Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist and 'private ear', or independent audio investigator. His audio investigations have been used as evidence at the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and as advocacy for organisations such as Amnesty International and Defence for Children International. The artist’s forensic audio investigations have also been conducted as part of his research for Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he received his PhD in 2017.
In a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), scientists were able to use high speed cameras to capture vibrations reflected off objects that are unseen by the naked eye. The extraction of these frequencies has led to a new method of sound recovery, which allows everyday objects to become listening devices, or ‘visual microphones’.
In his project A Convention of Tiny Movements (2015–ongoing), Abu Hamdan presents a sound composition built from the sounds that the team at MIT, led by Abe Davis, recovered from objects such as crisp packets, rose petals, leaves of a potted plant, Hershey’s chocolate bar wrappers, a glass of water, a box of tissues and a drum skin. Although these objects can record sounds, the reproduction of these sounds is never crystal clear. Due to their individual material form, each of these objects has its own way of hearing the world and colouring the recording it makes. As source material, nursery rhymes were played amongst these objects, along with other test tones. The recovered recordings resulted in strange surges and waves of white noise, garbled and submerged speech, deep bass tones and eerie synth warbles.
A Convention of Tiny Movements: Spinneys Supermarket, Ashrafieh, August 2017 is a CCTV-like photograph of a supermarket. Objects that can, to date, be successfully used as sound recording devices are presented in colour, and those that cannot yet be used as microphones are shown in black and white. thereby clearly indicating the blind, or silent, spots of this technology.
In this project, Abu Hamdan questions the future of surveillance and the possibility of objects in our daily surroundings being used as listening devices. A possible future only to be confirmed with time.