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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Miéville’s Ear

"Listen the Birds," from his collection Three Moments of an Explosion

I finished reading the excellent recent collection of China Miéville’s short stories. It’s an ice cream sundae made of climate dread and narrative ellipses. It’s titled Three Moments of an Explosion, and much of the work is new to the book. Among the new pieces is a series of scripts for movie trailers, each one treating the form of a trailer much as Miéville does the form of a short story, as a cloudy mason jar filled with ambiguous portent: You know something’s in there, but you don’t know quite what it is.

“Listen to Birds” is the third and final of those trailer-stories. In it a person identified as P records birds, and his interlocutor, D, prods him on the undertaking. Eventually the act of recording the birds seems to trigger something in the birds. There may be cross-species contagion. Simple technology may itself be reshaping reality, or at least P’s perception of reality. The result, fractured and deliberate, mundane and otherworldly, comes across like a muted tone poem by Shane Carruth or a willfully bad trip from Terrence Davies.

Here’s one snippet:

P in a café, talking to a young woman. We hear the noise around them. P’s words sound distorted. They are not in synch with his lips.

He says, “There’s a problem with playback.”

Here’s another:

P walking down a crowded city street.

Voice-over, P: “There’s a signal and I can’t tell if it’s going out or coming in.”

Unseen by P, one person, then two people behind him raise their heads and open their mouths skyward as if shrieking. They make no sound.

The whole things lasts under a minute and 20 seconds. It’s a little surprising that a search on YouTube doesn’t yet bring up a fan film version of it.

This first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February 17, 2016 (it went out a day late), edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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