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Like It Was a Movie: Cinematic Listening as Public Art

Working Paper #36, Fall 2008

Betsey Biggs

The widespread use of personal stereos has created large numbers of listeners
navigating the city in reverie, enjoying a synaesthetic relationship between what they
see and the music they hear. Such sonic mediation to the body's experience has been
described, and analyzed, as a form of 'physical cinema.' But how does this cinema
work? And how might sound artists use these kinds of auditory interventions as sites
for their own work? This current situation offers rich opportunities for artists to take
advantage of the nonchalance with which the public now synthesizes disparate sonic
and visual sources into complete, and very individual, filmic experiences. By analyzing
the relationships among mediated sound, ambient sound and visual environment in a
number of sound works situated in the public sphere (among them works by Janet
Cardiff and Christina Kubisch), this paper aims to discover how sound artists might
use the idea of “physical cinema” to broaden the audience's sensory spectrum and
seduce them into creative engagement with their environment.

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