A few days ago i was in Bergen in Norway. Where everything is so postcard pretty…
that fast food joints are afraid to stand out from their surrounding.
I was in Bergen to attend Piksel, the 8th festival for Electronic Art and Technological Freedom. If i could participate to events as exciting as this one more often i bet i wouldn’t sound so relentlessly blasée. I’ll talk later about the exhibition, workshops and live events but i’ll kick off this series of report with one of the most interesting presentations i heard at the festival.
In his talk, titled Golden Shield Music – Sonification of IT censorship technologies, Marco Donnarumma spent some time refreshing our memories about internet censorship before presenting a sound project which was directly inspired by it.
The name of his work, Golden Shield Music, refers unequivocally to China’s Golden Shield Project aka the ‘Great Firewall of China’. This censorship and surveillance project operated by the country’s Ministry of Public Security involves the massive use of web technologies such as IP blocking, DNS filtering and redirection, URL filtering, packet filtering to censor specific contents through web search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Msn. Donnarumma noted that it’s easy to point the finger at China but internet censorship is fairly widespread elsewhere in the world. Australia has gained fame for its attempts at censoring online content. The UK too. And even Italy. It’s been quite infuriating to live there while Berlusconi’s government was blocking The Pirate Bay as a ‘preventive measure’. The artist informed us of a secret deal that Facebook would have signed with the Italian police, giving them access to the personal data of any user suspected of identity theft, phishing scams and possession of child pornography.
Another website the artist highlighted -albeit with much less enthusiasm- is the very fancy-looking Recorded Future. Funded by the CIA and Google, the project monitors tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts in real time to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents. The goal of their intense data mining is to ‘predict the future’ by looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.
With Golden Shield Music, Marco Donnarumma wanted to use the censorship technology in a creative way. Because it was difficult to find precise information about the targets of censorship, the artist had to go through dozens of papers to finally find a list of websites blacklisted by China.
The generative composition for eight audio channels was created as follows:
Golden Shield Music collects the twelve website’s IP that are most screened by the Golden Shield.
IP numbers are listed in a text file which feeds an automated MIDI polyphonic synthesizer. The latter translates each IP in a single note formed by 4 voices with a specific velocity.
Resulting notes are ordered by the amount of pages the Golden Shield obscured for each IP address: the website’s IP obtaining the highest page result on Google.com becomes the first note of the score and the others follow in decreasing order.
Data organizes the musical notation, establishing an abstract relationship between Internet information and musical algorithms which sounds harmonious and “handcrafted”.
Visit the project website to listen to a stereo version of the piece.
The objective was not to make good sound but to raise the awareness about the phenomenon of web censorship.