A night out in downtown NokiaTown.
I haven’t been in this city for a long time, it is evening and I have a few hours to kill before an ap-pointment. It was a long flight, but after a couple of hours sleep and a shower I am ready to re-join the human race – to login again.
After dressing I carefully insert the studs of my VAPA (Virtual Audio Personal Assistant) through my earlobes and gently insert the miniature speaker conduits into my ear canals, a clear but voice re-sponds to the almost inaudible double click of my tongue: –
“Oh hello Nigel, we have arrived in Helsinki and it is 21.23, I presume you have slept well?”
“I have double checked your room bookings and all your appointments have confirmed, what are your requests for this evening?”
“Well this is Helsinki – how about you find me a good bar with Russian food, then arrange Tapio to meet me at the Meteori Bookstore at 23.00 – guide me when I leave the building”.
“Do you want a cab?”
“No thanks – and just be pretty quiet this evening okay – only chat if it is important and would you turn off that local tourist background – it drives me nuts!”
I leave the hotel and adjust my astrakhan hat – ouch it’s cold here, the VAPA assumes the laid-back ‘Robert’ persona, his voice over to my right beckons me, “Let’s go this way – look ahead and you will see a large Theatre Building, take the first left after the main entrance and walk for about 150 metres”.
Standing at the kerb I stare at the grey bulk of the National Theatre, I blink as a snowflake brushes my face and immediately the Theatre begins to announce its programme, with some surround sound musical extracts thrown in to entice me!
“Robert would you turn this thing off – look, I know I haven’t been here for a long time but I want a quiet evening – so go easy on the hot-spots ok, maybe increase the threshold of my triggers to dou-ble-blink and triple tongue-click for a while!”
I walk through the light snow flurries in silence, Robert has suppressed all the normal weather data, stock exchange, voicemail etc and is doing a good job of filtering the commercial and historical infor-mation which to be sure every structure and surface in this city is capable of broadcasting.
Again his voice, some 15 meters ahead of me indicates that this is the bar. It sports a large red star with a Russian script. I rapidly blink my right eye, the bar swirls with sound and a bass Slavic voice welcomes me in heavily accented English. The bar is called “Zetor” named after a famous Russian tractor and….. with a single click of the tongue I terminate my host midway through his recital of today’s menu. Entering, I take a place at the bar on a well sprung iron tractor seat and order a Vodka from the bartender, who, as is normal, winks twice at me and smiles.
He returns with the shot glass and two slices of dill pickle and in an apologetic tone asks if I want to settle in cash as my ‘signature’ is down. Realising that I am without cards or hard currency I quietly ask Robert to restore my URL signature to visibility and I nod congenially at the barman, who again winks twice at me (though without smiling this time). Credit card details are logged and eventually the barman returns to strike up a casual conversation: –
“Well it has been sometime since you were here Nigel – has the place changed much?”
“Not at all I reply” regretting that the Barman now knew who I was, what I did and if he cared to, could recall every drink I had ever ordered here, perhaps they even had some audio archives of these conversations!
“Maybe you should re-do your virtual doorman out there – no-one speaks with those Uncle Vanya ac-cents any more, or is it just a Finnish joke?”
In the background the music of ‘Rinne-Radio’ fills the room (well in a virtual manner) the bar has rec-ognised my favourite Finnish band and has simulated this ambience on my behalf – but the big guy over in the corner tapping his feet at an incredible rate must be on some strange Nordic-Techno!
Robert discreetly pipes up again – unsure about my interest in the feral girl wearing a leather jacket down at the other end of the bar. Obviously she had ‘blinked’ me whilst Robert fixed up the credit card with the barman and decided that we has very similar interests, at least she had offered to buy me a drink!
“She looks good on paper” offers Robert who closes with the somewhat rhetorical question “How is she in physical reality?”
I decide to take up the offer – but ask the VAPA to close down my signature for the meanwhile, after all the lady has already downloaded from my URL. As I walk over slowly I fix my gaze on the leather jacket and triple click my tongue, her general introduction begins to play out, set over a room ambi-ence of chamber music (looks can be deceiving!) I perform a rapid eye movement to the left to access her credentials, name, nationality, profession, age and so on.
I was in the process of clicking off when I must have accidentally queried an object for instantly a man’s rather elegant woollen jacket reeled off a sophisticated sales routine and let me know that to-morrow the Stockmann department store had a 35% sale on men’s wear. My signature was down so Stockmann’s wouldn’t be getting in touch with Robert to arrange a fitting as it lacked the neces-sary information concerning my preferred cut, fabric and colour – anyway when I travel I still like to do old fashioned window shopping!
And now for some old fashioned conversation; we exchange greetings and I thank Terhi for the drink. “Tell me more about the book you are writing” I ask, although Robert has already given me the title, “As you know this is my field of specialisation”
“Let me remember this conversation” she begins, indicating that her VAPA is audio archiving our meeting, logging its location and time, in addition it will be exchanging the data on our respective URL’s and possibly searching for convenient future appointment times.
“The book concerns the history of audio recording and its effects on concepts of human memory…………..”
The conversation is very convivial, the evening passes quickly and a reasonable amount of Vodka is imbibed. Eventually Robert takes on a slightly hectoring tone telling me that he has ordered a taxi to meet me as soon as I leave the building, which he advises I am to do ASAP as I am running late.
Terhi and I arrange to meet the following week at a concert – her VAPA will liaise with mine about the exact arrangements – we take our leave. The barman says goodnight and as I pace down the snow covered street I hear a taxi tone playing some way behind me – I decide to keep walking ahead, simply to keep warm, the driver knows where I am anyhow.
Tapio’s voice appears and tells me that I will be there in about three minutes so what kind of coffee would I like, coffee with Russian vodka, or coffee with Finnish vodka?
© Dr Nigel Helyer 2000.
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- AudioNomadism ~ a brief history of Sound in Public Space.
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