The People’s Speaker: The Occupation of Listening
This paper examines the use of sound and “the speaker” in the Occupy Wall Street movement – as means of collective communication and of power and control. Who gets to be heard, and how? A range of techniques for disseminating the voice and receiving the message are examined with regards to the psychological and structural dynamics they foster. I focus on the development, use and aesthetic/ psychological dynamics of the “People’s Mic,” a mimetic method of communicating vocally through a large crowd without amplification. Through participant observation in the Occupy movement in New York City, as well as interviews and temporal and spatial analysis of binaural audio documentation of Occupy assemblies and marches, I examine the transmission of the voice through the group. Who tends to use the People’s Mic, when and for what purposes? How does it get turned “on” and “off”? What does it mean to have your words disseminated by repetition rather than amperes? How does this affect the content and form of what is said? How does this change, enliven or disrupt our understanding of discourse and of democratic participation? Who is the author? How does power emerge, or disappear, in this mode of communication? Furthermore, can this model be sustained and expanded upon? I contrast this with tools of sonic power, which have been deployed at Zuccotti Park and elsewhere: police megaphones, the denial of amplified sound permits and the threat or deployment of acoustic weaponry. This research aims to flesh out the meaning of amplification as a tool of state power, violence and control, and their relationship to amplified sound and the acousmatic voice. Ultimately, the paper considers the People’s Mic as a model for a less hierarchical, embodied form of real-time communication, which could provide a context for thinking critically and tactically about the use of sound in this and future political projects.
Jessica Feldman is a PhD student in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her research focuses on public space, sound studies and emerging art forms. Her work examines the methods and media used for communication, listening, surveillance and weaponization of acoustic spaces – including public, private and psychic spaces. This interest in listening and speaking links up with interests in psychoanalysis, in psychophysics and in the use of psychodynamics to understand how power and healing operate within these media and methods. Jessica holds an MFA in Intermedia Art from Bard College’s Interdisciplinary MFA program and a BA in Music and Creative Writing from Columbia University. She is also a practicing artist and has taught sound art, physical computing and interactive technology at Temple University and the New School. See http://www.jessicafeldman.org