lecture by Frauke Behrendt

This talk considers how sound can be a means of engaging with hybrid spaces – layerings of physical and digital architecture – and particularly how this has been explored in art projects. Research in Sound Studies that considers mobile technology often suggests a withdrawal from public spaces. Here, the question is how we can use sound and mobile technology to engage with urban spaces.

We use sound to navigate cities all the time, albeit often on a subconscious level. We listen out for cars before crossing the street without even looking, but might miss the silent cyclists. Many visually impaired or blind people are experts at sonic navigation, being able to tell you the shape of a street sign without touching or seeing it, for example. Sound is also used to navigate networked space – “you have new mail” alerts and computer game sounds are probably the most frequent reminder – but our Internet experiences at home remain mainly visual and textual ones. The possibilities of using sound to navigate both physical and digital spaces are still under researched. The ubiquity of mobile phones and mp3 players suggests a new auditory sensibility, and might spur research interest in non-screen engagement with hybrid space. As we increasingly use mobile devices not only to connect to one other person via call or text, but also to access the internet etc, developers slowly start to pay more attention to sonic interaction design, allowing us to move through the city while accessing digital networks without looking at a screen.

Artists have experimented with sound in hybrid spaces for some time now and this talk discusses some of these projects that have been presented at the Mobile Music Workshops over the last five years. These art works draw on a variety of traditions such as public sound art, interactive art, net.art and locative art; they can also be contextualised in the history of spatial and musical performance in public space. Each of them offers a very specific way of engaging with hybrid space via sound, offering various perspectives on the complex situation of navigating physical, social and digital context at the same time. In all projects, the interfaces between sound and space are the participants, they are “playing” the art projects with the movement of their bodies, their mobile devices. The multi-sensory experience of walking in the city, its acoustics, spaces, networks, people, traffic etc, are framed in different ways to tune the city or to tune into the city. This opens up a discussion around spatial and temporal qualities of sound in hybrid spaces, and not to forget, the imagined spaces in the listener’s head.

appearance at Tuned City
public and private soundscapes / 03.07.08