Scientists often note that we spend a lot of time, money and effort trying to contact aliens, while failing to pay attention to some of earth’s most intelligent creatures (dolphins and whales). Kate Carr’s Contact takes the observation one step further, questioning whether we have the inclination to connect with each other. This timely release was first a live performance, and is now available for all to experience.
The raw material for this soundscape includes “sonic transmissions and emissions, radio, morse code, sonar, satellite, blue tooth, and wireless,” along with a large number of friends repeating the words “dot, dash, zero, one.” Depending on one’s perspective, their readings may be interpreted as an example of dehumanization or as a hopeful, albeit stilted, human element. Some of the more retro sounds ~ especially that of dial-up ~ produce an odd nostalgia, in that these sounds should not be nostalgic. Whenever we miss the old technologies, we expose the fact that we form emotional connections to unemotional things.
These dots, dashes and beeps are embedded in a soft neural framework, a gentle glow akin to the hum of a screen. The white noise is comforting, as are the whispers. After a while, one begins to realize that the voices are speaking into the wind, which echos their utterances, the dot, dot, dot balanced by beep, beep, beep. Words are being typed into the ether, sent out to find new lives. People are communicating on message boards, but not with each other; leaving voice mails and text messages, hoping they will be answered, while preserving the option of screening incoming calls. Our advanced technology has also given us a greater means to ignore each other, claiming dead batteries, dropped calls, poor service, all covering for the fact that we are too busy, distracted, or uninterested. And yet we continue to yearn to make contact, to feel connected, the latter word used more frequently in wireless dialect than in any communal context.
Carr’s piece comes across as intensely lonely. Contact is both indictment and invitation. As the voices begin to accumulate in the closing quarter, one feels an intense agitation. The contributors speak in unison, but not together: parallel, isolated zeroes and ones, as if the first word represents a feeling and the second a solitary life. It wouldn’t take much to turn this around; but will we be motivated enough to turn off our cellphones, close our screens, leave our TVs and reengage with the tumultuous, messy, marvelous human race? (Richard Allen)