An Archive through Timbre

When discussing sound we inherit terms from a world where sound thrives: music and art, and specifically focusing on the term: timbre. According to the American National Standards Association, “timbre is that attribute of auditory sensation in terms of which a listener can judge two sounds similarly presented and having the same loudness and pitch as dissimilar.” In essence, it’s the way our ears differentiate an ‘A’ being played on a piano than on a trumpet.

Luigi Russolo’s 1913 Futurist manifesto, The Art of Noises, embedded in a letter to the Futurist composer Francesco Balilla Pratella, outlines a framework of observing the world and its current techno-social condition through sound. He proposes a number of conclusions on how futurist musicians can harness the incidental sound found in the machines of his time as a “substitute for the limited variety of timbres that the orchestra possesses today.” Russolo believed that listening to the incidental sound of our industrial landscape reveals a new sonic frontier capable of affective applications. Engines, motors, and gears; the machines of Russolo’s time and the future techno-cultures to come, can harness these incidental timbres for artistic, speculative, and conventional means.



The Signal Archive, specifically explored the question: “what is today’s timbre?” and is driven by the history and development of Morse Code as a point of departure. A point in time when our modes of communication were at the early stages of electrical mediation. The electrical telegraph, the mediator of that time, was a device to communicate the spoken word through a codified system of dots and dashes. The electrical telegraph and its intrinsic physical properties and technology, coupled with this codified system of writing, quickly became a “noisy object.” It became evident that listening to the noisy by-product, or the incidental sound of the device was just as effective as reading the dots and dashes. This compelled the research and collection of the incidental sounds or the timbres of our contemporary communication devices: the smart phone. As scientific investigation is concerned, the collection is based on a systematic approach of treating every device exactly the same. Contributors are requested to follow the same steps and perform the same tasks if afforded: text, email, load a website, access current geo-location, and watch a streaming video. This systematic approach revealed the different timbres between each device performing the same task. The Signal Archive defines a context for the Affection Stations: the immaterial residuals and incidental sound of the devices which mediate our relationship to and through the wireless network.