Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 6#4 Paolino Accolla 1 Jan 1992

In Living SoundTrack(s)

Too quiet? Can't sleep? But what if you're too exhausted to even count sheep? Not to worry - the telematic house will do it for you!

Or you might prefer to be lulled off to dreamland by bird song on a stormswept night, or by a cicada-and-frog concerto on a balmy summer's eve. The shooting male voice counting sheep, the birds, the cicadas and frogs, all come from your 'intelligent' digital intercom - the yusen, the artificial brain of your microcircuited abode. The very same unit you can phone from anywhere when you want your bath run or the heater turned on by the time you get home. It’s also the same unit that lets you video-verify who’s buzzing your number down in the foyer, and enables you to unlock the building entrance or basement garage gates via remote control. You can use it to talk to the superintendent when something goes wrong – like when you press the wrong button on the intercom and set off a general fire alarm – or to call the police if someone’s causing more nuisance than the cops would.

You can do all this, that is, if you live where I live – call it a ‘post-habitat’, the de/restructured luxury capsule of tomorrow’s Tokyo today. Expensive? Of course! But I cannot afford it – the company pays for it.

Still, at times, this ‘intelligence’ gets too smart for its own good. Like when I call into the office to say I’m going to be late because I’m stuck in traffic – yes, even taxis have portaphones here – when all the while I’m sitting in my bathtub at home with yusen tuned to alibi channel street noise.

I don’t plan to tell my boss about all the virtual auditory realities my yusen is programmed to offer. He just thinks it’s a fancy radio trick when I invite him over for dinner and tune it to italian canzone to make him happy. It’s just some new super fm cable gizmo, I tell him. Which it is – only the programmes are repeated in cycles of 20 hours or so, with a few new pieces introduced every week. And if you don’t know what you’re listening to, you never will – because there are no cjs ‘cable jockeys’ to tell you.

I never told my boss that I can choose from a total of 440 different channels, and that italian canzone is only one of 38 ‘ethnic musics’ available, All continents except Oceania are represented; melodic traditional japanese music takes up an extra 20 channels. I never told him that if he doesn’t stop pushing me, one day I’m planning to tie him to a chair and make him listen to swiss yodels, or give him an earful of my karaoke singing. Or maybe I’ll select one of the 40 background music channels or an equal number of light pop muzak channels, or one of ten japanese pop channels just to bore him to death – or worst of all, the dreaded pachinko parlour channel with brass band marches and careening pinball effects! And no, I never told my boss that there are three disco channels I always dance to whenever he leaves. Or that I sometimes say I’m out getting hot scoops, when in fact I’m tapping into the ten-plus news channels – or merely poking around the regular fm stations.

Nor did I tell my wife I don’t particularly appreciate listening to ‘New Age’ winds or ‘ambient’ crickets when my mother-in-law came into menopause, or to heartbeats when our baby daughter was born. No, I tell myself, I’m a liberal parent when my now-14-year-old son fools with the 13 education channels, pretending to study chinese, business english, or to follow various university lectures. I don’t even object to him listening to suspense stories or japanese folktales before going to bed, although I can’t stand the story-telling channels altogether. Not to mention those ten children programmes he says he plays to ‘babysit’ his little sister – as if I didn’t know he’s just feeling the need to regress a bit. But worst of all, I hate the nine request programmes he calls up for a ‘wake-up’ dose of heavy metal, or when he sets the yusen to turn on automatically before I’ve had my morning coffee.

All right, call me a hypocrite. I’m tolerant enough not to complain when others choose channels I personally detest – although officially I declare my opposition to this quintessence of postmodern media – yet when I throw a party I love to let my yusen be the star to entertain and astonish my guests while I slip out of the room. And yes, when I am alone, I do start listening to the 5 classical music or 4 jazz channels. Soon I even find myself enthusiastically exploring the 30-some pop music channels. And finally, when all else fails, I’ll check out the bowling alley channel, for that ‘Post-Zen’ mental blank – it helps me write articles like this.

Signing off – if I can find the remocon, ‘remote control’ unit.