The sound art collective Ultra-red studies, develops, and tests procedures for collective listening that contribute directly to political struggles. We invite communities to listen to the acoustics of contested spaces, their own and others’ demands and desires, the echoes of historical memories of struggle, and their own self-organizing activities.


A few years ago, rather than asking people simply to listen to what we had made, we began asking, “What did you hear?” The modesty of this query belies the labor of shifting the foundation of Ultra-red’s practice from the terms of music (e.g. aesthetic evaluation and the organization of sound) to those of listening—the relationship between intention and perception. This shift was necessitated in part by the still unsettled correlation between our aesthetic and political interests and orientations.

Rather than ending with representation, we begin with representation. Then, “What did you hear?” The question enters the object into a relationship, an interrogation. When the representation is about to close in on itself, we restate the question or displace one object with another. As a second consequence of asking “What did you hear?” we situate our sound practice in relation to specific constituencies, locations, conditions and concerns. Most importantly, we organize listening as a collective rather than as an individual procedure—listening as a relation to an other.

Finally, and perhaps most difficult to discuss, is the tense of the question: “What did you hear?” There is an acoustic action, the attention that bends to it, and then the question, “What did you hear?” What we heard was our encounter with the object. Our responses to the question teach us, in part, the terms of that encounter. The articulation of these terms provides the foundation for a political analysis. Thus, rather than only paying attention to what the sound represents, to what it indicates or means, collective organizing benefits from a rigorous understanding of how we tender our attention, of how we listen.