Measuring Device with Organs

In March, I published Measuring Device with Organs (Triple Canopy), an LP that asks you to become a listening machine, an essay on the universalization of tastes, a life shaped by Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” (Navigate to Triple Canopy’s website to listen to an excerpt and purchase the LP or digital files.) The forty-minute audio work, which ranges from essay to soundscape, bildungsroman to musical composition, begins with a typical “expert listener”—a middle-aged, white audiophile with a passion for classic rock—undergoing a test meant to determine what sound should sound like. Measuring Device with Organs hinges on the recordings used in such tests, conducted by stereo manufacturers and agencies like the International Electrotechnical Commission, reliant on the ability of humans to act like listening machines. As the test proceeds, the expert struggles to train his ears on the frequency response of the audio files, to vanquish the memories evoked by Spanish guitar riffs and snippets of ABBA.

Cover of Alexander Provan, Measuring Device with Organs, LP (Triple Canopy, 2018).

Through a narration of the listening test and portrayal of the expert listener (whose “auditory virtuosity” is rooted in his fascination as a teenager with the sonic qualities of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”), Measuring Device with Organs reveals how we produce and experience culture in the form of digital files, how imperfect technological processes mold our conduct. Anonymous experts, claiming the mantle of science, stand in for the rest of us; each time we open an MP3 or MOV, play a record or CD, we are subjected to their edicts, we effectively universalize their tastes (and suppress the sensory experiences of millions of others).

Measuring Device with Organs originated as a performance, and has been presented as such—or as an installation or screening—at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of “Surround Audience: The Generational Triennial”; Istanbul Biennial 14: “Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms”; the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design; Kunsthall Oslo; the Norwegian Festival for Non-fiction; and the Aspen Art Museum. An interview focusing on the work was published in 2016 in Kunstkritikk. In April 2018, the LP was launched with performances, commissioned for the occasion, by Maria Chavez and Josh Tonsfeldt; documentation from the performances, in the form of a music video, can be viewed on Triple Canopy’s website. An essay and interview about the LP was published by the Quietus in 2018.

Still from His Master’s Vox, a video composed from materials recorded and presented at an event with a performance by Maria Chavez and projections by Josh Tonsfeldt. Videography and editing by Jessica Y Lee. Direction and audio editing by Alexander Provan.