Jad Abumrad: Hey, everyone, Jad here. For this week's podcast, I wanted to play you a piece from one of my favorite producers. His name is Ben Rubin and he's hard to describe. He's sort of an audio artist, sort of a documentary producer, sort of a visual artist. If anyone out there has been to the New York Times building, the new one, he and his partner, Mark Hansen, did this sculpture, that crazy moving sculpture that is in the lobby. In any case, this is one of my favorite pieces from him. It's called Open Outcry.
I don't want to tell you too much about it, except that it's about commodities trading. When you picture the trading floor with hundreds of people screaming out the prices of commodities, there's a name for that. It's called The Open Outcry Trading System and all those screaming people in that roiling pit determine, on this emergent level, the price of oil or the price of an ounce of gold, so Ben decided to do a piece about this.
Most of what you're going to hear in this is actual documentary sound he recorded on the trading floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange. There's also going to be a female voice, an ethereal female voice that was recorded in the studio obviously, which is actually her singing the real price of commodities, the raw data taken from one day, I think in September of 2002. Though, I'm not sure about that date. In any case, here it is, Open Outcry from Ben Rubin on Radiolab.
Speaker: Sometimes I say to people, "Didn't you hear me bidding?" and I know if they say, "I didn't hear you," I know they're not telling me the truth because people always hear my voice. It's unique and it's a strong voice too. If I'm selling October's, you say Oc. You don't say the full handle, you say like Oc of 10. I just yell, "Oc of 10."
Speaker: Oc 70 bid.
Speaker: 25, 25.
Speaker: Sell 25, Oc 75 bid at 78.
Speaker: Six bid. That's seven bid.
Speaker: Eight bid.
Speaker: Oc of nine.
Speaker: Piece 84.
Speaker: Oc of 85.
Speaker: A hundred.
Speaker: Buy a hundred.
Speaker: You're not listening to one person at a time, you're hearing everybody speak at the same time. It's like going through a symphony and hearing every piece of the orchestra, but yet hearing the music at the same time.
Speaker: In the midst of that, you may observe, for instance, a broker that you've traded with for years. You know what his face looks like when he's laughing, you know what his face looks like when he's upset about something at home, and suddenly, he's got a nervous look.
Speaker: You can tell when someone is bluffing, when somebody is not bluffing, these are all skills that are learned over time. It's really an internal gut feeling. As far as just seeing the expression on somebody's face, the way that somebody is breathing, the way that somebody is leaning on someone else. I always knew when the guy behind me had a real order because when he had a big, big order, he used to take my shoulder and shove it to the ground trying to hold himself up.
Speaker: I've been in a ring 32 years, how do I sound? The open outcry system, which some people may look as an antiquated system, is probably the most sophisticated timely system that's an existence today.
Speaker: If you believe in a marketplace, this is as pure a form as it gets.
Speaker: If everybody's buying, it's going to be tougher to buy, supposed that.
Speaker: Just because you want to sell it at $29.55 and you're offering $29.55, the guy next to you could be selling it, the guy in front of you could be selling it, the guy behind you could be selling it and you might not have sold anything.
Speaker: Volatility makes money, war creates turmoil, turmoil creates opportunity. I'm not suggesting that people want terrible outcomes, but I am suggesting that a lot of people depend on it.
Speaker: The temple's flair, there's a lot of money flying around moment to moment. There's a classic story, actually, it's about my father. There was a time in Silver when he got into an argument with somebody and he had their neck down against the rail. A guy looked at Mrs. Marty, "Even though you're chairman of the [unintelligible 00:06:43], we're going to have to fine you $500 for this." He looks at the guy, he keeps one hand on the guy's neck, takes the other hand in his pocket, throws down a thousand bucks, and says, "Double it because I'm going to finish him off." Two minutes later, they're out having a cup of coffee together.
Speaker: There were members in good standing that had been on the trading floor the day before September 11th that we would never see again. I think people were very, very aware of their absence. In fact, the first trading day, for at least the first trading day, some of their positions in the pit were silhouetted by the outline of their footprints and people wouldn't step into those spots.
Jad: That's an Open Outcry by Ben Rubin. As you can probably tell, that piece was written right after 9/11. He was asked to commemorate the reopening of part of the world financial center. Most of it was still in rooms, but this one part, the Winter Garden, was opening back up, and so he was asked to make a sound piece to install in the Winter Garden. This is a space with a grid of palm trees in the middle, a very, very high dome ceiling, and what he did was he installed speakers underneath the trees and that's where the voices of the traders came from, but way up top on the ceiling, he had speakers which played the voice of that female ticker.
It's as if the traders are on the floor and high up above them, almost ethereally, is the price of their commodities. A neat idea, except he said in the space the sound was totally terrible. No one could hear anything, so he was happy, as are we, to have it be a radio piece. In any case, you can learn more about Ben at his website, earstudio.com, that's www.earstudio.com. You can also check out our website, radiolab.org. We are supported by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, The Corporation For Public Broadcasting, and the National Science Foundation. I'm Jad Abumrad, thank you for listening.
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