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Sonic Dérive is a locative media sound art installation centered around the Outer Sunset neighborhood in San Francisco. The user is invited to experience familiar geographic locations within the context of a new sonic space created using placed sounds and experienced through the GeoTour smartphone app and headphones.


About the Project

Just as common as wearing sunglasses or a wristwatch, people today are sporting the ever-familiar, little, white ear buds plugged into their iPods and subsequently plugged into their heads. This is not a revolutionary act by any stretch of the imagination, as portable music, as we know it today, has been around since 1980 when the Walkman was introduced in Japan and then brought over to the United States and around the globe. However, in today’s 21st century urban environment, portable music is no longer a novelty, it has become ubiquitous within the navigation of everyday life.

While listening to an iPod, the user creates a personalized soundtrack that works in conjunction with the landscape around them. Whether a user is listening to music or a podcast, the combination of the exterior sensory world and the interior auditory space that is created by the iPod and headphones blends together to form a new semi-mediated, augmented reality. With regard to the mental mapping of the topography of the landscape that surrounds the user, new locations begin to emerge that are not physical, but that exist in an acoustic space of the user’s own creation. A memory or feeling can be created in the present simply by the association between the self-created auditory space and psychical landscape.

With the use of a portable music device, the user creates a Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) that envelops their auditory space and allows them to shape the landscape in which they move through. In keeping with the name of the original product, to walk while listening to a Walkman, or any portable music player for that matter, is to fully appreciate the portability of the device and its power to transform the urban-acoustic environment into a blank canvas onto which the listener can create their own custom auditory experience. By muting the ambient sounds of the city and creating their own sonic reality, the user has the ability to transform the landscape around them and produce a narrative to guide them along and engage with the urban landscape in new ways.

While much research has been done on the isolation that is offered by the reality of the modern urban environment, it is hardly noted that by directly engaging with this reality along with the mediated sonic environment provided by the portable media player, the user can synthesize a new reality based in both the physical urban landscape and the enclosed auditory TAZ that they have enveloped themselves in.

Keeping with the ideas put forth by the avant garde, revolutionary Situationist International movement, specifically that of the dérive, this project has created a series of audio soundscapes within a locative media experience that will employ the use of a digital media player, combined with the concept of the dérive and that of the Temporary Autonomous Zone creating a personalized sonic space that explores the opportunities for altered and enhanced perception that result within that space.