Collective Soundscapes: UrbanRemix in San Francisco
by Carl DiSalvo
This past June we had the opportunity to participate in the City Centered Festival of Locative Media, in San Francisco. Working together with members of Glide Memorial Church and Bay Area musician Ken Ueno, we used the UrbanRemix platform to explore the collective production of soundscapes from the Tenderloin district. The technical platform of UrbanRemix consists of both a mobile application (for iPhone and Android phones) for recoding field audio and a web application for browsing and mixing that audio. With the mobile application, sound clips of up to one minute can be recorded, tagged, and geo-tagged. In addition, the built-in camera on smart phones can be used to capture geotagged photos. These sounds and images are then uploaded to the web application. With the web application, the sounds are placed on a map of the area and can be casually browsed, or remixes of the sounds can be made by drawing paths through the space of the sounds on the map.
Of course, while the technical platform is the backbone to the project, enabling the recoding, browsing and remixing of sounds, the UrbanRemix platform should also be considered to include the events of sound collection and performance. So, one warm June afternoon, we gathered together with about a dozen members of the Glide community — middle school and high school students, art instructors and interns — to share the application and venture out together into the Tenderloin to record sounds. It was not only important that we as visitors and guests captured sounds and images, but especially that this activity was performed by those who live and work there – the Tenderloin neighborhood.
We divided into groups and set out across the small expanse that is the Tenderloin, weaving back and forth along the streets. Occasionally we ventured into buildings to record sounds, such as when one of the kids wanted to record a game of Foosball. But mostly we recorded sounds from the streets: snippets of conversation, traffic, an argument that came after an accident, the sounds of security keypads being pressed to open apartment building doors, etc. During the course of an hour, we collected over 150 sounds, which taken together begin to document the acoustic identity of the area and reframe the neighborhood as a unique soundscape.
In addition to sound collection events, the UrbanRemix project also includes performance events. So, the day after recordings were done in the Tenderloin with community members from Glide, the collected sounds were handed over to Ken Uneo, a local Bay Area musician. Over the course of the next two days, Ken worked with the sounds — listening to them time and time again and beginning to sift and assemble them for a performance. On Sunday afternoon, Ken arrived in a gallery not far from Glide memorial church, at the edge of the Tenderloin. With a simple set-up of a laptop, mixer, and speakers he then performed with the sounds collected from the neighborhood — arranged, processed and re-mixed into a coherent and compelling track.
Every project has its challenges, and our project with UrbanRemix at the City Centered Festival was no exception. As always, we all wish we would have had more time for us to get to know the neighborhood and more time for the participants to explore the possibilities of the platform. But still, we had the opportunity to work together towards the collective construction of unique soundscapes — discovered and selected by community members, re-mixed by a local musician. Through this we all were able to experience and consider the Tenderlion with a new perspective, from its acoustic identity, and the relationship between those sounds and its social history and present.
UrbanRemix is a project by Carl DiSalvo, Jason Freeman and Michael Nitsche, at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
UrbanRemix project website: http://urbanremix.gatech.edu/
Ken Ueno’s remix : http://urbanremix.gatech.edu/sites/ur.edu/files/ken-ueno-remix.mp3
Urban Remix bios:
Carl DiSalvo is an assistant professor of Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he runs the Public Design Workshop. DiSalvo’s work centers on using design and art to prompt new forms of creative and critical public engagement with technology. He has lead participatory design and art workshops in Pittsburgh, PA and Atlanta GA, and has worked extensively with community organizations and youth groups.
Jason Freeman’s works break down conventional barriers between composers, performers, and listeners, using cutting-edge technology and unconventional notation to turn audiences and musicians into compositional collaborators. He is currently an assistant professor in the School of Music at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Michael Nitsche is interested in the various forms of digital space in physical environments as well as in video games and forms of digital performance. He heads the Digital World and Image Group and is Associate Director of the Experimental Game Lab at Georgia Tech. He works as Associate Professor in Digital Media at the School of Literature, Communication & Culture (LCC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology where he teaches mainly courses on for the Digital Media M.S. and Ph.D. program, as well as for the Computational Media undergraduate program.