GPS, 2018

An interactive music installation with use of GPS tracking signals.

Preface

GPS is a satellite-based radio-navigation system that provides geolocation to a GPS receiver anywhere on earth. It is widely used in the shipping business, aviation, logistics, astronomy, in cars, and most commonly on all modern smartphones for commercial tracking purposes. It is virtually unthinkable to see today's society functioning without use of GPS.

Image

Eight participants install a custom GPS app on their smartphone and are tracked on a worldmap. Activated by movement of eight GPS signals, the participants will together generate music, solo, as a band, either in harmony or dissonance.

The GPS world map is divided into a grid following longitudes and latitudes. Latitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the Earth's surface, longitude specifies the east-west position. The latitude and longitude coordinates of the participants form the code. The code will translate into generative music with use of machine learning software.

Generative music is a term popularized by Brian Eno to describe music that is ever-different and changing, and that is created by a system. Machine learning is a field of computer science that uses statistical techniques to give computer systems the ability to "learn" (e.g., progressively improve performance on a specific task) with data, without being explicitly programmed. In other words, GPS tracking signals - longitudes / latitudes - wiil form its input, machine learning software will proces generative music to form output.

Programming and web design by Bas Kok. Musical arrangements and compositions by Joep Beving. Concept by Vincent Boschma.

Intent

Our organized space is more and more equipped with algorithm technology and together with growing habits of app use and policing tools designed for control, which adds to an increased digital integration in society dictating our behavioral patterns. GPS aims to put the commercial and controlling use of tracking signals in a grand perspective. As a simultaneous exposure of a , systematically collecting data from its users for commercial purposes, and a surveillance system which tracks, follows and curbs its citizens when needed.

With use of the same appliances and applications, the installation wants to inform society about freedom and the way we live in it. To raise awareness of our dependencies and its corollary routines. Key to the idea is that participants are performing in a spatial instrument, moving through a grid of dynamic musical arrangements. This supports the idea that the participant is moving through a terrain, a city or landscape which, in one way or another, dictates his or her daily pattern. As a result the project will reflect the participants lives and the cities they move through.

Participants will be encouraged to reconsider their habitual trajectory to focus temporarily on free movement. Perhaps re-routing the way to work, to school, to another supermarket, another park, they are encouraged to move out of their behavioral patterns so music will change accordingly. To turn barriers into points of passage. To use exits for new entries.

The different time-zones also allow diverse musical patterns, i.e. the participants take turns to go to sleep, so one movement will follow-up and/or join the other. Details of the partcipants subjective itineraries take on more significance when joined together with others, and together with many more details, unique stories, and ordinary trips, they form a new entity - a gestalt - a dynamic whole that is greater than the sum of it parts.

The work is an exploration of moving and mapping as both form and content in an art project using new technologies and GPS. Acting individually and interacting with others at a local level, the participants produce a complex, collective behavior and translate it into sound at a higher global level.    

    

     

    

       

Function / web-design

  • top-down programming, start at a high level of generality, then progressively specify it
  • latitude and longitude numbers of participants form code
  • code will translate with use of machine learning software into generative music
  • GPS signals wiil form input, machine learning will form output as music
  • worldmap with eight blue dots with ability to zoom in
  • abstract design of map when zoomed in / not including streetnames or labels
  • NO show of participants' details
  • downloadable app on website to invite future participants and to expand world coverage
  • website has option to switch on/off sound of individual participants

 

Reference: the data economy

Some of the most well-known commercial use of smartphone applications using GPS are weather forecast, maps and navigation: these include Google Maps and schedules of urban transport. Place annotation and recommendation apps such as TripAdvisor are about places to go out and reviews from consumers. Geosocial app users share content based on locations in apps like Instagram and Facebook. On-demand services like Uber provide such services as taxi or delivery, e-commerce apps for electronic business like eBay or Amazon, travel apps like Airbnb and Booking.com are used to set up a vacation or business trip, social networking and dating services such as Tinder or Badoo help to connect people according to their business or private interests.

The data which is collected using these applications power all kinds of online services and, increasingly, the real world as devices become more and more connected. Flows of data have created new businesses, new monopolies, new politics and—crucially—new economics and a business model that has come to be known as surveillance capitalism.  In this way for instance, Facebook became a surveillance capitalist – deriving revenues from surveilling its users, which negative effects has been broadly discussed in the news, i.e. in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Yet few want to live without Google’s search engine, Facebook’s newsfeed or Amazon’s one-day delivery. Many of their services are free - users pay, in effect, by handing over yet more data.  Given that its users are generously providing all kinds of information about themselves - where they are, what they like, what schools they attend, what they do for a living, where they go to - it is easy to assemble a detailed profile of each one.

All this information is used to enable paying customers - called advertisers - to aim commercial messages at them. Google can see what people search for, Facebook and Instagram what you share, Amazon what you buy, Uber where you go. They own app stores and operating systems, and rent out computing power to startups. They have a “God’s eye view” of activities in their own markets and beyond.

Reference: the attention economy

There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention”, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All the time.” Rosenstein is a former Google and Facebook engineer who helped build the ‘like’ button. This is the so-called attention economy: an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy. What appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone on an average of 2,617 times a day.

Harris, graduate of Stanford University and former Google employee, explains the most seductive design exploits the same psychological susceptibility that makes gambling so compulsive: variable rewards. “Each time you’re swiping down, it’s like a slot machine,” Harris says. “You don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes it’s a beautiful photo. Sometimes it’s just an ad.” When we tap those apps with icons, we don’t know whether we’ll discover a sweet message, an interesting email or likes. It’s this that explains how the pull-to-refresh mechanism, whereby users swipe down, pause and wait to see what content appears, rapidly became one of the most addictive and omnipresent design features in modern technology.

Reference: the smart city

The smart city is a testing ground, a data mine and the resident is the guinea pig. 'Permissionless innovation', it is called in Silicon Valley jargon and in smart cities it is present everywhere. Ordinary street lights don't only emit light but are now able to measure sound and air quality, film its surroundings and pick up wifi-signals from mobile telephones. The City Traffic sensors pick up your phone's Wi-Fi signal, even if you are not connected to the Wi-Fi network but only have Wi-Fi on, and register the MAC address, the network card number in your phone. Because this number is unique, it can only belong to your telephone and therefore to you as a person. Authorities scan social-media messages to get an impression of the mood in the city and may follow you from a distance using your mobile phone-signal.

With this, the quick rise of smart cities indicate a growing trend to track mobile phones for surveilling and controlling purposes. As soon as you enter a smart city whether you are in London, New York, Berlin, Eindhoven, Shanghai, Mexico City or Amsterdam, your movement is likely to be registered - and may even be influenced - not only by cameras but also by sensors, wifi- and bluetooth-trackers.

The smart city is also big business for companies that can provide the necessary infrastructure such as superfast internet, sensors, wifi- and bluetooth-trackers, data processing and algorithms. Companies test their services in the city, refine them with data collected in the public space, and sell their services further. In example: advertising pillars with cameras see if you are male or female, how old you are and what your state of mind is. Convenient for advertisers.

 

Reference: literature, art and performance

Edgar Allan Poe - The Man of the Crowd inspired Charles Baudelaire's flåneur. The flåneur was something of a dandy who ambled through the Paris arcades while ordinary people scurried to work all around him. Free from the pressures of the workaday world, he sought the random encounters that the city streets were always ready to offer. " The crowd is an enormous reservoir of electricity, that gives him the opportunity to be away from home and yet to feel at home anywhere; to see the world, to be at the very center of the world, and yet to be unseen by the world.

Excursion Dada at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre - Visit, Paris, 14 April 1921. Represented for the Dadaists, a concrete way to achieve a union between art and life, the sublime and the everyday. Dada raised the tradition of flånerie to the level of an aesthetic operation. As described by Walter Benjamin as an artform that inscribes itself directly in real space and time, rather than on a medium.

Andre Breton - Quartet Deambulation, May 1924. A veritable path of initiation that marked the definite passage from Dada to Surrealism: a group of four decided to set forth from Paris, going to Blois, a small town selected randomly on the map, by train and then continuing on foot as far as Romorantin: conversing and walking for many consecutive days, as an 'exploration between waking life and dream life.'

Situationists / Guy Debord - Theory of the Dérive, November 1956.  In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.

Richard Long - A Walk of Four Hours and Four Circles, 1972. Long sees walking as a means to explore relationships between time, distance, geography and measurement. For each circle, he had to adjust his pace to fit the predefined path. The change in rhythm modifies the experience.

Stanley Brouwn - This Way Brouwn, 1964. Brouwn handed paper to pedestrians, asking them to draw a map showing how to get from wherever they are to the train station or the cathedral. The results show how different people see and convey spatial relationships. As maps, they depend on the particular context for which they were made.

Tehching Hsieh - One Year Performance 1981-1982. The artist spent a year outdoors, moving around New York City with only a sleeping bag and a few other belongings.

Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon - D'Fence Cuts, 2001 and Tour de Fence, 2002-2003. When they made their circular tour, stealthily by night, it was to cut some fences as research for the Borderxing project. They thought themselves as hackers in physical space, and crossing borders entailed cutting whatever impeded their passage. Some of the breaches they made survived and became paths people are still using and other became passageways for animals.

Robert Smithson - Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, 1967. In a Tour of the Monuments of Passaic Robert Smithson represents places in New Jersey where he grew up, deliberately in an antithetical way to one which resonates familiarity, memory or history. He calls the post industrial urban landscape with ‘vacancies’, pipes or holes 'monuments' and the ‘opposite of the romantic ruin’. The essay or journal like text accompanying the photos creates the impression of someone surveying the landscape as a tourist.

Vito Acconci - Following Piece, 1969. Following Piece was concerned with the language of our bodies, not so much in a private manner, but in a deeply public manner. By selecting a passer-by at random until they entered a private space, Acconci submitted his own movements to the movements of others, showing how our bodies are themselves always subject to external forces that we may or may not be able to control.

 

Reference: recent art projects with use of GPS

Yolande Harris - Sun Run Sun: Satellite Sounders and Sun Run Sun: Dead Reckoning

Udo Noll - https://aporee.org

Lalya Gaye, Ramia Mazé, Daniel Skoglund and Margot Jacobs - Sonic City

 

Sources

The Guardian, The New York Times, The Economist, The Smithsonian, Science, De Groene Amsterdammer, De Correspondent, Wikipedia, Walkscapes by Francesco Careri, Walking and Mapping by Karen O'Rourke