A good morning was spent yesterday, pacing the streets of Holbeck with Simon and testing out my locative rendition of his Holbeck Audio Walk. I’m pleased to say that, by and large, the software worked well – the audio walk was an ideal test-case for what I’ve termed the ‘narrative layer’ of the system we’re working on. More on that later!
This was the first time I’d done this audio walk, and it prompted a few thoughts about the value of working with audio in a locative context as well as some of the issues affecting the implementation of such projects. Highlights of the walk itself included standing by a pillar box, listening to recollections of Holbeck blazing during German air-raids and standing next to the broken pillars of the workhouse gates listening to amazingly powerful recollection of what conditions there were like (sobering to think that such practices persisted until the mid-1940s).
For some reason the most immediate memory to have been formed by the experience is of standing on the M621 footbridge, looking toward Elland Road and hearing recollections about former Leeds United players and their dayjobs. I’ve never liked football, but as I listened to the personal narratives while looking out to the stadium in the distance, the traffic hypnotically flowing back and forth beneath my feet and the bridge gently reverberating with the footsteps of passing pedestrians I almost felt as if I were within a shot from a Patrick Keiller film, although here the urban landscape was given depth and significance through genuine oral narrative, rather than the knowing, yet affecting, literary and intellectual absurdities of Keiller’s Rimbaud-obsessed alter-ego Robinson.
This trip was largely a practical exercise in testing out the technology in the field. It’s incredible how much perception of a place can be affected by variation in the positioning of the locative media (in this case audio files) and how the development of locative experiences needs to embrace a number of uncertainties largely associated with the accuracy of GPS. As I found when testing Almias, there is a tendency to underestimate the size that zones should occupy: while using digital maps to constructing the underlying data it is tempting to try and work as accurately as possible, blissfully unaware that either the GPS location may be a number of meters off from your finely chosen locus, or that things on the ground can be percieved very differently from how they appear on the map. The map is certainly not the territory and there is no substitute for working out in the field itself.
In this respect I am looking forward to developing an audio work specifically for the technology we are working on – most likely based around the Roman road and Holy Well near Boston Spa. In the past I have been somewhat ambivalent about the nature of mobile technology, feeling that – for all it’s benefits – the digital communications revolution has led not only to the widely reported blurring of boundaries between work and home, public and private, but to a more general diminuation of our consciousness: we no longer even need to look out of the window to see what the weather is like since it’s reported on our handy 4.3″ screen; on journeys we are sensless with regard to the world outside, preoccupied by emails and social media; occasional studies circulate in papers, journals and technology forums about the continuing fragmentation of our concentration due to our inclination to use technology to multitask. I feel convinced that our approach to augmenting experience – primarily through locative audio – is a small step toward a differential technological development, bringing us ‘back to our senses’ and an appreciation of our own environments, juniors, peers and elders.