Pamela Z “Geekspeak”

Pamela Z is described as using extended technique sounds in her sound performances –

 “unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional methods of singing […] to obtain unusual sounds.”

Her multimedia sound art is embroidered with many layers of vocals, instrumental sounds and digital sounds that she creates, reverbs, repeats, and mixes in real time. Her unique performances combine spoken word, classical vocal elements and visuals such as film and movement through digital means that together make quite futuristic compositions.

Pamela’s strong vocals result from her classical voice studies at University of Colorado Boulder. After earning her degree, she attempted to add digital delay and reverb to her classical voice performance in the early ‘80s, moving into an entirely different realm of vocal performance in experimental sound art. I am quite curious how she decided to move from something so traditional as classical voice, which influenced her opera-like tones, to an experimental and digitally-influenced sound.

She then added live looping to her compositions by looping her voice multiple times to make her performances more layered and textural. In our sound and video compositions, we used looping for both video and sound, but the small fragments that are looped in Pamela Z’s pieces give her performance more consistent texture than a 1.5 minute looping video in my project, for instance. This repetition and consistency is heard clearly in her piece “Geekspeak” and in many of the videos of the compilation we watched in class.

As I listened to “Geekspeak”, the tech language and words were directly connected to the content important to the technology nerds of today, making the title appropriate. I questioned whether this was labeled a song or sound piece, since the conversational theme between multiple speaking (instead of singing) reminded me of a podcast. The repetition of sounds and words in addition to the way in which words were said – sometimes staccato-like or put through a reverb system or even cut off in incomprehensible phrases – made me wonder how this piece would sound if I did not know English. Any language is just a bunch of sounds combined together so that they are comprehensible by someone who knows the language. But if I did not understand the language, would it sound more like music than a podcast?

The background digital sounds and spoken words provide a texture similar to instruments in a song. So, possibly, if the spoken words were strung together more like typical singing or if they were more broken apart and incomprehensible like instrument noises, Geekspeak would be very similar to a typical song or instrumental track — though, this diversion from what is accepted as a song and pushing the interaction between sound and technology through live performance is exactly what Pamela Z is most likely going for. Annabelle Woodward describes her sonic compositions well as

“fuse eerie, futuristic audio with spoken word and film” that creates a “dynamic multimedia experience”.


JonCates – Glitch

As I read the conversation with jonCates and researched some of the glitch media artists’ pieces, I found most interesting how he talks about the system which he creates in his works. These glitched systems may malfunction or be loud or have mistakes but Cates considers these imperfect aberrations to be the essence of his artworks.

“A poetic embrace of noise and error,”

the glitch media works to show the messy reality of our technologically driven lives, but in a positive and playful manner.

No doubt, communication in our lives heavily takes place on the web or through technology. This gap between the language of our daily interactions and the language we use on our machines is closing in terms of how we handle ourselves on each. As this gap closes, our lives evolve into a techno-social system like that in Cates’s video. In this techno-social system, we communicate both in reading information and sharing it out to others. Cates calls this

“the performance of everyday life that we’re all doing all the time with all of our technologies.”

Can living be measured by our use of technologies? I don’t believe so, at least not entirely. But it can be a valuable source of information and data storage, a platform in which we live out our communication and therefore, our life.

As our lives revolve around these complex tech-social interactions, technology-facilitated communications start to reflect our instinctive verbal communication and language. Yet, jonCates doesn’t seem to reflect life accurately, choosing to break the reality of daily interactions through layering of text, noises and web interactions in his glitch work. It seems that this is what gives the glitch media the name “dirty new media,” speaking to the chaotic reality of our lives which is reflected in how we use technology. However, I would argue that because it deviates from logic and our communication habits (such as pausing, thinking, reflection, silence, etc.) the glitch media example of BOLD3RRR was not very pleasing to watch or listen to. Cates believes glitch aesthetic is growing in popularity to the point where it is not

“exclusively resistant or exclusively political,”

but I think the glitch media art field would need to greatly expand for the aesthetic to be more accepted or logical.

UX: Chipchase “You Are What You Carry”

Jan Chipchase’s “You Are What You Carry” chapter was a relatable followup read to his TedTalk on the anthropology of mobile phones. He elaborates on the four factors of security, convenience, reliable solutions and peace of mind that drive our carrying behaviors. These factors are inherently connected so that lack of one directly degrades another; for instance, if I feel my purse is not  secure enough for the place where I am, my peace of mind will diminish. This is undeniably affected by someone’s environment at any given moment and how we prepare and react within that environment. Chipchase calls this phenomena – of determining how confident we are in the security of a situation so as to project how protective we need to be of our possessions – the range of distribution. What struck me was how this might be a conscious or unconscious effort to guard your belongings. Every person instinctively does so as a result of distrust of others and the danger we perceive in an environment.

Thus, the environment is the driving factor in how we carry items. A month living in Singapore has lessened my paranoia around my items being stolen compared to that in the United States. However, being in a foreign location where items are not so conveniently replaceable and may even be more necessary (i.e. a passport that cannot be instantly replaced) heightens a person’s tight range of distribution. Still, our range of distribution is affected by much more than just the country we are in. The neighborhood we are walking through, the cleanliness of the area, the people in a space, past records of theft in the location, and the items we are carrying are all factors in how closely we hold onto our belongings. Clearly, it would be easier to have fewer items to keep track of within your range of distribution – thus, the convenience of the mobile phone. But the mobile phone goes much farther in providing infinite data so that we can access inconceivably more than we would be able to physically carry at any given moment, so long as technology is reliable.

Reliability and security are two of the greatest flaws in creating digital equivalents of our belongings to “carry” around with us. People desire convenience and efficiency so much that with stronger technology it becomes a game of risk in how willing we are to put personal information on a digital database. Technology with greater capabilities to understand and predict human behavioral patterns means machines and technology are becoming more human. Vice versa, humans start giving up freedom and (physical) control of their belongings or information they own. Chipchase states that “People are risk-averse” so they would never give up so much control of their belongings that they would “be at the mercy of the network”. The trajectory of technological advancements and society’s sense of security, convenience, reliable solutions and peace of mind seems to almost be at a halt in terms of figuring out how to find a balance between all four factors. Yes, our behaviors tell us that we are what what we carry. But that is void without considering the context. Ultimately, I wonder if it is wiser to invest in increasing the security, reliability, convenience and efficiency of city infrastructures over that of the products we carry.

UX: Jan Chipchase TED Talk “The Anthropology of Phones” Response

Even though Jan Chipchase’s TED Talk on “The anthropology of mobile phones” was given ten years ago, many of his points are still relevant today with slight adaptations. Today more than ever people keep their phones close to their person more than any other item. As I walk out my door, I catch myself double checking that I have my wallet in my purse or backpack and tapping my pockets for my phone. The phone is the most valuable possession of people as it is a global communication device, virtual wallet, infinite source of information, immediate source of social media and much more. Chichase’s point on the three items people always carry is still true today and proves the importance of communication, shelter and security in our daily lives.

However, these safety and psychological needs that are fulfilled through carrying our mobile phone make me question whether it is the phone that is really needed or just any sort of object that could fulfill all those needs at once. Of course, this item must be digital and have varied capabilities or infinite capabilities in terms of information sourcing. Laptops provide all the same features a phone might but the phone is more convenient for daily use and on-the-go lives. Watches are another item that have begun to provide these same capabilities that our phones might provide while functioning as an object we might already have on us instead of an object we must keep in our pocket or purse. Still, the cell phone is currently the better tool with its size, screen, and worldwide use. Though as more products are designed to be “smart”, it begs the question whether the phone really is the most convenient tool for providing humans the ability to communicate and a sense of safety and security all the time. The phone is always evolving as seen in the slightly dated examples Chipchase brings up such as 2007 Uganda Sente, but if we stick to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the learnings from these examples are still applicable. Ten years from now, we shall see what new technological developments have or have not superseded the cell phone as peoples’ most valuable possession.