Ear to Ear / Curatorial Statement

Ear to Ear is not an art exhibition—it is a hypothetical framework for the construction of a speculative archive. It suggests ways in which isolated communities can be solidified in potentially meaningful ways. More specifically, Ear to Ear looks at the shifting subcultures that constitute contemporary popular music distribution.

Despite a clear antagonism, the relationship between the legal and the illegal distribution of popular music in the West has been formed through a dialectic process. Recently, major music labels have begun to adapt in response to market pressures caused by a growing illegal economy of music sharing. iTunes, Napster and Amazon now allow you to download music in much the same way as other, illegal, services do—only through different economic structures. Even with these new services, music providers continue to promote distribution strategies that stress the distinction between the production and consumption of music. Probably first stressed in the 1950s and 60s as developing media helped establish new constellations of stardom and fandom, this gap has only widened in the past five years.

It is no coincidence that this exaggerated demarcation between the production and consumption of popular music has escalated in tandem with an increasingly acute mainstream interest in the illegal distribution of music—currently focussed almost exclusively on emerging peer to peer technologies like BitTorrent and Gnutella. While having roots in older, less formalized systems of illegal distribution, these now pervasive, illicit distribution networks differ considerably from their predecessors in that they enforce a strict distance (both physical and emotional) between contributing users.

Although it addresses the various virtual technologies that govern contemporary bootleg culture, Ear to Ear is specifically interested in establishing a non-virtual network of individuals. While the project utilized a number of social networking and online community resources to build interest, the exhibition itself aims to concretize a temporary network of individuals built through specific personal interactions. This aim is reinforced by a narrative of bootleg music culture that stresses the physical objects that constitute it.

Through a collection of visual, auditory and printed materials, the project focusses on the informal and/or illegal networks that order the traffic of these objects. While the project certainly takes cues from exhibition based archives such as Christoph Keller’s near encyclopedic compendium to contemporary independent art publishing, Kiosk: Modes of Multiplication (2001–), Ear to Ear was developed as an ad hoc framework rather then a fully realized archive. The project looks for models within the margins of contemporary popular music distribution, specifically, bootleg and fanzine subcultures, and as such, tries to remain expansive and open ended.

Jeff Khonsary
Summer 2008


With thanks to Courtenay Webber, Kristina Lee Podesva, Jordan Strom, Jonathan Middleton, Robert Dayton, Eric Fredericksen, Jeff McCloy, Alan McConchie, Christopher Olson, Saelan Twerdy, Alan Woo, and Virgil Porter.

In memory of Charles Harrison.