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Prix 1987 - 2007

Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

Barbara Musil

Just like one often tries as a foreigner to blend in with the natives, this project seeks to blend in with everyday phenomena at a foreign location. It smuggles itself in and palms itself off as part of the normal environment of the Romanian city of Cluj—operating day and night, like the many audible alarms of various origin.

Such a concert of alarms has a profound influence on the atmosphere of a town and is interesting both as an abstract acoustic effect as well as on the level of its significance.

But is the safety of people and property really so uncertain or are there other factors contributing to the so frequent use of security systems? And why are the acoustic features of these alarms so greatly standardized that it is difficult to distinguish between the sirens of the police, the fire department and private vehicles? Moreover, we have become so accustomed to these warnings that we often no longer pay conscious attention to them and they go unnoticed.

Alert is situated at the interface of these issues: a typical characteristic of the city of Cluj—its background noise—is observed, analyzed and modified. Via newspapers and word of mouth, ten car owners in Cluj were found who were interested in carrying out this manipulation. A new collection of individual alarm systems was constructed and then, after each participant had chosen one, installed in their vehicles. Sometimes the participants came up with their own suggestions, which were then included in the collection.

Thus a dialogue was initiated with a wide range of people from Cluj and, through interaction with them, a profound change effected on the city. More specifically this meant that the existing concert of sounds in Cluj was enhanced by additional instruments. The project was also able to satisfy the apparent desire of some car owners to have their alarm systems convey individuality and fit their images. Another intention of the project was to alter communication between potential thieves and car owners by creating sounds that directly related to the situation.

Hence thieves were no longer addressed by a screeching siren oscillating between two notes, but by an entire array of other messages:

“Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?”
“Baby you can drive my car!”
“The eyes of the Lord are in every place …” (Bible)
“The poor test results from Autorevue magazine.”
These are just a few examples of what might be able to alter a thief’s motives and cause him to smile or reconsider.

Although the exhibition—in which the collection of alarms and the car owners were individually presented—is over, the actual project itself can still be heard in the streets of Cluj.