since 2001, and provides a real-time audio-visual summary from a vast number of Internet chatrooms, presented on hundreds of tiny screens, and with selected messages spoken using voice synthesis. When my eyes adjusted to the darkened room, I saw some benches in the middle and went to sit down. But much of the text was too small to see from that distance, and I found it more interesting to stand a little closer and try to read as many as possible of the hundreds of messages flashing across the array of screens.

The work is constructed in seven "movements". For example, one movement is entirely constructed from statements of presence ("I am hot", "I am waiting", "I am 32 years old"), while another movement is entirely constructed from random user names.

If the purpose of art is to provide an unfamiliar view on the familiar, then this worked elegantly and brilliantly. I was fascinated, and I shall certainly try to get back a few times to repeat the experience before it closes.

Notices and Reviews

Hannah Redler (Science Museum): "Monument to the present - the sound of 100,000 people chatting"

Torin Douglas (BBC News, Feb 2008): "Listening to internet chatter"

Peter Eleey (Frieze Magazine, May 2003)

Interactive Architecture (August 2005)

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