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[The User] interview.
by Alessandro Ludovico

Is the office the ultimate performative space?
Yes. We live in a society where art has been commodified. like architecture, art is an expression of power: those who have money can afford to patronise the arts. Indeed, beginning with the Renaissance, artists were only considered such by merit of this patronage. The institution of patronage has developed 'fine art' as a discipline somehow separate from 'real life'. As Calvino's story of "The Workshop Hen" illustrates, the worker is only as valuable as he is efficient - he does as he is told without stopping to ask why. If one views art as a reflexive, considered questioning of aspects of one's environment (be it space for architects, sound for composers etc.) and artists as individuals who bring their creative questioning to aspects of everyday life then it is easy to understand why art has not been welcomed in the workplace - that is to say, work is not to be questioned. By bringing art into the workplace (ie by making art with and about the objects and spaces of everyday life) the artificial schism between art and life is brought into question. tsm

Anonymity is a consequence of some absurd society's laws, or the unavoidable mutation of the modern man?
"man is a social animal" - anonymous. This question reminds me of something that I heard a few days ago from the mouth of Mike Holboom, a film maker from Toronto. He remarked that we live in a world of strangers. This may seem self-evident, but what makes it interesting is that this is an entirely new phenomenon. Before the industrial revolution, you would never have met anyone you hadn't known since childhood. It is only after industrialisation and mass migration to the city that the stranger becomes the rule rather than the exception. Whether industrialisation should have or could have been prevented is beside the point; what is not in dispute is that its consequences are unavoidable. For western society (barring unthinkable catastrophe) there is no going back to a rural existence. Also, if predictions of future housing needs are anything to go by, then the direction we are taking is towards the individual as opposed to the family as the basic societal unit. It is interesting to note that as we become evermore a society of individuals our collective obsession tends to be with communication - the telephone, the internet, mobile phones etc. Interaction with our friends, family, even our lovers, take place courtesy of (and mediated by) these networks. Could it be that these highly elaborate 'virtual networks' of social interaction are a response to the loss of the collective social existence of rural community? So yes, in this sense, anonymity is an inevitable consequence of modernity. If our reaction to it is anything to go by then it might not be one we are particularly comfortable with. tsm

If you'd implement sounds into an office building, what you'd like to do?
I think John Cage might answer this by saying, "There are already sounds in an office building. Nothing needs to be changed, it sounds interesting as it is." If you asked R. Murray Schafer (composer and sound ecology pioneer) he would probably take the opportunity to criticize the kind of sound design that prevails in most office buildings - ie, dealing with unwanted sounds by creating more, even louder noise to mask them. In agreement with both of these writers, I would say two things. First of all, I'm deeply distrustful of introducing something into a situation that wasn't already there. It begs the question, "why did you introduce that? What was wrong with the things that were there before?" I find it more subtle, and therefore potentially more subversive, to re-arrange environments than to create new ones. The Symphony for dot matrix printers is one example of this approach - and we have always been interested in installing/performing the Symphony in an actual office building. Secondly, I'm especially reviled by the use of piped music in office buildings. I wonder when we, as a culture, decided that music is a layer suitable for spreading onto any situation, as opposed to being a complete situation in itself. I think radio and piped music have a lot to do with this attitude. Not radio or piped music themselves, but the way that they have come to be used. So to answer your question, I think that the only way I would want to implement new sounds into an office building would be to re-design the whole office. em

What kind of 'machine' is lost forever?
At the top, there is a kind of an inverted funnel made of variously aged scraps of sheet metal riveted together with rusty bolts and wood screws. From the top of this spews forth an intermittent belch of steam. An improbably sinuous bit of plastic ductwork joins this spout to the rest of the machine, which is populated by a dense intertwining of cogs, wheels, gears, and belts. The entire wheezing contraption teeters precariously atop a unicycle, propelling itself forward in short and unpredictable spurts of energy. The lack of reliable balance of this clattering apparatus dictates that the machine is perpetually deciding between two possible destinies: either to continue aimlessly forth in no particular direction for the sole purpose of remaining upright, or to come crashing to the ground in a sudden and definitive halt. This kind of machine is lost forever. em

Is it 'the user', the 90's paradigm for the illiterate?
In many ways the User (i.e. not us [The User]) is someone that conforms, more or less, to the expectations of the designers of the systems and products that surround us. Given the rate of creation and the multiplicity of disciplines involved, the average User cannot hope to keep up with, or even simply to understand, the vast array of technologies that mediate our everyday interactions with the world. Whether it is fixing our cars, making our computers behave or buying genetically modified fruit the User is faced with a quintessential illiteracy - one of knowledge. Just as literacy empowered the church and the state in pre-industrial society, so this technical literacy empowers the new ruling class - those who create and shape the desires and needs of the User with the tools and techniques of marketing. tsm

We can speak of three classes when it comes to information society. At the top are the systems designers, the elite who not only possess the ability to function in this multiplicity of systems but also are empowered to create and change them. The Users are the vast middle class, understanding and obeying rules, those for whom the systems are designed. Frequently forgotten are the non-Users, an even larger group, functionally illiterate of the proliferating technological (and social) codes. em

If you'd be the director of the Office Workers of the World (unite) Online Orchestra, what kind of nations would you like to start the opera with? And why?
I'm still not sure what you mean by 'nations'. I'm reminded, however, of a publication from San Francisco called Bad Attitude, the authors of which hold that in a post-manufacturing, information-based capitalist economy, there is potentially huge political power in the hands of those who make the information move, those who handle it on a daily basis. It is no coincidence, they continue, that these people, who live on the dregs of the information business (bicycle couriers, secretaries, html programmers), are the most able to bring the whole machine to a standstill and would also stand to gain the most from applying such pressure. The combination of sound and mass action has been a powerful political tool since the time of the wall of Jericho, and your idea of an OWW(u)OO is one that fascinates me and which I'd like to think about further. This fits in with an old idea [The User] has had for an opera entitled The Socio-economic History of the Grease Monkey... the scene: Manila, Tampa Bay, Oaxaca, Seoul, Dusseldorf, Johannesburg. The year: 1999, 1992, 1989, 1931, 1649, 1491. One by one, the dramatis personae log on: field hands, grocery store cashiers, coffee pickers, LAN administrators, child carpet weavers, night shift cleaning staff in the office tower. em

The word 'automatic' has a positive or negative meaning for you? Why?
Automation is a doctrine which is hotly contested in the field of industrial relations, and in this context "automatic" obviously carries a negative meaning for me. The question becomes more complex when applied to the differences between installation art and performance: there is an underlying assumption of automatism that runs through installation art, be it interactive or not. The faculty of setting up an entirely self-contained environment, a clockwork-like creation which the creator can then withdraw from, is pleasing to both industrialists and the rest of us in that it enables us to cast ourselves in the role of God. What is the antonym of the word "automatic"? "Manual", perhaps, implying the human hand and a constant involvement of a constructive or manipulative kind. Hence the philosophy underlying performance and process-oriented art. em

The net opens a door through office subversion and liberation. Is there a possibility that people'll free even part of his working time with tactical strategies?
If, as it sounds to me, you are asking if I think that the net will reify De Certeau's ideas elucidated in the 'practice of everyday life' then the answer is no. De Certeau's suggests that each and every one of us take a little of our employer's time and resources to produce something unnecessary - to practice a minute but universal form of subversive creativity from within the rational project. While an admirable goal, he suggests no practical 'strategy' to incite this behaviour in people who don't read his book (the vast majority I suspect). The net is a tool for the multidirectional broadcast of information. Right now it offers, as content, perhaps a slightly more balanced selection of views and opinions than traditional media of newspapers, tv and radio (how long this will last, given demonstrated commercial interest, only time will tell). This content is available (as it always was) to anyone who wants it. However, the desire to subvert, to liberate, to be free has to exist before anyone will act on it and as I mentioned above, our desires are to a great extent shaped by a small group of people who have no interest in the subversion of the workplace - quite the contrary. While the net has been cited as instrumental in the organisation of coherent resistance to such things as the Multilateral Agreement on Investments or MAI (which would have conferred the sovereignty of corporations over nation states) it is only a tool for communicating. The desire to subvert is pre-supposed in the act. Perhaps we should all go into marketing. (RTMark from the US have excellent 'strategies' to incite subversion - tsm

If you'd committed to compose the soundtrack for the newest Microsoft Office release, what kind of music you'd like to realize?
9a. Soundtracks and redundancy in audio-visual environments - My first reaction to this is that Iive never really seen the point of soundtracks for things like office software. I realized this recently when I was working on my computer, which I had placed near an AM radio, and something quite surprising happened. The radio was not tuned to any station, so a sort of dull static was emanating from it, along with a few varying high frequencies. However, whenever I carried out an operation on my laptop (especially opening, moving, and resizing windows, selecting a large amount of text, scrolling through text, etc.) the radio would produce noises which were obviously being caused by these operations. Variations in the pitch, number, and intensity of the high frequencies, changes also in the colour of the static. It was a great soundtrack for working on a computer, unlike the majority of these newfangled pinball-machine-like soundtracks they have on new office software versions. They insult your intelligence! Hyperactively associating different sounds with actions like cut, copy, paste... I know when Iive pasted something! I can see that the text has just been pasted. I donit need an aural confirmation which just duplicates information that I already knew.
9b. Corporate lackeys - When he answered the first question, Thomas made a point about art as an expression of power. Sound design for software firms and corporate intranet is an excellent example of this. It cannot be overlooked that while Brian Eno (or whoever) has a large influence on the sound of the new Microsoft soundtrack if he's the one who gets the contract, the influence of Microsoft on the soundtrack is even greater since they're the ones that pick Brian Eno. Castles and churches were all built by skilled workers in the service of royalty and the church. Of course the physical nature of such structures, the details, reflect the workers who worked on them, but none of that would have been possible without the economic and political structures on which these works depended.
9c. What would I do - Microsoft Office, huh? Probably sounds of a lot of people heard from the distance, being tortured and screaming, struggling to break free of their oppressor... Meanwhile, a calm and immaculately service-industry-trained voice would repeat ad nauseum, "Have a nice day." ...not that they'd ever give me the contract though. em

In your opinion, does the copyright still have sense?
I'm in two minds about this one. on the one hand copyright serves one master: the record company. when a record company sues for copyright they're not doing it out of some altruistic defense of intellectual property. No, they're doing to protect their interest, to make a buck. Music is a multi-billion dollar international industry that makes a lot of people (very few of whom are artists) a lot of money. these people are the ones with vested interest in copyright. On the other hand, nothing makes me angrier than intellectual theft. Claiming someone else's work as your own is inspiringly pathetic behaviour. The discussion becomes interesting at the border between theft and quotation. Sampling and djing are creative activities and should not be restricted by copyright. However, this should be a debate between creators and not between publishers. tsm

November 1999.