Nightsniffing

A scrapbook study of a circuit Bat detector at work

‘Nightsniffing’ is a project in development. Starting with the practice of eavesdropping on bats, it will seek to develop new forms of nightwalking, creating circuits between the algorithmically-driven economic processes transforming the city and the affective bodies (human and non-human) that are disturbed or displaced through it.

Bat detection operates on the intersection of affective and economic transformations. A bat detector not only locates these strange and often overlooked creatures, but also articulates their nonhuman charisma, bringing other individuals into contact with them. Bats themselves experience displacement, as roosts are demolished and new homes have to be found. This fact allows bat detection practice to interface, if lightly, with the forces transforming the city, as the legal frameworks that envelop bats as a protected species make bat surveys a necessary precursor to development.

The most common entry level bat detector is an audio heterodyne circuit, which converts ultrasound at a given frequency down to that of human hearing. It provides a basic means to survey bat populations and to engage local people with bats in their environment and bat conservation as a whole. Heterodyning is a form of frequency mixing. It literally means potential in difference, the mixing of an internal oscillation with an external signal, outputting the difference as information. This process will provide a working metaphor as well as a practical technology for the mixing of disparate forces.

Though its practitioners might not see it as such, bats’ nocturnal habits make ultrasonic heterodyning a nightwalking practice. Matthew Beaumont’s recent study lets us locate such practices in their historical roots, including their relationship to calculated economic exploitation. From early modern times, the charge of being a ‘common night walker’ was used to criminalise the poor, displaced by the enclosure movement which took common land used by the peasantry into private ownership. Nightwalking threatened the orderly recovery of the male working body, to which female nightwalkers were seen as a particular threat – from eavesdropping to potentially licentious behaviour, they promised to disturb the diurnal order that underpinned society. But it was also a practice of those more privileged, principally (but not exclusively) male ‘noctambulants’ whose night-time wanderings brought them into contact with the most marginalised denizens of the city. This was heterodyning in another sense, as the mixing of classes outputted accounts such as Dicken’s essay ‘Night walks’ and Blake’s poem ‘London’.

As capitalism extended and the night became a site of commerce and consumption, the prohibitions against nightwalking faded, replaced with more subtle and targeted measures. Likewise, today’s displacements follow a different causal trajectory, as algorithimically governed stock markets drive the demolition of social housing and its replacement with empty investments. This project will investigate the possiblities of creating new interactions between these forces, research new technical means to engage potential noctambulants and noctivagants, and seek to initiate or invigorate practices of resistance.

Nightsniffing scrapbook