For this installation, visitors are invited to perform with a keyboard that finds samples with the same note in realtime from web radio stations from around the world, essentially allowing them to play the world. Pressing a middle C key, for example, will play a matching C note from Nigerian sports radio or a Brazillian Bossa Nova station. The project monitors hundreds of diverse radio streams, from talk radio to pop to experimental transmission from around the world. The installation has speakers in round, and sounds are presented in geographic orientation to the audience, highlighting the voluminous, enchanting and playable global soundscape that surrounds us.
There are about a dozen instances running in the cloud that listed to about 1000 radio stations, finding good "notes" and sending them to the installation. The installation collects these into a large database -- the user, when playing, plays recently collected notes -- the delay is about half a minute or so for the most realtime samples. If there are no samples available, it dips into earlier notes it's found. The notes are found using a technique called "chroma" detection, special thanks to Benoit Fuentes benoit-fuentes.fr for steering me in the right direction.
In New York, when you jump into a taxi, you sometimes here strange radio / music from another place in the world, for example, Ghana, and it feels like this very low-fi and fast way to eaves drop on a culture. There's magic in hearing other languages and sounds from halfway across the globe. Also, when I first got online in the late 90s, streaming internet radio was one of the first mediums which made my jaw drop. Remember Real player? The idea that you could listen to audio somewhere else in the world was magical to me. Later on, when I looked into these streams I found that they are just mp3 (and similar) streams and very low bandwidth and easy to write code to analyze multiple streams at once. Another motivation for this project was this idea of not knowing where other places in the world are in relationship to where you are standing. The speakers are presented in the round, so you hear sounds coming from the direction they are coming from in the world. It's a reminder that angles (and orientation) hs meaning, that where you are facing has meaning -- they point to where you are coming from and where you are going to.
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This project was a commission from Google / DevArt and was exhibited as part of the Barbican's Digital Revolution exhibition. A huge thank you to the team for making this possible.
The children at the beginning were there as part of workshop series we ran around making digital interactions. We jammed with makey makeys and learned about electronics and sound, was super fun. Also, this installation is a little bit chaotic and it's hard to capture how weird and fun it feels to play this. It was also a little bit noisy in the installation, apologies....
Thanks to Jason Levine and Jonathan Dahan for their help with code, to Regan Chen (olollo.com/) for furniture design and to Marcela Godoy for fixture design. Thanks to Across the Pond productions for footage