The sounds of communication technology frequently provoke a Pavlovian response. Hands immediately scramble for pockets and purses. Eyes light up as an unknown number appears on your screen—a glimmer of fantastical hope, freeing you from the mundanity of your day-to-day routine.
Almost all of us have some immediate emotional response to these tones, bells, clicks and whistles; they condition us over time, heralds of important moments and new information, harbingers of job interviews and second dates. Triggering both optimism and anxiety, they tap directly into our need for human contact, and their history forms an evolving lexicon that is inseparable from our experiences with these technologies.
Oliver and I wanted to tell this history, a century-long journey of man and machine (and pigeon) by drawing on the power of our associations with communication technology, and creating audio and video tracks that would alternatively interact or diverge, presenting parallel versions of the narrative. While compiling these sounds and images, sense-memories, funny stories, and hazy historical recollections were jarred from the darkest recesses of our brains.
Long Distance Operator includes pigeons, typewriters, telegraph, rotary and touch-tone phones. It is entirely re-appropriated, and the audio component has been arranged as music, a polyphonic collage that layers more than 90 individual samples taken exclusively from the history of telecommunication, placing them in chronological order. You can luxuriate in the sweet, sensuous sounds of vintage telephone switchboard operators, gawk at primitive-seeming pagers, and curse the memory of the damnable fax machine; relive the horrors of your acne-ridden pre-teens with a realistic AOL dial-up experience, thrill at recognizing the ringtone from your first cell phone, or reflect on that uncomfortable moment your boss called, just to say that he loved you.
Ironically, through our intense editing sessions and late nights, Oliver and I have had sort of a breakdown in communication. Overtired and cranked up on goofballs, we have been reduced to short, aggressive grunts and emoticons to express ourselves, text-messaging each other inscrutable strings of nonsense from across the living room. The project has scrambled my programming, put me in a perpetually frazzled state; I keep imagining my phone is going off. As for Oliver, every few minutes, he snaps to attention, confusedly gazing at his lifeless iPhone and then listening off into the distance, harking to some phantom clarion call, his disturbed mind telling him that somewhere out there, someone is trying to reach out and touch him.