The Center for Non-amoral Surveillance is a site-specific matrix of microphones set up throughout an area of high community traffic for the purpose of recording and studying crowd noise. The first instance of this project is set up in The Silent Barn, a DIY arts work and performance space located in Ridgewood Queens NY that I have been living in for the past 5 years. With multiple artists occupying the space, events several times a week, this was an ideal location to try this system out. The microphones are positioned for recording the sound of multiple people interacting, just above average head height, in positions of most likely gathering. The overall noise of a crowd can be interpreted from multiple points. By increasing or decreasing the sensitivity of any one mic position, an observer can bring out different qualities of the crowd. As the sound of a crowd consist of a garbled mass of layered conversations, changing the mic sensitivity will give prominence to the nearest conversation, but the overall environment will still be that of a foaming mess of noise. Since it is meant to study the rhythms of a crowd, and not remove information content, the normal emotional relationship and reaction to surveillance is confounded. This is the Non-Amoral quality.

This is the original text that accompanied the opening of the center:

THE PARTY LABORATORY
Or alternately: A CENTER FOR NON-AMORAL SURVEILLANCE

Every show, every gathering of people, is rich with secret qualities beyond the exact reasons to attend. The unconscious groupings of friends, the pile of homogenous garbage, the skronk of feet for hours up and down the stairs, how many times the word ‘fuck’ is uttered, The screaming, etc. The crevasses of the Silent Barn are privy to an incessant wash of human sounds, which are impressive in their totality, if they are not just maddening. Its hard to appreciate this when simply attending an event, due to our localized sensory apparatuses. One wanders about the space, influencing as one is influenced, a spot in motion amongst the hum.
But what if space was collapsed? What if your ears could float above the space, jump from corner to corner to outside, gaining an inkling of the totality? It would at the very least be mesmerizing in a human-animal sort of way. Would you be able to tell if a party was “good” or “raging” by an appreciation of the contours of the din? This project is our attempt at utilizing or experiencing these usually throwaway details.
This system is set up to exploit the fecund craziness of a DIY show house. It is not a spy platform, and the set-up is not streamlined to gain any specific signal amongst the noise. The qualities of the dynamic microphones, their sheer overloaded spatial arraignment, and the sensibilities of the house environment ensure that the recordings will only be of psychedelic use, and not exploitative. This is the non-amoral aspect. Not moral, but assuredly not amoral. We’re not watching “you”; we’re watching “it”.
People are right to view surveillance with a level of emotional suspicion, as it is an invasion of information privacy at any level. By making us simultaneously aware of our effect on, and place in, the world, our recorded actions shine with new terrifying significance. We have our life, and then we have an “information life” made up of what details we generate by moving through the hyper-technological world. The creepiness of being watched is, in this modern way, magnified by technology to an almost impossible level. It is, at the end of the day, an existentially frightening degree of exposure. If we consent to the use of our image by simply entering an area, what’s to stop a malevolent entity from stealing our life, our digital soul? What if by going to a show to see a band you like, you wound up in a commercial for shoes in Japan? Are you ok with that?
It’s the use of the throwaway details of human life that makes surveillance moral or amoral, Wed love a stranger to watch us to “keep us safe” but if he zooms in too much its crossed the line. The moral use of this party recording apparatus is firmly on the “fun” side of reasons to commit surveillance. These reasons include generating content for musical samples, recording a night of musical performances, or the generation of urban white noise. The Eternal Party Noise of a city.
In short, This System is another way to experience a show in the house, an already wild thing. The Silent Barn is an example of a non-differentiated social space, where work, personal life, and community are collapsed into one. We are all already surveyed by living here and attending here, as we are all personally surveyed everyday as we endlessly socially network our lives, building our information lives to a richness akin to our physical face-time social lives. If you invite the world in, at what point is it all the way in?
-G. Lucas Crane

 

A few relevant Poetic Antecedents:

 

“I don't think there's much distinction between surveillance and media in general.”
-Bruce Sterling

“The third person narrator, instead of being omniscient, is like a constantly running surveillance tape.”
-Andrew Vachss

“Surveillance induced morality: relics of cultural retardation.”
-Marc Maron

           
Be Drunk
             
              You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it--it's the
only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks
your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually
drunk. But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be
drunk. And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and
wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be
drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be
continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."

-Charles Baudelaire

 

“How exactly was that party? Did you have a good time? Yeah I had a good time…Good Party…Why? Why was the party, as you say, “good”? Oh, um,  there were a few people I knew there…Oh, and you got to hang out with them?...Well it was pretty loud…we huddled in the corner and shouted shit about the weather and commuting…So you didn’t hang out exactly…Well ok, I hung around, the place was really hot, I had to keep moving…So you didn’t hang out with anyone and you didn’t sit still? What else was “good”?...The line for the bathroom was funny…What does that mean?...People were cracking jokes….That was fun?...I saw this couple get into a fight across the room…that was entertaining…then a band played…Then It became good?...no the party wasn’t good while the band played, more like “bad”….Then my other friend showed up and he was drunk or maybe just really sad, and we sat in someone’s room for a bit and then I lost track of him…I ate some cheese they had out…Oh, I’ve finally decided that it was a good party…yeah…good…”

 

HYPOTHESIS: How can we substantially answer, in a manner that is objectively consistent, the question of how the party “was”?
What kind of “time” was it? How can we create a vocabulary for comparison? Is a bad small party worse than a bad huge party?

If our requirements for constant hindsight analysis are to be catered to, we will need a malleable non-amoral surveillance infrastructure. Surveillance for security sake creates a false or at least suspicious morality, which is actually the product of a physical anxiety reaction and an onset of the first subtle stages of dementia. Paranoia induced speculations on the amount and purpose of surveillance lead to psychotic conditions of unreality. Is it better or worse that much of the surveillance material is unwatched? The surveillance’s social experience is important, not necessarily the data generated.
The ethical boundary to cross in any surveillance is what quality does the information posses that justifies its use? Is it incriminating? Dangerous? Juicy? Amoral territory is entered when the information is used to establish a control over another with said information. The information is transmuted into control (‘used’).
If the information is used to ‘make’ something however, if the actual information and not the transmittable ‘content’ is used, the inherent beauty of the substance collected by the surveillance is accentuated and amorality is drained away. If you record the audio of a lovers quarrel and instead of using it to quicken their brake-up or embarrass them publicly you put wicked flanger on it and make it sound like two malfunctioning robots and insert it into a song about outer space It cannot be found to be an amoral use. It is our supposition that there is a right and a wrong use for secretly recorded events. Or put another way, if you are being recorded all the time anyway, wouldn’t it be nice if someone made something odd and ostensibly pretty with the information instead of using it to destroy your life or control you? Yes.    
Only then can we figure out what kind of time we in fact had, and whether it was “worth it”, whether it enriched the predominant narrative arc of our lives, reinforce the plot of said arc, introduced any new characters, tied off any subplots, fleshed out any back stories, resolved any cliffhangers, addressed any beefs, etc…

Now, finally, there can be an answer to the most basic of questions: did I have a good time? Exactly how much of a good time did I have? Where in the party was the worst time had?
How is it possible to define what kind of time was had?
A single party can be mapped in a variety of ways.
One can interview every attendee for their impressions or opinions of the party’s quality. The opinions are then averaged together to discover the type of party (“it sucked” + “it rocked” = “it was ok, I guess”)
This is very time consuming, and by the time the analysis is finished there will undoubtedly have been another party that requires analysis, creating a massive inescapable backlog.
One can simply interview the most socially prominent person about how the party went, trusting social mores to define the most relevant opinion, but there is a good chance this result will be horribly biased or insane.
Alternately, we can say that a good model of “how exactly the party went” is a summation of all the facts of occurrence at said party. Some measurable quality, such as number of people (“how was it?” “There was over 100 people!”) or number of drinks drank (“how was it?” “we went through 20 cases!”) or, given the right infrastructure, a transcript of everything said (“Can you believe the shit what that bitch was talking?”) or the number of times the word “dude” is uttered at an event (12,323 times). Or the model could be a measurable quantity of data or ‘noise’ accumulation, such as the sum total of all the party’s footsteps collected on an audio tape; or a box full of shoes, jackets and ID cards left behind. 
With a comprehensive mic array the recording environment can be configured to track a social event in real time and from within the event. An audio model of an event can be generated and referred to determine event feasibility and event success or whether you should bother to remember said event. In addition, “narrative arc” can be determined, thus each event can be placed correctly in the overall narrative of “a time” or “a series of times” as in “we had quite a time” or “a [good] time was had by all”; or the “were” in “those were the days”…
“…um, What happened last night?”
“do tell…”

 

Mics arranged in the space can record a single story’s route through the space.
A list of numbers can define one “stupid drunk dude’s” attempt to find the bathroom.
Numbers are both mic positions in the house and control room tracks.

Have Fun…