The Accidental Archive

The #demilit workshop was a great success last week. Bryan, Javier and I led a small group of people into the vast hinterland of military space. The discussion ranged from buildings in former Yugoslavia as evidence in war crimes to walking tours to examine the remnants of nuclear militarization. It was an intense 90 minutes that could easily have spun off ten more workshops. We are excited about the future possibilities between the three of us and with those that we met in the workshops.

There is a curious tangent to this effort of producing an archive of military space that I'd like to share, before I delve into the content and future directions of the workshop in a later post. I am fascinated with ways of archiving military landscapes which could produce a documentation of a non-military landscape. Put another way, how does a peripheral vision, or if we think in audio terms, the background noise, code the landscape in ways we might otherwise not detect? The military has its own means of extracting signals from noise, which began with sound mirrors and continues today with a myriad of listening ears, satellites, etc etc. As citizens, equipped with microphones, recorders, and free means of disseminating the content of an archive via archive.org or freesound.org, how might we also decode signals from the 'noise'? Without knowing what to look for, could we actually stumble upon useful archives and linkages of soundscapes?

I owe these thoughts to one of the participants in the workshop, Nicholas Kaufmann, who pointed us toward the documentary The Tailenders. This film "examines a missionary organization’s use of ultra-low-tech audio devices to evangelize indigenous communities facing crises caused by global economic forces." These missionaries were recording stories from the Bible in other languages, which had an interesting by-product of recording the background environment in which these indigenous communities lived.  So, you could take the recordings and listen to how the language of the Bible stories translates, or you could forget about the language and just decode or 'foreground' the background sound content, what R. Murray Schafer might refer to as the 'soundmark' of a place.  Nicholas brought it up because he was interested in how to subvert the archive or at least bring awareness to how archival projects can archive other things inadvertently.  It is the accidental archive, not dissimilar from the military's accidental archiving of native birds which I mentioned in a previous post here on Soundscrapers.


Swallowed Buildings

Pulling more out from my sound archives. In September 2009, I was in Vicenza, Italy, studying the US Army base there. I was able to gain access to the base via some contacts I made through the Corps of Engineers, but I also walked the edges of the base, just because you always find interesting things in these border spaces. Among my findings, some private housing which used to be part of the Italian street. Since the property abuts the base, the military was able to lease out the building and expand into it in order to fulfill their own housing needs.


But imagine living on this street, visiting your neighbors from time to time, and then everyone is served a move-out notice by the owner. After a few months, the apartment is vacated, the barbed wire goes up and the building is no longer part of your street. Its own boundary with the base is ruptured and the apartment is militarized. It's as though the military swallows buildings.

I took a moment to record my thoughts. Listen:

They took my fork

This Friday I am leading a workshop titled "Decoding Military Landscapes" with Javier Arbona and Bryan Finoki. The aim of this workshop is to find a means for bringing awareness of invisible militarizations of space in the cities we live in.

But what do we mean by militarization of everyday space? A simple example and one which I relentlessly documented as I traveled last year is the baggage screening machine at airports. An airport is a highly militarized space as we are all flying around in potential missiles. We are familiar with the routine of removing metals, isolating liquids, etc etc. so that our bodies may pass through into the sterilized security zone of the airport's interior.

The fact that we have become so neutralized to, and even appreciative of this routine, is bewildering. It is the contemporary 'walled city'. Is the baggage security check our only means of defense? Hardly. Part of the agenda of this workshop is to ask first how far does the military penetrate into our daily lives and then how do we document and archive this?

In this particular example, how is the spatial experience of passage through this 'wall' mediated by this security check? What is the literal experience of the check itself, and does it constitute a military appropriation of private space? It is my desire to archive how these spaces have been militarized through the recording of sound.

In this particular example, a fork which was part of a camping set that I bought at the Kathmandu outfitters in New Zealand is confiscated by security at the airport in Athens.

The recording begins with the mic setup in my bag, and you then pass to the interior of the screening machine, and then you are inspected by the security officer. As you can probably guess, it was a much-loved fork. Listen: