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Global Breakfast Radio

I've long had a fascination with the power of radio as a medium of transportation to another place or time, a passion I discovered I share with Seb Emina, author (of The Breakfast Bible) and digital dilettante. About a year and a half ago, Seb and I started discussing the idea of a radio station that spans continents and timezones, linking disparate places together by one simple common thread: breakfasttime.

The notion was to produce a radio station that always broadcasts live radio from wherever people were eating breakfast right now: following timezones westwards, moving across oceans and continents on the crest of a wave of sunrise.

The idea grew into an experiment and, after twelve months of research, listening, cataloguing and development, has finally seen the light of day as a fully-formed work:

Global Breakfast Radio

As the sunrise line slowly tracks west across the globe, the radio stream shifts from broadcast to broadcast, always selecting stations within what we call the "global breakfast window": a period of a couple of hours after sunrise in which people are waking up, stretching blearily, and making a bowl of cereal, changua or shakshuka.

Global Breakfast Radio draws from a pool of over 250 stations in more than 120 countries, from Radio Wassoulou Internationale in the Wassoulou region of Mali to KUAM Isla 63 AM, the oldest existing radio station on the western Pacific Island of Guam, broadcasting since 1954. It, and the listener, leaps in an instant from Sarajevo to Prague to Reykjavik, where you'll be briefly humming the same tune as the butcher, taxi driver and lawyer waking up in these far-flung places.

The site is backgrounded by a continuous stream of photographs portraying sunrise from the current broadcast location, selected from a pool of 10,000+ Flickr Creative Common images tagged with "sunrise". Sunrise and sunset images are a ubiquitous trope across the Instagrams of the world, one that we have repurposed to give the site a real sense of place, underscoring the way in which Global Breakfast Radio puts you in the eyes and ears of thousands of unknown people around the globe.

As we've discovered since launching the station, streaming URLs change and disappear at an incredible rate, making maintenance of Global Breakfast Radio a Sisyphean battle against internet bit-rot.

Unusually for a project of this kind, the public and press response to Global Breakfast Radio has been uncommonly deep and engaged. The Guardian report back on a 24-hour period of listening, The Onion AV Club describe it as "basically morning methadone", and BBC Radio 4 talked to us about Global Breakfast Radio on — appropriately enough — their Sunday morning breakfast show. More lovely coverage has come from the likes of It's Nice That, New Statesman, Smithsonian and Monocle. We also did a launch interview with Wired covering some of the more esoteric elements of the work.

Many thanks to all of the listeners and broadcasters who have made the first months of Global Breakfast Radio such a rich and rewarding endeavour.

More: Global Breakfast Radio

Variable 4 Portland Bill

The fourth edition of Variable 4 will be appearing this autumn, taking meteorology and generative music to the Jurassic coast of the South-West: Variable 4 Portland Bill.

We have also finished a comprehensive overhaul of the overall Variable 4 site, including documentation archives of previous locations and an improved news archive featuring extended miscellanea on weather, art and sound.

Living Symphonies

A new year always seems like an appropriate time to push new projects out into the bright lights of the world. So, after almost a year of R&D, I'm very happy to be able to announce a major new work that will be occupying much of my 2014.

Living Symphonies is the latest collaborative work by Jones/Bulley. It is a sound installation based on the dynamics of a forest ecosystem, growing, adapting and flourishing in the same way as a real forest's flora and fauna. Modelling the real-world behaviours of over 50 different species, it will be installed in a series of English forests over the course of summer 2014, adapting to the inhabitants and live atmospheric conditions of each site.

In the heritage of Variable 4, it will be heard as a multi-channel musical composition of indefinite duration, with precomposed and generative elements intertwined through a web of algorithmic processes. Here, however, the dynamic model underlying the composition is quite beyond anything we've done before. It is based upon a simulation developed in conjunction with Forestry Commission ecologists, extending models produced as part of my evolutionary dynamics PhD work. And because each forest has a drastically different ecological makeup, the resultant composition will sound completely unique at each location — site-specific by its very nature.

We are in the process of mapping out the precise ecological makeup of a bounded (30x20m) area of each forest, charting its wildlife inhabitants with a 1m˛ resolution. This map is then used to seed an agent-based simulation, which links each species to behavioural and musical properties, spatialised across a network of weatherproof speakers embedded throughout the canopy and forest floor.

We'll next be dedicating a great deal of studio time to recording thousands of musical fragments, with orchestral musicians playing short motifs corresponding to particular kinds of ecological processes. These will then be processed by the compositional system and linked to the ecological model's current state, supported by further generative processes to create live interactions between each musical element.

Thetford Forest

In September, we carried out a successful outdoor prototype of the project in East Anglia's Thetford Forest. Though still in its embryonic stages, it was pretty enthralling to hear these sonic organisms roving amongst the undergrowth.

Supported by Sound And Music and Forestry Commission England, and with the support of an Arts Council Strategic Touring grant, Living Symphonies will be touring four different forests between May and September 2014:

Thetford Forest (Norfolk/Suffolk), 24 — 30 May 2014
Fineshade Wood (Northamptonshire), 20 — 26 June 2014
Cannock Chase (Staffordshire), 26 July — 1 August 2014
Bedgebury Pinetum (Kent/Sussex), 25 — 31 August 2014

Much more news will be available on the forthcoming Living Symphonies website, launching imminently.

xtet

Next month at the Barbican, James Bulley and I are debuting a new piece of work which harnesses the tiny sound-systems that 6 billion people carry around with them each day.

xtet uses mobile phone handsets to create an ephemeral multichannel sound system, which only exists for as long as the event itself:


By broadcasting real-time audio to the audience's wireless mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, mp3 players, etc), the audience itself becomes a temporary speaker system comprised of countless distributed sound sources, forming a uniquely spatial and participatory experience. The movements of listeners cause the music's spatial formation to shift and grow, akin to the reactive motions of a shoal of fish.

It is both a platform (as a method for streaming multiple unique audio streams over HTTP, with HTML5 display) and a series of works; we are composing a number of pieces of music for xtet as a medium, considering the unusual set of constraints that it imposes. These include not knowing ahead of time how many speakers will be present, and writing for highly treble-weighted playback.

xtet I (α, β, γ, δ, θ, μ) is the first in the series, commissioned by the Barbican and Wellcome Trust for Wonder: Art and Science on the Brain. It is modelled on the patterns and characteristics of neural activity, taking the relative lengths of key types of neural oscillation (alpha waves, beta waves, delta waves...) and using them to determine the structure and timings of musical events.

It's a much looser, higher-level interpretation of cognitive patterns than something as rigorous as the neural nets of The Fragmented Orchestra, but basing the piece on the emergent properties of thought seems like an apt way to start writing for an installation which is itself wholly dependent on collective activity.

We're also excited to be incorporating xtet into the Marcus du Sautoy performance lecture on consciousness, using it to diffuse James Holden's trance-inducing musical material across the audience.

We prototyped it for the first time yesterday, with much assistance from a generous throng of Barbican volunteers, and it was quite magical to hear James's analogue sounds splinter and shimmer across the auditorium.

More information: xtet

Maelstrom (2011) at Barbican Lates

Later this month, James Bulley and I will be debuting a new collaborative work at a Barbican Lates event, curated by Off Modern as part of the OMA/Progress exhibition.

Entitled "Maelstrom", it is a multichannel sound installation that uses real-time YouTube uploads as its raw material, using them to resynthesize morphing banks of chord sequences. These are then spun rapidly around the listener by a multichannel system of repurposed speakers, creating a tornado of audio data.

From the press blurb:

Over 48 hours of user-created audio is uploaded to the internet every minute, a figure that is increasing exponentially. Maelstrom is a sound installation that draws on this material in real time, constructing shifting walls of sound from thousands of audio fragments.

By organising these fragments based on their tonal attributes, they collectively form a vast instrument, whose properties are affected by global internet activity. A score composed specifically for this instrument voices an endless series of chord variations, dynamically generated by an array of live processes.

Maelstrom builds a tornado of tonal cluster chords around its spiral speaker system, engulfing the listener in the swirling mass of information that is now an integral part of our day-to-day lives.

Off Modern Late is on Thursday 24th November, in various spaces around the Barbican Centre, from 6.30pm onwards. Entry is free.

More info: The Barbican, Off Modern.

Untitled (Digital Photographs, 2002-2011) at Cats and Kittens, N16

Yes, another one. For those around East London over the coming weeks, I have a digital print in the exhibition Cats and Kittens, opening at Barden's (N16) on 14th July.

Untitled (Digital Photographs, 2002-2011) compresses 11,000 digital photos taken over 10 years into a single poster-sized image, incorporating a line of pixels from each in sequence.

It's not reproducible online due to its large scale and detail, but can be seen from late next week (details on poster below).

Horizontal Transmission (2011) at A Theory of Everything

In the culmination of a busy few weeks, I have another new digital installation opening this Friday. Horizontal Transmission is a semi-interactive sonic ecosystem based on bacterial dynamics, somewhere between a VR game and in silico systems biology simulation. It's an extension of research that I've recently been involved with in conjunction with the pioneering Division of Mathematical Biology at the National Institute for Medical Research.

preview screenshot

It's a part of A Theory of Everything, at Deptford's Core Gallery from 24 June to 10 July, alongside a number of other works based on physical patterns and the empirical search for unifying scientific laws.

More on the piece:

Bacterial organisms exhibit a trait that is unique within the living world. As well as inheriting genetic properties from parent to child, bacteria are able to exchange genetic information with their neighbours, via packets of DNA known as 'plasmids'. This enables bacteria to temporarily adopt characteristics which may give them a competitive advantage in a hostile environment. Plasmids can be seen as semi-beneficial parasites which hop from bacterial host to host, giving rise to complex evolutionary patterns.

"Horizontal Transmission" (2011) simulates these dynamics in a 3D space, representing populations of cells both visually and sonically. When sound is detected from the gallery space by the attached microphone, it is transformed into a plasmid and deposited in the virtual space. This can then be assimilated by the bacterial population, who then mimic these sounds in their inter-cellular communications. The bacterial world can be explored using a 3D control interface, with which an observer can navigate through the population, observing cellular dynamics and communication patterns.

There are subsequently a number of informal salons featuring the artists and scientists involved. Find out more on the A Theory of Everything blog.

Ordering #1 (Sans/Soleil) at M∴M∴M∴, Apiary Studios

From next week till mid July, I'll be showing some new work as part of M∴M∴M∴, over at Hackney's Apiary Studios.

Ordering #1 (Sans/Soleil) is a reworking of Chris Marker’s "Sans Soleil" (1983) in which the film’s frames are sorted in order of luminosity and projected as a loop. It cycles from the black frames of its opening to those of maximal brightness, and again in reverse.

More information: M∴M∴M∴

New work at GDS EXPO 2010

The Goldsmiths Digital Studios (GDS) is a new audiovisual interaction laboratory here at Goldsmiths, University of London. We're celebrating its opening with GDS EXPO 2010, a day of seminars, installations and performances taking place next Wednesday (17 Feb).

screenshot

As part of the launch, I'll be showing a new AV work in the studio's ambisonic space, hooking into the 3D motion capture and projection system. Above is an advance screen grab; more info, video and code coming soon...

Bird migrations tracked over 5,000mi with 1.5g sensors

Read a couple of weeks ago but forgotten until now: the IHT reports on a Science article [subscription required] in which Toronto researchers track the migration patterns of birds over thousands of miles, using tiny backpacks that are light enough for songbirds to carry but still accurate enough to track movement remotely within a few miles.

One of their key novel findings is the distance that such birds can travel in one day: up to 370 miles, much larger than previously thought.

One boggles at the potential future uses of such technologies.