Tim Leonido’s Call Home is a zip ﬁle downloadable from Gauss’s website. The project contains a collage of recordings of people talking over the phone, usually in short segments between two seconds and a minute and a half long. Encountering these recordings, the listener pieces together that the project consisted of the artist paying people to record a thirty minute phone conversation. Later, the artist collected this raw material and fragmented it into a sequence of edited recordings. The result is a chimera of found language, sound poetry, and conceptual art that delves into everyday communication in a way that can’t be replicated using poetic artiﬁce. Whereas most poetry that uses the everyday attempts to replicate speech in a contrived way, Leonido’s project is able to engage with it directly and in its own environment. By extension, this work is a study of speech itself–how it is used and who uses it, what people talk about and with whom.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this project is the way that it effortlessly models everyday, often boring, language and subject matter. Nevertheless, it registers that subject matter as a work of art. Call Home appeals to the voyeuristic auditor in the way that reality TV appeals to a voyeuristic viewer. It affords them a detachment from the interlocutors that it records, and this detached disinterest refocuses the listener’s attention on the generalities of everyday conversation.
The technique of the artist to cut and collage these conversations draws the
listener’s attention to the thematic congruences and clashes that makes Call Home a surprising and entertaining listen. On my ﬁrst listen through this project, I found myself writing down people’s topics of conversation. These ranged from colonoscopies to emu farming, Steve Martin, and Jerusalem. Though those were some of the more grabby conversations, people seemed to be talking most often about their health, their families, the places that they lived, and their livelihood.
As much as this project is a work of sound art, it also became a sort of
sociological study–an investigation of what people talk about with their friends or family members. What fascinated me about overhearing other people’s conversations in this project was their lack of self-censorship, even as they were aware that their calls were being monitored. Though the surveillance techniques used in this project are seemingly innocuous and intended for art, a more precarious form of surveillance hovers over this
work and can’t be ignored. The fact that our words and actions are constantly being monitored, and the relative ease with which this is achieved, is demonstrated in Leonido’s Call Home. Of course, it is absurd to assume that even if we are being monitored all of the time, that there is anything “worth” listening to. Leonido’s project is subversive for this exact reason–it exposes systems of surveillance and uses them for its own artistic ends. It upsets the listener’s expectations of what is valuable or worthwhile information. At the same time, Call Home demonstrating that this information is nevertheless being collected and used not only locally within the parameters of the project, but also globally as a state apparatus.
Get it from Gauss PDF: Free
Cosmo Spinosa is a poet and critic living in Oakland. He holds an MFA from Mills College.