I’ve been listening to youarelistening.to for a long time. How long, I’m not sure. The earliest mention I can find here on the outboard brain I call Disquiet.com dates back to the middle of March 2011. A project of Eric Eberhardt, youarelistening.to layers ambient music with emergency-services audio. It’s that simple, and yet the result is way more than the sum of its binary parts. The music and locations rotate through with each new outing. The youarelistening.to release posted today, an hour in full, on the YouTube channel of NTS combines recordings by Loscil, Signals Bulletin, and others with the voices of New York Fire Department dispatchers as they call out alerts from around the city.
There’s a deep, unsettling, filmic resonance to the work. The music is all synthy drones and Quaalude pulsings. The voices, rarely manifesting an alteration in intonation, drone on in their own manner, devoid of the tension implicit in the events they are narrating. More often than not, what they say is unintelligible, as if the repetition of violence has sanded the emotional import off the incidents. Occasionally a phrase does pierce the mumble.
“Female down in the street.”
“Electrical fire in the attic.”
“Trying to track down an order.”
It’s arguable that a major part of the art of youarelistening.to is dependent on the carefully regulated relative volume levels of the two channels of audio: The voices are just quiet enough to get lost in the music, signals succumbing to the tonal equivalent of entropy. Also essential to the experience is how the squelch and interference on the dispatchers’ lines sound very much like sonic effects that the electronic music itself might employ — which is to say, the spoken part of youarelistening.to merges with the musical part exactly when the spoken part begins to fall apart.
I’ve been listening to youarelistening.to for a long time. (Also recommended is watching it on NTS, where it’s combined with surveillance-chic graphics and aerial footage of the city.) How long, I’m not sure. Once you’ve listened to it a few times, it’s like you never really turned it off. It’s just lingering in the background of your life until you choose to turn it up again.