From John Giorno’s Dial-a-Poem to Callin’ Oates, Amusing Hotlines to Ring
Zoom fatigue—which is to say, screen fatigue—is all too real in these extremely online and indoor times, making old-school telephone calls a welcome, intimate reprieve. While we eagerly await museum reopenings, we’re getting our fix by dialing in to a handful of audio-based artworks. The late poet and performance artist John Giorno launched his legendary Dial-a-Poem hotline in 1967, offering automated readings of short poems over the phone—an innovative technology at the time and a clever, playful way of connecting wider audiences in a more accessible way. While the original number is no longer in service, an iteration now lives on at 641-793-8122, thanks to the New Museum, and the seeds of Giorno’s revolutionary art-by-phone experiment have taken a rather comical turn in recent years, with a spate of humorous hotlines.
Created by Michael Selvidge and Reid Butler, the Callin’ Oates emergency hotline (719-26-OATES) instructs you, naturally, to “dial 1 to hear ‘One on One,’” among other hits from the pop-rock duo Hall & Oates. If smooth-talking yacht rock isn’t your thing, the hotline’s makers also offer a few sister lines: Phil Call-ins (the Phil Collins hotline, 424-888-PHIL), Bob Dialin’ (the Bob Dylan hotline, 615-DYLAN-26), and Diamond Rings (the Neil Diamond hotline, 424-543-NEIL). All of which, if nothing else, provide some cheeky hold music and a brief respite from the internet.
For those more interested in sounding off than tuning in, artist Amy Langer offers a cathartic, tongue-in-cheek safe space with her Screaming Into the Abyss hotline (415-903-4595), created for “all your screaming abyssal needs.” As the automated operator attests: “Screaming into the abyss is a time-honored human experience used to express feelings that just won’t fit into our normal sonic and physical landscape. Due to shelter-in-place, it may be more difficult for you to access your usual abyss of choice. In these uncertain times, we can be a metaphorical one.”