May 17, 2012
It all began a long long time ago, when the biennial exhibition was announced…no wait, that was only, like, six months ago! Anyway Elizabeth Cline, Curatorial Associate of Public Engagement and I began talking about how we could create an innovative way of delivering interpretive materials to museum goers for the biennial. There were three items in this recipe that led us to the Soundmap:
1. We needed to create something that could stand up to the heft of a large-scale exhibition featuring 60 artists.
2. How could we address the fact that there would be multiple venues for this exhibition across Los Angeles?
3. How could we create something so that museum goers would not use their devices in the galleries and instead would simply commune with the artworks?
“Ah-ha! What about the time spent in the car?!” we exclaimed. And hence, Soundmap was born. Well, it took a while before it became what it is today. There were many ideas initially.
Do you get it? Don’t worry, I’m not sure I do either.
Initially we thought about putting rippling rings around each of the venues and every time the user traveled through a new ring, new content would be delivered. The problem? The time a person traveled across a distance would certainly vary and thus the length of the audio segments placed in those rings would either be too long or too short. Are you lost? Don’t worry. Let’s just say that this idea didn’t work technically.
Alan Stuart of One Long House drawing the wireframes for Soundmap. Photo by R. Kevin Nelson.
Many conversations with many intelligent people led us to Alan Stuart, Creative Director at One Long House and Kevin Nelson, Coder Extraordinaire. Collectively we decided to sprinkle audio segments across the city so that what people are listening to would directly correspond to where they are.
The analog version of Soundmap. Each of the yellow post-its represent an audio segment.
So if a listener was traveling down 7th street past all of the fabric stores, Made in L.A. artist Michele O’Marah would be talking about how the fashion district in downtown L.A. was a huge inspiration to her. They call this a locative media experience. The audio is triggered by GPS, which is tracking your location as you use the app.
Artists Jim Fetterley and Rich Bott, who collectively go by Animal Charm, tell us stories about living in Los Angeles.
An outtake from our audio interview with Animal Charm. The toughest part of the audio interview for the interviewees was always the introduction.
So while the app was being built, Elizabeth and I started interviewing artists and curators. And editing, and interviewing, and editing. Then there came the testing period, along with many testing fears. We kept asking ourselves, “Can we get this thing to work?” The closer we got to our deadline the worse I slept.
Taking programmer Kevin Nelson for an extensive test drive across the city.
Kevin’s laptop while coding in the backseat of the car on a test drive.
For some reason out of all of the participating iPhone testers, my phone did not cooperate the most. I would arrive at work tense in the morning, because I had not hit any of the hotspots on my drive. Elizabeth, on the other hand, would report an almost-perfect Soundmap experience. This kept happening day in and day out. Finally, as Elizabeth, Kevin, and I were doing one last extensive test drive across the city before we submitted the code to Apple, I asked Kevin, “What do you think is going on with my phone? Is there something that I don’t have turned on in the phone settings?” Kevin laughed, “Oh, you mean the ‘Make-GPS-not-so-sucky’ button?” For a few minutes we drove in silence as Kevin fiddled with my phone and then he put my phone in front of my face. My Wi-Fi was turned off. “That’s the problem,” he said resolutely. “Nooooooo…” I retorted. A few minutes later my phone chimed for a hotspot I had never hit during the course of our testing. And now I hit every hotspot every time.
Made in L.A. Soundmap is a site-specific mobile audio experience designed for use while traveling to, from, and in between the three biennial venues in Culver City, Los Feliz, and Westwood, providing visitors with insights into art making in Los Angeles today. Made in L.A. Soundmap explores Los Angeles as the context for the exhibition through interviews with Made in L.A. artists and curators. In a first-of-its kind usage of geolocative technologies, audio segments from these interviews are placed throughout a city map, with each location relating specifically to the segment content. Audio segments play automatically as an app user moves through the city, responding to the users’ specific location. In between segments, music curated by the local collective DUBLAB creates a soundtrack for one’s journey through the city. Made in L.A. Soundmap is a free iPhone app available in the iTunes store.
–Amanda Law, New Media Associate