Whereas noise in hospitals got plenty of attention particularly in the recent two decades, the sounds of home care have not. However, modern technology provides opportunities to align both places to a certain extent: there has never been more complex medical equipment available to stationary physicians and for use at home before. For patients suffering from chronic lung diseases the use of medical devices is almost inevitable. These machines produce sounds, whether or not patients and caretakers want.
For ‘The Swimming Lung’ the sounds of machines as they are used for COPD treatment were recorded and integrated into an installation. The employed pipes of galvanized steel are the same that ventilation systems are built of – objects we are trained to ignore much like the murmurs of the bodily functions they are supposed to support: in healthy conditions the sound of breath hardly ever gets recognized.
During the 15-minute-long composition passages of consistent breathing sounds get superimposed or interrupted by alarm signals and different hissings produced by filling up oxygen cylinders, which then fade into crackling, more unstable and slower breathing and humming noises.
Whether the low and rhythmic textures that characterize the sound of a noninvasive ventilation machine can achieve a soothing and reassuring effect, as patients reported, or upsets them by constantly remind everyone around of the disease, depends on personal experiences. Also, if their sounds can even be useful for surveillance reasons.
‘The Swimming Lung’ not only addresses the sounds of COPD treatment but is all about the ambivalences and ambiguities that accompany the process of listening.