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Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception

Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception (2010)

The question is not so much about how sound is produced within our society, but rather how we interpret sound and respond to it. For example, I am currently sitting at my computer with a blanket over my head and computer and with earmuffs for working with loud machines on. I am trying to isolate myself from the sound that exists in the same room – in this case my partner playing a great slow psychedelic Melbourne-based band loudly from his desk. My earmuffs are working to muffle the noise to a certain point – just enough for me to ignore the music and attempt concentration on another subject. I am unable to dislocate myself from the noise of my surroundings, which is perhaps why my practice investigates the very nature of sound and its cultural implications.


Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception explores sound as a form of creativity, a product of engineering and science, and as a cultural experiment. There has been much discussion on modes of listening within cultural theory and modern philosophy, but it has often been the case of separating listening from hearing. This installation questions the validity of separating listening and hearing, instead suggesting an equality that leads towards sameness. Roland Barthes proposed a formal separation of hearing and listening by separating the physiological from psychological.[i] However, as portable music players become increasingly accessible and ‘essential’, theories on hearing and listening must change accordingly. Michael Bull describes the effects of the iPod as “the creation of a personalised soundworld” that “creates a form of accompanied solitude for its users in which they feel empowered, in control and self-sufficient”.[ii] Bull’s ideas imply that perhaps we can reach a state of listening where we are also hearing – accepting the additional environmental noises around us as part of our ‘soundtrack’. Perhaps it is possible for the ‘modern listener’ to merge Barthes notion of hearing as to do with the body in space and awareness of surroundings with his notion of listening as an act of concentration and decisiveness to analyse sounds. In many ways we are doing this already – accepting traffic noise on public transport while listening to music, or those few moments at the end of a song where nothing is playing but the environmental sounds allow that moment to merge with the next song – a constant fusion of sound and music through physiological and psychological listening/hearing.


Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception forces audience participation by recording the sounds of any person entering the space – but it also asks for interaction by physiologically and psychologically hearing and listening. The installation spits out the sounds we make straight back at us, changing and altering signals – asking us to pay attention and find the difference. These alterations are disquieting – they are not loud and vicious, but blend back into the surroundings, subtly altering our cognition of the space both as a physical and psychological manifestation. Where Barthes suggests that listening is about psychologically deciding on what to ignore, this installation asks us to consider accepting all. To be as aware of the output from the speakers as of our own sounds, those sounds around us, and those sounds beyond the room.

[i] B LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, New York, London, 2006.

[ii] M Bull, ‘No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening’, from Leisure Studies, Vol. 24, No. 4, October 2005, p. 353.

Project Details

Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception (2010)

  • Installation

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