To delete this building, press 3

A few weeks ago, I posted about the “typical dream” of a New Yorker, in which said New Yorker one night discovers a whole extra room hidden away somewhere in an otherwise cramped Manhattan apartment – opening up a disguised door, in the back of the closet… and finding a fully furnished 20’x20′ master suite. With a bearskin rug. Or a new bathroom, with gold-plated taps and a trouser press. Or an entire backyard, full of gas grills, hidden behind the living room wall.
The ecstasy of having more space in Manhattan.
I then suggested that someone should go around New York interviewing people who have had this dream – or asking people who have never had this dream to ad lib, describing what sorts of extra rooms and spaces they would most like to find, tucked away behind the limited square-footage of walls and apartment living.
You’d then edit all the responses up into a radio show – and broadcast it live at rush hour, without explanation.
The city goes wild.
Manhattan is full of extra rooms! people scream. There are secret hallways everywhere! People start knocking on walls and rifling through closets, desperately searching for a place of their own. Maybe an undiscovered planetarium in the basement crawlspace.
In any case: we’re now doing it.
We’re making the radio show.

We, in this case, is BLDGBLOG and DJ /rupture (who spoke at Postopolis! last month); we’ll be putting your extra room fantasies on the air…
Specifically, /rup’s got a weekly radio show on WFMU91.1 FM in New York City – and, to collect your dreams, we’ve signed up for a free, joint voicemail account.
It’s voicemail as public recording booth.
So what’s your extra room fantasy? You don’t have to live in New York to answer. If you woke up in the middle of the night and found a door… where would you want it to go?
Call +1 (206) 337-1474 and let us know. If we like your story, we’ll put you – anonymous, woven into a background of music, without explanation – live on the air in New York City, then podcasted around the world and available via MP3.

Meanwhile, there are ten thousand other potential uses for a voicemail account and a weekly radio show.
Over the next few weeks and months, then, DJ /rupture and I will be switching things up: asking new questions and looking for new material. For instance, there’ll be a field-recordings-by-phone project – where someone standing on the Oregon coast can call +1 (206) 337-1474 and record two minutes’ worth of coastal ambiance, which will later be played live on the radio – and a sound-of-your-favorite-bus-stop-as-recorded-by-a-cell-phone project, and a sound-of-your-empty-office-elevator project, and any number of other possibilities.
The sound of migrating geese, recorded by cell phone.
The sounds of 5th Avenue, recorded using every public phone booth on that street – a kind of sonic history of public space.
Maybe even the sounds of famous architectural structures: you’re standing inside an empty room in the Empire State Building – so you give us a call: +1 (206) 337-1474. The volumetric reverb of the Taj Mahal. Summer rain pattering against the windows of the Gherkin.
Or you’re standing on a terrace outside L.A.’s Griffith Observatory, recording the desert wind on an iPhone.
It’s the voicemail account as musical instrument. Field recordings by phone. How to listen to a landscape. Podcasting space. The unexpected future of audio surveillance.

[Image: DJ /rupture, live in France; DJ /rupture – aka Jace Clayton – speaking at Postopolis! (photo by Nicola Twilley)].

So stay tuned to WFMU, 91.1 FM in New York City, on Wednesday nights, to hear the results of the voicemail project – the first voicemail fantasies should appear within two weeks – mixed in with some kickin’ rekkids by the one and only DJ /rupture.

(For a little more about the idea behind this project, see The undiscovered bedrooms of Manhattan).

20 thoughts on “To delete this building, press 3”

  1. I discovered your blog 2 months ago and I really love it. Coming here everiday hoping there’s a new post. Always a great quality,in terms of comment and pictures… This is my first comment today just to say I love this idea. As I live in Paris (France), I’ll try to listen to WFMU through the net or trough a podcast. Another thing : why do some people post comment just to insinuate :”this has been done already!”So poor!! Even if it’s true, who cares! This idea of the hidden room may not be new but the use you make of it is very exciting…

  2. Absolutely true!
    Your blob is amazing. My computer switches on your web page every morning since one month… I think you should make a book, it would be beautiful. A question too: why are you so obessessed by Ballard?!

  3. isn’t there an extra room fantasy in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ – someone correct me – or is that just a door into the neighbour’s apartment?

  4. In my experience, mobile phone recordings are just about seven steps below mobile phone photographs, and about 666 steps below mobile phone video in terms of being unlistenable/unviewable/unwatchable. While I appreciate attempts at democratizing the media, one has to keep in mind that no matter how big the database of media you archive is, if you want someone to actually *enjoy* the experience of going through your archive, then quality *is* an issue. Otherwise, your amassed terrabytes become expensive venture capital, a form of digital real-estate speculation with dubious rewards and the expectation of a high investment level from the consumer-gadgetry suckers from this block and beyond.

  5. I am so jealous; even your whiners wax poetic.

    If we can stay awake nights listening to Joe Frank’s scratchy phone-to-radio dramas for ten+ years, I’m sure we’ll be fine with BLDGWFMU.

    And besides, how do we know the only people to call in won’t be Korean teenagers with mad stereophonic 4G broadband mobiles?

    Suddenly I want free digital voicemail now, too, though. Any service provider plugs and tutorials for ripping without a radio station are appreciated.

  6. Sound quality is definitely an issue – but 1) we are aware of that, so we’ll do our best only to play the best stuff on the air, and 2) just like a scratchy recording of an old symphony can – can, not always does – sound romantic, I think a digitally fading in & out cell phone recording of ocean waves striking the English coast could be quite haunting to listen to. Not for every listener, of course – but we’ll do what we can to choose the best examples.

    So we won’t – hopefully – just be amassing random terrabytes of sound clips that we’ll then offload onto other people, forcing them to click through and search the archives until they find something good. We’ll be doing the clicking and the searching ourselves. And the sound quality issues associated with digital technology will, someday, be – I presume – as romantic and otherworldly as crackling old records are to most people today. But who knows.

    And, Clouseau, there is in fact a BLDGBLOG book forthcoming – so stay tuned! I’m working on it right now, actually. And some of my interest in Ballard, since you asked, is discussed here.

    Anyway, I have to say I have undiminished enthusiasm for this project. I think the combined use of cell phones, public phones, home phones, free voicemail accounts, radio shows, MP3s, and the natural sounds of the planet – or narratives of architectural fantasies – just gets me excited. I think it’s awesome. It sounds like fun to me, and I’m glad we’re doing it. I love the story Empirical links to, above, for instance, and I think it just shows the weird, lasting beauty of what happens when you record sounds and messages, and how these can be even further tweaked or transformed by having these things reappear in public, anonymously, broadcast over the radio.

    So the voicemail account – as an everyday thing in your life – tends not to be treated as a musical instrument, or as a musical resource, and so I think that trying to do that, trying to make voicemail into a public archive of sounds from different landscapes, located all over the world – as well as turning voicemail into a place in which to save people’s stories – is exciting. For me, I mean. Other people think that sucks.

    But then voicemail goes from being a private, even intimate, space – or whatever – a thing, a tool, a device – to being this collection of sounds and stories that reappears, live on the radio, in New York City. I think it’s hilarious. It’s hilarious and weird and ridiculous. And it has a hundred thousand artistic possibilities, things I’ve hardly even begun to think of.

    So the sound quality issues and the artistic precedent issues and all the other issues are all issues – but it just makes me even more excited that /rupture and I are doing this thing.

    But who knows, maybe this is all just the worship of new technology and I’m simply deluding myself. Either way, though, I can’t wait to hear strong autumn winds across the Great Lakes, recorded from a cell phone, broadcast live over a bed of music from a radio show in New York City – which will itself be played on a car’s stereo as someone drives, with the windows down, through Central Park. And maybe the driver is whistling, thinking about a book he just read, flipping his blinker on to turn right.

  7. Hi Geoff,

    Funny, I’m carrying on a comment-versation about this story on two fronts now, also over on /rupture’s blog. I talked a bit more about my (personal) aversion to highly compressed, lo-fi audio over there, along with some ideas about the subjective frame of recording.

    But perhaps besides the quality issue, what my late-night venture capital metaphor was fumbling in the dark at is the symbiotic relationship between those larger-than-lifesize megacorperations who produce more pocketsized gadgets for us to buy and the artists who see their use as the way forward. It’s a general critique, not aimed at your project in particular at all. But when dealing with art based on consumer technology, we have to ask ourselves–does the art reflect life and our actual usage of these things, or does our art push new marketing strategies? In other words, are we just unpaid R&D for Sony, Eriksson or the IPhone? One of the gurus of “interactive architecture”, Usman Haque, brings up an interesting example from the history of market-driven mass culture:

    “Money, power and control [are] heavily linked to this idea of technology.
    Example: Wilkinson [was] wondering how to sell more razor blades. Solution? They convinced women to start shaving their armpits!”


    I’d like to see a transcription of Usman’s whole talk for the “We Love Technology” conference, which was devilishly titled “I Hate Technology”, since it seems like it’s full of thought-ge(r)ms like this one. And it’s slightly ironic (intentionally so, I’m sure) that it appears on the We Make Money Not Art blog, which is quite saturated with fairly un-self-critical consumer-tech-art projects.

    So don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a very interesting project! And I’m as guilty as the next for having my own terrabyte-treasure-trove of archived soundrecordings (see The challenge, as you rightly point out, is in having an interface (human, machine or otherwise) which can make sense of these bottomless datamines and deliver it in a fresh form.

    best wishes from Berlin,
    Derek Holzer

  8. Hey Derek – That’s an entirely valid point, but I guess my main response would be that this argument doesn’t only apply to consumer technology – it applies to all consumer goods in general.

    In other words, if /rupture and I were asking people not to record these sounds but to describe them in a short paragraph – as per the Murch/Antonioni piece last week – then we could be seen as being somehow beholden to the Mead notebook company. Or that we were doing R&D for the portable writing device lobby.

    Everything anyone does with a manufactured product – from the computer I’m typing this on to the notebook I keep ideas written down in – offers new ideas for future uses to that manufacturer. At some point, though, these things – like notebooks and pens – become so ubiqitous, such a part of everyday life, that art projects using these things don’t appear to be part of an agenda (promoting the consumption of notebooks and pens).

    Anyway, I think taking these products – notebooks, pens, pencils, cell phones, voicemail accounts – and doing something interesting with them (not just using your notebook to log corporate expenditures but to write a novel, say) outweighs the risk that we might simply by dupes, performing free product research for companies we don’t work for. So I would just say that your argument applies literally to everything – using the backseat of my car as a place to eat lunch with a friend because we can’t find an open seat at the cafe offers new ideas to the designers at Toyota. So there’s no real escape.

    All of which is another way of saying that some future Usman Haque might appear at a conference in 30 years’ time – saying that, back in the day, the pen and paper lobby had been trying to find a way to sell more products… so they convinced people to start writing poetry. Or to write down their dreams. Or to write letters to their best friends.

    When it comes to products, you never know when you’re the victim of someone else’s marketing strategy.

  9. BACK TO THE BLDGBLOG BOOK. How exciting! Can we post you ideas? Can we send you pictures? Links? Do we send them to you through this posting? Please let us know.
    A first thought like that, is that you should think about SPACE in the book. For instance there is a French writer you probably never heard of, his name is Queneau, he cut the pages of each page into thity lines, and offered it to be read freely, as an infinite composition, that the whole life would not suffice to read. I am NOT suggesting you to do that. But I think it might be interesting to think spacially. Another point. Being French, my references are slightly different. Sometimes your postings remind me of Baudrillard. Do you know the philosopher? He has also made a series of photographies of crashed cars. Look froward to your answer. BLDGBLOG is a great space for thought! PS I cannot put my name in the username! Clouseau

  10. I have your Oregon sounds covered. Sounds from a late night in the middle of the forest or the Oregon Coast could be quite nice for a resident New Yorker, I presume.

  11. Going in the other direction, this post made me think back to my first reading of Chuck Palahnuik’s Diary. The unmaking of space was fascinating. I guess it does speak to this post in that somehow, all the rooms that are dreamt into existence were put there in some moment of the past. The memory of the creation is lost but the artifact remains (at least in the dreamlife of the crowded).

    One can wonder if just such a dream was the Genesis of House of Leaves (Danielewski). One night while sleeping he began to dream of the hidden closet door that was simply buried in the plaster. Darker forces of a ‘spot of musturd’ intervened and instead of an optimistic awakening to look for this hidden door he finds himself terrified of dark, confined and ill-described spaces and doorways.

  12. Hey Clouseau – I do indeed know the work of both Queneau and Baudrillard – as well as Perec, while we’re on the subject of French writers.

    If you’ve got tips for the BLDGBLOG book, meanwhile, feel free to leave them here, as a comment, or on whatever post happens to be up at the top. Thanks!

    And, dp, feel free to call in with the Oregon sounds…

  13. That is a fantastic idea, lo-fi and all. I might not be able to call you from my cell phone, since it and I are located overseas, but I’ll definitely try to find a way to listen in.

    (Most importantly, though, DJ/rupture has to be the best-looking person ever to have a handle with an unpronounceable symbol in it!)

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