Geo-located soundscape at an Iron Age Hill Fort

#Satsymph: Hermes
GPS-based soundscape on Google Play

A prankster and inventive genius from birth, Hermes was the messenger of the gods and guide of dead souls to the Underworld.  

He aided the heroes Odysseus and Perseus in their quests. Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. 

Hermes was the son Zeus and a mountain nymph. As a newborn he was remarkably precocious. 

On his very first day of life, he found the empty shell of a tortoise and perceived its utility as a sounding chamber. Stringing sinews across it, he created the first lyre. 

After months of work in studio headphones, walking in urban Hampshire landscapes to test geo-located audio circles for “Written in Water”, I’m spending a couple of days in the luminous, green and stony Brecon Beacons. 

Today I had a wonderful walk from Mynedd Illtud (St Illtud’s Common land),-4.1599484,8z/data=!3m1!4b1

to the top of Twyn-y-Gaer and the still visible earthwork fortifications of an ancient hill fort.

It was the most peaceful time I have known in months, entirely solitary but for sheep and a military jet that filled the sky for a single minute like the apocalypse.

Pen y Fan to the north, from Mynedd Illtud
Pen y Fan to the north, from Mynedd Illtud

The thousands-year old grass path rose and fell gently over undulating pasture and gorse until the last, panting steep stretch demonstrated to this breathless walker a brilliantly defensible site.

At the top, I wanted to investigate a colleague’s geo-located music app – how  would it work at this random spot. 

I set the app’s area centre as the triangulation point – the highest point on the hill and, no accident, clever Iron Age builders, the dead central point of the fort. 

The radius was defined by the perimeter of the earthworks, below which, on the north side, was a steep drop of several hundred metres.

#Satsymph app for iPhone, their new project: Hermes. 
Surreal two voice, spoken welcomes to the Greek god’s temple begin to overlap with music by Marc Yeats. 

Yeats’ style is endlessly surprising, adaptive, resourceful.  The musical language is complex and multi-layered, filled with strategic, mimetic reference but free of the ‘memes’ that guide listening to a specific narrative or state.

on Twyn-y-Gaer

Above the windy peak, no human movement visible in the vast primeval landscape, clouds sweep and curl above, in streaks and swathes of lightness.

The crisp air bristles at this high spot, a cone almost, with higher peaks to the north and a near sheer south drop.

Sense of the place was mediated by the music and words imported there on a digital handset. 

#Hermes is often beautiful, sometimes absurd, lush and wistful and coupled with the location made for a remarkable, unrepeatable performance that I will cherish.

While thinking about what happened to me on the hill, listening to Hermes, I discovered a new word: Engram, a “lasting trace left by psychic experience”

My experience both of hill forts and of geo-located media has been shifted: the ‘Engram’ has been etched and will feed my musical piranhas.

(I love hill forts, trying to really see the huge labour that went into establishing them, the organisation of people and resources to build these ring mounds of earth at the highest viable point for a self-sufficient settlement…. who the community within were, their beliefs, fears, daily struggles…  sudden violent, terrified, furious defence against attacks from without, what they did in the evenings, what made them argue, laugh, fall in love….) 

‘Hermes’ project is portable.  One can take it and listen anywhere. 

My work so far has been very specifically geo-located. The reason: re-engaging people with place – to *feel* a place they thought familiar.

How can we use these tools to transform environment? I had a strange and delightful experience of #Satsymph’s Hermes. 

Partly because it was where it shouldn’t be. But then all virtual art is somewhere and its locus was almost never imagined for that purpose.  I enjoy the superimposition of the virtual upon the physical: presently called ‘augmented reality’ it will hopefully find better names in time. 

Having listened on Twyn-y-Gaer to #Hermes, I am surprised by the shift in my sense of this necessity of a specific location: it comes as a kind of relief, in fact. 

Specific geo-location of specific media is useful, interesting and revelatory.

But it is not essential either to enjoyment of a space or of the work experienced within it.

The questions I will now be asking, as I walk around landscapes, will include
– is this a suitable locus for something I can imagine bringing here virtually
– why would it be suitable or not
– are there not in fact infinite ways to combine virtual and physical experience 
[that spawn additional objects, ‘heterodyning’ in acoustics (where two tones generate through combination their sum and difference, new incidental artifices)]

Does my piece based at St Paul’s Cathedral, re-processing and evoking its environs, historic and present, have to be solely there?

I thought that it was good to bring people to a place to resocialise the experience of the digital, but on a hilltop today I understood that it was not artistic but social practice that requires the shift – and artists need to be as flexible as possible to continue capturing the spirit of our time and turning it into lasting art.

Download #Satsymph today. Follow them on twitter for updates about their work. 

And go somewhere amazing to listen to Hermes. You Will enjoy it!

Functional Sounds Conference, Berlin

Functional Sounds
1st Conference of
European Sound Studies Association
Humboldt University, Berlin, 4-6 October 2013
Day One – four of many speakers at this eclectic conference of the newly formed ESSA.
First keynote, Earth’s functional sounds from Douglas Kahn
(National Institute for Experimental Arts, UNSW, Australia)
sets the scene for an eclectic cross-disciplinary discussion on Functional Sound,
its reading, writing, emplacement,
significative or narrative role in explaining space and time and
uses from the political to torture, story-telling and cultural ecology.
“With the nineteenth century advent of modern telecommunication technologies,
noise and odd little sounds, some of them musical, existed alongside
the conversations and information exchanges of communications.
Many were considered to be interference but others were recognised as
the sound and music of a new nature, an electromagnetic one,
the knowledge of which also evolved significantly with the nineteenth century. . . . 
Instead of a default Olympian gaze, this talk will present only
the smallest sonic breaches in the ideal,
veritable Pythagorean commas in communications dreams of a
complete annihilation of space and time, as they have been engaged in the arts.
Commas in music, after all, were an adaptation to the noise of the real.”
Frauke Behrendt (University of Brighton) spoke entertainingly on
Making Cycling Sound(s)”: bicycles own sounds and ‘political’ uses of
air horns like those of lorries (which cause 50% of UK cyclist road deaths).
I wonder how placing cone horns and compressed air tanks
on an adapted bicycle (now capable of 178 decibels) will persuade
truck drivers to stop killing cyclists and if the biggest,
most dangerous machines on the roads are only killing half of the
cyclists who die, what unforgivable idiocy and neglect
of fundamental duties to good sense are causing the other half?
The talk moves into more fecund, more sonic territory, where
elements of designed environmental sound are considered:
these may be individual or collective.
They may have social, political or artistic motives.
By contrast to the usual practice of creating sound in spaces –
“designing sound in”- they may also constitute cancellation
or removal of sound – “designing sound out”
to create “privatised listening environments” with headphones.
Or using sound as a controller of spaces and their users:
programme music used to code a space,
making it unattractive to non-consumers. (Stern)
see Frauke Behrendt:  “The Sound of Locative Music“, Convergence 18 (3)
Anette Vandso (University of Aarhus) gave a wide-ranging talk
with excellent examples on “Political Potentials of Sound Art”
How does sound art permit and/or lead us to
    – Explore   – Interrogate   – Intervene    
in a political and/or social context?
Where the designed-in exclusion of sound exteriority was
breached by importing ‘noise’ sounds, this was, in its earliest stages,
a highly subversive and resonant act:
permissive of a hitherto absolute aesthetic and political taboo.
Luigi Russolo called the concert hall a
“hospital for anaemic sound” (Art of Noise, 1913)
It is increasingly hard to imagine living and working in this cultural situation.
The shift from music to noise-sounds invites and
incites a new democratisation of sound communication.
Some political potentials of sound art identified by Vandso
    – Participation     – Representation/aesthetic indeterminacy    
– Eventness/Becoming                 – Power/Control
Examples discussed/shown:
*            Hom Kai Wang (2010)            “Music While We Work”
            Taiwan Pavilion, Venice Biennale
*            Yu Hsien Su (2010)            “Sound of Nothing”
            Taiwan Pavilion, Venice Biennale
*            Anke Eckhardt (2010)
            “Between You and Me is a Wall of Sound”
*            Dick Higgins:            Danger Music No. 17 (1962)
            A musical score containing only instructions to the performer to scream.
Mark Grimshaw (University of Aalborg) presents
Living between the virtual and real worlds
– prefacing the talk with the warning that
since committing to the title some months previously,
his thinking has moved on – he challenges the
accepted distinctions between, asking whether
listening to any recorded sound is not a virtual experience.
Phonomnesis, remenances, other auditory illusions.
Problems with definitions of sound as either wave, event or perception of event,
the cross-functionality of senses, being at once autonomic, perceptual and affective.
The perception of having perceived sound can after all be obtained from other senses 
than hearing: the cochlear implant converts acoustic signals to electrical energy 
which stimulates the cochlea.
The sound itself is therefore no longer being perceived….
The animated pub discussion that follows with
Kevin Logan ( and
Fergus Kelly ((
sees us trying to formulate our own distinct positions on a 
continuum between these ostensible poles of “live” and “virtual”.
Kevin is the most extreme, arguing that all live listening being mediated by
memory and associative reference, only first encounter with the 
entirely alien can be said not to have elements of virtuality.
Grimshaw also touches on Game Transfer Phenomena (Gortari, Aaronson, Griffiths, 2011, International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning), characterised by 
(1) delayed release of immersion on returning to the physical environment and 
(2) temporary obscuring on returning to physical environment of distinctions 
between reality and virtuality.
GTP is based on studies of actions – is game sound different?
Action/behaviour transfer has palpable consequences whereas sound or perception 
transfer need not and is less easily quantified.
That sound is both perceptual and virtual was touched upon, the distinction 
between virtual and real only relating perhaps to the sound’s provenance.
Environment, memory and affect arguably essential to comprehensive definitions of sound.
Treating sound as potential, as virtuality can engender new approaches.
Bio-feedback for user-centric sound design development: EMR, ECG, etc
Direct Brain-To-Brain communications in humans?
A pilot study (video shown) at
University of Washington, Seattle, August 2013 (NSL with CDDL).
Literally mind-blowing.
Conversion of user 1’s deterministic thought patterns send
guiding signal to user 2, who presses a keyboard button:
It was unclear whether the required information was for
User 2 to hit the target or the correct time to press the trigger –
Anyway, whoops and hollers came from the young geeks as
User 2 consistently appeared to act correctly on receiving telepathic instruction.
Situated cognition, argues MG
primarily comprises
*            one or more continual feedback loops
*            between stimuli in the environment as perceived and
*            responses to subsequently experienced sense of
*            cumulative context of that which has already occurred or been perceived to occur
I would add that augmentation of the environment,
specifically in situated listening that blends real with virtual
necessarily makes recognition of those feedback loops impossible.
WIthout blurring of the two, no augmentation can be achieved.
Arguably, memory can also be tricked, in this context,
to re-identification of familiar as new, new as repetitive, other combinations:
not just loops but all manner of cognitive shapes can be made
to appear momentarily, like hallucinatory audible bubbles,
before vanishing upwards into the sky.