i d /

speakers' corner /

lewis shields

Exploring the fragmented nature of the self online, id was an interactive and immersive sound art installation which ran for a week at Speakers' Corner. Overall the event was a blast – allowing visitors to manipulate their environment, playing around with different sounds, and simply having fun with interactivity.     

Tucked away on George Street in Kemptown, Brighton, is a pretty and unassuming little café by the name of Speakers' Corner, which, for a week from the 4th of May, played host to a particularly unusual exhibition. Though from the café’s façade there seemed little out of the ordinary, upon entry, however, a constant low and sonorous drone was immediately apparent, which, while pleasant, bemused the self-employed who frequent the venue with their laptops during the working day. Dangling from the ceiling were a number of microphones and some smaller instruments, with which visitors were invited to create sounds. Increased activity and volume within the café altered and distorted the hum, and changed the image on a screen which took up the entirety of one wall. The screen projected a live feed of the inside of the café seemingly had it existed in some Tron-like world, and with movement, the image became ever more warped and pixelated. There seemed a strange incongruity between the various pieces of musical apparatus, the technical equipment and wiring that gave the room a mechanical and technological feel, and all the trappings of a conventional café, but this all contributed to the overall ensemble: id.

id was an immersive sound art installation designed by Lewis Shields, which ran for a week from the 26th of May. It was previewed at the opening night of the ‘Electroacoustic Experiments’ series, where INK provided live music alongside Rochelle Rochelle, Chris Dowding and qgb. Each of these artists is an innovator who explores the relationships between art, music and technology. id converted Speakers’ Corner itself into an instrument, where participants could encounter digitally reimagined versions of themselves. It was, in effect, a hall of mirrors for the internet age. The installation was truly interactive, meaning the participants’ very presence shaped the characteristics of the space. The digitally generated drone formed a backdrop within which participants were encouraged to explore their place in this algorithmic world. With greater activity and input from the participants, the drone faded, and the image on the screen became increasingly distorted. In quieter periods, the drone took greater prominence, and it was easier to recognise shapes and figures on the screen as if fragments of the self-were once more cohering.​

Within the space, Shields aimed to explore and address perceptions of the self as they are shaped online and to consider the human dimension of modernity’s relationship with technology. Shields claims to have been inspired primarily by an interest in the rise of social media, and it is clear that the interconnectivity between social media, data networks and the individual is now an inherent aspect of modern living. In many ways, it seems uncertain whether the human input produces the technology, or whether technology now defines the modern individual. A newfound relationship with social media, which it is now unusual not to possess, radically changes the way in which the self is understood, and how an individual interacts with others in a social environment. Shields is most interested in the shift towards an internet-based media largely sculpted by its users. id provided both an audio and a visual representation of the influence of the individual on a digital network.​

Shields is also influenced by the work of poet, essayist and cyberlibertarian political activist John Perry Barlow, who wrote in his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace that “ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but is not where bodies live”. Shields reimagines this world described by Barlow as an audio-visual environment. The environment Shields created was entirely democratic, in that it felt as if the self-had ceased to exist on an individual basis within the room, and instead become part of a more cohesive sonic whole. The installation was both persuasive and impressive, and, even disregarding the conceptual theory, it was absorbing merely to play around with all the equipment. Speakers’ Corner is run by John Easterby, who previously worked for many years at The Verdict on Edward Street, transforming the failing jazz café into the venue it is today, rated one of the top five venues for jazz in Europe. Easterby says his interest in sound art began when he shared an office with a lecturer in the subject at the London College of Communication, with whom he became firm friends. There is a dearth of venues devoted to sound art, both in Brighton and beyond, due in part to potential technical limitations, and yet certainly also due to the greater attention afforded to sound art’s visual cousin. Easterby’s passion for sound art and a recognition of this lack of venues led to the founding of Speakers’ Corner. Its aim is to provide a space to be used as a gallery, performance venue and seminar area, as well as operating as a café providing food and specialist teas and coffees.​

With ever more technological innovation in this field, it is an exciting time for sound art, and it is encouraging to see the relationship between Lewis Shields and Speakers’ Corner bear fruit. Installations such as id demonstrate that there is an audience for more esoteric exhibitions focused around the relationship between music and technology. What’s more, id proves that an exploration into this relationship can be a whole lot of fun.

Words: James Langley