Songlines, planned for 2023                                                                                                                                                                               last edit:    26-04-2020

An interactive music installation with use of GPS tracking signals.                                                                                                                                    Dutch version:  


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.


Songlines is a new application that converts gps phone data from eight phones into algorithm-generated music. The algorithm learns the movement of those who have installed the app on their own smartphone. By deviating from the daily routine, the sound changes from monotonous drone into melodic compositions.

Movement of the participants through the physical space, which in the first phase are located in the eight cities of Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Lima, Amsterdam, Berlin, Dar El Salaam and Tokyo, can be followed via the app and on the corresponding website. Participants can hear the effect of their own movement through their smartphones, while viewers can follow the process. Songlines is visualized on a mobile compatible website with an interactive world map.

The more deviations are made by the person using the app, the more interesting the sounds become. By converting 'expected' and 'unexpected' movement, motion is made audible which is normally hidden in our use of all kinds of apps that register our activities. The algorithm, a contemporary technique that is used by companies all over the world in a more or less visible way to register and predict our practices and habits, will be used to provoke and reward unpredictable behavior. 

Unlike the commercial apps, Songlines suggests an orientation hardly or not determined by routine or with aim of greatest efficiency. As an antithesis, the app proposes the opposite effect; the app cannot be used to be led somewhere but rather encourages you to experience the route in an alternative way and even prompt subversive activities. The app will only track, guide and accentuate the chosen route with both music and sound.


Songlines aims to reflect on how we experience the space around us on the basis of increasing algorithm technology. Besides the growing habit of daily app use, they are also instruments designed and used for control and surveillance. By placing the commercial and controlling use of tracking signals in a larger perspective, using the same equipment and applications, it aims to inform and question society about our freedom of movement and the way we view this technology.

Secondly, Songlines wants to emphasize the convention in which our daily life and movement is dictated by the use of these apps. What is the effect on the way people experience the space around them as they navigate through it, using popular apps that track our movements to navigate, exercise, date and travel? They can largely determine which route is taken and what the destination will be during both work and leisure hours. Songlines wants to emphasize the awareness of the latter and thus possibly how we experience this influence.

Unlike what most commercial apps require, Songlines suggests a route, which is hardly or not determined by routine or with aim of greatest efficiency. As an antithesis, the app even suggests an opposite effect; the app cannot be used to be led somewhere but instead encourages us to experience the route in alternative ways. The app will only track, guide and accentuate the chosen route with sound.

Thirdly, the app aims to emphasize our universal connection: i.e. the different time zones in which the initial eight participants are located, generate different musical patterns. These patterns will also reflect waking and sleeping time, creating a (circadian) rhythm. Where we are normally less aware of large differences in the experience of physical space due to the use of apps (when I visit a bookstore in Los Angeles from Amsterdam on Google where I want to go I don't realize that the owner is asleep at that moment) the app connects people on different locations on earth in a direct way with the sound generated.

Through individual action and interaction on a local level, participants develop a collective behavior that is translated into sound and music on a higher and global level.
In addition, under current developments, tracking GPS signals on the phone and the freedom of movement of citizens are particularly interesting. How does the protection of privacy change in the event of a global crisis and how do people experience their immediate environment when their freedom of movement is suddenly severely restricted? These issues are currently subject to landslides that will be taken into account in the development of this project wherever possible.


The title-name of this project, Songlines, is derived from an anecdote from the oral history of the Aboriginal people. It tells about the journeys made in song cycles, the 'songlines', which enable them to navigate the land by repeating the song. The songs describe locations, landmarks and other natural phenomena. It is a creation myth that tells of how a legendary totemic creature gave name to birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes and in effect sang the world into existence. The songlines are also the practical way the Aborigines move around their land and provide themselves with food and other goods. Also the trade route is the songline. In their perception, the song cycles, not the material things, are the most important medium for mutual exchanges. The trade in material things is secondary, merely the result of singing the song.


Sound / music

The project opted for the conversion of location data to music since in this way the user of the app can have a visual experience of the landscape while the app provides auditory feedback simultaneously. Music is fluid and can thus gradually change in atmosphere. Nick Verstand (1984) is a contemporary artist who investigates human perception through spatial audiovisual compositions. Nick has previously worked with Bjork and Iris van Herpen.

Nick's arrangements will largely be based on drone and aleatory music (indeterminacy). In music a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment and emphasizes the use of sustained or repeated sounds, notes or tone clusters. La Monte Young is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work, as is the composer Robert Ashley. In oriental music, the drone is a fixed value in a composition. 

Aleatory music (from Latin: alea = dice) is music in which conscious use is made of chance and incalculable factors. In music, art and literature, aleatoric means the production of artistic structures by means of improvisational or combinatorial coincidence operations. Indeterminacy is a compositional approach in which certain aspects of the composition are left to chance (or to free choice). John Cage, one of the pioneers of indeterminacy, defined it as the ability of a piece to be performed in essentially different ways [...] and there are parts but no score. The total of the music created in this way is a form of generative music, a term also popularized by Brian Eno to describe music that is constantly changing and which is created by a - machine learning - system.

Within the framework of Songlines: if a participant mainly sticks to his daily pattern, his movement will mainly generate static sound (drone). The algorithm will recognize routine and link it to drone sounds. If a participant deviates from the daily pattern and his or her trajectory changes, a 'reward' in the form of aleatorics or indeterminacy will occur, which will lead to change in composition and harmony.


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 specifying it
  • 3-D worldmap and 8 blue tracking icons with ability to zoom in
  • no show of participants' details
  • website has option to switch on/off sound of individual participants

Programming and web design: Bas Kok. Musical arrangements and compositions: Nick Verstand. Concept: Vincent Boschma.


Reference to earlier work



Other 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.

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.


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