Listening today. James Ferraro's ‘Far Side Virtual' and the fate of functional sounds
Keywords:experimental music, contemporary art, listening, John Cage
On his 2011 release, ‘Far Side Virtual’, artist and musician James Ferraro employs a distinctly new, yet familiar palette of sounds from the logon sound of Skype to alert sounds from com- puter programmes and melodic ringtones. The record demonstrates that the functional sounds of the digital listening environment often interrupt and become enmeshed in the programmed composition. While some critics lauded ‘Far Side Virtual’ as a playful conceptual gambit of music-making and listening in the digital age (it was named ‘Record of the Year’ by The Wire), others criticised the utter banality of its sources. This reaction reveals a deep irony within an experimental music community dedicated to the theories of John Cage. Listening – Cage’s liber- ating approach towards music-making that allowed non-musical, functional sounds to enter the composition – has become an orthodoxy with strictly defined stylistic parameters. On ‘Far Side Virtual’ Ferraro adopts Cage’s method of listening as composing and, in the process, reveals how these methods seek to remove sounds from their contextual origins, an impossibil- ity in the contemporary digital listening environment.
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