Reality Formatting - Alexander Provan

Performance Fri 8 May 2015 7.00PM-8.00PM New Museum Theater
235 Bowery
New York City
$10, purchase tickets at New Museum website
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You are an "expert listener" ensconced in the ideal listening environment: a medium-sized room with a carpeted floor, an array of sound-absorbing acoustical foams, and heavy curtains shrouding the windows. You concentrate on the seemingly arbitrary procession of sounds: saxophone arpeggios, organ chords, disco beats; reference audio and coded audio. Are there perceptible differences in the signals? If so, do they annoy you? You are equipped with a five-point scale that contains fifty gradations of annoyance, from "imperceptible" to "very annoying." You strain to hear the codec at work.

Through words and sounds, Provan's performance tells of an expert listener undergoing a test meant to refine the compression algorithms that underlie all digital media. Provan places the audience within the sensorium of a middle-aged, white audiophile whose favorite band is King Crimson and whose memories of listening to ABBA's "The Visitors" as a teenager while learning to shoot pool in Holly Gardner's basement cannot be vanquished, no matter how his ears train on the audio file's frequency response, overload after processing, and program-modulated noise. The expert listener, who is tasked with determining what sound will sound like, with turning into a listening machine, cannot rid himself of the memories evoked by even the most banal audio files. Nevertheless, he must mark up his score sheet, and in so doing universalize his proclivities, biases, and tastes.

In narrating the experience of the expert listener, Provan describes how we produce and experience culture in the form of digital files, how imperfect technological processes mold our conduct. "Reality Formatting" draws on Provan's essay on art and the quantitative worldview in the catalogue for the New Museum Triennial, as well as his Vera List Center fellowship research into the role of standards and standardization in shaping our daily interactions and acting as the means for articulating our identities.

This event is co-presented by the New Museum and the Vera List Center.

For information on ticketing, please visit the New Museum website

Alexander Provan is the editor of Triple Canopy, a magazine based in New York. He is also a contributing editor of Bidoun, a magazine of the arts and culture of the Middle East and its diaspora. His writing on digital culture, aesthetics, literature, and politics has appeared in Frieze, Artforum, Bookforum, Art in America, The Nation, and in several exhibition catalogues. Provan is a fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics for 2013–2015.