Magnetic Remainder

Event Start Date:
May 12, 2015
Event End Date:
May 12, 2015
Event Venue:

An archive of discarded conversations and messages left-on-tape 

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Sonic Workshop & Lecture May 12 2015

For as long as I can remember visiting charity shops and thrift stores, I would pick up discarded telephone answering machines and take them home in the hopes that the tapes inadvertently left inside would carry traces of errant conversations and soulful messages: these tiny cassettes and magnetic tapes reeling me into the lives of distant strangers. Each tape an archive, not of the person whose machine it was, but rather, of all those who left their incoming messages behind. In the early 1990s digital-voicemail arrived and a magnetic bounty ensued as machines and tapes were successively donated to charity shops. I bought my last tape about six years ago when the secondary-market for this old analogue technology finally disappeared.

A providential feature of these pre-digital answering machines, with their twin tapes inside (outgoing and incoming messages) was their temporal quirkiness. If the phone rang repeatedly without someone picking it up quickly and pressing “stop” the answering machine would automatically start to record. As it happened upon many an occasion, extended conversations were recorded unbeknownst to the speakers who chatted away, never realising that their intimacies would one day make their way into public let alone be sold off as mere detritus—the dead technological remains of consumerism. As an artist, I’ve had a long and voyeuristic fascination with the innocuous remnants of private experience that enter into the public domain: those prosaic moments when we catch a glimpse of the private lives of others. From the supermarket shopping cart that reveals the food choices that will enter into someone else’s body, the yard and boot sales that offer up the unwanted relics of domestic life, the second-hand book that discloses a personal inscription, to the telephone answering machine tape that carries the affective remainder of a disembodied voice. Entire worlds and portraits are captured by the network of calls and messages left behind on such tapes. This presentation explores materials from this audio archive and queries the transgression that listening to the sonic intimacies of strangers provokes.