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- 1 2015-08-15T22:08:31-07:00 Cecilia Wichmann 570c894159ad998517c62537a60758b7099e0270 Cardiff discussing realism and proximity, Haus der Kunst interview. Cecilia Wichmann 8 Cardiff discussing realism and proximity, Haus der Kunst interview. plain 2015-08-15T22:16:37-07:00 Cecilia Wichmann 570c894159ad998517c62537a60758b7099e0270
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media/101. Jeff Wall Overpass 2001.jpg
Trompe l’Oreille and Near Documentary
To get at Pandemonium’s own peculiar form of documentary, we must detour slightly into a close examination of a related work that Cardiff and Miller produced roughly contemporaneously—the audio walk Words Drawn in Water (2005) commissioned by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for the National Mall and Smithsonian Institution. Pandemonium builds on a particular narrative strategy developed by Cardiff in audio walks such as this one, which is analogous to artist Jeff Wall’s notion of “near documentary.” Wall applies this term to a subset of his own work that represents people as if authentically engaged in everyday, offhand situations. These apparently spontaneous images are actually reconstructions. 
According to Wall:. . . they are pictures whose subjects were suggested by my direct experience, and ones in which I tried to recollect that experience as precisely as I could, and to reconstruct and represent it precisely and accurately. Although the pictures with figures are done with the collaboration of the people who appear in them, I want them to feel as if they easily could be documentary photographs. In some way they claim to be a plausible account of, or a report on, what the events depicted are like, or were like, when they passed without being photographed. . .Wall’s photographs are not direct evidence of reality, though they are certainly acts of memory with an intimate relation to the events they represent. Wall achieves lifelike effects through his effort to recollect, reconstruct, represent, and report the details of a situation that he claims actually to have witnessed. This process raises the possibility that had a photograph actually been taken of the event in question it might appear somehow less true to Wall’s experience than does his reconstruction. With the framing of his photographs and this story of his process, Wall brings the viewer physically near his subjects and psychically near himself. “Near,” in “near documentary” indicates not only that these photographs are “not quite” documentary, but also that they are “proximate” documentary, having been witnessed from a close vantage and internalized to memory.Even more than the camera, audio recording requires physical proximity to its source to register a crisp imprint of sound. For the most part, Cardiff and Miller record real, live noises expressly for Cardiff’s audio walks rather than relying on digital or Foley effects. Cardiff and Miller use a ‘binaural’ stereo recording technique to produce three-dimensional sounds, which curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev cleverly terms trompe l’oreille.  Binaural recording debuted in 1881 at the Paris Opera’s Palais Garnier.  Pairs of microphones were placed along the front edge of the stage, seven inches apart to simulate natural ear spacing in the human head and thereby capture an embodied, acoustical experience. These two channels of sound were transmitted through double telephone lines to subscribers wearing special headsets. Contemporary binaural recording, recently revived for virtual reality design, involves tiny, omnidirectional microphones inserted into the ear-shaped molds of a mannequin head of the scale and density of an average human head.  It captures the shifting balances in frequency as sounds curve around the head and traverse the ridged topographies of each ear.  Left and right channels are kept completely separate and played back unmixed through the left and right drivers of a pair of headphones.  The listening experience simulates localized acoustic conditions to a startlingly precise degree.Cardiff and Miller use this method to record many of the sounds for the audio walks in the exact location where the user will hear them, producing a hyperreal auditory experience. To curator Kitty Scott, “Cardiff’s sound embodies a realism grounded in place.”  The artists very deliberately engage the trompe l’oeil tradition, transferring its illusionistic deception from eyes to ears.  According to Cardiff:
Binaural sound becomes the means by which to get “so close” to reality in the audio walks. It enters the user’s body with a kind of physical immediacy less available to images. Accounts by users invariably emphasize how startlingly lifelike the walks are: “Is the buzzing fly circling your head . . . an actual fly or an aural invention?”  As is typical, Pandemonium curator Julie Courtney marveled that her first walk experience provoked a bodily response:. . . the rhetoric around ideas of reality through artists has always been interesting to me . . . how linear perspective made people think about how they were getting into the realness of the world, the realness of the painting, and then that continued with ideas of photography and how that was so real. One thing George and I have attempted to do is continue this dialogue but it's become, you have to get so close, like right now everybody's obsessed with 3D . . . It's not necessarily the Buddhist search for the now but a similar kind of thing—this idea of search for connection to someone else, a search for somehow getting so real that you're really there . . . 
Late-nineteenth-century critics similarly hyperbolized trompe l’oeil paintings’ capacity to deceive.  As art historian Michael Leja so persuasively argued in his 2004 book Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art from Eakins to Duchamp, however, the real power of trompe l’oeil resides in its “uncanny frisson” of convincing and unconvincing aspects.  Trompe l’oeil makes viewers “succumb viscerally to an illusion at the same time that they recognize it as an illusion,” and “seeing through the illusion does not diminish its effects.”  Even as viewers shrewdly unpack the optical trickery that conjures volumetric objects on a flat surface, Leja explains, they reach out to touch painted simulations of letters, ticket stubs, or sheet music that seem disorientingly real given their relative, dimensional similarity to the flatness of the canvas.  Cardiff’s audio walks likewise hold belief and disbelief in dynamic suspension. Dimensional sounds, like the buzzing fly, do not so much convince the user as impress her into asking how the artist achieved so thorough an illusion.  Meanwhile, the user gives herself over to the biometric sounds of the artist’s footsteps, inner monologue, and breath.
When I put on the headphones and turned on the player, I heard a woman’s voice that was so vivid that I kept turning around to see who was standing behind me.” A “bait-and-switch” mechanism of the kind Leja ascribes to trompe l’oeil painting occurs in much of Cardiff and Miller’s work. They coax their audiences toward one illusion in the audio walks as well as in works like The Paradise Institute only to “pull the rug out from under it” to reveal that they have actually taken them somewhere quite different.  Sounds that at first seem to produce a deceptive external soundscape turn out to insinuate themselves into the user’s consciousness through their strange continuity with her own body.  They elicit an overwhelming conviction that the artist very recently stood where the user stands, saw what the user sees.  Like worn pieces of paper in trompe l’oeil paintings, these sounds imply a “residual human presence.”  This presence heightens all the senses, particularly that of touch, and activates a psychic longing for social communion and intimacy.
Conclusions: Pandemonium, Radical Proximity and Protest
Pandemonium cannot be recovered through photographs, audio recordings, or even videos because it was not, as Motte-Haber wrote of sound art, “zum Hören und zum Sehen bestimmt”—not only meant to be heard and seen that is, but also meant for the percipient to feel, to touch, and be moved by. It afforded an intense, somatic experience. Like Christoph Cox’s characterization of the most significant sound artworks of the past five decades, Pandemonium was:“. . . [an exploration] of the materiality of sound: its texture and temporal flow, its palpable effect on, and affection by the materials through and against which it [was] transmitted.” In Don Ihde’s phenomenology of sound, the percipient apprehends space by listening within it. Hearing one object in Eastern State Penitentiary’s cells strike another object revealed the shapes of both, their textures and compositions, the incidents of their surfaces, the hollow or solid characters of their interiors.  Their sounds made the space around them tangible and alive.  These sounds were concretely of the cellblock, so proximate as to be indistinguishable from that environment, which they revealed to be vibrant and effervescent, iterative and in process, rather than some pile of mute and static artifacts.Sound scanned the cellblock and penetrated its contents, including human percipients. As Jim Drobnick puts it:“. . . the act of listening . . . inevitably invokes corporeality, it envelops listeners, and . . . it resounds within the body.” Pandemonium’s sounds entered the body surreptitiously as tactile vibrations at the low end of the audible spectrum, so much so that during a rumbling glissando Eastern State Penitentiary public programming director Sean Kelley asked himself, “Is this safe?”  Similar to the way Cardiff’s walks produce virtual proximity with the artist’s body, Pandemonium nurtured proximity between the percipient’s body and the environment of cellblock seven itself. It was an experience of radical closeness, not merely ‘near’ documentary but evidence of being thoroughly enmeshed. Pandemonium invited the percipient’s body to become the medium by which to experience Eastern State Penitentiary—“waking the dead” of real, traumas that “lie beyond the inscriptible.”  It drew its evidence from the site’s materiality, testing the theory of memory proposed by mathematician and philosopher Charles Babbage (1791–1871) in his 1837 Ninth Bridgewater Treatise:The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered . . . perpetuating in the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man’s changeful will. Pandemonium’s treble and bass beaters, like the high and low sounds of Cage’s life systems in the anechoic chamber, sounded matter’s refusal to give up moving and interacting. Pandemonium documented the inevitable failure of an effort like Eastern State Penitentiary to conform a sentient body to an abstract system that denies its sensuality and irreducible interdependence with the world.Pandemonium did not limit this act of memory to the Philadelphia System’s extraordinary years of silence and isolation. Like Words Drawn in Water, Pandemonium argued for a synchronic model of history, in which “. . . threads of time collide, cross and intertwine, looping back on themselves.”  Its programmatic narrative ushered the listener through 1960s riots and 1970s closure then neglect. Its noise-makers were nineteenth-century bedframes, twentieth-century toilets, and, to dramatic effect, Cold War-era steel drums. Its electronic actuator (MIDI system, cords, and solenoids) injected the piece with a dystopian science fiction aesthetic that nodded also to the future. At the same time, Pandemonium referenced its own, twenty-first-century noise culture. Its dance passages invoked the relentless, percussive techno that originated in Detroit around 1988 and warped its way through rave culture of the 1990s.  Berlin had become a world center for techno as it was for sound art, presenting days-long dance parties in massive, industrial buildings scaled similarly to cellblock seven (Fig. 29). At the same time, Cardiff and Miller include Pandemonium in a suite of works - Feedback (2004), The Killing Machine (2007), and The Murder of Crows (2008) - with which they tried to respond to their experiences of reality during the presidency of George W. Bush (2001–2009).  While they were conceptualizing Pandemonium, the United States military began its “shock-and-awe” campaign in Iraq. Images of torture at Abu Ghraib circulated in the news media. Reports emerged, just after Pandemonium opened, of the Israeli air force deploying “sound bombs” in the Gaza Strip. Pandemonium loaned shared space to this full range of noisy associations, signifying fear and pleasure, magnetizing arousal and violent aggression, ruthless domination and raucous insubordination, spiraling chaos and systematic discipline. It heightened percipients’ awareness of their own sentient bodies in relation to a panopticon, symbol par excellence of the body’s modern subjugation.  It affirmed the body’s defiant relationality, its sensual, ecological interdependence and filled the space with audible allusions to reality’s conflicted forces. It seemed to suggest that the history of Eastern State Penitentiary was neither remote nor resolved and delineated no single future for sensory relations. Inducing a charged, physical state, it invited the percipient to reflect, perhaps even to act, on her capacity to feel and to congregate. It made a compelling case that our bodies remained as entangled with systems of power in 2005 as they were in 1829 and that this condition could elicit, then as now, a spiraling array of potential responses. To make its case, Pandemonium harnessed sonic force, propelled by an onslaught of references to the defiantly meaningful and affective noises used both from the outside in to regiment bodies and from the inside out to motivate their transgression of systems that would deny their sensual interdependence. Pandemonium took an unequivocal stand against false claims that sounding bodies could be fixed, noises neutralized. Whether it spurred so active and pointed a corporeal meditation depended on the individual but, for all who witnessed it, Pandemonium droned on, loop after loop, sounding its ecstatic protest.