Testing Grounds

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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Bridget Chappell studio

 

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Bridget is developing the project “To (Phase) Cancel The Cops”, encompassing the development of custom phase cancelling technology and its presentation as a performance-installation. The project explores the philosophy and acoustic science of phase cancellation, and its practical applications against urban politics of dis-appointment.

Bridget Chappell is an artist working on unceded Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung country.

In 2017 they were awarded Best Experimental/Avante Garde act from Music Victoria for their work founding and coordinating Sound School, a project upskilling and celebrating marginalised voices in electronic music. They organise raves and concerts in drains, dams, observatories, and other natural amphitheatres. Recent works have focused on interrogating sirens, LRADs, and state power sound: in solo exhibition ‘No Comment’ at Blindside (2020) and essays in unMagazine (2019) and Testing Grounds (2020).

As solo producer Hextape, recent works include ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ EP (2019) on Anterograde, ‘Time Loop’ live score (2019) and ‘The Network Weeps’ (2019) for Critical Mass festival. As a cellist and composer, they created ‘Undertow’ (2019) for the City of Melbourne, a data music work for cello and the Federation Bells. They have been an artist in residence at Testing Grounds (2020), Bogong Centre for Sound Culture (2019), and Frontyard (2017).

Bridget Chappell

November 2019

At this stage, I’ve been collecting speakers and amplifiers to build a big prototype of the sound system that will, in principle, be able to mirror and neutralise police sirens. My testing ground of the testing ground is to face a line of speakers – let’s call it Sound System A, against a line of microphones, flanked by another line of speakers – Sound System B. System A broadcasts a siren, which is picked up by the microphones, sent through audio software Ableton Live, the sound waves are flipped (to become identical, but reversed image of themselves) then sent through System B, facing straight back at the source. In a world without computer latency, the two waves meet and cancel each other out. In a world, with latency, lag, and near-constant sonic interference this is hard to pull off, but there’s a world of potential within these imperfections of how the sound waves can still be manipulated and scrambled beyond recognition.

Diagram of ideas

I can’t remember exactly what brought me to this question, just that I was speculating in an off-hand kinda way last summer to a friend about whether you could apply the principals behind noise-cancelling headphones on a grander scale, and to cancel specific sounds that we could all do without (like the sound of the police) – which then got fed back to another friend who asked me to write an article about it for un Magazine, so this year has been a huge rabbit hole of enquiry. I think a lot about what a world without police would and could look like – but how would it sound? Sirens make up an acoustic ecology of fear, dread, and self-policing. Like I know that police can exist without sirens, but I’m really excited by this augmented reality where we can limit the ways they exist for us, to prize open chambers in our mind of what we’d consider doing and how we’d move and organise if there was no fear of the police.

Last month I presented a paper on the project at the ‘Sound, Gender, Feminism & Activism’ conference at Tokyo University of the Arts, which kind of bookended my initial, theory-heavy phase of the project. Folks were excited to hear about it, as they have been here too, which is really encouraging. A book I’ve been obsessing over in researching this project is “Sonic Warfare” by Steve Goodman (aka Kode9, of Hyperdub Records). It puts forth the idea of a continuum of warfare that uses sound as its weapon – the military and the police (Long Range Acoustic Devices, sound lasers and sound bombs, sirens, amplitude as torture, etc) on one end, and sound system culture on the other. We take for granted not just the military origins of so much of our media, but the civilian use of media that in turn informs its current and future military applications – something that spurs me on more to repurpose it.

I read a quote recently that chilled and stuck with me – “science fiction pre-programs the future”. It was a really succinct illustration of why the power to speculate on the future, openly, for an audience, needs to redirected from Hollywood, Netflix, white male sci-fi authors, and for that matter white male techno producers, because it so insidiously shapes collective expectations of the future, and even our collective aspirations for the future. I want this project to be a contribution to alternative speculation, where police aren’t accepted as a future reality, and ultimately not accepted as a current reality.

 

 

December 2019

“My grandfather had to deal with the cops
My great-grandfather dealt with the cops
My great grandfather had to deal with the cops
And then my great, great, great, great, when its gonna stop?!”
– KRS-One, ‘Sound Of Da Police’

Several friends sent this marketing campaign to me when it was rolled out – Victoria Police’s new 24-hour snitch line under the banner of “for when you need us, but not the sirens”. The majority of policing happens in silence, or at least without audible warning, so it figures they’re
streamlining.

But silence manifests as a power against cops – so common and varied as to be cultural practices. We keep ourselves and our community silent against police – give a “no comment” interview if bailed up; flash our high beams at oncoming traffic – in collusion with complete strangers – to warn them of police presence on roads (acute example I reckon of how deep down everyone hates the police, if not always consciously); and from day one we are taught that dibber dobbers are the worst people. Selective silence is not an absence, but an active and encouraged practice.

On to selective hearing – my sound system, under construction at Testing Grounds, has ballooned in size, helped by an incredibly kind response to my call-out for speaker donations– may be another example of everyone hating the cops, or how nice friends are, or the Venn diagram of these things. Building this creature is like setting up a soundclash – but instead of
two opposing sound system crews seeing whose tunes at what highest amplitude wins, it’s two sound systems playing the exact same Sound Of Da Police at each other, on repeat, at ideally the exact same volume to achieve that elusive standing wave – the points in the middle where the sound waves meet and create moments of frequency confusion – even silence.

So far it’s been easier to create a lot more sound, than less, in these pressure points between the speaker walls – sirens distorted beyond recognition and sent to harsh noise heaven. The siren was invented as a musical instrument, or rather a component of one, powering parts of a Scottish pipe organ in the late 18th century, so I guess I’m just helping it meet its maker.

“Hey, ring de alarm!
And not a sound is dying whoah!”
– Tenor Saw, ‘Ring Di Alarm’

If you would like to contribute to Bridget’s donation drive for the project, here is their wishlist – please contact Testing Grounds to arrange collection or drop-off.

Working speakers (passive or active)
Speaker cable
Quarter-inch and XLR cables
Mechanical wave driver

Collecting speakers in my studio

February 2020

I’ve started work on a new, portable version of the siren-cancelling sound system. The initial idea was to create a space that invites participants to imagine a siren (and cop)-free utopia; lately, I’ve been thinking about circumstances closer to home, and closer to the present: “non-lethal weapons”.

The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), originally made by American Technology Corporation, shoots a beam of sound at up to 150 decibels over a distance of up to 1 kilometre. Decibels are a confusing metric for measuring sound because the perceived volume is relative and dependent on factors like distance and even age, but 120 decibels is generally considered the safe limit for human hearing. The force of an LRAD lies not just in its volume, but also the frequencies it emits – a combination of mostly high pitches that are incredibly uncomfortable to the human ear. Being hit by an LRAD produces feelings of nausea, dizziness, and can cause permanent nerve damage and partial hearing loss.

The LRAD was originally used by American cruise ships in the Horn of Africa against local sailors, and by Pittsburgh police in the G20 riots in 2009. In a continuation of its maritime uses, Japanese whaling ships have also used them against Sea Shepherd ships in the Southern Ocean.

Many police departments and military units around the world now possess LRADs, including the Australian Federal Police, and Victorian, Queensland, Western Australia, and Northern Territory police forces. LRADs are now manufactured by dozens of companies for a buyers market and can be bought in bulk on AliBaba.com. Civilians have managed to buy second-hand LRADs from police forces on websites like Craigslist. The relative availability of such weapons relies on the fact that legislation may exist for decibel limits, but not frequencies themselves.

The Mosquito, meanwhile, is a British-designed alarm system for shopping and transport centres that target teenagers loitering. The alarm’s design is based on the limits of human hearing, that deteriorate as we age – children can hear up to the full spectrum of 20hz to 20khz, while adults lose that sensitivity to the upper register. The alarm thus affects only young people. The Mosquito illustrates one of the main concerns against sound weapons – that it is indiscriminate in who it affects. Babies, by nature, will be those most impacted by the Mosquito. Meanwhile, the LRAD, while directional, affects anyone in its way over an incredibly long range – it cannot possibly be aimed solely at those it is meant for.

A nice epilogue to the Mosquito story though is that the alarm was appropriated as a phone ringtone so that if it rings in class the teacher can’t hear it.

Meanwhile, in the weapons testing ground that is Israel and occupied Palestine, we find an array of sonic weapons: the Scream (a shorter-range LRAD), the Thunder Generator (an area-clearing machine that lets off a round of gas explosions loud enough to kill within 10m, claims the manufacturer), and the near-ubiquitous sound grenade.

How can we match these developments? I came back to the initial design I had for the siren-canceler, which was to arm a plate of glass with microphones facing outward at the sound source, connected to a transducer attached directly to the glass, turning it into a speaker itself, sending an instantaneous mirror image of the siren sound back on itself (transducers are the alchemic device that drives both microphones and speakers – turning either sound waves into electricity, or electricity into sound waves).

Animated by Patrick Hase; designed by Bridget Chappell

This time, with the help of friend and long-time collaborator Patrick Hase, I mounted a shotgun microphone (a highly directional mic) on a wheelie bin lid, with the transducer at the back of the bin lid or “shield” face. I liked referencing wheelie bin sound systems in the design; nothing here has gone to waste. It can’t stand up to the complex web of frequencies emitted by an LRAD, but a portal has again been opened to speculate on.

 

Bin lid sound shield prototype at Testing Grounds

March 2020

Testing Grounds has transitioned maybe from second home to first home for me this past month as my exhibition opening nears and activity in the studio ramps up. Let me start, then, by inviting you to the exhibition and its opening – it runs from 18 March to 4 April, with opening night on Thursday 19 March, 6-8PM, at Blindside Gallery and presented in collaboration with Liquid Architecture. 

The exhibition is best summarised by what my curator and friend Thomas Ragnar have written:

No Comment brings together various studio experiments by musician and teacher Bridget Chappell with particular attention paid toward their investigations into the science of phase-cancellation as bringing forward an acoustic insurrection through “phase-cancelling the cops”. Central to Chappell’s enquiry is the imagining of anti-police sound technologies through material research together with theoretical articulations of ungovernable space, tactical defence and silence as a means of political enunciation. This exhibition is a polemic directly engaging the role of musicians and artists sharing a context with the increasing ubiquity of State weaponisation of sound in policing and control. No Comment works from a space of multiple aesthetic conjunctions, underscored by a commitment to social, political and aesthetic subjectivity of resistance and experimentation; graffiti, rave and sound system culture, noise and experimental music, science fiction and abolitionist politics. 

Details are here and here – hope to see you there. 

Thomas and I have started a working group to collectively explore some of the questions raised in my work. No Comment (Together) meets each Monday to discuss and enact ideas around sonic offence and defence, the roles of art and activism, and these themes in their contexts of graffiti, rave and sound system culture, noise and experimental music, science fiction and abolitionist politics. We’re really excited about where the group work is going and will present some of our findings at the exhibition’s closing event on 4 April at Blindside. The closing event will also see us repurpose the custom sound system that will feature in the exhibition – initially as a speculative police siren-phase canceller – as the massive rave system it – turns out – also is – join us for live performances from Female Wizard and Hextape (that’s me) in collaboration with Ahm, Siri, and Teether. If you would like to join the working group, please get in touch.

Below are a couple of sketches and snapshots of the technologies in development in the rave cave that is my studio at Testing Grounds.