Pip Adam and the City Gallery Book Club return with a reading list inspired by Eavesdropping. Panellists: Brannavan Gnanalingam (novelist and lawyer), Sue Orr (fiction writer and former journalist), and David Long (musician, composer and producer). They will be discussing:
Catherine Chidgey, The Beat of the Pendulum: A Found Novel
Italo Calvino, A King Listens (from the collection Under the Jaguar Sun)
Eavesdropping: A Reader, edited by James Parker and Joel Stern
Behrouz Boochani, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.
Written responses from the following:
Catherine Robertson’s six novels have all been number 1 New Zealand bestsellers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters. Catherine reviews for the NZ Listener, and is a regular guest on RNZ’s The Panel, and Jesse Mulligan’s Book Critic slot. She is on the board of Verb Wellington and on the Book Awards Trust. Catherine’s latest novel is What You Wish For (2019, Penguin Random House).
Ruby Solly is a Kai Tahu writer, musician and music therapist. She has been published in journals such as Landfall, Oscen, Minarets, and Starling amongst others. She has recently written her first short film, ‘Super Special’ which has been released by Someday Stories. Ruby will be reading and performing at Litcrawl as part of ‘The Savage Eye’ and ‘Purākau’.
Nikki-Lee Birdsey was born in Piha. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a BA from New York University. She has over 30 publications of poetry and prose in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, and she is currently a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her first book Night As Day was published by VUP in 2019 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in the U.S.
Annaleese Jochems grew up in Northland, and works at Book Hound in Newtown. She won the Hubert Church Best First Book award for her novel Baby.
Sat, 17. Aug–
Sun, 17. Nov
The earliest references to eavesdropping are found in law books. According to William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1769), ‘eavesdroppers, or such as listen under walls or windows, or the eaves of a house, to hearken after discourse, and thereupon to frame slanderous and mischievous tales, are a common nuisance and presentable at the court-leet’. Today, however, eavesdropping is not only legal, it’s ubiquitous—unavoidable. What was once a minor public-order offence has become one of the key political and legal problems of our time, as the Snowden revelations made clear.
Eavesdropping addresses the capture and control of our sonic world by state and corporate interests, alongside strategies of resistance. For the curators, James Parker (Melbourne Law School) and Joel Stern (Liquid Architecture), eavesdropping isn’t necessarily malicious. We cannot help but hear too much, more than we mean to. Eavesdropping is a condition of social life. And the question is not whether to eavesdrop, therefore, but how.
Much of the work is expressly political. Lawrence Abu Hamdan, based in London and Beirut, considers the oppressive regime of silence enforced in a Syrian prison, the use of accent tests to deny Somalians refugee status, and the analysis of audio-ballistic evidence that led to an Israeli soldier being tried for manslaughter. Works also engage activist practices of ‘listening back’. The Manus Recording Project Collective—a group of men detained by Australia on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea—made recordings daily for the show, offering a sonic window into their situation and prompting us to consider our place as earwitnesses.
The show addresses what can and can’t be heard. Susan Schuppli, from the London group Forensic Architecture, considers a notorious gap in Oval Office audio-tape records during the Nixon presidency, suggesting that lack of evidence could be evidence of something. Sydney-based Wiradjuri artist Joel Spring presents recordings of conversations with his mother—a health worker, activist and academic—about a disease that causes hearing loss in Aboriginal children. For his video, Hong Kong artist Samson Young has singers suppress their vocals, so we only hear the incidental sounds their bodies produce, their breathing, the rattling of their scores.
Technology reigns. Melbourne artist Sean Dockray stages a philosophical dialogue between an Amazon Echo, a Google Home Assistant, and an Apple Homepod on the moral and political implications of networked machine listening. Meanwhile, at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Fayen d’Evie and Jen Bervin (with Bryan Phillips and Andy Slater) research ‘cosmic eavesdropping’, mixing a SETI radio telescope feed with field recordings and accounts of individuals dedicated to listening for extraterrestrial signals.