Aural Contract is constituted by a series of events, publications, performances, exhibitions, interviews, compositions and workshops that examines the politics of listening through a focus on the role of the voice in law.
Since 2010 Abu Hamdan has built up a sound archive, containing audio extracts of his works together with specific moments of juridical listening and speaking gathered from a wide range of sources such as the trials of Saddam Hussein and Judas Priest, UK police evidence tapes, films such as Decoder and readings from texts including Italo Calvino’s A King Listens. The components of this archive are then mixed together, generating audio documentaries and narrative compositions that immerse its audience in the heart of a discussion about the relationship of listening and audio technology to politics, borders, human rights, testimony and international law.
The Freedom of Speech Itself
The Freedom of Speech Itself is an audio documentary looking at the the history and contemporary application of forensic speech analysis and voice-prints, focusing on the UK’s controversial use of voice analysis to determine the origins and authenticity of asylum seekers’ accents. Testimonies from lawyers, phonetic experts, asylum seekers and Home Office officials reveal the geo-politics of accents and the practice of listening that led to shocking stories of wrongful deportations. When combined with the experimental audio composition these interviews are designed to fully immerse the listener in the heart of a discussion that profoundly problematises the nature of listening, forensics, free speech, migration, borders and the law.
For the group show Materiality at WYSPA IS ( Gdansk), The Freedom of Speech Itself is presented alongside the sculptural forms of voiceprints illustrating the frequency and amplitude of two different voices saying the word “you”. Voiceprints like the ones you see here use cartographic techniques of mapping to forensically identify accents. Hence by using these sculptural forms that simultaneously resemble a fingerprint, a mountain and a voice, Abu Hamdan’s argument is condensed into a material form; physically and aesthetically binding together notions of politics, voice and territory.
Moreover the acoustically absorbent sound proofing foam used in the construction of these sculptures directly intervenes in the audio-space; deadening the room and creating feedback between the sculptures and the documentary that seeks to both acoustically and conceptually intensify the listening experience.
The Language Gulf in the Shouting Valley
This piece is a a short audio-essay about the politics of language and the conditions of voice faced by the Druze community in Palestine/Israel. This audio piece is part of an ongoing Phd research project called Aural Contract, which uses an audio archive as a methodology to examine the contemporary politics of listening and focuses on the role of the voice in law.
This audio piece offers an account of how borders, jurisdictions and colonial occupation become inscribed and worn on the voice of its subjects. The two issues that make up this work are that of the Druze Soldiers working as interpreters in the Israeli Military Court system in the West Bank and Gaza and the site of the Shouting Valley, Golan Heights, where the Druze population gather on both sides of the Israeli/ Syrian Border and shout across the jurisdictions to family and friends on the other-side. The piece ends with the recordings taken from the 2011 Nakba day protest when 150 Syrians stormed the shouting valley border and entered Israel where they were greeted by their fellow cross-border protestors. When put together the two parts of this work intend to stands as a reminder that even when language is colonized one still has a voice.
Produced with thanks to Dr Lisa Hajjar, Professor at the University of Santa Barbara and author of Courting Conflict, on The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza.
This work was made for on/off Language for the Jerusalem Show 2011, curated by Lara Khalidi
Under investigation – CASCO
As part of his upcoming solo exhibition at CASCO Utrecht, Abu Hamdan is developing and expanding his research for the Aural contract project in several ways as detailed below.
Casco will present the most recent stages of the project as a “voice-activated” installation featuring a new commission The Whole Truth and other excerpts from Abu Hamdan’s audio archive. Here, the Bosch Ultro Discussion System (trademark), an infrastructure of microphones and headphones used in the International Criminal Court at the Hague, will be used to broadcast and facilitate this audio art work. By inserting his work inside these legal audio systems Abu Hamdan seeks to amplify simultaneously his work and the audio technologies that are used to broadcast, compress, distort and process testimonies. This installation seeks then, to inhabit and induce the very modes of listening which are central to the contemporary political conditions of voice and its audition.
Dispersed Phonemes – an exercise in mapping the voices of somalia
Building on the extensive research made for The Freedom of Speech Itself Abu Hamdan, a group Somali asylum seekers rejected by the dutch government based on their accents, the Casco team, Stichting Los, DeTaal Studio and a graphic designer will collaborate to make a set of maps and info-graphics that provide the evidence of just how much more complicated questions of accent and origin become in a violently stateless zone of mass migration.
In addition to the production of these images, Casco will host an event to launch and present them, here an audience will be able to hear first hand from those Somali voices that have been unjustly muted by the asylum process.
The Whole Truth – an audio documentary commissioned by CASCO
The Whole Truth is the title of new research culminating in an audio documentary which amplifies the current application of voice analysis as a lie detection method recently piloted by European, Russian and Israeli governments as well as being employed in border agencies and insurance companies all over the world.
The idea underlying Layered voice analysis lie detection is that physiological conditions of stress are made audible by the non-verbal elements of a voice and that the technology can determine true or false statements based on jittering frequencies, glottal tension and vocal intensity. By examining the use of the technology in the context of an increasingly forensic shift in the way the law listens, Abu Hamdan’s documentary seeks to demonstrate how the diminishing agency of words is being drowned out by the law’s amplification of accents, inflections, reflections, impediments and prosody. The documentary will combine experimental audio exploration of the materiality of the voice with interviews of leading phonetic experts and lawyers as well as the software developers of a vocal trauma-o-meter at Delft University. Here Abu Hamdan will work with radio producers to make a work that is designed to complicate the conventions of testimony and its relationship to trauma, free speech, technology and the body.