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Authors
  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Babak Afrassiabi
    • Babak Afrassiabi is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, he has collaborated with Nasrin Tabatabai on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
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      published contributions
  • Malin Ah-King
  • Memo Akten
    • . He is currently a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is researching artificial intelligence, machine learning, and expressive human-ma
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      published contributions
  • Jamie Allen
  • S. Ayesha Hameed
    • Dr. S. Ayesha Hameed is a Lecturer in Visual Cultures and the Joint Programme Leader in Fine Art and History of Art Research Fellow in Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, London. She received her PhD in Social and Political Thought at York University, Canada in 2008
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      published contributions
  • Sammy Baloji
  • Subhankar Banerjee
  • On Barak
    • On Barak is a social and cultural historian of science and technology in non-Western settings. He has been a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University since 2012. Prior to this, he was a member of the Princeton Society of Fellows. In 2009, Barak received a joint PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies from New York University. His most recent book is On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt (University of California Press, 2013), and his current publication project, Coalonialism: Energy and Empire before the Age of Oil, is funded by a European Union Marie Curie Award and an Israel Science Foundation Grant.
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      published contributions
  • Anil Bawa-Cavia
    • Anil Bawa-Cavia is a computer scientist with a background in machine learning. He runs STDIO, a speculative software studio. His practice engages with algorithms, protocols, encodings, and other software artifacts and his doctoral research at the Center for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London was on complex networks in urbanism. He is a founding member of Call & Response, a sonic arts collective and gallery space in London, and a member of the New Centre for Research & Practice.
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      published contributions
  • Etienne Benson
  • Josh Berson
  • Jeremy Bolen
  • Paul Boshears
  • Benjamin Bratton
    • for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow. Bratton is also Professor of Digital Design at the Eur
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      published contributions
  • Axel Braun
    • Axel Braun studied photography at the Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, and fine arts at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris. His artistic research deals with controversial infrastructure projects, tautology as an attempt to understand reality, and failed utopias in art and architecture. Currently, he is pursuing the long-term project Towards an Understanding of Anthropocene Landscapes. Recently exhibited works include Some Kind of Opposition (2016) at Galeria Centralis, Budapest, and Dragonflies drift downstream on a river (2015) at Kunstmuseum Bochum.
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      published contributions
  • Keith Breckenridge
  • François Bucher
    • s, focusing on ethical and aesthetic problems of cinema and television, and more recently on the image as an interdimensional field. His work has been exhibited at
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      published contributions
  • Lino Camprubí
  • Zachary Caple
  • Ele Carpenter
    • Dr. Ele Carpenter is a senior lecturer in curating at Goldsmiths, London. Her curatorial practice responds to interdisciplinary socio-political contexts such as the nuclear economy and the relationship between craft and code.
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Chubb
    • Andrew Chubb is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia conducting research on the relationship between Chinese public opinion and government policy in the South China Sea. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Affairs, East Asia Forum, and Information, Communication & Society. His blog, South Sea Conversations (southseaconversations.wordpress.com), provides translations and analysis of Chinese discourse on the South and East China Sea issues.
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      published contributions
  • Louis Chude-Sokei
    • Louis Chude-Sokei is a writer and scholar currently teaching in the English Department at the University of Washington, Seattle. His academic interests range from West African, Caribbean, and American literary and cultural studies to a particular focus on sound, technology, and performance. His literary and public work focuses on immigration and black-on-black cultural contacts, conflicts, and exchanges. Chude-Sokei is the author of the award-winning book The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (2006) and The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Amy Cimini
  • Claire Colebrook
    • Claire Colebrook is a professor of English at Penn State University. Her areas of specialization are contemporary literature, visual culture, and theory and cultural studies. She has written articles on poetry, literary theory, queer theory, and contemporary culture. Colebrook is the co-editor of the series Critical Climate Change, published by Open Humanities Press, and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Critical Climate Change. She recently completed two books on extinction for Open Humanities Press, Death of the PostHuman and Sex after Life (both 2014), and with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller co-authored Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (2016).
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      published contributions
  • Flavio D'Abramo
  • Ana Dana Beroš
    • chitect and curator focused on creating uncertain, fragile environments that catalyze social chan
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      published contributions
  • Pietro Daniel Omodeo
  • Rana Dasgupta
  • Filip De Boeck
    • Filip De Boeck is actively involved in teaching, promoting, coordinating and supervising research in and on Africa at the Institute for Anthropological research in Africa at the U
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      published contributions
  • Seth Denizen
    • Seth Denizen is a researcher and design practitioner trained in landscape architecture and evolutionary biology. Since completing research on the sexual behavior and evolutionary ecology of small Trinidadian fish, his work has focused on the aesthetics of scientific representation, madness, and public parks, the design of t
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      published contributions
  • Rohini Devasher
  • Jonathan Donges
    • Jonathan Donges is a postdoctoral researcher who holds a joint position at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (as Stordalen Scholar) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He studies planetary boundaries and social dynamics in the Earth system from a complex dynamical system perspective. At Potsdam, he is Co-head of the flagship COPAN (Coevolutionary Pathways) project (www.pik-potsdam.de/copan). His published research includes work on complex network theory, dynamical systems theory, and time series analysis, with a focus on their application to our understanding of past and present climate variability and its interactions with humankind on planet Earth.
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  • Design Earth
    • ollaborative architectural practice led by El Hadi Jazairy
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      published contributions
  • Keller Easterling
  • Anna Echterhölter
  • David Edgerton
    • David Edgerton is Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and a professor of modern British history at King’s College London. After teaching at the University of Manchester, he became the founding director of the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Imperial College London (1993–2003), and moved along with the centre to King’s College London in August 2013. He is the author of many works, including The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 (2007), which argues for and exemplifies new ways of thinking about the material constitution of modernity.
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      published contributions
  • Technosphere Editorial
  • Sasha Engelmann
  • Lois Epstein
    • stein is Arctic Program Director at the Wilderness Society an American land conservation non-profit. A licensed engineer, she has served on a number of federal advisory committees, including a National Academy of Sciences committee studying oil and gas regulations, and, for twelve years, a committee focusing on oil pipeline safety. Epstein holds a Master of Civil Engineering with a specialization in environme
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  • Eberhard Faust
  • Jennifer Gabrys
    • Jennifer Gabrys is Reader in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, "Citizen Sense." Her publications include Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics (University of Michigan Press, 2011); and Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Elaine Gan
  • Oliver Gantner
  • Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann
  • Florian Goldmann
    • Florian Goldmann is a Berlin-based artist and a PhD candidate at the DFG Research Training Center Visibility and Visualisation – Hybrid Forms of Pictorial Knowledge as well as at the Brandenburg Center for Media Studies, both Potsdam University. His research focus is the utilization of models as a means of both commemorating and predicting catastrophe. In 2015, he took part in the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan. Goldmann is one of the founders of the research collective STRATAGRIDS and the author of Flexible Signposts to Coded Territories (2012), an analysis of football hooligan graffiti in Athens as a system of fluid signage.
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      published contributions
  • Mark Graham
  • Jacques Grinevald
  • Johan Gärdebo
    • Johan Gärdebo is a PhD candidate at the Royal Institute of Technology affiliated to the Environmental Humanities Laboratory (EHL). H
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      published contributions
  • Orit Halpern
    • Orit Halpern is a Strategic Hire in Interactive Design and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design and art practice. She is also a co-director of the Speculative Life Research Cluster, Montreal, a laboratory situated at the intersection of art and life sciences, architecture and design, and computational media (www.speculativelife.com). Her recent monograph, Beautiful Data (2015), is a history of interactivity, data visualization, and ubiquitous computing. www.orithalpern.net
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      published contributions
  • Eva Hayward
  • Gabrielle Hecht
  • Gerda Heck
  • Florian Hecker
    • dio 3 as the broadcaster’s first ever live binaural broadcast. Recent major exhibitions
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      published contributions
  • Carola Hein
    • Carola Hein is a professor of the history of architecture and urban planning in the Architecture Department at Delft University of Technology. She has published widely on topics in contemporary and historical architectural and urban planning, notably that of Europe and Japan. Her current research interests include transmission of architectural and urban ideas along international networks, focusing specifically on port cities, and the global architecture of oil. Her books include Port Cities: Dynamic Landscapes and Global Networks (2011), Cities, Autonomy, and Decentralization in Japan (2006), and The Capital of Europe: Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union (2004).
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      published contributions
  • Julian Henriques
    • Julian Henriques is the convener of the MA in Script Writing and Director of the Topology Research Unit in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Prior to this, he ran the film and television department at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. His credits as a writer and director include the reggae musical feature film Babymother (1998) and as a sound artist, Knots & Donuts, exhibited at Tate Modern in 2011. Henriques researches street cultures and technologies and his publications include Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity (1998), Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing (2011), and Sonic Media (forthcoming).
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      published contributions
  • Hanna Husberg
    • Hanna Husberg is a Stockholm-based artist. She graduated from ENSB-A in Paris in 2007 and is currently a PhD in Practice candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.
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      published contributions
  • Sabine Höhler
  • Erich Hörl
  • Timothy Johnson
  • Peter K. Haff
  • Bernd Kasparek
  • Nikos Katsikis
  • Laleh Khalili
  • Axel Kleidon
  • Alexander Klose
    • Dr. Alexander Klose studied History, Law, Philosophy, Art, and Cultural Studies. From 2005-07 he held a scholarship at Bauhaus Universität Weimar for his PhD project on standardized containers used in transport as one of the leading material media in the 20th century. Between 2009 and 2014 he worked as a research associate and programme developer at Kulturstiftung des Bundes. In 2015 in the forefront of COP 21, he co-curated Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge No. 18 – On Becoming Earthlings: 150 dialogues and exercises in shrinking and expanding the Human at Musée de l'Homme, Paris. His latest publication is: The Container Principle. How a box changes the way we think (2015).
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  • Karin Knorr Cetina
  • Scott Knowles
  • Nile Koetting
  • Nicole Koltick
    • Nicole Koltick is an assistant professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University, Philadelphia. She is Founding Director of the Design Futures Lab at Westphal College, which is currently pursuing design research to stimulate debate on the potential implications of emerging technological and scientific developments within society. Koltick’s practice spans art, science, technology, design, and philosophy, and current work focuses on the philosophical, material, and relational implications of aesthetics as they intersect with emerging developments in computational creativity, artificially intelligent autonomous systems, robotics, and synthetic biological hybrids.
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      published contributions
  • Nik Kosmas
  • Matthijs Kouw
    • Matthijs Kouw joined the Rathenau Instituut, The Hague, in March 2016. He holds an MA in Philosophy and an MSc in Science and Technology Studies from the University of Amsterdam as well as a PhD from Maastricht University. In his PhD thesis, Kouw describes how and to what extent reliance on models can introduce vulnerabilities through the assumptions, uncertainties, and blind spots concomitant with modeling practice. He was employed as a postdoctoral researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), during which time he acted as a member of the Dutch delegation for plenary sessions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
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      published contributions
  • Matija Kralj
  • Kei Kreutler
  • Lars Kulik
    • Lars Kulik studied biology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. He received his doctorate on the development of social behavior of rhesus monkeys at the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He lives with his family in Berlin.
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      published contributions
  • Richard L. Hindle
    • Richard L. Hindle is an assistant professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on patent innovation in landscape related technologies, from large-scale mappings of riverine and coastal systems to detailed historical studies on the antecedents of vegetated architecture. His work explores the potential of new technological narratives and material processes to reframe theory, practice, and the production of landscape. Recent works include the articles “Levees That Might Have Been” (2015), and “Infrastructures of Innovation” in Scaling Infrastructure (MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism, 2016), and the exhibition Geographies of Innovation at UC Berkeley (2015).
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      published contributions
  • Hannah Landecker
  • Brian Larkin
  • Bruno Latour
  • Manfred Laubichler
  • John Law
    • hn Law was a professor of sociology at Keele University, Lancaster, and the Open University, Milton Keynes, and a co-director of the Economic and Social Researc
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      published contributions
  • Yoneda Lemma
    • ents from one fiction to another. She has exhibited her work at V4ULT, Berlin; Le Cube, Par
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      published contributions
  • Esther Leslie
    • t theories of aesthetics and culture, with a particular focus on the work of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. It deals with the poetics of science, European literary and visual modern
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      published contributions
  • George Lewis
    • my of Arts and Letters, New York. He has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Chicago, since 1971. Lewis’s work as composer, electronic performer, installa
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      published contributions
  • S. Løchlann Jain
  • Donald MacKenzie
  • Stefan Maier
  • Chowra Makaremi
  • Annapurna Mamidipudi
  • Laura McLean
    • Laura McLean is a curator, artist, and writer based in London. She is a graduate of Goldsmiths College and Sydney College of the Arts, where she later lectured. She has also studied at Alberta College of Art and Design, and the Universität der Künste Berlin.
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  • Eden Medina
    • Eden Medina is an associate professor of informatics and computing, affiliated associate professor of law, and adjunct associate professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research and teaching address the social, historical, and legal dimensions of our increasingly data-driven world, including the relationship of technology to human rights and free expression, the relationship between political innovation and technological innovation, and the ways that human and political values shape technological design. Medina’s writings also use science and technology as a way to broaden understandings of Latin American history and the geography of innovation. She is the author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile (2011) and the co-editor of Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (2014).
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  • Anne-Sophie Milon
    • Anne-Sophie Milon is an artist and a freelance illustrator and animator working and living in Bristol, UK. After completing two Masters in Art, she has recently concluded the program of experimentation in Art and Politics at SciencesPo (SPEAP) in Paris.
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      published contributions
  • Paul N. Edwards
  • Gerald Nestler
    • Gerald Nestler is an artist and writer who combines theory and post-disciplinary conversation with video, installation, performance, text, code, graphics, sound, and speech. He explores what he calls the derivative condition of contemporary social relations and its paradigmatic financial models, operations, processes, narratives, and fictions. He is currently working on an “aesthetics of resolution” that maps counterfictions and counterimaginations for “renegade activism,” which revolves around the demonstration as a combined artistic, technological, social, and political practice. Nestler holds a practice-based PhD from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
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      published contributions
  • Huiying Ng
  • Daniel Niles
    • terial, millenary and momentary—that their knowledge takes, and, finally, the significance of this experience to our understanding of t
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      published contributions
  • James P. M. Syvitski
    • James P. M. Syvitski is Executive Director of the Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS) at the University of Colorado Boulder. From 2011 to 2016, he chaired the International Council for Science’s International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which provides essential scientific leadership and knowledge of the Earth system to help guide society toward a sustainable pathway during rapid global change. His specialty is the global flux of water and sediment (river and ocean borne) and its trends in the Anthropocene. He works at the forefront of computational geosciences, including sediment transport, land-ocean interactions, and Earth-surface dynamics.
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      published contributions
  • Luciana Parisi
    • Luciana Parisi is Reader in Cultural Theory, Chair of the PhD program in Cultural Studies, and Co-director of the Digital Culture Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focuses on cybernetics, information theory and computation, complexity and evolutionary theories, and the technocapitalist investment in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Her books include Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (2004) and Contagious Architecture: Computation, Aesthetics, and Space (2013). She is currently researching the history of automation and the philosophical consequences of logical thinking in machines.
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      published contributions
  • Lisa Parks
  • Matteo Pasquinelli
  • Karen Pinkus
    • w York. She is also a faculty fellow of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Ithaca. Author of numerous publications in literary studies, Italian studies, critical theory, and environmental humanities, Pinkus is also Editor of the journal Diacritics. In her latest book, Fuel (2016), Pinkus thinks about issues crucial to climate ch
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  • Giulia Rispoli
  • Sophia Roosth
    • t when researchers are building new biological systems in order to investigate how biology works. She holds a PhD from the Massachuse
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      published contributions
  • Arno Rosemarin
  • Rafico Ruiz
    • afico Ruiz is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. He studies the relationships between mediation and social space, particularly in the Arctic and subarctic; the cultural geographies of natural resource engagements; and
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  • Kim Rygiel
    • f International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada. Her research focuses on border security, migration, and citizenship in North America and Europe. She investigates how citizens and non-citizens engage in citizenship practices and challenge notions
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      published contributions
  • Dorion Sagan
  • Isabelle Saint-Saëns
  • Birgit Schneider
  • Sever
    • SEVER was developed as a speculative design project by Francesco Sebregondi, Alexey Platonov, Inna Pokazanyeva, and Ildar Iakubov during the New Normal postgraduate program at Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Moscow. SEVER seeks to intervene into current Arctic debates by disturbing the landscape of the region’s possible futures
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      published contributions
  • Jens Soentgen
  • C Spencer Yeh
  • Nick Srnicek
  • Lizzie Stark
    • Lizzie Stark is an author, journalist, and experience designer. She is the author of two books, Pandora’s DNA (2014), exploring so-called ‘breast cancer genes’ and her first book, Leaving Mundania (2012), which investigates the subculture of live action role play, or larp. Her journalism and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, the Daily Beast, The Today Show Website, io9, Fusion, the Philadelphia Inquirer and elsewhere. She holds an MS from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has organized numerous conventions and experiences across the US. Her most recent work is as a programming coordinator for Living Games Austin, and as co-editor and contributor for the #Feminism anthology, which collects 34 nano-games written by feminists from eleven countries.
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  • Carolyn Steel
  • Benjamin Steininger
  • Lucy Suchman
    • ology of Science and Technology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Lancaster, UK. Her research interests within the field of feminist science and technology studies are focused on technological imaginaries and material practices
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  • Kaushik Sunder Rajan
    • echnology studies, and postcolonial studies, holding a special interest in the global political economy of biomedicine, with a comparative focus on the Un
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      published contributions
  • Jenna Sutela
    • Jenna Sutela’s installations, texts, and sound performances seek to identify and react to precarious social and material moments, often in relation to technology. Most recently, she has been exploring exceedingly complex biological and computational systems, ultimately unknowable and always becoming something new. Her work has been presented, among other places, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and her writing has been published by Fiktion, Harvard Design Magazine, and Sternberg Press.
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  • Bronislaw Szerszynski
    • Bronislaw Szerszynski is a Reader in Sociology at Lancaster University in the UK. Szerszynski’s work has developed across several themes, including the role of Western religious history in shaping contemporary understandings of technology and the environment—typified by his book Nature, Technology and the Sacred (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
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  • Elisa T. Bertuzzo
    • Elisa T. Bertuzzo studied comparative literature, sociology, communication, and media studies and holds a PhD in urban studies. She was a curator and project leader with Habitat Forum Berlin, including for the project Paradigmising Karail Basti (2010–16). Bridging discourses from the fields of cultural and urban studies, her research focuses on the everyday life facets of urbanization and settlement in South Asia. On that topic, she published Fragmented Dhaka: Analysing Everyday Life with Henri Lefebvre’s Theory of Production of Space (2009) and runs her multimedia project Archives of Movement (since 2012), which deals with the everyday life of temporary labor migrants in Bangladesh and India.
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  • Gregory T. Cushman
    • Gregory T. Cushman is Associate Professor of International Environmental History at the University of Kansas.
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      published contributions
  • Nasrin Tabatabai
    • Nasrin Tabatabai is an artist who works both in Iran and the Netherlands. Since 2004, she has collaborated with Babak Afrassiabi on various joint projects and the publication of the bilingual magazine Pages (Farsi and English). Their work seeks to articulate the undecidable space between art and its historical conditions, including the recurring question of the place of the archive in defining the juncture between politics, history, and the practice of art. The artists’ work has been presented internationally in various solo and group exhibitions and they have been tutors at the Jan Van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (2008–13), and Erg, école supérieure des arts, Brussels (2015–).
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      published contributions
  • Ksenia Tatarchenko
    • dies Institute, Geneva University, specializing in the history of Russian science and technology. She has held positions as a visiting Assistant Professor of History at NYU Shanghai and a post-doctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute, Columbia. Most broadly, she studies questions of knowledge circulation to situate Soviet developments in the global context. She is currently writing a book on science and innovation cultures in Siberia provisionally
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  • Katerina Teaiwa
    • Dr. Katerina Teaiwa is Associate Professor at the Department of Gender, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History & Language and the president of the Australian Association for Pacific Studies. Her main area of research looks at the histories of phosphate mining in the central Pacific. Her work does not only span academic research, publications, and lectures, but also manifests itself in other formats within the arts and popular culture. Her work has inspired a permanent exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which tells the story of Pacific phosphate mining through Banaban dance. In 2015, she published „Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba“, Indiana University Press. She is currently working with visual artist Yuki Kihara on a multimedia exhibition for Carriageworks in Sydney.
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  • Terre Thaemlitz
  • Jol Thomson
  • Claire Tolan
  • John Tresch
  • Etienne Turpin
    • Etienne Turpin is a philosopher, Founding Director of anexact office, and a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, where he coordinates the Humanitarian Infrastructures Group and co-directs the PetaBencana.id disaster mapping project for the Urban Risk Lab. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Design, Deep Tim
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  • Asonseh Ukah
    • Asonzeh Ukah is a sociologist and historian of religion. He joined the University of Cape Town in 2013 and previously taught at the University of Bayreuth (2005–13), where he also earned a doctorate and habilitation in history of religions. His research interests include religious urbanism, the sociology of Pentecostalism, and religion and media. He is Director of the Research Institute on Christianity and Society in Africa (RICSA), University of Cape Town, and Affiliated Senior Fellow of Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth. He is the author of A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power (2008) and Bourdieu in Africa (edited with Magnus Echtler, 2016).
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  • Underworlds
  • Sebastian Vehlken
    • Sebastian Vehlken is a media theorist and cultural historian at Leuphana University Lüneburg and Permanent Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS). From 2013 to 2017, he worked as MECS Junior Director, and in 2015–16, he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, the University of Vienna, and Leuphana. His areas of interest include the theory and history of computer simulation and digital media, the media history of swarm intelligence, and the epistemology of think tanks. His current research project, Plutonium Worlds, explores the application of computer simulations in West German fast breeder reactor programs.
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      published contributions
  • Vladimir Vernadsky
  • Ben Vida
    • Korea, Australia ,and Europe at such institutions as the Guggenheim, New York; Centro Pecci, Prato, Italy; STUK Arts Center, Leuven
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  • Davor Vidas
    • Davor Vidas is a research professor in international law and Director of the Law of the Sea Programme at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Lysaker, Norway. He is Chair of the Committee on International Law and Sea Level Rise and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group. Vidas has been involved in international law research for over thirty years, focusing since 2009 on implications of the Anthropocene for the development of international law. Among his books are The World Ocean in Globalisation (2011) and Law, Technology and Science for Oceans in Globalisation (2010). He is the editor-in-chief of the book series Anthropocene (Skolska knjiga, Zagreb), launched in 2017.
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  • Kalindi Vora
  • Jennifer Walshe
    • porary Arts, New York; DAAD Berliner Künstle
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      published contributions
  • Hannes Wiedemann
    • Hannes Wiedemann is a Berlin-based photographer. He studied at the Ostkreuz School of Photography, Berlin. For his project Grinders (2015–16), he followed the American bodyhacking community, a small group of people across the United States working out of garages and basements to become real cyborgs. Recent exhibitions include NEW PHOTOGRAPHY II (2017) at Gallery ALAN, Istanbul, and HUMAN UPGRADE, with Susanna Hertrich (2016), at Schader-Stiftung Gallery, Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt. www.hanneswiedemann.com
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      published contributions
  • Elvia Wilk
  • Cary Wolfe
    • Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English and Founding Director of 3CT: Center for Critical and Cultural Theory at Rice University, Houston. He is the author of What Is Posthumanism? (2010), a book that weaves together principal concerns of his work: animal studies, system theory, pragmatism, and post-structuralism. It is part of the series Posthumanities, for which he serves as Founding Editor at the University of Minnesota Press. His most recent publication is Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in Biopolitical Frame (2013) and earlier books and edited collections include Animal Rites: American Culture, The Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003) and Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (2003).
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      published contributions
  • Andrew Yang
  • Jan Zalasiewicz
    • Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Leicester and Chair of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. A field geologist, paleontologist, and stratigrapher, he teaches and publishes on geology and earth history, in particular on fossil ecosystems and environments that span over half a billion years of geological time.
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  • Anna Zett
  • Sander van der Leeuw
    • ionships, and complex systems theory. He investigates the preconditions for and the practices and role of invention, sustainability, and innovation in societies. He has done
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  • Liv Østmo
    • Liv Østmo is one of the founders and current Dean of the Sámi University of Applied Sciences, Kautokeino, Norway, where she researches and lectures on the subject of multicultural understanding. For the last eight years, Østmo has worked with traditional Sámi knowledge and she is currently working on putting the finishing touches on a methodology book about the documentation of this knowledge.
    • 1
      published contributions

8. Supreme Connections Meets Video City in Maryanne Amacher’s Intelligent Life

Musicologist Amy Cimini discusses Maryanne Amacher's (1938–2009) unrealized media opera Intelligent Life (1980–), in which the composer conceived of "synthetic listening"—a futuristic form of computationally augmented listening that was initially proposed in this work. Cimini contextualizes Intelligent Life as a popular mediatic form that drew its influences from cutting-edge scientific knowledge intermingled with popular culture in the 1970s and 1980s.
All at once, we are silent, we are silent, … Oh, what is happening? No more shouts, this is it! No more shouts, this is it! —Georges Bizet, Henri Meilhac, and Ludovic Halévy, “The Toreador Song” from Carmen And now we meet in an abandoned studio We hear the playback and it seems so long ago And you remember the jingles used to go … —The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star” Almost everyone finds it quite incredulous that for so many years this Creative Response of Human Beings when in the presence of music was not RECOGNIZED AS SUCH and VALUED. They have much trouble understanding this! —Maryanne Amacher, Intelligent Life
i. introduction, let’s just say that…
… you’re at home watching network television with the radio on; you’ve found the right frequency on the FM dial. Maybe it’s 8 p.m. or some similar slot typically reserved for prime-time programming. You might have even invited some friends for a viewing party. The way you still do for favorite shows and television events like games, debates, and televised performances … But what you’re watching is none of the above. From the TV you hear a pair of composer-scientists discussing far-out sounding technologies. Sounds like regular talk television. But as the characters walk toward their car, another sound appears in two speakers only. These sounds come from the car as it responds to their approach with a hum that becomes an atmospheric cloud of musical shapes. The car recognizes the characters’ footsteps and, in real time, supplies an ephemeral sonic world attuned to their movement toward the vehicle.
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Intelligent Life’s three-part storyboard. The top line representes the scene’s theme; the middle represents the on-screen action and the bottom shows sound projection via TV & FM radio home stereo set-up. At the beginning of episode one, Ty and Aplisa leave the American Hotel in Amsterdam and walk toward her car.

For the next few minutes, the pair keep talking about their work. As they explain why they’re so interested in interactive sonic design, things start to make a little more sense. One character dials in a long-distance transmission titled “The Desert.” You see a desert on screen via the car’s video console. The two speakers you’ve now come to associate with the car offer two different “desert” soundworlds that contrast those coming from the TV speaker. A cycling pattern of short, high-frequency tones bursts from the TV speakers. Still more tones come from the FM radio; everything fits together. The TV’s sound induces Maryanne Amacher’s well-known eartone music composed of distortion products that originate inside the cochlea. One character begins “ornamenting sounds” that originate in her companion’s ears; her real-time accompaniment is aimed at heightening his experience of dynamic, transforming intraural sensitivities. But the eartones she’s ornamenting are both the on-screen character’s and your own.
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Ty and Aplisa dial in music called “The Desert” as they drive to Supreme Connection’s lab and review the company’s history. Next, Amacher introduces eartone music with additional ornamentation. In the diegesis, Aplisa tell Ty that she’s composing music that complements his inner ear in real time.

ii. the opera
Welcome to Maryanne Amacher’s Intelligent Life. You have just met Aplisa and Ty, two central characters in Amacher’s 1980s media opera. But you have done more than meet them. With no manual input devices, no strap-on sensors, no codified interaction procedures, no pre-use training session, you have just experienced how they listen.
The audience is able to experience the vivid sound world with the characters AS THEY CREATE THEM. In conventional television, audiences would only hear about them as the story ‘talked’ about them. —Maryanne Amacher, “Theater in the Home”
The year is 2021—the bicentennial of Hermann von Helmholtz’s birth—and the opera introduces Supreme Connections LLC, a music research and entertainment company. Aplisa is the president of Supreme Connections, and Ty is a lead investigator on one of the company’s major projects. In the first of Intelligent Life’s nine thirty-minute episodes, the pair finds all sorts of reasons to showcase Supreme Connections’ sound technologies. Throughout Intelligent Life, Amacher delights in dramatizing science in the making through powerful gestures that open the laboratory to public investigation. Even romantic conventions serve this goal; when Amacher tells us that Aplisa and Ty’s relationship is “more than professional,” she links character development with technical exposition. Supreme Connections’ history emerges through their charming banter with didactic voice-over typical of the educational science programming of Amacher’s historical moment. At Supreme Connections, life, love, and work blend seamlessly together as Ty and Aplisa guide Intelligent Life’s at-home audience through how they listen and why.
An adventure series about our minds, Intelligent Life creates a space of expanded hearing and seeing to accomplish this. Imagination and understanding are charged by the intensity of a new image sound atmosphere. —Maryanne Amacher, “‘Media Opera,’ Concept Described”
Episode one explicates how Supreme Connections came into being. Forged amid the failure of algorithmic music recommendation services and a first-generation artificial intelligence that could compose in nearly any historical idiom, Supreme Connections proposed an alternative world of public media interactivity: “smart” technologies for the car and the home, enchanted architectures of customizable audio, “theme-parked citiesAnn Balsamo, “Digital Humanities Catalyzes Technological Innovation: You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next” (paper, Creativity, Cognition and Critique: Bridging the Arts and Humanities, University of California, Irvine, May 21, 2016). See also Malcolm McCullough, Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013, pp. 47–66
with predictable pleasure zones that respond to nuances of body, affect, and sociability with all sorts of original but also highly situated events of sound and listening. Amacher wanted to give her at-home audience precisely these kinds of experiences.
An enveloping, magical architecture in the home is created. The room becomes many new kinds of places. The result from the specific interplay composes between the TV image, TV sound and FM stereo sound. A completely new kind of theatrical experience is SHAPED, one that can not be created for stage production, movie theaters, conventional simulcast radio-TV or TV alone. —Amacher, “Theater in the Home”
Unlike conventional simulcasts, INTELLIGENT LIFE goes beyond enhancing sound fidelity, reproducing the same sound tracks as those of TV to make more lively, realistic experiences for the audience. It composes with the expanded dimension of the simulcast to better match some of them mind’s expanded sensitivity—to CREATE what is the story’s Theme. —Amacher, “‘Media Opera,’ Concept Described”
This magical architecture shapes the viewer’s awareness of their ongoing bodily engagement in the context of an aesthetic environment conceived to provoke certain kinds of explorations. The opera’s diegetic demonstrations call forth such awareness and invite the listener’s explorations to track alongside those of the on-screen characters. While Intelligent Life flirts with discourses of virtuality, the opera’s aesthetic goals are grounded in situated, embodied sensorial experience, unlike earlier concepts of the virtual staked on the separation of patterned information from any material substrate. Artists’ aspirations in new media in the 1980s and 1990s foundered in a number of ways. While personal computing was new and rapidly in transition, aspirations fueled by science fiction and 1970s technophilic hangovers “often outstripped existing technology and theoretical contexts,” as Simon Penny puts it.Simon Penny, “The Desire for Virtual Space: The Technological Imaginary in 1990s Media Art,” in Thea Brezjek (ed.), The Space and Desire Anthology. Zurich: ZHZK, 2011.
In Intelligent Life, Amacher seems to have successfully played both ends against the middle. By composing for TV and radio, Amacher could depict Supreme Connections’ computational complexities without having to come face-to-face with deep computer-hardware engineering (or having to do so on an artist’s nonexistent budget). Working with existing TV and FM radio also meant she didn’t have to commit to new hardware that might lead to a technological dead-end or commercial backwater.
‘INTELLIGENT LIFE’ might be described as ‘media opera.’ It uses actual broadcasting media to create a theater in the home. In the tradition of ‘grand opera,’ it is designed as a unique occasion—dramatic, extravagant, extraordinary. —Amacher, “‘Media Opera,’ Concept Described”
A Media Opera Designed for television and Radio Simulcast. A musical occurring in the future. To be presented as a Multi-part series. —Amacher, “‘Media Opera,’ Concept Described”
Amacher calls upon a wide range of media forms to furnish opera’s expressive, historical, and theoretical context: grand opera, Hollywood “show” and “backstage” musicals of the 1930s, big-budget educational science programming of the 1950s, and marquee-name science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and J. G. Ballard. Each of these touchstones equips forms of sense and experience associated with the dramatization of specialized artistic and technological knowledge. Science fiction fueled social and technological imaginaries; musicals offered the ecstatic “break into song” to enhance those imaginaries’ wildest moments. Backstage musicals, specifically, dramatize fast-paced work in the entertainment industry; educational broadcasts dramatize scientific demonstrations and carefully account for their in-home audience’s bodily awareness in front of television screens. Each form offers Intelligent Life familiar touchstones for character development, dramatic structure, and heightened moments of musicality. If Penny sees a paucity of contexts, Amacher sees a surfeit.
Episode one centers entirely on Aplisa and Ty. However, Amacher’s treatment introduces a number of wild characters who presumably would have appeared later in the opera, even though we don’t meet them in episode one. Take Ray Alto, for example. Amacher pulls Alto’s character straight out of Ballard’s dystopian short story “The Sound-Sweep.” Not unlike Intelligent Life, Ballard’s tale centers on musical entertainment of the future. Alto’s world is so noisy that all music is neurophonic; his ultrasonic music resounds only in the brain. All of this (including Intelligent Life’s setting of Video City) comes straight from “The Sound-Sweep” playbook:
Ray Alto, doyen of the ultrasonic composers is busy designing his totally neurophonic circuits and preparing his production of J.G. Ballard’s classic story, THE SOUND SWEEP from the late 1960s. RAY ALSO is currently director of the Psycho Sound Research for the vast complex VIDEO CITY.Amacher, Intelligent Life, Character Treatment
Nested in Intelligent Life, “The Sound-Sweep” invites all sorts of comparisons and emphases. After all, Ty and Aplisa’s soundworld is very different from Ballard’s. In the world of Supreme Connections, Alto’s neurophonic music would resound alongside music for the inner ear, music for the skin, music for the body, and all kinds of interactive sonic environments. And Alto’s production would, like the entire opera, reach home audiences via TV and FM radio, both of which Ballard’s Video City would have obsolesced. While Intelligent Life embraces “The Sound-Sweep” as its theoretical context, the story is only partially up to the task. In this essay, I am going to take a chance on this cryptic intertext. The intrusion of “The Sound-Sweep” into Intelligent Life throws the opera’s treatment of listening in computational environments into sharp relief. At the same time, however, this intertext suggests how questions are crosscut by historical formations of gender, sex, desire, and embodiment. Though these formations do not necessarily form Intelligent Life’s major plot points, they structure the opera’s thematic world in other ways. The opera points outside itself in order to invite these themes back into the diegesis for further, ceaseless elaboration. And so, I’m going to write about a character that we never meet and a production, that, in episode one, we never hear. But I still accept Amacher’s shimmery invitation to try thinking and listening between the story and the opera. Writing about Intelligent Life is never without its risks. Amacher’s 1980s treatment spans about 150 pages and includes six sections. Below, you can see how Amacher sets up her table of contents (the capitalizations are her own). This essay began with drawings from the sound treatment for the pilot episode. Yet, Amacher did not draw them (they are not in her handwriting); I don’t know who did.
PREMISE: THEATER IN THE HOME “MEDIA OPERA,” Concept Described TIME AND AMBIENCE FOR THE STORY CHARACTER TREATMENT BACKGROUND TO THE STORY’S MUSICAL INTRIGUE PARTIAL TREATMENT FOR A PILOT STORY SOUND TREATMENT WITH STORY ACTION FOR PILOT STORY STORYLINES FOR EPISODES 2 AND 3
It’s not that I’ve chosen not to write about the whole of Intelligent Life; rather, it’s that there’s not a bounded whole thing to write about. This essay could have begun with an Intelligent Life proposed to De Appel in Amsterdam in the early 1980s. There, Amacher captures the opera’s interimplication of audience and on-screen action: “separated in space, Intelligent Life observes minds together in time. Music evolves, listening minds separated by space, together in time.” In that version, long-distance live transmissions of performers in remote locations would have complemented the opera’s scripted action. Writing about Intelligent Life means writing, in some sense, about “opera.” But it also means writing about how Amacher puts things together in order to dramatize how sound ceaselessly exceeds itself. Amacher points relentlessly to sound’s ongoingness or continuation elsewhere across time, space, and social location; ways of listening, forms of intersubjectivity, and concepts of sound function differently along the way. As Talal Asad notes, many modes of critical inquiry want to see and hear everything.Talal Asad, “Free Speech, Blasphemy, and Secular Criticism,” in Is Critique Secular?: Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech, by Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Saba Mahmood, pp. 14–57. New York: Fordham University, 2013.
Intelligent Life does not comply. Perspectives on the opera will be partial or they will be nothing at all. Perhaps, then, it’s best to assume that Alto’s hypothetical production remains, throughout Intelligent Life, unheard but in progress.
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Image from original script of Intelligent Life

iii. doyens, divas, and sweeps
“The Sound-Sweep” appeared in the pages of Science Fantasy in 1960. At that time, Amacher was finishing up her undergraduate training at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Soon she’d begin work on “Adjacencies” (1965) for percussion duo and quadraphonic sound projection. This would be her last notated work for orchestral instruments for some time. “Adjacencies” was to be part of a multipart collection of works from the early to mid-1960s titled AUDJOINS, a Suite for Audjoined Rooms. The suite would have staged ensembles in built space. (“Adjacencies” is the only known extant score of that series.) Indeed, Amacher’s added “u” to the word suggests architectural jointures and contiguities held in place by sound, listening, and their coupling in the aural. Composing for built space occupied Amacher throughout her life, not least via Intelligent Life’s magic architecture. In Ballard’s story, however, the dynamic, clangorous sounds of Adjacencies percussive architecture would no longer exist. His is a punishing soundworld rocked by omnipresent, stomach-turning industrial noise. Sounds leave residue in built spaces, and excessive sonic residue makes people sick and topples buildings when it accumulates. The story’s viciously stratified socioeconomic world is organized, in part, around the now identical dangers of music and noise. The entertainment conglomerate Video City has monopolized the production of ultrasonic music, which leaves no traces, unlike audible music. The frequencies used by Video City’s ultrasonic composers are so high they don’t leave any corrosive residue; neurophonic music bypassed the auditory pathway and goes straight to the brain, careening around inside each listener’s heads. Ballard humorously refers to these frequencies as “P” and “Q” notes. Every instrument has an ultrasonic counterpart—except the human voice. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Arnold Schoenberg, and other marquee figures from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries live via ultrasonic arrangement. Each day, a phalanx of so-called sound-sweeps clean public and private spaces and deposit their sounds in the sonic dump, a kind of shanty town where sweeps also live. Sound-sweeps live amid the dangerous din from which they save everyone else. The story orbits around the high-ranking Video City composer Ray Alto, the long-obsolescent opera singer Madame Gioconda, and Magnon, the sound-sweep who works for both of them. Each power-differentiated position entails different way of listening: Alto works with ultrasonics, Gioconda yearns for a resurgence of non-ultrasonic vocal music, and Magnon, unlike other sweeps, can hear all the sonic residues that he is charged with cleaning. Except for the story’s omniscient narrator, Magnon is the only one who can hear everything in the story’s soundworld. While for the most part it isn’t clear where to locate the observer in relation to what is being observed, Magnon is quite a different story. Though he could do many things with his exceptional listening, Magnon uses his ears to serve Gioconda. She’s plotting a comeback concert and needs Magnon’s help collecting old sonic residue in order to blackmail her ex, Video City’s CEO, Hector LeGrande. Magnon takes Gioconda to the sonic dump, where they scour the shanty town for residue of LeGrande’s voice. Her plan: threaten LeGrande with dirt so damning that he has no choice but to broadcast her comeback performance over Video City’s networks. Maybe the voice will win out over ultrasonic music after all. And Video City is the only game in town. Magnon’s hopeless infatuation with Gioconda has everything to do with misrecognized parallelisms involving listening and voice. Ultrasonic music made Gioconda’s voice technologically obsolete. And Magnon hasn’t spoken since the age of three, when, we are told, his mother struck his throat and permanently damaged his larynx. Though both characters have in some sense “lost their voices,” their respective losses signal very different social processes. But in Ballard’s merciless rendering, Magnon cannot tell the difference: he stakes the resolution of his childhood trauma on Gioconda’s comeback. Helping her restore her voice will not only restore his voice but also make up for the lack of maternal love that took it in the first place. Ballard stretches the reader’s suspension of disbelief when Magnon actually regains his voice, partway through the story. Like his exceptional listening, this goes unexplained. For years, he’s been pretending to sweep boos and jeers from Gioconda’s home, even though he knows that they’re in fact all in her head. The better his placebo works, the more woozily erotic Magnon’s attachment becomes. His entanglement with Gioconda stems from his position in Video City’s global labor market, and his resultant infatuation cannot be disentangled from broader concepts of work in the service sector involving customer care and satisfaction. Through Magnon, we get a glimpse of how service work responds to changing conceptions of sound, technology, and media in Ballard’s fictive world. Ballard’s tight focus on the blackmail plot pushes the story’s vicious structural inequalities into the margins. We don’t meet any other sweeps; we also don’t meet any other singers who’ve been similarly crushed by ultrasonic music (consider, for example, that 1960s R&B, soul, and gospel traditions are nowhere to be found in Video City). It’s hard to imagine the commanding, eminently detestable Gioconda restoring vocal music on anyone’s behalf other than her own, even though she could clearly manipulate LeGrande to such an end. Magnon’s capacity to hear sonic residue also suggests all sorts of insurrections. Yet, in addition to having sex with her, Magnon imagines becoming Gioconda’s manager after her return to the stage. This might be a victory for Magnon, but would certainly be a loss for other sweeps. Amid a resurgence of vocal song, they’d have considerably more work to do in order to keep pace with the voice’s sonic residue. Magnon also works for Alto, the ultrasonic composer, whose successes parallel Gioconda’s failures almost point for point. Unlike Gioconda, Alto has figured out how to make nineteenth-century Euro-American traditions work within Video City’s ultrasonic industry. He updates Western art music for ultrasonic instruments and has even written a symphony of his own, titled Total Symphony. Gioconda, on the other hand, simply will not go quietly. Once her voice is made obsolescent, she becomes grotesque in almost every way imaginable: fat, drunk, coked out, self-obsessed, delusional, and manipulative. Ballard doesn’t miss a sexist beat. While Alto gets paid to make music in a functional studio, Gioconda lives in an old soundstage surrounded by iconic props from opera staples: she sleeps on Desdemona’s bed, looks at herself in a mirror from L’Orfeo, cooks on a stove from Il Trovatore, and stuffs newspaper and magazine cuttings into a wardrobe from Le nozze di Figaro. Magnon lets Alto in on Gioconda’s scheme. The two plan to put her on closed-circuit television; Gioconda will think she is being broadcast, Video City’s ultrasonic monopoly will go unchallenged by the human voice, and LeGrande will be none the wiser. But Gioconda gets to LeGrande first; Alto reports on her pre-climactic call after the fact. Though we never hear what was said, Gioconda’s threats work. LeGrande gives her free reign to book her comeback concert on a Video City program of her choosing. Alto convinces Magnon that, after years of neglect, Gioconda’s voice is shot and for her own good, no one should hear her. When she chooses to sing over the premiere of Alto’s Total Symphony, he instructs Magnon to sweep away her voice as she sings; she won’t know that no one will actually hear her. Of course, Magnon thinks Alto is wrong about Gioconda’s voice. And as the concert’s designated clandestine sweep, he’s in the just the right position to prove it. Things do not go according to plan. Anticipating imminent fame—and having gotten what she wants—Gioconda leaves Magnon a nasty farewell via sonic residue: “Go away you ugly child! Never try to see me again!” Magnon arrives at the concert with Gioconda’s cruel goodbye ringing in his mind’s ear. With his sonovac running, only he can hear her when she starts to sing. She performs the bullfighter Escamillo’s “Toreador Song” from Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Presumably, she’s lost her high range and can no longer deliver Carmen’s mezzo-soprano arias; with Escamillo, she now sings a bass-baritone role. Ballard’s narrator pulls no punches:
The voice exploded in his brain, flooding every nexus of cells with its violence. It was grotesque, an insane parody of a classical soprano. Harmony, purity and cadence had gone. Rough and cracked, it jerked sharply from one high note to a lower, its breath intervals uncontrolled, sudden precipices of gasping silence which plunged through the volcanic torrent, dividing it into a loosely connected sequence of bravura passages.J. G. Ballard, “The Sound-Sweep,” in The Complete Short Stories of J. G. Ballard. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012.
Shocked, Magnon trips over the sonovac power cord. Once it’s unplugged, everyone can hear Gioconda. In Carmen, Escamillo’s song taunts the bull and whips the on-stage audience into an erotically charged frenzy of anticipation. Ballard’s scene offers parallels. In “The Sound-Sweep,” Gioconda’s “Toreador Song” taunts Magnon and whips her live audience into a disgust-laden frenzy as they flee the hall, horrified by the sound of her voice—or, by the sound of any music that isn’t neurophonic; it’s hard to tell, actually. We don’t really find out what happens to Gioconda after the concert. Instead, we follow Magnon as he drives away, using sonic residue to blot out his memory of Gioconda’s voice. Parallelisms continue to accumulate. Gioconda was once tormented by remembered boos and jeers; he will be tormented by the memory of her insults. In this stomach-turning symmetry, the violence of technological obsolescence rolls downhill to clobber the story’s most vulnerable character—on whose work, of course, the very existence of Video City has long depended.
iv. meanwhile, back at supreme connections …
Intelligent Life casts Alto’s ultrasonic music in a far different audiovisual world. In Intelligent Life, Video City no longer monopolizes musical entertainment. Alongside Supreme Connections’ concern for interactive, embodied listening, Alto’s research might function much differently. But Supreme Connections has its own noisy mess to deal with.
The Old Warner Brothers, and a number of other companies of this kind have totally collapsed because they did not anticipate the power of NEW SONG and the consequent demands of the increasingly conscious listener. They continue to produce their silicon pattern developers without taking into account the CREATIVE RANGE OF MUSIC SENSITIVITY or the BIOCHEMICAL EFFECTS OF THIS MUSIC. Their securities were completely tied up in 1st Order Artificial Intelligence products—such as Pattern Variation Developers. —Maryanne Amacher, “Background to the Story’s Musical Intrigue”
Industrial noise isn’t the problem; composers are. For years, they kept making computers better and better at composing in the styles of Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Steve Reich, and so on. All this under the assumption that creativity lies with the work of composition. But it is listening that paid the price.
This began with computer software for the home—designed to give people the pleasure of composing. … i.e. modifying existing patterns in Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Reich—making subtle or not so subtle variations and developments of this music. —Amacher, “Background to the Story’s Musical Intrigue”
This concept of computation prioritizes formal manipulation of symbols over their enaction in a listener’s lifeworld. Amacher seems to impugn a concept of intelligence staked on the manipulation of symbolic tokens in some abstract historical space as opposed to an ongoing engagement with the material world and the embodied listener, specifically. This was a mess of the music industry’s own making. Lots of commentary links “The Sound-Sweep” with the Buggles’ song “Video Killed the Radio Star,” seeking parallelisms between Video City and MTV. The song’s performative “you” could be Magnon, Gioconda, or Alto. “New technology” might as well refer to Alto’s atelier, and this “abandoned studio“ sounds an awful lot like Gioconda’s soundstage:
They took the credit for your second symphony Rewritten by machine on new technology And now I understand the problems you can see … And now we meet in an abandoned studio We hear the playback and it seems so long ago And you remember the jingles used to go …
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However, these analogies don’t quite work. MTV’s launch doesn’t track easily with Video City’s fictive ascendance. Video City doesn’t exactly kill Gioconda so much as it slowly kills the workers who maintain the soundworld upon which its profitability relies. And Intelligent Life suggests that we ought to be concerned not so much with individual “radio stars” as much as with attenuated ways of listening across a far vaster social field.
Music had come to mean the ‘nod and tap’ recognition of secure tunes, melodies and shapes prepared ages ago. What developed was a music sustaining itself through memory patterns. —Amacher, “Background to the Story’s Musical Intrigue”
Although “Video Killed the Radio Star” sketches little story about AI composers, the Buggles’ later single “Vermillion Sands” takes a snarky guess at what their music might sound like. After all, the earlier single’s earwormy chorus seems to downplay the narrative that appears to unfold during the verses. In “Vermillion Sands,” however, we are to find out the Buggles are not a band at all, but instead a computational process doing its best to mash together different styles in some novel way. The seven-minute progressive rock nightmare that is “Vermillion Sands” begins with bulbous synth bass that, after two minutes, drifts toward rag-ish syncopations and then returns to a wash of watery synth strings punctuated by the opening’s burpy bass. It bears underscoring that the Buggles’ hypothetical computation aesthetics begin by imitating African diasporic music. A long outro returns with crashing waves, followed by another syncopated bridge, and closes with a bloated imitation big band.
The unsettling truth was that these fragments were snatched from the great fragments of MUSICAL MEMORY! —Amacher, “Background to the Story’s Musical Intrigue”
Though it would be easy to imagine that Ty and Aplisa’s Supreme Connections would have had to remediate a soundworld full of music like this, Amacher calls upon science fiction much differently. In episode one, Ty muses on science fiction, listening and “The Sound Sweep:”
Yes, Science Fiction was a little like J.G. Ballard’s “Sonic Dump.” It held all the residues—still sounding, that everyday experience had to ignore, could not hear or talk about. Our receptors became a “swept away” notion. Coded to be active, their existence was suppressed in every day language and their ENERGY terribly repressed by the sensory experience provided by the technological media at the time. Yet, receptors WERE THERE, ready to respond, bind and recognize—coded to enjoy and learn from stimuli—they WANTED to feel, but were kept dormant.Amacher, Partial Treatment for a Pilot Story
In Intelligent Life, Ballard’s story becomes part of the opera’s fictive historical record. Ways of listening once lost to musicians and composers lived on in literature, as though awaiting rediscovery by future musical practices. Ty’s analogy focuses on the sonic dump. While Ballard dramatizes Gioconda’s and Magnon’s losses in a fight they could not possibly have won, Ty’s comments foreground Magnon alone. In Magnon, obsolesced listening lives on in the present. Amid scouring the dump for specific sounds, Magnon relies on ways of listening that Supreme Connections will seek to remediate. His listening—not Gioconda’s voice—points the way toward restored variegated aural sensitivities. While Magnon instrumentalizes the sonic dump on Gioconda’s behalf, the changes they’re trying to extort remain immanent to the site they treat like trash. Ty’s interpretation also reworks Magnon’s desire for Gioconda. In his version, desire becomes immanent to listening itself. Within Amacher’s characteristic all-caps ebullience, Ty underscore that “receptors WANTED to feel.” Untethered from oedipal attachment, ways of listening might channel desire in all sorts of directions. And so, by 2021, Supreme Connections works on the side of the perceiver.
What else could composers do with a personalized melody that could be created by machine intelligence? —Amacher, “Background to the Story’s Musical Intrigue”
But Intelligent Life’s soundworld still requires major cleanup. One member of Aplisa’s team actually works to remediate old, crumbling sound installations at Vermillion Sands. Though they were intended to be permanent, these fictive sound installations were not wired with machine awareness of bodily change. While minimalist sculpture during Amacher’s time offered enlarged situations to account for multiple scales and ranges of bodily experience, Amacher seems to ask even more of sound installation practice. In “The Sound-Sweep,” noise abatement yields a brutally attenuated approach to music and sound. But in Intelligent Life, Alto’s “ultrasonic research” would have to unfold alongside real-time computational interactivity of many kinds. Supreme Connections complements his intense neurophonic experiences with relational sonic environments built, in real time, from the interactions of diverse multimodal components. Rather than sweep away environmental sound, Ty and Aplisa enhance its desirable features using the jetsono, a sprayer device that adds three-dimensional sonic shapes to the built environment. And while Video City peddles ultrasonic versions of nineteenth-century masterworks mired in discourses of aesthetic autonomy, Intelligent Life subordinates those very same works to the many ways of listening they might meet along the way, including listening in different atmospheres, on different planets, under the ocean, and by non-human life forms. Real-time accounting of bodily change and relational, networked ways of listening mean that we are never not imagining how our listening affects others’ differential sensitivities. All in all, the Ray Alto of Ballard’s story doesn’t come off all that great. Though he’s clearly sick of shilling for LeGrande, he’s no better than Gioconda or Magnon at imagining meaningful, far-reaching changes for Video City. For him, protecting the status quo goes hand in hand with controlling Gioconda. The story’s socioeconomic order can only tolerate so many ways of listening. Silly though it may sound, one can only hope that working at Supreme Connections would have changed Alto for the better. As Amacher puts it in an early proposal for Intelligent Life, scenes taken from Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, and Olaf Stapledon might “emphasize certain themes” of the opera. In Amacher’s opera, Alto’s production coheres amid sound technologies that Ballard obsolesces. Supreme Connections has already redressed their obsolescence on listeners’ behalf. Both works are in some sense “about” the listeners’ engagement with their own ongoing bodily experience. In “The Sound-Sweep,” that engagement yields myriad misrecognitions and toxic attachments. In Intelligent Life, it yields shifting and situated embodied knowledge. And so perhaps Intelligent Life includes, in its many contexts, a hypothetical future for the world of “The Sound-Sweep” that offers new ways of listening not only to Alto, but to Magnon and Giaconda as well.
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Short portions of this essay appear in: Amy Cimini, “In Your Head: Notes on Maryanne Amacher’s Intelligent Life,” Opera Quarterly vol. 33, nos. 3–4 (December 2017), pp. 269–302. For an expert reading of “The Sound-Sweep” in relation to Euro-American musical avant-gardes, please see: Sylvia Mieszkowski, Resonant Alterities: Sound, Desire and Anxiety in Non-realist Fiction. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014.