Signal to Babble
In Collaboration with Parastoo Anoushahpour, Faraz Anoushahpour, and Ryan Ferko
The Sculpture Center in Partnership with SPACES
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Nov 11-Dec 17, 2016
Since early 2011 residents of Windsor, Ontario have complained about a mysterious rumbling shaking them out of sleep. “The Windsor Hum,” as it came to be known, is described by those who hear it as either a low frequency noise, like a furnace or an idling diesel truck, or as a deep, pulsating and vibrating sound, which is often felt as a physical sensation.
With time, the question of the origin of Windsor Hum grew into a political issue as members of the community began posting their descriptions and experiences of the hum on social media platforms. Following pressure from this community, in January 2013, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade conducted an acoustic investigation into the source of the Windsor Hum. Using acoustic cameras to produce visual evidence, the study confirmed the existence of a “low frequency excitation” and approximated the source to be in the vicinity of Zug Island, on the U.S. side of the Detroit River – a vague and obvious conclusion to any resident of Windsor that lives across the river from this heavily industrialized area. The exact source of this sound on Zug Island, however, has not been revealed, obscured by layers of international bureaucracy and private corporate interests which barred the researchers access to the island, mainly the property of United States Steel Corporation.
Taking the context and story of the Windsor Hum as their starting point, Felix Kalmenson, Parastoo Anoushahpour, Faraz Anoushahpour, and Ryan Ferko present their collaborative audio-visual installation, The Hum. Rather than acting as an investigation into the specific origin of the hum, this project is interested in the subjective experience of sound, and the paranoia, confusion, and anxiety that comes from a low-frequency noisethat bypasses both invisible borders as well as the walls of homes. Combining original footage shot in the Windsor-Detroit area, with testimonies from the online community seeking to document and silence the Windsor Hum, this project considers the limits of visualizing and describing sound. Simultaneously, it investigates the methods of “signal-to-babble” clinical hearing tests, which assess how individuals understand speech when confronted with background noise. The works make use of signal-to-babble words and sentences in the context of the Windsor Hum to create an anxious, at times irrational narration, that results in an experience of communication breakdown against a babble of noise. The Hum focuses on the narrative tension in the search for sound, where technology is able to prove its existence as a fact, but where structures of power disallow that technology from specifically locating that sound’s origin. It is in this gap that fact and fiction are obscured, and myths grow and perpetuate.