By Gordon Faylor
The frigidity of a data center complements its inertia. A server farm’s primary functions — storage and cooling — naturally accord meager discernible movement to the eye. Nor does what is aurally perceived possess much dynamic range: whirrs, hums, buzzes. These drones present to us scant, mostly invariable sensory evidence of bytes in circulation. Manifest as information, however, their value bears all manner of personal, professional, or technical import.
Eric Laska has spent the last few years employed in the interstitial territory between data center and end user. His work for various IT departments has provided him with a grind, and, like any job, has augmented his practice as an artist; several of his sound art/noise projects seem to especially convey this influence. Among them is Redundancy Spaces, a website/audio project initiated in New York in 2009 and continued more recently in Philadelphia. According to his site, “each website [linked from the Redundancy Spaces main page] features a looping field recording of a room that houses and proliferates the digital information for an institution in which I have worked”; it bears emphasizing that it is/was Laska’s role as an IT worker that allowed him access to these data centers — his infiltration a gesture that renders the project a latent détournement, an ambient circumvention of procedure, and perhaps an effort in countersurveillance. The possible pun on “redundancy” is suggestive of a corporate job’s ongoing threat of self-immolation, the acronyms of its subjects at once detectable to its audience and veiled to crawlers. Yet while following this line of inquiry might easily produce a number of politically-inflected readings, Laska avoids direct reference to an overarching ideology and is multifarious in the fields he names, evincing an act more skeletal in its concerns and explanation — work, sound, tech.
Repetition also serves as a distinguishing characteristic of Laska’s Redundancy Spaces, both in name and practice. Though these are functionally “field recordings,” their looping subverts a straightforwardly documentarian reading and weakens a foothold for narrative or durational breadth. Their reiteration confuses and abstracts the space in question; Laska affords the listener ‘views,’ i.e. particularized (and unspecified) perspectives and distances, avoiding the pretense of transcendence or holism while ambiguously subjectifying both himself and his recorder. The loops utilize the paradoxical, immersive potential of repetition, while simultaneously critiquing spatial dynamics. They show skin.
Unusually, Laska does not make these recordings readily available in a downloadable audio format. Instead, he opts for discrete HTML pages, whereby the listener is presented with an empty, gray background through which the loop plays. The embedded mp3s vary in length, further obfuscating their seams. They exhibit an ambiguous fractality, whereby their composite structures are masked by neutrality, their construction instead revealed behind the scenes, in the source code. A scalar interpretation (extending the spatial issues discussed above) could distinguish the servers themselves — their obelisk density cordoned into aisles of racks, slate lockers purring with fans. In this way, Laska explores how the environment surrounding the servers might mime itself, while also allowing it to proliferate in the cache of any locally networked computer that visits it.
Whereas his 2011 sound application, “Impulse Blasts,” separated bursts of white noise at Gaussian-timed variables and emphasized the environment in which it took/takes place (e.g. the mise-en-scene on the page for that piece, which sets Laska’s program — as played by a Macbook — against a mossy, wind-ridden stretch of rock), Redundancy Spaces presents almost a parody by comparison — a reminder that when it comes to information systems, location strives for fiction. These projects, however, share both a penchant for noise and a certain hyperborean sensibility: the planar purity of white noise, as opposed to its more subjectively dilapidated, incantatory role in harsh noise aesthetics. They also both demonstrate a latent visuality; as Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker note in The Exploit, “an algorithm is a type of visible articulation of any given processor’s machinic grammar.”
Yet while Laska’s work does demonstrate an adjunct visual framework, it is invested in emptiness, echoing John Cage’s work with Zen Buddhist philosophy and silence. There is an inclination to the ‘absolute’ in Spaces and Blasts — their gravitation to white noise, their lack of affect, their flatness. Planar and imminent, they suggest rather the “mind-indifferent” central to Ray Brassier’s writing on nihil. In this data and on these pages can be traced a memory portending endlessness, or an end already come. It is reminiscent of the finale of Robert Bresson’s Mouchette, when, after the protagonist has drowned herself in a river and the rippling water loops over and over — a finality is self-replicated, already dead. But for the servers, this is no eschatology, nor eternal return; it is a showback model, a flow, intrusive and sprawling.