Songlines, planned for 2020

An interactive music installation with use of GPS tracking signals.


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.


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. Eight participants install a GPS app on their smartphone, are followed and tracked by the app, generate latitude and longitude coordinates which form a code.

These codes will be used and translated by software, with use of machine learning, into generative music. 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 - i.e. algorithms - to give computer systems the ability to "learn" (e.g., progressively improve performance on a specific task) with data, without being explicitly programmed.

Operated and activated by movement of eight GPS signals, participants generate music. Together and globally. Solo or as a band. In harmony or dissonance.

Function / web-design

  • GPS coordinates - latitude and longitude positions of participants - form the code
  • the code translates - with use of machine learning software - into generative music
  • INPUT = GPS tracking signals - OUTPUT = generative music
  • top-down programming - start at a high level of generality - then progressively specify it
  • worldmap with eight blue dots with ability to zoom in
  • abstract design of map when zoomed in, including streetnames or labels
  • NO show of participants' details
  • downloadable app on website to invite future participants to expand world coverage
  • website has option to switch on/off sound of individual participants

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


With use of the same appliances and applications, Songlines intends to inform society about freedom and the way we live in it. 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 we are moving through cities and landscapes which, in one way or another, determine our daily patterns. Our circadian rhythms, our dependencies and corollary routines.

Our organized space is more and more equipped with algorithm technology. Together with growing habits of app use and policing tools designed for control, it adds to an increased digital integration in society, dictating our behavioral patterns. 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 Songlines aims to put the commercial and controlling use of tracking signals in a grand perspective.

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.

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 regarded as 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, participants produce a complex, collective behavior and translate it into sound at a higher global level.





Reference: literature, art, performance

Edgar Allan Poe - The Man of the Crowd inspired Charles Baudelaire's flåneur. Poe’s account of restless wandering through city streets was seen by philosopher Walter Benjamin as a prototype for the flâneur – the explorer of the modern city described by Poe fan Charles Baudelaire. 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 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.

Bruce Chatwin - The Songlines. Not only are the songlines the base of the aboriginal religion, they are also the practical way the Aborigines move around their country and provide their selves with food and other goods. As the songlines are based upon the route the ancestors moved, they mark features of the landscape so they know how to navigate in their territory but in other groups’ territories as well

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. Francis Alÿs - varies the recipe with his continuing work The Doppelgänger: every time he goes to a new city, he finds someone to follow based on feeling that they bear a resemblance to himself in some way. Sophie Calle - took following into more personal – and transgressive – territory with her Suite Vénitienne, which documents her following around Venice a man she had met at a party. For another work, The Detective, Calle hired a private detective to follow her through Paris and then published his report alongside her photos.

Blake Morris, co-founder of the US group Walk Exchange, undertook to recreate Acconci’s Following Piece in New York a few years ago. “It made me think about the ways we collect data about a place – when you’re following someone around you’re investigating their routines,” he says, noting that GPS now constantly follows everyone via their mobile phones. When we use apps such as Strava we elect to have our routes recorded: big data has taken over the task of charting the city through the movement of its crowds.


Reference: recent art projects with use of GPS

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

Udo Noll -

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


Present-day 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 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.

Present-day 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.



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