The Protest Machine

by Jan-Alexander Krause

It rattles, whistles and drums. What’s clear is that this artifact is about making yourself heard. The protest machine is equipped with everyday objects – such as pots and pans – which unfold loud qualities here. For the first demonstration in the lecture hall corridor (see video), the whole thing was staged with a surveillance camera and monitor, in order to also address the control of public space.

The protest machine by Jana Herold, Noemi Kolb, Marana Potzkai and Philipp Winterstein was created in the seminar ‘Sound, Space, Movement’ (WS19/20) and will be exhibited on the Leuphana campus with the resumption of regular university operations.

With the worldwide ‘Fridays for Future’ movement, the street as a place of protest seemed to gain popularity last year, especially among younger people. The resulting effects and impacts on the state-run discourse on sustainability have shown how important public space is and will remain as a medium for articulating a social concern. As assembly or parade, song or choreography, up to occupation or violent rioting, the forms of protest take on different dimensions. The acoustic level has a supporting function in all this, as Jana Herold, Noemi Kolb, Marana Potzkai and Philipp Winterstein demonstrate in the exhibition of their protest machine.

The mobile apparatus can be clearly heard even from a distance and is particularly distinguished by the percussive sounds of the pans and pots. The machine is operated by a crank, which is used to mechanically strike the sound bodies that are not intended for the purpose. In addition, a hand drum and whistles offer more than one person the opportunity to join in sonically in order to protest in the sign of multiplicity. Thus the protest machine appears at first as an aid for protesters to gain a hearing and attention without taking a political position themselves.

The kitchen utensils converted for the loud protest also refer to the so-called Cacerolazos – a form of protest that established itself in Argentina at the beginning of the 2000s (cf. Firchow 2015: 75). The empty pots that were banged on during the demonstrations were then a symbol of scarce or unaffordable food as a result of the rising cost of living. At the same time, the kitchen utensils are a collective means of protest for poorer people and the middle class who took to the streets together, drumming (cf. ibid.).

According to Firchow (2015), the Cacerolazos are today one of several established protest forms that help to establish a democratic dialogue between the population and the state in Argentina:

„It could be argued that this repertoire of contention has become a part of the institutionalized political system and a characteristic of Argentina’s democratic system. In other words, instead of depending on political representatives in Congress, Argentines express their grievances, frustrations, and disappointments directly through street protests. The forms of resistance in Argentine politics have become more systematic, less spontaneous and random and more organized.“ (Firchow 2015: 80)

The fact that the motif of pots and pans has developed a momentum of its own in the context of protest since the Argentinean model of 2001 is shown not only in the protest machine but also in the viral video of the protest song ‘TENCERE TAVA HAVASI (Sound of Pots and Pans)’ by Kardeş Türküler (2013). With their performance in 2013, the group committed itself to the preservation of the Gezi Park in Istanbul and used only utensils from the kitchen repertoire for the instrumentation. The compositional organization of the sounds leads to a musical form of protest, which served as inspiration for the development of the protest machine.

For the exploration of the musical potential and all other functions, the protest machine will be exhibited with the resumption of regular university operations on the Leuphana campus, probably in the foyer of building 5. The protest machine emerges as an artifact from the seminar Sound, Space, Movement, which dealt with the theory and practice of auditory design in interactive environments.

Protestlied ‚TENCERE TAVA HAVASI (Sound of Pots and Pans)‘ von Kardeş Türküler (2013)
Firchow, Pamina (2015): Power and Resistance in the Shaping of Argentine Domestic Policy. In: Latin American Perspectives. Volume: 42 issue: 1. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc. (S. 74-83).