Friday, 2 May 2014

Written in Water - a noTours soundwalk with the Mayor of Gosport

A fun morning with Mayor John Beavis and Mayoress Christine Beavis of Gosport, walking around the town on a lovely Spring day to demonstrate my recently completed geo-located, virtual audio soundscape Written in Water: Portrait of a Town, commissioned by New Dimensions and built using noTours software for Android, that allows you to paint a landscape with sound.

In the hour or so that we walked, we chatted about the large number of local people who'd been involved, how their varied and unique reminiscences and thoughts were edited and placed among music in virtual circles throughout the town centre. 

I'm working on a permanent page about the soundscape with 
** downloadable maps with suggested routes  
** sound previews and  
** a list of the wonderful individuals who helped make the project the exciting, diverse experience it is.

One of the technical challenges of making the sound map was using a landscape  - of streets and open spaces criss-crossed by roads  - to create a coherent, pleasing audio narrative, whichever direction you take.

I've been hearing feedback from lots of visitors to the project and while most prefer to navigate the soundscape purely by ear, some have asked for a visual guide as well.

New challenge from the Mayoress: design a postcard-sized guide to the sound map with suggested routes and some teaser clues about what users will find….

The project is going to be a free download from the Google Play store very shortly but if you want to try it out now - it's completely free! - come to the Gosport Discovery Centre, borrow a handset, and walk around to listen wherever you choose.

My website ( will shortly contain all the files and info you need if you want to put together a DIY sound walk for your own Android phone…..

and there will also be a version you can use anywhere. . . . . . . 

~~~ inspired by listening to #Satsymph's geo-located Hermes on a Welsh hill-top earlier this week, (previous post).

The Mayor's blog post about his firs geo-located virtual audio experience:


Thursday, 1 May 2014

Geo-located soundscape at an Iron Age Hill Fort

#Satsymph: Hermes
GPS-based soundscape on Google Play
A prankster and inventive genius from birth, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld.  

He aided the heroes Odysseus and Perseus in their quests. Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. 

Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. As a newborn he was remarkably precocious. 

On his very first day of life, he found the empty shell of a tortoise and perceived its utility as a sounding chamber. Stringing sinews across it, he created the first lyre. 

After months of work in studio headphones, walking in urban Hampshire landscapes to test geo-located audio circles for "Written in Water", I'm spending a couple of days in the luminous, green and stony Brecon Beacons. 

Today I had a wonderful walk from Mynedd Illtud (St Illtud's Common land),-4.1599484,8z/data=!3m1!4b1

to the top of Twyn-y-Gaer and the still visible earthwork fortifications of an ancient hill fort.

It was the most peaceful time I have known in months, entirely solitary but for sheep and a military jet that filled the sky for a single minute like the apocalypse.

Pen y Fan to the north, from Mynedd Illtud
Pen y Fan to the north, from Mynedd Illtud
The thousands-year old grass path rose and fell gently over undulating pasture and gorse until the last, panting steep stretch demonstrated to this breathless walker a brilliantly defensible site.

At the top, I wanted to investigate a colleague's geo-located music app - how  would it work at this random spot. 

I set the app's area centre as the triangulation point - the highest point on the hill and, no accident, clever Iron Age builders, the dead central point of the fort. 

The radius was defined by the perimeter of the earthworks, below which, on the north side, was a steep drop of several hundred metres.

#Satsymph app for iPhone, their new project: Hermes. 
Surreal two voice, spoken welcomes to the Greek god's temple begin to overlap with music by Marc Yeats. 

Yeats' style is endlessly surprising, adaptive, resourceful.  The musical language is complex and multi-layered, filled with strategic, mimetic reference but free of the 'memes' that guide listening to a specific narrative or state.

on Twyn-y-Gaer
Above the windy peak, no human movement visible in the vast primeval landscape, clouds sweep and curl above, in streaks and swathes of lightness.

The crisp air bristles at this high spot, a cone almost, with higher peaks to the north and a near sheer south drop.

Sense of the place was mediated by the music and words imported there on a digital handset. 

#Hermes is often beautiful, sometimes absurd, lush and wistful and coupled with the location made for a remarkable, unrepeatable performance that I will cherish.

While thinking about what happened to me on the hill, listening to Hermes, I discovered a new word: Engram, a "lasting trace left by psychic experience"

My experience both of hill forts and of geo-located media has been shifted: the 'Engram' has been etched and will feed my musical piranhas.

(I love hill forts, trying to really see the huge labour that went into establishing them, the organisation of people and resources to build these ring mounds of earth at the highest viable point for a self-sufficient settlement…. who the community within were, their beliefs, fears, daily struggles…  sudden violent, terrified, furious defence against attacks from without, what they did in the evenings, what made them argue, laugh, fall in love….) 

'Hermes' project is portable.  One can take it and listen anywhere. 

My work so far has been very specifically geo-located. The reason: re-engaging people with place - to *feel* a place they thought familiar.

How can we use these tools to transform environment? I had a strange and delightful experience of #Satsymph's Hermes. 

Partly because it was where it shouldn't be. But then all virtual art is somewhere and its locus was almost never imagined for that purpose.  I enjoy the superimposition of the virtual upon the physical: presently called 'augmented reality' it will hopefully find better names in time. 

Having listened on Twyn-y-Gaer to #Hermes, I am surprised by the shift in my sense of this necessity of a specific location: it comes as a kind of relief, in fact. 

Specific geo-location of specific media is useful, interesting and revelatory.

But it is not essential either to enjoyment of a space or of the work experienced within it.

The questions I will now be asking, as I walk around landscapes, will include
- is this a suitable locus for something I can imagine bringing here virtually
- why would it be suitable or not
- are there not in fact infinite ways to combine virtual and physical experience 
[that spawn additional objects, 'heterodyning' in acoustics (where two tones generate through combination their sum and difference, new incidental artifices)]

Does my piece based at St Paul's Cathedral, re-processing and evoking its environs, historic and present, have to be solely there?

I thought that it was good to bring people to a place to resocialise the experience of the digital, but on a hilltop today I understood that it was not artistic but social practice that requires the shift - and artists need to be as flexible as possible to continue capturing the spirit of our time and turning it into lasting art.

Download #Satsymph today. Follow them on twitter for updates about their work. 

And go somewhere amazing to listen to Hermes. You Will enjoy it!