The ‘You Are Listening To’ Project

The You Are Listening To Project: Grim Ambient Soundscapes Courtesy of Los Angeles Police Department

Ambient music takes you places: peaceful, sometimes slightly utopian settings, or the one safe place that you would hide as a child. It is supposed to harmonize with your environment. Now imagine that someone detonates a bomb of reality in that idyllic soundscape. This is exactly what happens on the You Are Listening To website. The soothing sounds are mashed with the chatter scraps from the police radio scanners of major American cities. You can’t exactly make sense of everything that is communicated, but phrases such as ‘restraining order’ and ‘suspect’ are disturbing enough to shatter the tranquility of the tracks.

How does it work? You pick one of the police department locations across America: from LA to Detroit to New York, while Soundcloud provides a playlist composed of random atmospheric pieces. Whilst ambient music is designed to be unobtrusive and alleviate all the weariness from the world, it is combined with something that makes the world weary: crime. The sound that you hear is always unique because the police radio scanner provides a live broadcast.

The You Are Listening To project delivers a custom made sonic product that is of a simultaneously morbid and enchanting nature. A juxtaposition of non-invasive sound with disturbing vocalizations brings Burial’s sensibility to mind. The producer never employs silky voices, just grim confessions and poignant whispers. However, the blends that can be found on the website have a much more haunting effect on the listener, due to the nonfictional and contextualized aspect of the radio channel.

The spoken word may not be as perfectly harmonized with the backdrop as in Burial’s tracks, yet the raw aspect of the police codes provide it with an unpredictable quality, thus breaking the stillness of the sound in an intriguing and unusual way. The bizarre blends are not limited to police scanners as the website offers the combination of ambient music with John F. Kennedy’s speeches and LAX Air Traffic Control channel, as well as the build-your-own option.

What exactly accounts for the appeal of these juxtapositions? They leave you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted, and simply mesmerized with an eerie sound crafted live, courtesy of American police departments and air traffic controllers. So, if you’re up for an uncanny ride, tune in at:

Image: See-ming Lee. /
Image: See-ming Lee. /

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