issue 060 (excerpt)
14 - 26 october 2002

Dialtones: a telesymphony

Staalplaat | STCD160 | CD

It's a sound that causes instant anxiety, yet somehow three artists have found in its numerous but always recognisable variations something musical, lying latent in its depths, something to be drawn out, extracted, manipulated, remanufactured and recombined. The ringtones of mobile phones are everywhere in the urban world; they surround our every step, they negotiate their way into every space, both public and private, and yet whenever we hear them we are always surprised, they cause a small shock on our nerves, they catch us off guard, as if we never really expect them, calling us to attention. Is it mine? is someone trying to reach me? And so, when we are confronted by Dialtones, a live telesymphony exclusively produced through the choreographed dialling and ringing of 200 mobile phones in the audience, we cannot help but sit up and pay close attention. Someone is calling, attempting communication, sending a message. Devised by Golan Levin, Scott Gibbons and Gregory Shakar, the piece was commissioned by and performed live at the 2001 Ars Electronica Festival. It's a concert in 3 parts, 26 minutes in length. The first ringtone inspires laughter in the audience, perhaps taken by surprise by its source, but the laughter quickly subsides into respectful silence, punctuated only by the occasional cough or shuffling of feet. The tones are surprisingly diverse, the arrangement strangely bewitching. I would have thought that they would be using the existing ringtones already loaded on the audience's cell phones, but part of the preparation included downloading new ringtones onto their handsets, and arranging for a fixed seating plan. The process is fascinating, and the results are a strange curiosity, a cultural artefact of our time, a complex polyphony, a unique creature. Occasionally a rhythmic loop will lull you into its cadence, transfix your attention, until it finally breaks off into a new branch, a new network of dialling and ringtones (the second part of the performance is particularly rhythmic). But in the wake of all this ringing, it remains to be seen who the callers are, and what message they might have for us. Or is there no message, no voice on the other end? it's a machine, a custom designed dialling software instrument that is reaching out to us, pulling the strings. I answer the phone but there's doesn't seem to be anyone on the other end... [Richard di Santo]


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