Location33 – Mobile Music #3


Location33Location33 is a locative music work set in Culver City, California that explores the idea of an album in space and time.  People listen to the album by walking through audio nodes throughout the city. A different song is available each day as the album evolves over the course of the week. As implicit in its title, Location33: Envisioning Post iPodalyptic Mobile Music, this work looks at the question “What’s next in personal stereo listening?”. It was created by William Carter and Leslie Liu at the University of Southern California.

The technology

Two versions of Location33 were created. The first uses a PDA and GPS module to track the user’s location. This is feed to a web application that plays audio files from the mapped locations. The audio is streamed to the PDA from the web and no audio is stored on the device. This allows the audio for each location to be changed each day.

The second version of the project uses a mobile phone. The user is given a map of the city with the audio locations marked. Each node is marked with an physical code at its location and the user can ring a number and say the code to hear the audio.  Of the two implementations the PDA version seems the more user friendly and shows signs of the future possibilities. GPS, apps and 3G are all becoming more advanced presenting greater opportunities to exploit these for mobile music.

The experience

The user experiences the album by going out into Culver City and walking through the music. By composing the music to be experienced in a physical space the authors have created an unusual experience for the listener. Their surroundings are no longer passive, but take on a new meaning through the music. The album is also transient as each day a new song is mapped to the city. This provides a different musical experience each day, but also means that the listener has to come back to hear the whole album.

As well as creating a album that is experienced through space and time the composers have also created a narrative. Sections of the songs are composed to tell stories and give clues to the listener about paths to follow or information about the area. In their paper the authors frequently refers to the listeners as players. The narrative creates a puzzle for the listener to solve to get more from their listening experience. This aspect is something that couldn’t be provided with a traditional album, but, it does blur the intentions of the work. “Is it music or is it a game?”.

To sum up

Location33 is a novel approach to mobile music that creates a new model for delivering an album. As well as traditional composition techniques it uses physical space and long stretches of time as part of the experience. The idea is taken further by adding narrative to the experience and creating a game by giving clues in the lyrics. Unlike Ambient Addition and Sonic City, both of which use custom hardware, Location33 was created using pre-existing hardware. This is a more realistic model for mobile music. If mobile music projects are created to run as app on smartphones there is a greater chance that they will be used by more people. This could allow mobile music to be adopted by a wider audience.

I was really excited by this project when I first came across it. I liked the idea an album that was experienced in completely different way and the thought that had gone into composing for the medium. It made me realise there are many ways to work with mobile music to create meaningful experiences and make music that is more engaging for the listener.

In my next post I’ll be looking at Bluebrain, a group who specialise in locative music. Their work recent work features a composition for SXSW, mapping The Washington Mall and an album that can only be heard in Central Park.