aural flâneur
Portraits of gamblers 2.JPG

Listening on the Strip

A study of the technologies of listening and the commodification of aural attention in Las Vegas casinos

How has neoliberalism transformed the way we hear? The project focuses on the way in which gamblers listen in the casinos of Las Vegas, examining how, in a paradigmatic example of the post-Fordist attention economy, casino capital captures the psychological and affective capacities of players. In an environment where every detail is purposefully designed to increase revenues, sound design plays a very important role in keeping players in their seats and increasing the length of time they spend playing, as well as the size and speed of bets. Drawing upon a period of fieldwork undertaken in the casinos on the Vegas Strip, I analyse this modulation of listening in an article on “The Sonic Habitués of the Strip: Listening in Las Vegas,” forthcoming in Sound Studies. Against the backdrop of Bernard Stiegler’s analysis of neoliberalism as a “destruction of attention,” I draw upon two conceptual frames to analyse the modalities of listening produced on the Strip and to distinguish them from Adornian structural listening: (1) Martin Heidegger’s discussion of boredom and animal captivation; and (2) Félix Ravaisson’s philosophy of habit as it anticipates Catherine Malabou’s theory of plasticity.

Las Vegas (October 2016). Photo by Naomi Waltham-Smith.

Las Vegas (October 2016). Photo by Naomi Waltham-Smith.

Sights & Sounds of Las Vegas , Tourist Records (1963).

It turns out that Las Vegas is a popular destination for field recording, and my project involved studying work by other recordists, as well as compositions that make use of field recordings. These include Knut Åsdam’s “Las Vegas Cut,” made in the late 1990s and featured as part of Public Record’s Fifteen Sounds of the War on the Poor, vol. 1 (2008), Jonathan Coleclough’s Casino (2003), Adrian Rew’s Slot Machine Music (2013), and Bernhard Gál’s lv, nv (2001). I also investigated historical recordings, including one made when Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour famously visited in 1968 with their Yale seminar and this “sonic souvenir” dating from 1963.