In Crash! (1971) a short film by Harley Cokliss, J.G. Ballard drives around London's motorway hinterlands outlining his psychogeographical take on contemporary architecture. He had recently completed The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and was about to embark on his classic 'concrete and steel' trilogy, Crash (1973), Concrete Island (1974) and High Rise (1975). Ballard's basic idea is that the development of the 20th century has precipitated a reversal in the categories of fiction and reality, a movement that is manifested in the reflection of the psyche in the architecture of the urban landscape.
In the film Ballard discusses these ideas as he spirals up the multiple levels of a blank, evacuated car park, calling it 'one of the most mysterious buildings ever built'. The voice over continues:
'is it a model for some strange psychological state: somekind of vision glimpsed within its bizarre geometry? What effect does using these buildings have on us?
More exactly, I think that new emotions and new feelings are being created, that modern technology is beginning to reach into our dreams and change our whole way of looking at things and perceiving reality, that more and more it is drawing us away from contemplating ourselves to contemplating its world'.
Residual noise is not a blog about architecture, but about the process of recording. Although the two spheres may not appear to synchronize (proponents of the Stone Tape thesis may disagree; see future post), where I to choose a manifesto to cover these posts, it would be Ballard's statement. I'm interested in the desire, the propulsion to record: to externalize, to materialize and to duplicate. I'm interested in the range of tools that have been developed to facilitate this and their various applications: actual, potential and speculative. I don't accept the notion that recording is somehow tied to objectivity. If a tape recorder was placed in the centre of a room and operated without interference, I wouldn't regard the result as a 'mere' record of ambient noise.
Recording is always a process of recoding in which information moves from one sign system to another. This transition has an effect upon the information conveyed as well as upon the individual user. We may reach for a recording device to capture an element of 'reality' but this perception of reality is actively shaped by recording technology.
To take another Ballardian example, in High Rise its easy to see the outbreak of violence and disorder in the building as acts of aggression towards the structure and by extension, the urban world. However, from the outset, of the novel this trajectory is essentially reversed. Laing is 'exhilarated' by the high rise. The structure has a palpable, psychological and physical effect upon him and the chaos that subsequently unfolds can be seen as a significantly more complex form of this influence. Ballard suggests that the events are indicative of the building's correct operational procedure. The violence is not a reaction to the design structure but constitutes a range of behavior that the building has been designed to promote.
On a less cataclysmic scale, this is the perspective I'd like this blog to explore. Beyond issues of fidelity, storage capacity and tape speed, I'm interested in getting some sense of the hidden function linked to recording and recording technology. Its utility as regards audio-visual information is obvious. We can make copies, archive images and music, preserve voices. We can playback, erase and search but looking further than these practical implications, technical innovations and commercial adaptability, the questions can still be asked: what does recording technology do and what is it for?
The answers have less to do with the contents of instruction books than with ideas of prostheses, format specificity, noise, mediation and street level applications. When a given platform is used, a particular interface is established.
This blog is trying to investigate some of the territories that emerge at such a point.