On the Apparently Meaningless Texture of Noise

Concept Text:

Reimagining care must begin with reimagining institutions. Can we think about the future without addressing matters of care left behind by acts of dehumanization and dehitoricization? How do we build ground-up counterpolitics against the institutional infrastructures of control made possible by automated systems under the guise of “humanitarian care”? If, following Puig de Bellacasa, to think of matters of care is to remain in the space of coping, of dissenting, and of challenging the relationality of our affective constructions, then to think matters of care is to think the material conditions that allow care to be practiced, and how ‘care’ can become a dehumanizing and dehistoricizing technology. As Gloria Anzaldúa reminds us, it is necessary to look at “the roads that led us here” before pointing our eyes and ears forward.

My proposal for the residency starts from the deployment of accent recognition software in asylum procedures, and challenges narratives of care around it. In seeing the training datasets of these systems as a rudimentary form of an archive, I draw on Saidiya Hartman’s “critical fabulation” – i.e. assessing gaps in the archive as points of intervention without speaking over them – to work with the timbral matter around the concept of “noise”, that is, speech traits these systems are trained to ignore.

With that I want to challenge the concept of “care” as connected to “humanitarian responses” to mass migration, all the while repurposing the dataset as a counter-action for new affective connections. The expected result is a sound-centred, binaural/ambisonic navigation, “zooming in” on textures of vocal timbre as a technology of care; a strategy to not turn the voices in the archive into, to borrow from Liisa Malkki, “speechless emissaries.”

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