Beach Talks 3 - Mic Check: Protesting, Protesting, One, Two, Three…

August 25, 2012

The “human microphone” is the latest armament in the political protest arsenal. While known primarily as an information delivery system, one which involves a conductor and a partisan audience (where amplification equipment is forbidden), it is also deployed as a critical response mechanism designed to interrupt/inform speakers and audiences who have electronic amplification at their disposal — a dual function that alludes to definitions of ideology as both a belief system and that which masks conditions perpetuated by belief systems.


My interest in the “human microphone” is concerned less with its ability to alternately deliver and block information than the sensations it evokes in those on either side of its electronic equivalent, a sensation that many have described as “creepy.” The question I am interested in is why a system this effective should unsettle those it helps to empower? To assist us (in what I hope will be more a seminar-style discussion than a lecture) I will include several historical examples, such as the “Greek Chorus” in Sophocles’s Antigone (c. 441 BC), Carl Orff’s Antigonae (1949), Pete Seeger’s version of “We Shall Overcome”, and the use of unison sonic structures in trance and techno music.

– Michael Turner

Zizek using HM at Occupy Wall Street

Gov. Scott Walker mic checked

Greek Chorus

Carl Orff’s Antigone

Pete Seeger

trance riff

Participant Bios

Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. His books include Hard Core Logo, The Pornographer’s Poem and 8×10, and his reviews have appeared in magazines such as _Art on Paper, Art Papers, Canadian Art and Modern Painters. He has also written numerous essays on local/historical interdisciplinary practices of the 1960s and 70s, in addition to contemporary artists such as Julia Feyrer, Brian Jungen and Ken Lum. Earlier this year he co-curated (with Scott Watson) Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry at the Morris and Helen Belkin UBC Art Gallery.