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Spinneys Supermarket Ashrafieh Beirut 2017
adapted from a photograph taken by Maxime Hourani

When your voice is propelled from your mouth through the air, it hits the objects in your vicinity and causes tiny vibrations on the surfaces of those objects. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a group of computer scientists have discovered that by video recording an object using high speed cameras they can extract those minute vibrations and recover the sound that produced them. This gives them the ability to turn many everyday objects such as, a packet of crisps [1], a glass of water [2], a potted plant, and a box of tissues [3]—into a listening device, or what they call visual microphones.

Although this technology is not yet implemented by the NSA, GCHQ and other spying agencies, the photograph of a supermarket (Spinneys Supermarket Ashrafieh Beirut 2017) acts as an index of all the objects (shown in colour) that can, to date, be successfully used as sound recording devices. Inversely the black and white sections of this photograph reveal all the objects that cannot yet be used as microphones and therefore show the blind or silent spots of this technology. This map of a near future supermarket is predicted to be in full effect by 2017.

The objects that are shown in colour are able to listen to you and record your voice yet they will never give a crystal clear quality of sound reproduction; due to their individual material form, each of these objects has its own way of hearing the world and colouring the recording it makes. For the inventors of this technology the most perplexing and intriguing part of this discovery is the texture that each object adds to a recording and they think of it as each object’s individual voice. They know that the future of surveillance will be recording our voices using the minute vibrations of the objects that surround us, but a future yet to be imagined will come from listening closely to what the objects themselves have to say [4].

1 The hearing capacity of a packet of crisps is similar to the human audible range. Crisp packets are as yet the most hi fidelity of all visual microphones (a close second is the foil inside wrapper found in many Lindt chocolate bars). The foil like surface of the packet retains and renders easily legible the sonic vibrations that land on its acoustically impressionable but not absorbent surface. Speech, in the proximity of these crisp packs, is highly likely to be detectable with a 90% verbal accuracy rate. The 10% loss is due mostly to the objects own noise, the way it hears and colours the original sound with hisses rendering the “s” or “shh” sounding sibilance hard to hear. Once this technology has been implemented, aisle 16 and any other place with a high concentration of crisp packets should be avoided if one wants to maintain a private conversation.

2 Sound waves create ripples in a given body of liquid, however it would take a sensitive camera to be able to record the vibrations of speech as it hits the water sealed inside a bottle. Be aware that plastic bottles provide a thinner outer coating and would be more pervious to our speech than glass bottles.

3 It is not yet known why, but tissues seem to experience the acoustic world around them as a low frequency bassy mess. Although tissues can not discern verbal content and understand our language, from the low mumbling that they hear it is claimed to be possible to use tissues to discern the gender of the speaker and other non verbal identifying features of a human voice.

4 “You’re hearing from the perspective of the object. Or almost feeling, from the perspective of the object, really. Because when we think of hearing, we think of what are the frequencies that are coming to us from where we are. And for the object, it’s not just a matter of what those frequencies are, it’s also the matter of what frequencies the object responds to, which tells you a lot about the object. So it’s almost like, if you’re at a concert and there’s very loud music playing, there might be loud music across all frequencies but what you feel in your chest, is the bass kick. And objects have a similar experience in some ways, where there are certain frequencies that they’re just built to respond to. It’s tempting to at first, say, ok, how does this effect applications that we’ve already been working on? how can this new tool help these old problems? But it’s also possible that the new tool enables new applications, and so I’m optimistic that there are applications that we haven’t thought of out there. But that remains to be seen.”
Abe Davis, Inventor of the Visual Microphone at MIT,
Excerpt from an interview with Lawrence Abu Hamdan at MIT in December 2014

A-Side: The Currency

B-Side: The Hubs


The Currency - Original Lyrics

1 :
Case sombre,
chambre froide,
odeurs de rats.
Posé sur une table j’étais,
un flingue à côté de moi.
Une dame hurlait,
la bave aux lèvres,
attachées les mains derrière
sur une chaise en métal.
Un homme s’est approché,
a ramassé le gun,
l’a posé sur sa tempe,
puis pressé la détente.
Tu vois cette tache rouge
sur mon front c’est bel et bien
le sang de la dame en question.
Dénoncer son mari ?
Ouais dans vos rêves.
Ce chef rebelle hors pairs,
mais quelle trahison !
Quelques semaines plus tôt,
le préfet en personne,
vint voir le roi du village de Kpagalam.
« L’exploitation de la mine d’or sera chinoise.
Parle à tes enfants, évitons les Wahala. »
Sabotage de la mine,
violentes répressions,
des hommes en exils,
leurs femmes en prison.
Danda la femme de Lumu fut arrêtée,
torturée, violée, assassinée.
Mon honneur,
j’ai tout vu depuis la mallette,
avec des centaines de témoins.
Ce qu’ils ont fait du corps ?
Je ne peux vous répondre.
La mallette fut fermée,
et moi replongé dans le noir.
J’ai revu la lumière
dans un magasin de voiture :
des Benz, des Opel, des BMW.
Monsieur le juge,
Je suis juste un billet d’ECO,
mon vrai nom de naissance :
Colonie Française d’Afrique.
CFA : Colonie Française d’Afrique,
mon vrai nom de naissance :
Colonie Française d’Afrique.

2 :

3 :
eins, zwei – ein
eins, zwei – aus
beginnendes flirren:
überall rauschen
nichts als rauschen
hörst es nicht nur
ist in dich gekrochen
nicht nur ein von außen pochen
es pulsiert in dir
bist es scheinbar ganz
jede faser davon durchzogen
jede festigkeit schwindend
jeden halt verlierend
weich werden
ganz im strom seiend
pure schwingung
schweiß läuft
auf einmal ein schlag
die härte vom beton spüren
das heiße gesicht auf dem kalten boden
es schimmert dir langsam
keine erleuchtung
auch wenn es überall blinkt
nur du von sinnen
im innern einer server-farm
das dich aus dir herauszieht
dich taub, blind und stumm macht
dich alles vergessen lässt,
worum es eigentlich geht
sogar zu atmen
davon getragen, von weißem rauschen
in weiche watte
gebläse hüllen alles in nebel
doch diese wolke
schwebt nicht am großen blauen himmel
ist unter einer glocke
vom rest namens leben
dieses luftschloss
auch wenn noch so sauber und leicht
besteht aus echter erde und echtem schweiß
auf wessen kosten eigentlich aufgebaut
wessen schultern tragen es
schwindelig dem
der diese frage zu stellen bereit
schwindelig dem
der diese frage zu stellen bereit


The Currency - Original Lyrics

1 :
Case sombre,
chambre froide,
odeurs de rats.
Posé sur une table j’étais,
un flingue à côté de moi. ... [Read More]

The Currency - English Lyrics

1 :
Dark box
cold room
the smell of rats
I was laying on a table
a gun next to me.
A lady was screaming
drool on her lips
hands tied behind her
to a metal chair.
A man approached
picked up the gun
put it to her temple
then pulled the trigger.
You see that red spot
on my brow is indeed
the blood of the lady in question.
Denounce her husband?
Yeah, in your dreams.
This outstanding rebel leader,
but what betrayal!
A few weeks earlier
the prefect in person
came to see the king of the Kpagalam village.
« The gold mine holding will be Chinese.
Speak to your children, let's avoid all Wahala. »
Sabotage of the mine
violent repression
men in exile
their wives in prison.
Lumu's wife Danda got arrested
tortured, raped, murdered.
My honor
I’ve seen everything from the briefcase
with hundreds of witnesses.
What did they do with the body ?
I can't answer that.
The briefcase was closed
and I was plunged back into darkness.
I saw the light again
in a car dealership :
Benzes, Opels, BMWs
Your Honor,
I'm just an ECO banknote,
my real birth name :
Colonie Française d’Afrique.
CFA : Colonie Française d’Afrique,
my real birth name :
Colonie Française d’Afrique.

2 :
there is someone called Zhi Fubao
he didn’t know that he became a payment tool
he just wants to make his business better
the chicken feet in his shop are very popular
now every day he receives 20-30 fans
they come all the way to his shop just to see him
he was invited to participate
in a program on Hunan Television
his only wish is to meet Jack Ma one day
your name is Zhi Fubao
coincidentally I am also Zhi Fubao
Alibaba’s Zhi Fubao
An ant can become an unicorn
with the official name system
there are no worries anymore
successful refunds from an emotional account
in Hong Kong you can meet
old friends from your home town
good technology can protect your security
300 million transactions can be cleared
but beauty can never be counted
it’s the new milestone in E-commerce
no one is cooler than that
26 mobile billings mean
26 times overtime worked late at night
in the 21st century
what we lack is talented people
there is also Yu’e Bao and Gun Qian Bao
if you’re gonna pay, just use Zhi Fubao
it’s the symbol between you and me
in a world without thieves
there is also no worries anymore

3 :
one, two – in
one, two – out
whirring begins:
everywhere hissing
nothing but hissing
not only hearing it
has crawled inside you
not just an outside throbbing
it pulses inside you
seems to be all you
every fibre permeated
every strength fading
losing one's grip
getting soft
being in full flow
pure vibration
sweat flowing
suddenly a blow
feel the hardness of concrete
hot face on the cold floor
you begin to shimmer
no enlightenment
even if it's flashing everywhere
only you of senses
inside a server farm
that pulls you out of yourself
makes you deaf, blind and dumb
makes you forget
everything that's really going on
even to breath
carried away, by white noise
fallen into
into soft wadding
fans wrap everything in fog
yet this cloud
does not float in the big blue sky
is under a bell
cut off
from the rest called life
this castle in the air
no matter how clean and light
also consists of real earth and real sweat
at whose expense is it actually built
on whose shoulders is it carried
dizzy the one
set to ask this question

The Currency - English Lyrics

1 :
Dark box
cold room
the smell of rats
I was laying on a table
a gun next to me.
A lady was screaming
drool on her lips
hands tied behind her
to a metal chair. ... [Read More]

Interview with Christine Sun Kim and Thomas Mader

Panorama mode photography
Courtesy of the artists