# 006

Work in progress

Psycho Acoustic Navigational Device

By Derek Holzer [umatic.nl] derek@umatic.nl
with Sara Kolster [umatic.nl] sara@umatic.nl
[and support from STEIM, Amsterdam, NL & Garage Festival, Strahlsund, DE]

[dis]Intentionality, Acoustic Ecology and the Urban Explorer

With their prize-winning "software" artwork "Dot.Walk" [01], the Social Fiction collective has demonstrated that the removal of intentionality is the first real phase of any psychogeographical experiment. Once directed purpose has been removed, and physical movements are replaced with a simple algorithm [i.e. "first right, second left, third right"], perception opens up and new physical and social details reveal themselves to the eye and ear. As a result, one's immediate surroundings can be cognitively remapped using any number of templates or schemes, opening the way for social transformation.

Similarly, the area of sound art known as "phonography", "acoustic ecology" or "field recording" attempts to heighten one sense of perception--namely hearing--in an attempt to find new details and dimensions within a given environment. My own work with field recordings in the former Soviet war port/submarine base of Karosta [Liepaja, Latvia] [02] sought to find the resonances of the place's history hidden within its empty Tsarist buildings and discarded military objects. The act of field recording, however, is an act loaded with intentions. First one must isolate a specific object or sound, and then one must make a technical intervention with microphone, minidisc, etc to capture its specific resonances.

While this technique works well in the remote wastelands of the sparsely populated Baltic countries, it does not work so well in an urban environment. Similar attempts at such precise recordings in various parts of busy, noisy Brasil left me with nothing but frustration. When I analyzed the situation further, I concluded that my approach was not suitable for the terrain. Instead of isolating and cutting each sound off from all the others [an unnatural approach at best], I should have thought more holistically. By this I mean to take each sound in the context of its environment, to turn off my discriminating mind and to remove my intention to record at any given moment.

The result of this thinking is PANDev--a Psycho Acoustic Navigational Device.

The PANDev ?Psycho Acoustic Navigational Device?

PANDev is intended to be an sound-gathering and processing application written for PDAs and palmtop computers running Linux. Its purpose is to assist psychogeographers, phonographers and sound artists in the collection and arrangement of environmental sound material for research and creative purposes. By itself, however, it is also a piece of software art whose integral artistic value can be taken into account irregardless of later schemes of deployment. Likewise, each instance of its use can be considered a unique work of algorithmically-generated sound art, as well as a first step on the path to further mobile sound processing applications using Linux on handheld or wearable devices.
PANDev is conceived to remove the isolating intentionality of the specialist--the artist, the geographer, the ecologist, the phonographer, the biologist, the ethnographer, the sociologist, etc--and replace it with a more accessible and holistic method of gathering sounds. When activated, PANDev will take random sound samples at random lengths and intervals. A simple interface or command line can be given to specify approximate times, but all specific recording is left to the application. Connected to the PDA will be a set of binaural microphones hidden inside quite normal-appearing walkman headphones. The microphones will reproduce exactly the acoustic conditions around the wearer, including such important psychoacoustic spatial cues as front, back, left, right, above, below and relative distance.

Using PANDev

To use PANDev, all the user need do is input an approximate length of time to record and an approximate level of randomization. The application does the rest, and the user is free to travel through their environment or carry out their day-to-day life. Whether the user chooses to seek out acoustically-interesting settings or even perform for the microphone is of little relevance simply because they will not know exactly when PANDev is capturing sounds. Thus, a more "natural" approach is recommended. The resulting sounds may be as banal as they are sublime or exciting, but they are absolutely guaranteed to provide a unique insight into the user's acoustic environment.

Optional Extensions to PANDev

Remixing Experience
PANDev has several other optional extensions. The first would be the ability to "remix" the sound material gathered at the end of the session, with a number of general subjective parameters including "rhythmic", "drone", "jagged", "smooth", "quiet", "loud", "linear", "disassociated", etc. An algorithmic composition can then be rendered and exported in WAV, AIFF, OGG, or MP3 format. It is important to keep in mind the extremely limited computing possibilities of a PDA [no floating point processor, for example, which most audio processing applications depend on!], therefore these algorithmic compositions must be considered as both pushing the hardware to the limits of its capabilties as well as an excercise in getting the most out of very little. Additionally, they provide a new way of remixing daily existance, with the aim of highlighting previously unnoticed details.

Cartographical Visualization
The second requires the use of a GPS unit attached to the PDA, from which PANDev would determine geographic coordinates to tag all sound samples gathered. These GPS-tagged sound samples could then be exported to a cartographic mapping system, either in realtime via a network [see below], or locally when each session is completed. For public exhibition, a running audio/visual display of the sounds gathered in the area could be maintained in a public or online space in collaboration Sara Kolster [03], a graphic and video artist from the Umatic group.

Network Awareness
The third involves the use of either the built-in WIFI of the PDA, or an additional GPRS module to activate the network potential of the unit. In the first case, PANDev will regularly scan the local area network of the WIFI card for other units operating the same software. If another PANDev is located, the two seperate units will exchange audio data, thereby expanding each individual's realm of experience. In the case of a GPRS-enabled PDA, the unit could upload sounds gathered, along with cartographic data, to a central server in order to provide either rela-time monitoring, or the possibility for a sound artist to make a performative live-mix of the action in progress.


The completed hardware/software package will include the following:
1) One Zaurus, IPaq or similar Linux-compatible PDA palmtop computer with Compact Flash expansion kit. [04]
2) One set of ear-worn binaural microphones, Compact Flash soundcard and Preamp. [05]
3) Familiar, Debian or another similar Linux distribution for PDAs. [06]
4) Ecasound [07] software [combined with Bash, Python and/or Perl scripts] for command-line recording and arranging ---and/or PDa [Pure Data for PDA by Guenter Geiger] [08] for algorithmic remixing and composition.
5) Optional external GPS/GPRS unit. [09]


PANDev will developed over the Summer and Fall of 2004 as a work-in-progress, to be presented and built upon at the following events:
* Garage Festival, Strahlsund, Germany [10]
* Iceland - Inside and Out, Summer 2004, Reykjavik, Iceland [11]
* PostsovkhoZ4 International Art Event, August 6-15 2004, MOKS, Mooste, Estonia [12]
* "Baltic States Tour" [Derek Holzer + Sara Kolster] August - October
2004, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus [13]
* Arts + Communications Festival, September 2004, RIXC, Riga, Latvia [14]
* RAM6 Workshop, September 2004, Vilnius, Lithuania [15]

The final application will also be released on the web as an open-source software by Umatic.nl in early 2005.


[01] http://socialfiction.org/dotwalk/
[02] http://karosta.edworks.net/
[03] http://www.umatic.nl/info_sara.html
[04] http://www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT8728350077.html
[05] http://www.core-sound.com/
[06] http://familiar.handhelds.org/
[07] http://www.wakkanet.fi/~kaiv/ecasound/
[08] http://gige.xdv.org/pd/PDa
[09] http://mightygps.com/pdagps.htm
[10] http://www.garage-g.de
[11] http://pallit.lhi.is/~palli/tcmice
[12] http://mooste.ee/mogs/arhiiv/PostsovkhoZ/PS4/story.html
[13] Dates + locations to be confirmed.
[14] http://rixc.lv/03/ [previous event]
[15] http://www.olento.fi/ram4/publication/ram.php?name=map [previous events]


# 006 PanDev
# 005 SoundscapeFM
# 004 garage festival
# 003 urban[ISM]
# 002 ozone
# 001 fluid data improv session