An Apple a Day: Listening to data centre site selection through a sonospheric investigation

Publication: Culture Machine, Vol. 18 The Nature of Data Centers, edited by Mél Hogan and Asta Vonderau (2019)

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As other authors in this special issue have noted, the rapid expansion of digital technologies rests on the rapid building of data centres. Data centres must be built somewhere. We can understand the cultural force of data centres by looking at their situatedness, by attending to the somewheres they occupy. This essay encounters Derrydonnell Forest in Galway, the possible somewhere of Apple’s newest data centre in Europe. What happens when one of the world’s richest companies applies for planning permission to build a data centre in a forest on the west coast of Ireland? Broken into three sections, this essay begins with an introduction to the sonospheric investigation; a research methodology I deploy as a sound arts practitioner that offers a generative approach towards engaging with multisensory vibratory and temporal encounters. I then discuss several examples where community and activist groups have objected, appealed and resisted the emergence of data centre complexes across North America and Western Europe. Lastly, I introduce the artwork Fields of Athenry (Parker, 2016), a multimedia installation developed as part of an ongoing sonospheric investigation into Derrydonnell Forest. The work interrogates how the medium of YouTube is a way of connecting what Athenry is, to what it might become, as the town prepares for the arrival of one of the largest data centre complexes in the world. This essay aims to highlight the affective and cultural complexity of data centre site selection through the reflection of an artist’s practice-based research project and asks what a practice of listening can offer media infrastructure ontologies.