Last night was the 3rd Feedback Meeting with artists Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum who collaborate as PolakvanBekkum. There was a small attendance of people with six laptops set-up within the main conference area at the DM+D labs. Each computer played on continuous loop with separate completed audio tracks moving through Google Earth.
The recordings consisted of a bicyclist, a blind man, a horse and an airplane. Each were labeled as such using post-it notes attached to the corresponding laptops. Some of the audio tracks could be heard out loud as others were inaudible using ear plugs for the guests to feel free to experience a more immersive experience. The objective for the artists was to share the current progress within their project self-described as a “NavDoc”. Printed out next to each of the laptops was a statement from the artists:
“The four visuals we are going to show you are the raw footage we shot in the last couple of weeks. Audio and gps (the spheres you see) presented together in the virtual world of Google Earth. We see tracks emerge and listen to the sounds of an urban landscape – moving through Philadelphia.
Google Earth can be seen as a public space, a space we recognize and feel familiar in. But it’s also just a snapshot of reality, where the familiarity gets questioned when combined with other realities, such as field recorded audio. We question the space between those two realities, using familiar sounds and movements to encounter the unfamiliar.
The reality of the audio and the reality of Google Earth’s satellite and street view imagery both give you the sense of understanding what’s happening, but the two realties never touch. That is the thing we leave open for you.”
From there the experiment commenced. What began to be observed was that the viewers were more often than not opting for the more immersive audio experience. Considering each of the tracks play for about a half hour to forty-five minutes the viewers tended to not experience each recording, but fully engage in one.
The key word here is transcendence. Each person either randomly selected the audio tour or sought out a specific reality, but each person explained having a transcendent experience. One person, who listened to the bicyclist, described his shift in experience with the audio tour aligned with empathy. At the beginning of the audio tour the viewer described being like a drone merely passing overhead of the subject until moments after the protagonist was at a store buying a bottle of water the viewer suddenly shifted his perspective and felt connected. The visual of the sphere was also point of connection for many viewers. If anything the ineptness of the visuals via pixelation, invisible cars or crossing through buildings – forces you to piece the narrative using your own imagination. The visual abstractness in pertaining to the sphere – GPS tracker – and Google Earth are in fact accurate representations of our everyday digital landscape that are somewhere disconnected from what is real and what is not or what is pixelated and what is not. It is at this space within the ‘NavDoc’ the object is clear, which is defining our digital experience while advancing our own perception.
I also chose to go with this neighborhood and method of traversing the city I am most familiar with: bicycling under the El. You cannot hear the cyclist always clearly, the mumbling is frustrating as long as you want to hear every word… The visuals are abstracted through manipulating Google Earth paired with a GPS track is marked as a blue sphere. The strongest familiarity I began to recognize was through my own remembered experiences – the echoing sound of the El overhead and cars passing. It was here I began to have a transcendent experience similar to a reader absorbed in a good fiction. The main story here is my past experience with the neighborhood, which leans more towards the nostalgic. Considering my original starting point to listen in this is not surprising. A number of people who are local to the area would be interested in viewing the ‘NavDoc’ project from my own perspective and as a tool for memory it is highly effective. My senses were heightened within the ‘NavDoc’ interface resulting in a meditative experience.