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Utopia D5: Thin Cities

Utopia: D5
Utopia: D5

Section D5 of the map of More’s Utopia today, and two takes on it from artists based in New York and Berlin.

Thin Cities – Tom Miller, New York, USA

“Thin Cities is a soundscape built around archival tape of Italo Calvino reading in English and Italian from his books Invisible Cities and Mr. Palomar.*

Field recordings from Venice, Brooklyn, Alaska and elsewhere are combined with electrically generated long tones to create an imaginary Utopian sonic environment for the ebb and flow of the author’s words.

As a member of Oulipo (the Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle or Workshop of Potential Literature), Calvino described the following situation for the use of the computer as an aid to literary creation:

  • The structures chosen by the author are relatively few in number, but the possible realizations are combinatorily exponential.
  • Only the computer may realize a number (more or less large) of these potentialities.
  • On the contrary, the assistance of the computer takes on an anticombinatory character when, among a large number of possibilities, the computer selects those few realizations compatible with certain constraints.**

Here the computer transformations of the narrator’s voice cut through and pull against the waves of the sea and the sounds of the harbour, fulfilling the anticombinatory role of realizing a handful of sonorities out of a wide range of potentialities.

Special thanks to Stuart Fowkes for the inclusion of his field recordings from the shores of Sicily and Stromboli.”

* Recorded at the 92nd Street Y on March 31, 1983 and available for public download (permission pending)

** Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature, ed. Warren Motte, p. 143. Champaign, Illinios: Dalkey Archive Press, 1986.


A Utopian Goods Ship – Jodi Rose, Berlin, Germany

“The grid D5 appealed to me as I was curious about the ships that sailed to and from Utopia.

What cargo did they contain, what were the shipping routes, where did they trade, and with whom?

After consulting some of the text and imaging the kinds of goods that might be on board, I decided to go with a shipment of live animals.

The island definitely held sheep, and probably wild pigs/boar were also present. Since it is described as a counterpoint to England, I imagined somewhere tropical, and hence included the monkeys and screeching birds of prey.

The scene takes place at night, so you can also hear the distant frogs, owls and cicadas humming along the shoreline. The quote below inspired me – the seas can be rough.

There is a thunderstorm that sets off the animals, and a dancing bear who is either subdued or taunted to dance by his trainer with a bullwhip.

Human voices are only heard in the distance, and the creaking of the wood and sails of the ship is highlighted by the passing squall.

The piece is composed of field recordings from my time on the Curonian Spit, in Lithuania, thunder and animal sounds that I found online.

“You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm just because you couldn’t control the winds.”

Sound excerpt from the videanimation “Self” by Claudia Larcher, sound by Constantin Popp (1 minute)”