Active Listener


Session Title:

  • Hearing, Listening, Participating

Presentation Title:

  • Active Listener




  • Active Listener is an automated listening treatment in which machines fulfill all listening roles, rendering the human listener superfluous. Two computers face each other. The first computer begins speaking the original text of the Wikipedia entry on active listening, while the second takes dictation. At the conclusion of the entry, the computers exchange roles. They continue to practice active listening skills, taking turns listening and speaking until the system inevitably breaks down.

    To the end, they faithfully attempt to take dictation, even as all semantic meaning is lost. Active Listener explores the practice of active listening in a post-human context, one in which a repeated ‘mishearing’ of individual words leads to the decimation of the original text into gibberish and to the earnest exchange of semantic content that is increasingly devoid of semantic meaning.

    This lack of meaning is of no concern to the machine listeners. On the other hand, it is central to the experience of the human observers, for whom the loss of meaning becomes the central experience of the work. The more that semantic meaning—or signal—is obscured by gibberish—meaningless text, or noise—the more interesting it is to listen: careful semantic listening by human observers, over time, is rewarded with an increasingly absurd and humorous text.


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