Thursday, October 21, 2010

Michael Bull: Remaking the Urban? The Audio-Visual Aesthetics of iPod Use

Sussex University's "Professor iPod", Michael Bull, is interested in looking at how people live in cities. Utopian as well as dystopian images of the city. The aesthetics of the city. Audio-visual experience of iPod users as opposed to the visual take usually favoured. Bull argues that people do not aestheticize the city anymore, since people move through the city at a higher pace (in a car), but aesthetic spaces do exist, but they are increasingly mediatized in nature. Touch is diminished, people do not touch each other anymore in an urban space. The role of sound in an urban space has changed with the invention of Walkmen and iPods (the digitization enables a different sensibility). The ear becomes selective.

Drawing on Walter Benjamin and his idea of the flâneur, but noticing that Benjamin has failed to highlight the audial aspect of the city, Bull argues that the flâneur who uses an iPod playing their favourite music detaches the flâneur from his or her environment. The music creates a distance to the world around him or her, alters the outlook on the environment, makes the flâneur walk around in his or her own movie with their own soundtrack. In a sense the world is constructed to mimic their own ideal. It makes the world perform to their own audio-visual aesthetic. City life is about surfaces. Bull points to the construction, the re-appropriation, of the city through the use of iPods. The image of the city is enhanced and altered by the means of music or sounds that the iPod user has selected. New York is made "New Yorkier" by listening to music that sets the mood. To aestheticize in this manner is to make the environment into a private, individualized utopia. The liberating pleasure of an individualized environment stands is opposition to the shared space.

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