Attached to the tabulating machines made by Herman Hollerith for the 1890 US Census was a device known as the sorting box. Here the punch cards inserted into the machine would reappear sorted according to criteria set by the operator. This serves as a guiding image for a performance in which archival sound, films, photographs, field recordings, text, found materials, amongst other sources are live sorted, combined, separated, recombined. The Sonic Laboratory of SARC becomes a sorting box for media fragments and the site for an experiment in improvised archival analysis. The Sorting Box will be realised as a multi-speaker, multi-screen environment linking traditions of Expanded Cinema with electro-acoustic improvisation, and drawing on contemporary approaches to the corpus-based analysis of musical material. In this way, the schema of Hollerith’s apparatus is tugged out of the history of computing and state-craft, and turned inside out - from being a centre for the convergence of statistics to a machine for intuitive association.
The Sorting Box has been especially developed for the Sonic Laboratory and forms part of John Bowers’ work as Visiting Scholar to SARC. A talk, Ontologies of Displacement, accompanies this performance on the previous day.
John Bowers (UK) is an artist-researcher with an academic background in the social and computing sciences, design, music and critical theory. As an improvising musician, he works with modular synthesisers, home-brew electronics, reconstructions of antique image and sound-making devices, self-made software, field recordings, esoteric sensor systems, and spoken text. He often combines performance with walking and the investigation of selected sites to research an imagined discipline he calls ‘mythogeosonics’. He has performed at festivals including the collateral programme of the Venice Biennale, Experimental Intermedia New York, Transmediale/CTM Vorspiel Berlin, Sonorities Belfast, Piksel Bergen, Electropixel Nantes, BEAM London, Aldeburgh Festival and Spill Ipswich, and toured with the Rambert Dance Company performing David Tudor’s music to Merce Cunningham’s Rainforest. He contributed to the design of The Prayer Companion - a piece exhibited twice at the Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, and acquired for their permanent collection. Amongst many musical collaborations, he works with Sten-Olof Hellström, Tim Shaw, Kerry Hagan, with Terry Burrows and Steve Elsey in the noise drone band Tonesucker, and with Adam Pultz Melbye and Paul Stapleton in the improvising trio 3BP. He is a Director of Allenheads Contemporary Arts and a Trustee of Monkfish Productions. He helps coordinate the label Onoma Research and is a Visiting Scholar at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast.