Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments (2) Posted 10.06.12 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rob Walker

Listening to Retail




Speculative sound performance by Disquiet Junto, logo/poster by Oliver Munday

Ever spend much time listening to retail? Me neither.

By which I actually mean: Me, too. The truth is we all spend time in retail/service environments, without spending a conscious second thinking about the sound around us. Some of that sound is designed; much of it isn’t. Our ears process the mingling, but usually not in ways that focus attention.

I’m listening differently to retail lately, and here’s why. As part of a show I’m organizing for apexart in New York (more on that later) I’m pleased to have recruited Marc Weidenbaum, of Disquiet.com. Marc (who I've known and admired for years) has too many projects, interests, and areas of expertise for me to list here, but one his enterprises is the fantastic Disquiet Junto effort: Every week, he posts a “compositional challenge” for members of the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud. The group now has 815 or so members, all around the world, and these far-flung musicians and sound-crafters have created hundreds of original audio works. The project has spilled over into live events in Chicago and Denver, with more coming.

The apexart show, called As Real As It Gets, is more or less about imaginary brands and fictional products, and it includes a few commissions. (Again, more later.) In this case, Disquiet Junto, under Marc’s direction, will create “sonic branding” on behalf of an imaginary retailer: The Ladies’ Paradise, the seduction-machine of a department store at the center of Zola’s 1883 novel of the same name. More precisely, we’re positing a sort of contemporary iteration of the store — maybe you could say, “If the Ladies’ Paradise were real and existed today, how would this unique retail brand sound?”

You’ll have to wait for the full answer: the show opens November 15, and Marc will preside over a live event at apexart on November 27. (I’m also very excited that we were able to persuade the excellent Oliver Munday to create a logo for our imagined Ladies' Paradise.)

But preliminary steps have already taken place in the Disquiet Junto Soundcloud group, and they’re fascinating. The first assignment involved field recordings made in retail environments; there were 27 responses, here. The second entailed imagining a retail space and producing a recording that sounded as if it were made there. This rather more difficult challenge yielded seven responses, here.

Some of my favorites from both assignments are here. I’ve found the listening experience to be totally fascinating, drawing into aural focus details like the mad peeping of a battery of checkout counters at a busy store, an unanswered phone that never stops ringing, the processed voices of official announcements ("Please follow the instructions on the pinpad") and the murmer and chatter of shoppers. (All this became particularly interesting to me as I lost track of which were real field recordings, and which were artificial.)

I didn’t really realize how much the listening experience here had affected me until I found myself in a waiting room recently, at our veterinarian’s office. The machine sounds of the air conditioning, the interlocking but disconnected out-of-sight conversations, the mysterious and clicks and clunks I couldn’t actually identify: Suddenly it was all crystal clear, and oddly riveting.

Again, both these exercises are preliminary steps toward a final result that I presently cannot quite imagine. But each struck me as having a value of its own. I can’t wait to hear where it all leads.




 

 

 

 
Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Career Prospects in the Pain Business


The Art of Punk and the Punk Aesthetic


On My Screen: Shooting the Past


Blues, Baptisms, and Prison Farms: The Lomax Snapshots of 1934-1950


The Art of Punk and the Punk Aesthetic



RSS Subscribe to Comment Feed

Comments (2)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>


A week ago I recorded the scanners at Fairway (a supermarket located in Harlem) beeping/twitter at the cashier checkout counter.






Today it occurred to me that it would be cool to re-program the sounds on the scanners to sound like a Morning at Dzanga Bai and in the evening like the Night at Dzanga Bai.






Carl W. Smith
10.21.12 at 12:52

This is great Carl. You have many talents!! And many good ideas, too. (Apologies for my belated reply, I overlooked this comment earlier.)
Rob Walker
11.02.12 at 01:42



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



Rob Walker is a technology/culture columnist for Yahoo News. He is the former Consumed columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and has contributed to many publications. He is co-editor (with Joshua Glenn) of the book Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, and author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are
More >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS