The Unfamiliar City in Christina Kubisch’s Five Electrical Walks

Walking piece details

Language Portuguese, Spanish, English

Drifting Bodies / Fluent Spaces – Lab2PT & Made of Walking (VII) – Guimaraes (Portugal)

Artists and academics were invited to participate with an audio paper (a performative or walking audio essay) or an audio walk for the walking arts encounters/conference Drifting Bodies – Fluid Spaces / Made of Walking (VII).

This paper examines Christina Kubisch’s Five Electrical Walks, a piece of sound art in which participants don special headphones that sonify electromagnetic waves emanating from any electric sources in the proximate environment, from automatic banking tellers and cell phones to neon signs and streetcar cables. As the peripatetic auditor traverses this normally hidden, newly manifest urban sound-world, her experience is defamiliarized in ways that I suggest are fundamentally ambiguous. On the one hand, FEW reveals the city’s organic order through what Kubisch calls the “surprisingly musical” sounds actuated by the walker’s presence. Unintended patterns coordinate, sometimes harmoniously, beyond the strict control of the artist and even, to some extent, the walker-auditor. On the other hand, in revealing the city’s “hidden sounds,” FEW may be said to discover the inorganic essence at the core of urban life. Alien-sounding screeches, aperiodic buzzes, and inscrutable whirs index a potentially terrifying ‘infra-world’—noisy, unreal, chaotic, inhuman—beneath the city’s apparent sense and normalcy. The function of FEW, I suggest, is less to endorse either of these urban visions than to play them off one another as continuously and as variously as possible.

While much of the presentation will consist of a traditional scholarly analysis of Kubisch’s FEW, this voice will be joined by two others. THE NAVIGATOR will direct the audio paper’s listener on a walk, which will of course vary according to the listener’s location. In turn, THE COMMENTATOR will compare the sonic world created in Five Electrical Walks to that of the walking listener of this audio paper. The commentator will introduce subtle background sounds generated by sampler and analogue synthesizer, to be heard as examples of the sonic phenomena the paper discusses.

Versions in English, Spanish and in Portuguese (listen while walking)

English and Portuguese:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VJbbvrB214i0qHz0U9CVdesmfbL_RUMy/view?usp=sharing
English and English:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gqWXBKfszv51MqmvV1x3Om0Lt4mTRsCo/view?usp=sharing
English and Spanish:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/17NSpeMY8VTGcB2oYydeX1p8YmAJrmNXr/view?usp=sharing

Joseph Chaves

I am currently Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Northern Colorado, where I work on literature, cultural studies, and literary and media theory, while increasingly introducing material and techniques from musicology and sound s...

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