Pieter Verstraete


Locative Media of Dispossession: The Secret Theatre Revisited

This presentation aims at rereading Shuhei Hosakawa’s influential essay, ‘The Walkman Effect’ (1984), in which he describes the influence of the Walkman (or as Michael Bull proposed, the ‘personal stereo’) on the relationship between the individual, ‘self-enclosed’ listener and urban space, in its construction of a ‘secret theatre’. With the rise of personal stereo users in public spaces through the introduction of iPod and other mp3-players, including mobile apps, on the market since the beginning of the 2000s, the effects of these secret theatres for the ears to our listening modes and spatial relations have been subject to many artists, among which Janet Cardiff has been perhaps the most researched since the end of the 1990s.

The presentation of Pieter Verstraete (Bilgi University Istanbul) focuses on new works with smartphones, iPods and mp3-players, such as Dries Verhoeven’s Niemandsland (2012) or Judith Hofland’s Like me (2013), which particularly highlight individual experiences of the self in relation to a new sense of sociability that materializes into real-time urban encounters with places and people. Different from traditional audio-guided walking tours à la Cardiff, these audio theatre pieces turn the privacy of the highly-individual experience of the secret theatre into a feeling of submission to a technology, a network, a system, a bodiless or disembodied voice.

Verstraete expands on the voyeuristic desires of the ear (‘ecouterism’) in these audio walks until the proverbial ‘acousmatic’ curtain drops down and reveals the theatricality of the final cut, its investment in the imagination’s deceptively homogenising workings of the listening act, as well as the drama of the listener’s own dissociation, dispossession and difference. Verstraete regards the latter as one of the fundamental human experiences of listening that produces the (modern) self but that also allows us to see ourselves in relation to sounding/listening others in new social contexts. As such, these performances with new locative personal stereos help to debunk some of the myths of Hosakawa’s secret theatre of the 1980s and see them in a new light of collective, relational experiences that open our ears and eyes rather than shut them off.

Full Paper: Symposium Locative Media and Sound Art_Pieter Verstraete_Full paper

Powerpoint presentation: Symposium Locative Media and Sound Art_Pieter Verstraete_Presentation

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