Four brief ‘Treatments’ representing user experiences for AudioNomad mobile locations sensitive augmented audio systems.
A Walk Through Pere Lachaise, An AudioNomad user experience.
The sun filters weakly through the remaining leaves as I enter the Cemetery, the day is still and the moist air carries the scent of the earth. I pass the Caretakers Lodge and walk slowly up the incline of the Avenue Principale towards the Monument aux Morts, it is here that I will commence my AudioNomad journey.
I pause at the base of the stone steps that lead up to the Chapel to recap
the simple instructions printed on a small smartcard – fitting the headphone
unit I reach down to the slim black waist pouch and press the square blue
The experience is subtle but quite disconcerting, I look down immediately
to find the source of this running water that is plashing all around me, ahead
a bell is tolling in the distance – my feet, it seems, are quite dry and so I begin
to climb the stairway.
As I reach the top of the flight the tolling of the bell draws closer and the plashing of the water gives way to a powerful torrent – ahead I can see the Neo-classical form of the Chapel and from with perhaps the feint sounds of music.
Stepping forward, or perhaps wading waist deep, I approach the building and
then to my right there are many voices welcoming me, in English, French and
some other languages that I am unable to discern, voices of children, of the
aged beckoning me onward.
The torrent melts away as I move away from the Chapel towards the distant
Carrefour Du Grande Ronde with its prominent statue, the bell and music
fading behind me. Somewhere to my right there is a commotion of workers
tools, shovels and mattocks at work, the sharp exhalations of breath and the
clatter of small stones on the ground – the small pathway follows the
contour slowly down the slope.
A cough to my left and a polite greeting, I gaze at the statue, immobile, it
coughs again, I almost mumble a greeting in reply but think the better of
it! As I walk slowly over the pave surface I can hear other footsteps around
me, someone passes quite close by and I turn to follow their retreat. They
pass and all that is left is birdsong and the movement of small creatures in
the undergrowth. Lifting the headset momentarily I am struck by a silence
cradling the distant rumble of Paris – the birdsong resumes as I snug the
head-phones back in place!
If I am not mistaken off the path to my right someone is playing a Chopin
piece – well in fact they seem to be practising, I walk toward the music and
begin to hear a conversation. The piano tutor is rather strict and the pupil
consequently submissive, running through the difficult parts as instructed.
I lean against a vast stone tomb and lend my sympathy to the struggling
music student until it suddenly dawns upon me that white marble angel, who
like me has found rest on an imposing tomb, is humming another Chopin tune –
I now realise this is his grave and imagine this is his guardian angel.
After a while the student is scolded and the lesson concludes, the angel is
still humming the same fragment – according to tradition angels have no
memory and are therefore not haunted by the past or the future.
Rested I wander off from Chopin and leaving the path strike out into the
maze of monuments and long grass. The atmosphere is quite different in under
the trees, it is almost as if several old fashioned radios were playing in
the undergrowth, crackling and whistling and yes the occasional snatch of
For a moment I think my Audio-Nomad unit has malfunctioned but as I
step back out onto the pathway the angel is still humming Chopin, but there
is no piano to be heard. To my left someone is sweeping and whistling as
they work – I re-enter the overgrown area and once again encounter the
ethereal radio sounds. A fragment of brass-band music floats behind me and
now a female voice with a sting of numbers intoned slowly and without
expression, she fades as the signal slides and crackles into old Morse code.
Then just ahead some children’s laughter, children’s voices, and now a story
is being recounted, actually it’s a ghost story, pretty chilling for a seven
year old. All around the ether continues to quietly crackle and pop, with
the occasional voice breaking through, but the story and the animated
responses have taken centre stage.
I sit on the grass until the session finishes and I am about to leave when
another child volunteers a second narrative which promises to be even more
chilling that previous, I lean back against a tree, close my eyes and become
lost in the fiction.
I am awakened by a leaf falling against my cheek; all I can hear is a deep
breathing punctuated by a gentle snoring. I start suddenly in embarrassment,
snoring in public under a tree, but then I realise the snoring continues. In
any case I have been here too long and proceed to walk to a pathway. Almost
immediately the snoring stops, the radio like atmosphere returns, only to
fade as I near the pathway.
Turning up the Avenue Casimir Perier the view is formal, if not manicured,
proud figures stand frozen in time but they are not mute, for as I walk the
orations start. Over to my left a set of verse read in sotto voce and to my
right a somewhat more stern performance of what I can only conclude are
I need to walk so I leave these gentlemen behind but as they fade another
voice appears much too close and too intimate, with its rough grain and
exclamations. Rather like a drunk who has decided to tell you his life story
this character is persistent, trotting along beside now like a little dog.
As I approach the big statue which is the focus of the Carrefour Du Grande
Ronde I am enveloped in some ceremonial music and what must be a formal
speech – but wait my companion has started up again, close up to my left
ear, whispering some gibberish about the war.
Now there is a parade of sorts – military, slow marching step, drum and
bugle – they pass round the Carrefour and seem to disappear down the Avenue
des Acacias. I decide to climb up the terraced slope toward the Chemin Du
Dragon, my acquaintance recounts a couple of amusing anecdotes and then
promptly announces that he must leave for another drink and that I shouldn’t
expect to see him again.
As I climb I am assaulted by rapid and dynamic musical fragments, by doors
that creak (or is it tombs that open?) by frightening screams, but all this
is rather domestic. Is it Deja Vu or perhaps Deja Entend but this terrace is
full of familiar sounds, none of which are really naturalistic. I think I
have entered a space populated by the phantoms of soundtracks, a world of
figments designed to depict a world of ghosts.
© Dr Nigel Helyer
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 appointment. 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
After dressing I carefully insert the studs of my AudioNomad Navigator through
my earlobes and gently insert the miniature speaker conduits into my ear canals,
a clear but voice responds 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 ok – only chat if it is
important and would you turn off that local tourist background – it drives
I leave the hotel and adjust my astrakhan hat – ouch it’s cold here, the
NAVIGATOR 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 double-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 information 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
“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 accents 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 recognised my favourite Finnish band and has
simulated the ambience on my behalf – but the big guy over in the corner
tapping his feet at an incredible rate must be on some strange
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
by 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 NAVIGATOR to close down my signature
for the while, 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 into a room
ambience 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 wool jacket reeled off a
sophisticated sales routine and let me know that tomorrow 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 necessary 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 NAVIGATOR 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 I am advised to do ASAP as I am running
Terhi and I arrange to meet the following week at a concert – her NAVIGATOR will
liase 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
A Treatment for a Gallery Work.
I have just put on a small headset and have entered a large, but totally
empty gallery space dimly lit – the prospects don’t look so good!!! But
suddenly I seem to be walking on gravel, I stop and look downwards – I
realise that there is no gravel on the floor and the sound quickly fades.
I move forward again – the sonic texture gravel changes to a softer
brushing sound and I enter an atmosphere of distant birdsong, to my left, in
the middle ground, a rustling of leaves and the buzzing of insects. I move
toward the insect noise, closer and closer until the sound becomes detailed,
quite loud and almost surrounds me – I pull back quickly (not wanting to be
stung!!!) and take several paces backwards.
But now I have suddenly bumped into a heavy solid bar of sound – I pull my
head back slightly and the dense humming disappears almost entirely – again
I move my head forwards slowly, at first a soft humming reminiscent of an
electrical mains buzz but rapidly I hit an almost aggressive block of sound,
I pull back again and walk to my left ‘dipping’ my head along the edge of
the dense bar of sound.
Now there appears to be a gap to my right and I think I can hear a voice,
yes it is a woman singing quietly, and perhaps a radio in the distance. I
move to my right – I think that the ‘wall’ of sound is still quite close as
the ‘mains buzz’ is still slightly apparent on both my left and right sides.
Behind me the birdsong begins to fade but the woman’s singing is much
clearer, now over to my left at about 10 o’clock and the radio seems to be
directly in front playing rather old popular tunes (don’t they always) – the
woman is rather a good singer and is moving about singing as she works.
Above me to my right there is a distinct ticking – perhaps a large
mechanical clock – this is a really interesting sound so I move toward it –
I cock my ear when I get close and can hear the cogs grinding quietly
against one another. As I begin to move around the clock the dense humming
appears and then I encounter the solid sound of what I guess is a wall –
again I pull back and skirt along the ‘wall’ structure.
The woman has stopped singing – the radio continues but in the mid-distance
I can hear a dog barking…….etc.
© Dr Nigel Helyer
Real Architecture + Virtual Audio.
I am standing in the rue de Rivoli immediately south of the Marais Quartier
in Paris – ISEA (The International Symposium of Electronic Arts) has just
opened here and I am tying out a new sound-scape project developed by
the AudioNomad team from Sydney, Australia. I have just put on a small
headset and hit the programme start button…..
I am still aware of the busy street sound of the rue Rivoli behind me but
now I hear a voice beckoning me from the entrance of a small side street – I
turn to look but no-one is present – strangely the voice persists and as I
walk towards the side street the voice dissolves into laughter and melts
into the sound of running steps which disappear up the narrow street ahead
To my right a street door slams, some footsteps and I am greeted gruffly,
the footsteps brush past and recede behind me – ahead I hear some music,
children’s voices and a horse’s hooves walking across the pave, I proceed. I
arrive at the entrance to a small square, the music has grown much louder –
a whistle to my left, apparently coming from a small Judas gate in the
portal of the square, again a whistle – as I approach a voice begins to
recount a story, at first in French, but then it is overlaid by a second
voice speaking rather archaic English.
I am told to look up at the small statue that sits in a niche above the
portal – I am quite dumbfounded – how can my simple headset know I am
standing here? Anyway the voice starts into a complicated history concerning
the statue which represents a poet – but I decide to move on. As I walk into
the square the voice fades behind me and I enter an atmosphere of wheeled
barrows being trundled over the cobbled surface and over to my left a child
singing a rhyme.
It is getting late, so I decide to head back to the ISEA exhibition centre –
as I exit, passing via the square’s portal once more I encounter a
soothsayer laying out the cards of a Tarot reading – I hear the flick and
fall of each card as it is placed on the table and then the slow but intense
voice of the reader, describing the scene. Eventually when the sequence has
been laid out the Tarot reading begins in earnest – taking me on a journey
through an imaginary landscape, but it seems that as each of the places and
characters are described I can hear their distant sounds, ghosting in the
As I approach the rue Rivoli bells begin to peal all over the city, it must
be the approach of Evensong – on the pavement I slowly turn around, locating
seven different sets of church bells, some proximate and some distant. At
precisely 18.00 the bells fade and the evening traffic noise invades my
headset – I press end programme and enter into the chaos of rush-hour.
© Dr Nigel Helyer
- The Sound of Place; Environmental Artworks at Bundanon.
- Co-Composition and De-Composition Biological agency as a compositional tool.
- Semi-Automatic Writing: An Opera for Human and Machine Voices.
- Culturescape:An Ecology of Bundanon
- A Different Engine
- IceCap and GeneMusiK
- CrayVox Book
- Oratorio Photo Essay
- Oratorio and Heavy Metal
- Walking, Thinking and Memory.
- An Atlas of Small Voyages
- Under the Icecap
- EcoLocated: Art Science and the Environment.
- Teatro y Democracia
- Snap, Crackle and Pop; On listening, memory and amnesia
- The Sonic Nomadic:Exploring Mobile Surround-Sound Interactions
- Mexico Is Different
- Ars Electronica; Vitae Brevis
- A Night out in NokiaTown
- The Nomadic Ear
- Gran Tourismo
- AudioNomadism ~ a brief history of Sound in Public Space.
- Soundarts and the Living Dead
- McMahon Interview
- AudioNomad Treatments
- Web References
- Synapse Leggett
- SonicDifference_02 Percival
- SonicDifference Priest
- SonicDifference Muller
- Sonic Difference Stephens
- Potts RealTime
- SonicDifference Percival
- Crosstalk kahn
- Echigo Tsumari
- Some approaches to Sound and Listening.
- Sonic Voyages
- Electrical by Nature
- 2 + 2 = A math primer for the hard of hearing.
- Prometheus Bound; Art, Science, Creativity and the Imagination.
- Nigel Helyer’s Silent Forest by Doug Kahn
- The Plural Forest
- Vist the Drawings Gallery