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site-specific displacement for two concealed speakers at Silo City, Buffalo (2015)



About the piece:

Surplus is a site-specific sound work created specifically for presentation at a complex of vacant grain silos on the Buffalo River in Buffalo, NY. The work subtly inflects the site’s everyday soundscape, foregrounding a point of resonance between the site’s soundscape and its material conditions of possibility, and in turn proposing avenues for a politicized consciousness of the everyday. In surplus, two concealed speakers play audio that reinforces sustained, mostly low-frequency broadband noise of on-site industrial fans and distant freeway traffic. This reinforcement functions to acoustically conceal sonic evidence of living bodies (i.e. bird sounds, human speech, human footsteps, etc.) otherwise present, creating an acoustic void.

The speakers are placed at opposite ends of an elevated walkway—roughly 10 ft. above ground—that runs between the American (built 1906) and Perot (built 1907) Grain Elevators. The resulting sounds seem to invisibly materialize out of thin air; they are at once plausible and foreign within the site’s acoustic environment, exaggerating and illuminating its existing dynamics. As they are faded in gently and played at gradually changing volumes, the speakers’ sounds are barely perceptible, but their effects may denature the site’s everyday mise-en-scène in their unexpected, invisible subtraction of sounds most constitutive of the site’s “normalcy.”

The work’s subtraction of the sounds of living bodies is a metonym for the site’s social effects. The development of industrial-scale food production in the American Midwest in the mid-1800s—a system in which Buffalo grain elevators played a pivotal role in transferring grain grown in the upper Midwest to markets in the Eastern US and Europe—necessitated systemic violence against both human and non-human bodies. Grain cultivation in the upper Midwest became possible only through the forced removal of Native Americans and through habitat destruction that wiped out entire species, while the poorly-paid immigrant workers who operated grain silos faced dangers of grain dust explosions, and of falling into silo bins and “drowning” in the grain. The work materializes these social contradictions in its sonic form, denaturing the site’s present day scene with metonymic traces of the unresolved antagonisms constitutive of its past. The experienced bodily reality of these contradictions is ultimately unrepresentable, especially to privileged 21st century people, and as a result, this work manifests these contradictions not in a straightforward representational sense, but instead does so negatively, as a sonic “stain” that attenuates the seeming ordinariness of the everyday.


Audio Mock-Up (simplified representation of 3.5 times entering and exiting the piece’s “acoustic void”)



Decay-Reverberate: Site-Specific Sound at Silo City, produced by Null Point, at Silo City, Buffalo, NY, June 12-14, 2015