18-minute HD 3-channel synchronized video installation with sound
Listening In… is a multi-channel media installation centered around Charles Graser, an important deaf research subject who helped foster advances in cochlear implant technology. Listening In… utilizes an interview conducted with Graser along with his personal archive of news clippings, notes, and simulated 3D models to create a meditation upon “the body electric.” Images are animated and processed through several layers of distortion, exaggerating a phenomenological sense of experiencing the world through the evolution of a technological interface. Noise, both audible and visual, is used to amplify the difficulties of communication and the futility of attempting to represent another’s subjective experience. Simultaneously, the installation grapples with the inherent problems of description to articulate personal experience through spoken word, closed-caption, animated text, and American Sign Language (ASL).
Occasionally referred as the “bionic man” by news sources in the 1970s, Graser was the first patient to be fitted with a wearable cochlear implant device that could be worn outside of the laboratory. He has been the subject of over a dozen implant surgeries and has written observations recording his perceived listening experiences through several generations of cochlear hearing aids. Graser was an indispensable partner in a team that included engineer Jack Urban and otolaryngologist and inventor William House, founder of the House Ear Institute of Los Angeles. Their efforts advanced the technology of cochlear implantation beyond the period of experimentation towards one that benefits many deaf and hard-of-hearing subjects today, as the implant electronically stimulates the damaged nerve endings in the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain. Graser’s notes and letters record observations of his audible life through various devices. The sound of the wind at various intensities, a cat’s meow, or a school bell, for example, are all mapped out with a language sensitive to pitch and frequency as well as the less technical vernacular of flutter, rattle, and burble. His revelations on television volume would sometimes include notes about proximity and even gender as he once pointed out that male voices on TV have high-pitched characteristics.
While the installation tells Graser’s story in part, rather than a straight-forward documentary, Listening In... puts Graser, at the crux of multiple modalities oscillating between memory and forgetting. Language, as it is both spoken and heard, slips away to the sound of interference and feedback. Descriptions of experiences are rendered through a veil of legible handwriting and unintelligible copies. Listening In… becomes an expression of the fragmentary and temporal nature of meaning and existence. Like anyone, Graser’s recollections are stories he tells himself to, in some way, distance himself from the traumas of living. The materials and artifacts of this retelling are transformed into a multi-layered and moving bricolage where missing pieces are filled in with simulations, moving his narrative out of the body and onto the screen.