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ISSUE 51 : Proof of Sound by Sonic Screen
The Ambiguous Sound: Four Fables about Future-Crossing Sounds
March 1st, 2022Type: Sound Scene
Author: Au Sow Yee , Lina Dann (Trans), 聲介面計畫 (編輯)

In his book Die Geschichte der Unschärfe (The History of Vagueness), German art historian and cultural scientist Wolfgang Ullrich discusses various arguments and quality changes in terms of clear versus vague images that have come as consequence since the emergence of photography. In the foreword, he wrote,

Reconstructing the history of vagueness implies categorical description on how imaging approaches have been freed in terms of philosophy and ideology.

History that once was the future and the future that will soon become history hover like curses over the swiftly and ever changing sceneries. In the moving space-time where history flies by and future is imminent, we seem to sway back and forth between the sources and destinations of philosophies and ideologies. Sounds in this dynamic space-time are as vague as pictures and images; four seemingly fragmented fables abound sound that are at the same time encrypted with memories, histories, and legends make their encounter here. The current text can be understood as a sound journey that is vague and imaginative. Vague sounds are not some kind of error from recording technology. These vague sounds live off of cross space-time stories, unveiling potential revelation as fables do.


Fable One: Sounds and Movies

For 12 years of my childhood, my family of four lived in a small unit within a government flat in downtown Kuala Lumpur. The flat sat on Jalan Hang Tuah, a busy road known as Shaw Road from the British Colonial times up until the 1980s. For this reason, our 12-year home had a name — Shaw Road Flat. One bedroom, one living room, one kitchen, one bathroom, and a balcony. The balcony doubled as a study room for my sister and me. In the daytime, it was drowned in cicada and crow cries; at night, the fire department across the alley would, on special occasions, put up big screens on the square where firefighters usually exercise and play some movies. I would peek faraway from a distance at such special sights from behind a tree, but it was always so distant that, in my memories, the images on the screen and sound coming from the speakers are vague and unclear. It was the sound of movies, and yet the conversation-composed sounds are not only unrecognizable but not understandable at all. After 30 years, what I can still remember are the occasional loud banging from Hollywood big pictures. Or maybe it was just the imagination of a tropical kid; the roaming voices between the balcony and the square seep through the border of perception — memories that reverberated from summer days across the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Americas. This was an accidentally achieved decentralized sound memory act.


Fable Two: Dinosaurs

When I was even younger, our family balcony looked out to a small hill. My then favorite TV show was Ultraman, which often featured plots of superheroes combating monsters and dinosaurs. At night in my dreams, the dinosaurs would roam around the hills and approach my balcony to gaze at me. The dinosaurs from TV were often accompanied by roars, and yet the dinosaurs from my dreams were always silent and wordless. The dinosaur roars weren’t all that clear in my childhood memories, yet the “real-life” dinosaurs seemed more vivid than the gigantic dinosaurs on movie screens. In my memory, dinosaurs that seeped through my daily life were associated with smells. “Milo Dinosaurs” felt sweet like a cup of Milo cocoa drink drenched in ice and then sprinkled with mount-like Milo cocoa powder, which is why they are named “Milo Dinos.” Those were Dino roars that you can taste but cannot hear; they were dinosaur figures still in the mountain hills that had not and would not make a sound.


Fable Three: The Bumblebee and Project X

“SIGSALY,” “Project X,” also known as “the Green Bumblebee,” was a digitally encrypted radio communication system jointly designed by British cryptanalyst Alan Turing (1912~1954) and Claude Elwood Shannon (1916~2001) who worked under the Bell Lab for the Allies during World War II. Bumblebees don’t make buzzing sounds — they encode sounds and then hide messages using random noises. The encrypted noises sound ambiguous and vague, passing along countless political and military classified messages between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. It was a once-use-only crypto key engraved on vinyl — it was an encryption operation involving the journey of sounds of high-point authority being encrypted through randomization and then undergoing reconstruction only to achieve mutual destruction.


Fable Four: The Tiger King and Exotic Joe

A long long time ago, in the jungles of Borneo Island of Southeast Asia, there lived an arrogant tiger. One day, a Ryukyu mouse was crowned the king of the jungle, which not only upset the tiger but also led him to challenge the Ryukyu mouse to a swimming duel in order to retrieve his place on the throne. Under the witness of countless monsters and animals, the Ryukyu mouse came to the meeting as agreed upon. Unexpected to the tiger, the Ryukyu mouse floated lithely above water yet drowned to death in the end. The tiger, sad and angered, turned around and went deep into the woods. He knew in his heart that he would never again become the king of the jungle.

In 2020, Netflix released a documentary series called Tiger King, which featured a protagonist called “Exotic Joe.” The documentary was filled with all kinds of crazy scenarios — from drugs, murder, multi-partner sexual relationships, to cult-like intense plots of love and hatred. Exotic Joe was the keeper and caretaker of tigers in a private zoo; however, the tigers in the documentary seemed so much more innocent than the humans. Nobody will remember the roar of tigers in Tiger King — but everyone got a lasting impression of Exotic Joe and his dysphoric relationship with his many friends, enemies, and lovers. The audience was tantalized into extreme excitement by the characters’ craziness. At the end of the show’s Season 1, Exotic Joe was sent to jail by his enemy. Today, Exotic Joe remains active on Twitter despite being incarcerated. His friends and the lover who is seemingly awaiting his return for a happily-ever-after have launched a cryptocurrency named after him — the “Tiger King Coin.” On its own website, the currency describes itself as “a community-led, decentralized cryptocurrency.” In the mining farms, the silent cryptocurrency “Tiger King” seems to provide Exotic Joe with a virtual ray of light for his bizarre and ludicrous life, paving his way back into the American tiger-keeping stage in the name of a decentralized Tiger King coin. Tiger King is returning to Netflix for a second season; as of January 14th, 2021, you can purchase $34,618 in Tiger King currency for NTD$10; meanwhile, a new cryptocurrency — “Baby Tiger King Coin” — has crept its way onto the Internet. In the fiend of cryptocurrency mining, the legend of Tiger King continues; there’s gunpowder and smokes everywhere and, all of a sudden, there seems to be two tigers singing joyfully together — at the same time sounding hoarse and vague.