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 award-winning sound artist and activist working on unceded Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung country. They believe art needs to do more than provide commentary on the issues it explores. They co-run Sound School, an organisation that upskills and celebrates marginalised voices in electronic music through a busy program of free workshops and seminars throughout Melbourne. They produce dance music as Hextape, with their new EP ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ recently out on Factoid label, and has toured Australia, New Zealand and Europe as a solo artist. They perform and compose classical and experimental cello, and have played with Lori Goldston of Nirvana, Evelyn Ida Morris, and Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti. Recent commissions include ‘Undertow’ for the City of Melbourne, a data-driven work written for the Federation Bells, and ‘To (Phase) Cancel the Cops’ for unProjects. They organise raves, DIY shows, and orchestral performances in drains, dams, observatories, and other natural amphitheatres, and regularly curate shows as mixed bill as humanly possible.

Bridget Chappell

November 2019

I’ve been enjoying getting to go deeper into a project that sits at this really juicy intersection of stuff I froth – acoustic science, collecting and repurposing electronic music equipment, Deleuze, Sun Tzu, and hating the police. 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

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