Contact is a piece for 40 voices, featuring radio emissions from space and the sounds of digital communications. Radio, morse code, sonar, satellite, Bluetooth, and wireless communications are all utilised: it’s the sound of the digital age. Commissioned by Radiophrenia Festival, Glasgow, Contact is an edited version of Kate Carr’s live performance…
Ranging from the micro with wireless connections and home internet set-ups to the macro with the broadcasting of radio signals sent into the solar system and beyond, Contact explores our relationship with digital technology. The blips, bleeps, dots, and dashes all collide, sometimes becoming overwhelming, making the music a slave to its operating system. As part of the piece, people were asked via an online call-up to record themselves saying ‘dot dash zero one’, and this works its way into the piece at varying intervals, establishing a human connection to the digital world and highlighting our reliance upon technology. Smartphones use vibrant primary colours to engage people (or ensnare them?) Apps become addictions (and the bright ping of a new message infiltrates the recording). On dates, people stare at their phones instead of their sweetheart, texting and using social media while sitting opposite one another at the dinner table and not actually communicating. On the train, people plug into the digital world, escaping from the real one. An unhealthy habit develops.
An overreliance on technology can develop, and a device meant for social means flips upside-down in its creation of antisocial behaviour. These days, contact is easy and instant – only a click or a text away – but phones are good at dividing, too, creating a gulf of distance in real-world interactions, which are then substituted for the quicker-fix of the digital dimension. Connections are all around us, but a sense of connectedness remains elusive. People are lonelier than ever, despite a huge friends list and access to hundreds of phone numbers. Swipe-rights will not fix loneliness. Kate Carr explores these lost avenues, a technology capable of sweeping through the stars and delivering text messages across the oceans and connecting an upstairs to a downstairs, working on all different levels and affecting the lives of everyone.
People will always find new ways to communicate and connect with one another. There’s a deep desire and an in-built human need to connect, to feel wanted, to feel like part of the tribe, and this has led to the turbo-charged rate of development in communications technology. Sometimes, though, a phone call is not enough. Video calls can be between friends, colleagues, or voyeurs: all areas are put on nude display, either intentionally via social media platforms or secretly thanks to the NSA and other intelligence agencies, collecting data from, or spying on, the population without knowledge or consent. Communication and access is available 24/7.
No switch to turn off: the servers are always on. The background drone, as light as a whirring fan in a PC, feels incorporeal, outside of itself, even as fragmented snippets and blips cycle around in a digital vacuum. The strangled lo-fi cacophony of a dial-up internet connection can be heard, which could’ve been an early slice of experimental music. A telephone rings, but there’s nobody to answer it. An alarm becomes a regular rhythm. Voices congeal, all talking at once, a chorus connecting people to the same network. Contact takes all of this into account, an open letter to the dynamism, innovation, fragility (and perils) of our 21st Century connections and the way in which they constantly and actively shape our lives.