Aura Satz / United Kingdom / 2022

What do warnings for climate change, the pandemic, rising fascism sound like? Will we hear them in advance? In an age of intersecting political, man-made and ecological disasters, Preemptive Listening is an ode to the sirens of a changing world.

Nuclear accidents, tsunamis, floods, fires, melting ice caps, a global pandemic, rising fascism. Twenty years of a new millennium has witnessed escalating political, manmade and ecological disasters. Did we hear the warnings? ‘Preemptive Listening’ is an essay film proposing a timely speculative re-imagining of sirens, alarms and emergency signals. In a series of thought-provoking, atmospheric and sensorially captivating vignettes, this essay film will blend documentary, sonic and visual poetry, in order to forge a new understanding of emergency.

The camera will take viewers on a compelling journey through worldwide sites of emergency broadcasts warning of approaching manmade and natural disasters – clusters of horns at the top of buildings or perched on solitary monopole towers. We see and hear the world through a lens of immediate, pending and long term crisis. In each aerial shot of a siren, surrounding horizons of potential catastrophe are revealed: landscapes of the anthropocene, movements of human and natural disaster.

In parallel, we enter an unassuming factory in Slovakia, a microcosm of the manufacturing process of warning technologies. Portrayed through close-up vignettes of the calibration of sirens and rotating emergency lights, these images offer insight into the mechanical infrastructure of the psychology of emergency. Flickering beacons, new alarms and horns are tested in laboratory conditions such as an anechoic chamber, before being deployed to global sites of potential emergency.

Through a soundtrack of new siren sounds composed by an array of acclaimed experimental musicians, the film asks: does an alarm have to be alarming? Can it be quiet, melancholic, agitational, defiant? We hear animal howls and the grief of extinction; gentle whistles; soaring banshee-like cries; swarming loops of cello glissando; trumpets bringing down walls; intricate harp permutations; endless escalating electronic tones. As the images build toward an idiom, personal experiences, neuroscientific perspectives and insights from cultural historians are deployed in raw form or incorporated into a scripted voiceover. The spoken words and interviews offer both an unsettling sense of urgency, and a hopeful rethinking of crisis management. In a time of increasing alarm fatigue, emergency signal recalibration is urgent. The film invites us to look and listen anew – without yet knowing who is foreground signal, background noise, which voice is warning, beacon, map.