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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) (video clip), and The Murder of Crows (2008) (video clip) - 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.
- 1 2015-08-16T21:23:08-07:00 All images 8 All images gallery 2015-08-16T22:10:03-07:00