The Italian music label Rizosfera interviewed the Network Ensemble for their release of Selected Network Studies. This is an excerpt from the interview published, alongside other material, on Academia.
On the Network
Let’s start from the focus of your audiovisual project: the network as a concept and dispositif. What is the reason for focusing on the network as both an organisational process and a theoretical concept?
It was once possible to consider the network, its contents and contexts, separate from the physical world. The two were fairly distinct, with the network, contained in cables, intruding on the physical world only through fixed terminals. Of course the cables cut through or were submerged beneath the material of the physical world, but the network data was contained, and constrained, within them.
Wireless technology changes this, as do mobile or other, smaller, connected devices. An increasing amount of “things” able to talk the wireless language exist today, often perceived as magical and secure. While perhaps not technically in-secure, wireless things carry the promise of ease of use, the luxury of immediate set-up and the lure of affordability. They do not require a raising of technical skills, and the consequent awareness of how to shield from external ears. They multiply and through them the network is released.
The realities of the network become a part of the realities of the physical world. Instant and often free access to information and communication whenever, wherever are shadowed by the heightened possibility of surveillance and tracking. The positive and negative effects of wireless networks become inherent, somewhat functionally imperative, part of everyday life: “Free Wifi here”, a smart fridge, Siri & Alexa.
Throughout this, the network, the delivery medium of the internet, remains largely hidden. The stack of technologies on which web pages and emails rest precariously is deep and obscure, while that which is experienced as text, image or sound is constructed as it bubbles up through numerous technological layers. This complexity and prevalence, along with its global nature, puts the network on a similar level to the forces of nature, the wind and waves that surround us. There is something similar in its unpredictability, its constant change, its potential impact: beautiful or devastating.
The network, then, is a man-made natural force, a chaotic structure through which we pass and which, wirelessly, passes through us, but it is silent and for the most part invisible. To put it somewhat differently the network can be seen – following Keller Easterling – as a consequential infrastructure space of its own, exerting control and shaping flows of power. The project asks, what if we could experience the network, this infrastructure space? Not its results – the messages, videos, articles – but its actions: the transmissions and transformations that carry and assemble these results.
The WiFi, as well as being one of the key parts of the network also provides opportunities for investigation. It is in some respects the accessible crest of the larger infrastructure offering connection through personal devices or networks within buildings to the deeper layers, such as internet exchanges or submarine cables. That it offers this, with only a requirement of proximity, not physical connection, makes it a useful point of entrance and departure from which many paths can be taken.