by Josephine Holtzman
“Blind Date” is a mobile narrative listening experience that grapples with the dystopian notion of modern romantic connection as an increasingly virtual, disembodied occurrence. Using the form of site-specific audio narrative or “soundwalk,” the piece imagines the “blindness” of online dating in the physical world, by creating a date who the listener will hear but never see. The fictional narrative utilizes the medium of mobile listening device and the narrative style of the soundwalk to explore the duality of the “audio cocoon” as an isolating yet privately intimate experience.
Mobile listening in the 21st century has become a technology of both dystopian and utopian means. As a tool of mitigation and protection, the ipod reclaims a small sphere of privacy in fraught and overcrowded public space, and prevents against the invasive onslaught of urban noise. But the soundwalk penetrates these barriers erected by mobile listening, encouraging engagement with the physical world in a more integrated mobile listening experience.
Using this form of the soundwalk, “Blind Date” seeks to examine and problematize this duality of public and private, intimacy and alienation, connection and disconnection, by creating a sonically augmented environment that elevates the mundane landscape and re-imagines the world as the stage for the unfolding of romantic connection.
Set in the affluent, picturesque, quintessentially “perfect” Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, the audio piece guides the listener from this utopian world, via an unreliable and increasingly unusual narrator, to the dystopian banks of the polluted Gowanus Canal. Separated by only a few avenues, the industrial, polluted Gowanus serves as a metaphor for the uncertainty, unknowability and alienation that is the “blindness” of modern connection. Along the way, the narrator grapples with her own feelings of alienation and struggles to find and realize a connection with you, the listener, as her date.
Recent films such as Spike Jonze’s “Her,” explore the possibility of love, intimacy and connection that is not predicated on a physical body or even human-ness. Many scholars such as Sherry Turkle critique our waning face-to-face conversation and physical interaction for making us deficient in our ability to connect and thus depriving us of the physical connections that make us human. Yet as the movie “Her” posits, a voice or personality confined to a physical body has become something of a constraint, an unwanted limitation, a mundane way of being in the world. The voice and the personality become domesticated when attached to a body. The potentiality for connection and the construction of self is limitless in the online sphere when we are freed by our disembodied existence. But what is lost in this ubiquitous anonymity and virtuality?
It seems the Dystopian and Utopian in modern society are not so far apart. The distinction becomes increasingly blurred and permeable. Reality and fiction, human and object, virtual and real, once perceived as polarities, now coexist more fluidly and contingently. Both space and human being are becoming hybridized. In the romantic sphere, it seems every date is blind. We are increasingly disembodied beings, existing virtually, fleshed out only by a flimsy online profile and pictures – a reality and context we construct.