Traffic

"The sound experience which I prefer to all others is the experience of silence. And the silence, almost everywhere in the world now, is traffic. … If you listen to Beethoven or to Mozart, you see that they're always the same. But if you listen to traffic you see it's always different." (John Cage)

traffic

 

[absolute silence]

 

Bird 1: "Chirp, chirp, chirrrp."
Bird 2: "Ch-ch-chirp."

Bird 1: "Chirp, chirp, chirrrp."
Bird 2: "Ch-ch-chirp."

Bird 1: "Chirp, chirp, chirrrp."
Bird 2: "Ch-ch-chirp."

 

[louis oosthuizen makes a short putt to force a playoff at the master's]

 

Bird 1: "Chirp, chirp, chirrrp."
Bird 2: "Ch-ch-chirp."

Visual Silence?

In 1952 the avant-garde composer John Cage created his experimental composition 4'33". In this work, Cage created a set of instructions for the musicians not to play their instruments for the entire duration of the piece. The premiere of the work was performed by the pianist David Tudor: he sat down, addressed the piano as if about to play, closed the keyboard lid, remained silent for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, and then stood up and stepped away from the instrument.

Thus the performer and audience members experienced a period of "silence" or non-intentional sound. In other words, Cage wished to engineer a particular sensory environment by diminishing (not eliminating) the influence of one sense and allowing indeterminate elements to make an important contribution to the formation of music: the sounds of people shuffling in seats (no doubt wondering what the hell was going on), the muted cacophony of dissonant breathing rhythms, the echoes of the enclosed architectural space of the auditorium — all became the chance sonic environment for Cage's composition.

But as McLuhan points out, any change in the ratio of our sensory perception — for example, by dramatically reducing the reliance on the auditory — forces a change in our other senses as well, and thus a change in how we understand our external environments. In the absence of sound (or at least its reduction) during 4'33" the ratio of senses would shift, likely toward what would have otherwise been the dominant sense modality of vision. The audience members were probably intent on perceiving the piano player visually, to see why there was no music being played, what he was doing instead of playing, and from where the other indeterminate sounds were emanating. In other words, there was simultaneously a shift toward the linearity of determining observable causes and effects.

We witness a similar change in sense ratio during the practice of gait surfing, though instead of reducing sound we attempt to reduce (but not eliminate) the reliance on vision. The goal of the exercise is to recalibrate the sense ratio such that the auditory and tactile elements are emphasized in the movements through urban space. This is amplified, on the one hand, by the shared acoustic space of the synchronized playlist, itself a particular dérive through the archives of music that initiates a communicative experience or vibrating string of co-poiesis between the surfers. On the other hand, it suggests an opportunity to understand one's flow through the wave of pedestrian traffic in a tactile, relational sense.

Perhaps Cage provides a reminder for us: just as there is no complete silence in 4'33", so too is there no complete blindness or visual silence in the practice of gait surfing. Maybe we should remain attuned to those indeterminate visual elements that might otherwise be considered optical noise, drawing from peripheral rather than linear focus.

GVB and the Three Lines of D+G

Some preliminary notes theorizing basketball, written after reading Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia:

Three lines of D+G related to basketball

The Molar or Rigid Line of Segmentarity

This is the hierarchy along which modern sport is constructed, formalized in basketball through FIBA, the various national basketball federations, the NBA and its professional basketball franchises, the other international basketball leagues and the professional basketball clubs that comprise them, the NCAA and other scholastic sporting bodies, etc. The competition structure is segmented in an arborescent fashion, such that winners — who are determined by a proposed objective truth result in the contest — advance up the hierarchy, from local to regional to national to international. Basketball in the molar sense is further stratified by identities (skill levels, gender, bodies and their dis/abilities) and by position (coach, star player, role player).

The Line of Molecular or Supple Segmentation

The molecular refers to the myriad pickup basketball games that occur around the world at any one time. Indeed, at any quasi-public sporting facility, such as a YMCA, university gym, community recreation centre, or outdoor court, there is bound to be a pickup game that essentially continues to be played all day, with various players moving on and off the court, or from one team to the other. While this meta-game may be segmented into smaller measured segments ("Game to seven, ball's in!"), this segmentation is supple at the local level. The suppleness continues in the cracks between the identity categories outlined earlier: male and female basketball players routinely play together in pickup games, and those from different levels of the skill hierarchy (pro, college, high school) are often found on the court at the same time.

Generally speaking, pickup games have an uneasy relationship with the more formal basketball hierarchy: on the one hand, they are necessary for players to improve their skills in the "off-season" so that they are of greater value to the hierarchy when season resumes again in the fall; on the other hand there is a perception that the skills acquired on the "playground" may be at odds with the instrumentalism of formal hierarchical basketball competition. Thus, it is no surprise that "playground-style" basketball has become racialized: AND1 becomes the ICD code for a disease meme that contaminates pure basketball — one that must be eliminated with a discursive campaign of hygiene that declares the stylistic excesses of the playground game as "too black" and to be avoided.

The Line of Flight

Global Village Basketball is the line of flight. It ruptures the existing hierarchy by networking together the molecular pickup games that exist around the world into one meta-game. It is a collective, yet distributed, net performance of improvised pickup basketball located on a smooth patchwork of hardwood, asphault, terrazzo, concrete and dirt; the backboard is syncretic plexiglass, aluminum and wood; the rims iron, milk crate and peach basket; the mesh nylon and chain-link. The virtual setting of the meta-game becomes the means of deterritorializing the basketball court space.

Global Village Basketball attempts to undermine the instrumentalist perspective by eliminating coaches/referees/discursively-created stars from the mix and allowing for improvisational (and democratic?) composition by every athlete. Or, more correctly, I have put myself in the role of composer (following in the experimental music tradition of John Cage and others) and given explicit directives guiding improvisation by the performer. In doing so, score ceases to be an output of manufacturing tendencies, but rather becomes an accumulation of revealing through sport. We shift the focus from basketball-the-product, to basketball-as-production.