The Quiet Walk (2011-present)
(w/ Tom Schofield)
The Quiet Walk is an interactive mobile artwork that allows users to make a walking exploration of urban space, directed by sonic information captured on a smartphone. The goal of this exploration is to find the “quietest place.” Instead of using geographical references to navigate around the city, a custom made app running on a the mobile guides the user, encouraging him or her to avoid particular noisy areas of city by giving directions to find acoustically quiet zones.
The data collected generates a constantly changing map of the city according to the amplitude level of its sounds. The experience transforms the user into a temporary cartographer, technologically aided and at the same time detoured, drifted on the thresholds of acoustic territories. The idea proposed by The Quiet Walk is to investigate this relation, the intersections of public and private spaces, defining everyday urban acoustics and creating points where the user can build personal sonic memories of places visited, aided by the generated map.
As the mobile transmits its GPS coordinates in real time to the project server, a system of routes and trajectories is drawn, creating an acoustical trace of the user’s walk. The visualization displays a map showing the traces of acoustical data measured in decibels translated into traditional notation for musical dynamics (pianissimo, mezzo-forte, forte, fortissimo).
The Quiet Walk was presented for the first time for Render’11, festival of digital media art in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK on september 2011. The final aim of TQW is to use GPS and mobile system to create personal experiences of situated listening in the participants and generate soundmaps that have the specific function to recall internal memory of these experience, without having the possibility to hear the sounds played back. During the past Render’11 exhibition in Newcastle and several user tests in London and Rome, participants reported the excitement e sudden ability to switch between visual and sound attention, revealing their ability to “see” things introduced by particular sonic events, such as other people’s steps or seagulls flying, or trying to identify really far events such busses passing. A few participants claimed that this experience gave them a momentary sense of “expanded hearing”.
The goal of the application is to bring the user to “a quiet place”, but this is set as an “excuse” or as a strategy to invite the user to make the soundwalk. However, as there is a possibility that the user only encounters loud places, the maximum number of places that a user can explore is limited to 5. If there are no quiet zones, the phones displays the following message:
There are no quiet areas here. Maybe if you come back later in the night, or another day, you will find one. Sometimes the city is just loud. I suppose that if you try to call in your mind the memory of a quiet place around here, you will find one. I bet you can even remember the sounds of that place. Thanks for the journey.