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Tag "sound"

What has the study of urban phenomenons in common with medical examination? Both could be described as studying a ‘body’ and trying to find explanations of it’s ‘functions’ in the wider context of ‘elements’. This is in both areas a rather practical and realists view with a dramatic functionalists angle.

The rational definition of the city as a body, as for example discussed HERE, has its fascination and many famous urbanists are or have linked to this visualisation. It does convey a certain familiarity in its illustration. However it is far from an abstraction and thus is not very helpful. It only shifts the problem in question from one complex into the other one.

CT Brain Scan
Image taken from Wikipedia / Computed tomography of human brain, from base of the skull to top. Taken with intravenous contrast medium.

However, since both fields are struggling with their respective complexity it could be an option to transfer techniques for examination. This is what Martin Krieger proposes in his new book ‘Urban Tomographies‘ published by University of Pennsylvania Press 2011. Krieger proposes to transfer the techniques of exploring phenomenons through a large number of examples as for example used in CT scans, a technique where organs or other ‘elements’ are envisioned through numerous individual slice images. It is used to generate a three-dimensional image of the inside of an object from a large series of two-dimensional X-ray images taken around a single axis of rotation.

Basically many small frames are used to piece together the larger whole. This is useful since organs can be visualised and examined without actually having to open. These sort of scans are often used in parts of the human body like the brain where surgery is extremely difficult.

Transferring this technique, with all the necessary alterations, to the field of urban analysis is an intriguing proposal. Especially in the context of the current hype of massive data sets and large scale collections, the term tomography seems an appropriate umbrella. It already has its coining which is relatively balanced. However literally translated it would be closer to something like a laydar scan or mesh model used for 3d representation of urban environments such as in the lates OVI Map 3D.

Krieger’s interpretation or migration however, is going further and proposed a more applied and somehow qualitative rooted interpretation of the concept. Many little documentations of the topic to investigate will together represent the larger whole not only physical but also socially and culturally. He explains: “Urban tomography, with its dense and multiple perspectives in space and time and type, allows for exploratory analysis of the world in front of us. … Multiple perspectives viewed in parallel, and re-viewed, allow for seeing it all, again and again, so that you begin to figure out what it is you are seeing: flows, phenomena, types – not individuals.”

Urban Tomographies Cover
Image taken from Urban Tomographies / Urban Tomographies store front

In his investigations Krieger focuses on Los angeles and includes photography as his main method or study. Besides this he also integrates sounds and the recording thereof into his investigations.

The book begins by introducing tomographic methods and the principles behind them, which are taken from phenomenological philosophy. It draws from the examples of Lee Friedlander and Walker Evans, as well as Denis Diderot, Charles Marville, and Eugène Atget, who documented the many facets of Paris life in three crucial periods. Rather than focus on singular, extraordinary figures and events as do most documentarians, Krieger looks instead at the typical, presenting multiple specific images that call attention to people and activities usually rendered invisible by commonality. He took tens of thousands of photographs of industrial sites, markets, electrical distributing stations, and storefront churches throughout Los Angeles. He also recorded the city’s ambient sounds, from the calls of a tamale vendor to the buzz of a workshop saw. Krieger considers these samples from the urban sensorium in this innovative volume, resulting in a thoughtful illumination of the interplay of people with and within the built environment. With numerous maps and photographs, as well as Krieger’s unique insights, Urban Tomographies provides an unusually representative and rounded view of the city.

Urban Tomographies Cover
Image taken from Urban Tomographies / Book cover.

Krieger, M.H., 2011. Urban Tomographies, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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As part of the Spill Festival of Performance 2011 at the Barbican, Ryoji Ikeda played a set. It was another installment of his Datamatics Series started back in 2006. The new Datamatics [ver.2.0] series has evolved quite a bit from the first version already played at events around the world including Sonar, Barcelona (2006); Mutek, Mexico City (2007); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2007); RomaEuropa, Rome (2008); Itaú Cultural, Sao Paulo (2009) and Second Nature, Aix-en-Provence (2010) to name a few.

The soundscape is an artwork based on purely mathematical parameters transforming electronic data into sound and visualisations. Ikeda describes it: “Using pure data as a source for sound and visuals, datamatics combines abstract and mimetic presentations of matter, time and space in a powerful and breathtakingly accomplished work.”

Image taken from ryojiikeda.com / data.tron [8K enhanced version] audiovisual installation – 2008-09. Materials – 8 DLP projectors, computers, 9.2ch sound system. Dimensions – W16 x H9 x D9m. Date / Place JAN 1, 2009 – DEC 31, 2010 Deep Space venue, Ars Electronica Center, Linz, AT. Credits – concept, composition: Ryoji ikeda, computer graphics, programming: Tomonaga Tokuyama commissioned by Ars Electronica, 2008-09.

Breathtakingly it definitely is. The installation has you on the edge of the seat from very early on. The level of abstraction, the volume and the frequency of the flickering on screen mount to a experience very close the the limitation of the actually perceivable. After onl ten minutes the first people leave.

This work is clearly set in a wider context of sound art and electronic music. A few references to spring to mind immediately are John Cage as the very early highlight, Daft Punk with the Tron collaboration. Then there are also some more recent web project where data visualisation has turned into very playful results as for example with the Subway Conductor by Alexander Chen.

Interesting are Ikeda’s use of geometrical elements for the visualisation. The main elements obviously are lines, both as geometrical lines but also as animated data lines. The Datamatics 2.0 performance then also starts with a linear setup, first vertical scrolling, then horizontal scrolling. The next element is the data point. Here again in many different variations, including as a node connected to other data points in 2D and 3D. Additional elements are planes and then effects such as spinning, copy and fast forward. With this basic setup the set reminds also of the short story ‘Flatland‘ (if you haven’t read it pdf is available HERE).

Image taken from artshool.cfa / John Cage Liberation of sound.

However the visuals are not limited to the geometric elements. From early on, also with rather simple elements the screen is only showing a flat representation. The visuals are always rendering, an abstract, three dimensional scape. The visuals have clear references, of ist and arrays all the way to interstellar arrangements, the big bang and the glow of a sun with the removing of the geometries keeping only the texts. The audio on the other hand also has its elements that it evokes, from highway traveling to train journeys or rain you’ll find it all in the sounds scapes.

Of course on is curious what sort of data sets Ikeda is using for the performance. Is it a sort of stream like a twitter feed, or is it a more static field like property data, but maybe it is some medical data on DNA sequencing or the time table of the Moscow subway?

At first the performance at the Barbican feat like a film screening, only at the very end as Ikeda rushed from the back onto the stage during the applause it became clear he was actually present and involved in the performance. However how much of it was live and ‘interactive’ remained unclear.

Nevertheless the audience was engaged from early on. Each time the performance released the audience from its strong grip of audio visual bombardment sighs of relieve and cheers spread the ranks. This almost physical link through the intensity of the experience was challenging, but at the same time created a very intimate connection.

A trailer of Ikeda’s Dramatic [er.2.0] set.

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Sound is part of the everyday experience landscape as much as the visual, however dramatically less present. The dimensions and the extensions of sound scapes were earlier discussed in the MyTime interview with Salomé Voegelin.

One of the major topics in this discussion was the relationship between sound and space or the construction of an soundTimeSpace a Voegelin called it.

Check In / Check Out
Image by Andriko Lozowy taken from merlepachett / View of a tailings pond and Syncrude Oil Sand Mine in the distance.

In some new research work, Merle Pachett investigates sound landscapes. She has be working recently in Canada and her project im by mapping the acoustic ecologies of the Athebasca Oil Sands to develop on the work of the ground-breaking 1970’s project Soundscapes of Canada whose objective was to capture disappearing sounds in response to over noise pollution.

Sound by Merlet Patchett

In her most recent presentation of the collected raw material she collaborates with a photographer, Andriko Lozowy, from the University of Alberta. The two media appear to work rather well together and do not simply merge into one as if it were video recordings. The tension that builds up between the different media is really the interesting bit in this documentation.

It is not as if sound was too boring to listen to just like that, but with the photographs a certain dialect emerges between how it looked at this time and how it sounds in this moment.

It seems surprising how the aspects of time play a very different role in both these two medias. We are trained and have acostomised to read photographs as a document of the past. Certain aspects of the image can be read as to guess the approximate time distance. With sound however, this seems less of an immediate reaction. This data is much more in the present, there is not this reflex as to put it as something of the past.

Sound by Merlet Patchett

Check In / Check Out
Image by Andriko Lozowy taken from merlepachett / Fort McKay Industrial Park.

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How does the public transport network sound? What noises could you derive from the different lines and tracks?

Probably commuters will have a very individual and specific sound scape in mind, thinking about the journey on the public transport network. Every journey sounds different and heavily depends on various factors. But there is still a general feeling for different spaces according to sounds.

Very much as discussed earlier in the MyTime interview ‘On SoundTimeSpace’ with Salomé Voegelin sound is generating presence. As she puts it: “Sound is never an a priori, it is not there before its experience, but is generated in our audition and this audition is what extends its present moment to include all that could sound as well as what does”.

Image taken from mta.me by Alexander Cheng / NY Subway trains visualised as a string instrument. Turn your head phones up.

Relating this back to the transport network, Alexander Chen has developed his own interpretation of the transport network music and uses the New York Subway map to conduct a simple piece. The lines are turned into strings and are played at the crossing of lines. When ever train crosses another line it playes the line-string like a string instrument.

The rhythm is based on the actual train shedule. The trains are running as feed is pulled in directly from the MTA’s public API. The actuall visualisation runns on MTA.me. The site is built in HTML5/Javascript with some flash running the sound.

Alexander explains: “Length determines pitch, with longer strings playing lower notes. When a string is in the middle of being drawn by a subway car, its pitch is continually shifting. The sounds are cello pizzicato from the wonderful freesound.org, a set recorded by corsica_s. A complete chromatic scale was too dissonant. Ultimately I settled on a simple major C scale but with the lowest note as a raised third E, which keeps it from ever feeling fully resolved.”

And as a suggestion for your next day at work come via a comment left on Alexanders blog: “Thanks to your boss suggestion, I opened up 3 tabs and I haven’t felt like turning my iTunes back on again because the entropic free jazz strumming is so bewitching! Sweetness on top of sweetness.”

Maybe seeing the tube network in such a way might alter the individual soundscape. Length of journey and time of crossing. Also have a look at Alexanders mta.me for the full screen visuals that are actually based on the 1972 Massimo Vignelli (hear Vignelli talking about his work HERE. Extract from the great Helvetica film) diagram. And also note that the lines since have changed and between 00h00 and 02h00 Alexander runs some ghost trains to keep the concert going. It runs as a look so you can listen to it all day long.

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The urban and the sound are very much one and the same. Noises and tweets, squeaks and bangs, whispers and rattle are constantly present and play an important part in the shaping of the environment. consciously or unconsciously we are attracted or repulsed by certain sounds in specific configurations. But how is it interlinked with time and space, how does it tie in with time and certainly space, the much talked focus in the urban discussion.

In this interview we want to discuss these questions with Salomé Voegelin, an artist and writer who is concerned with the practice and philosophy of sound. Her work has been shown in the UK and Mainland Europe. Most recently her work “Barry Echo” has been included in Playing with Words, the Spoken Word in Artistic Practice, Cathy Lane ed., UK, CRiSAP and RGAP, Cornerhouse Publication, 2008. In 2007 she was commissioned to produce an urban pod-cast for RADAR in Loughborough, UK, and to realise, in collaboration with artist and writer David Mollin, a site-specific work for the Bregenz Kunstverein, Magazin 4, Austria. She is the curator of Clickanywhere, an online sound exhibition featuring sound work that focuses on the voice, http://clickanywhere.crisap.org/. Her published writing includes ‘Sonic Memory Material as “Pathetic Trigger” ‘ in Organised Sound international peer-reviewed journal, Cambridge University Press April 2006, and ‘Völlig Losgelöst’, a chapter in Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment, Angus Carlyle ed., published by Double Entendre in 2007. And a chapter on long duration on the radio for the book ‘Nachtschichten’, Jörg Köppl ed., edition Fink 2008.

Her book Listening to Noise and Silence: Toward a Philosophy of Sound Art
was published by Continuum Press in May 2010.

Since we are talking sound, we wana make use of sound and ditch the predominately visual approach, so turn the volume up and/or put on the headphones.


urbanTick: Is it important to be on time?
Salomé Voegelin: Of course I think it is impolite not to be on time, but I have become rather used to everybody always being late since living in England. However, I have been reminded of the importance of being on time by my son’s Kindergarten teacher, who, to stem off the slow trickle of late pupils every morning, keeps on telling the parents that if we want our children to learn to appreciate being on time we need to bring them to school on time.

urbanTick: We are discussing here three key words with very strong and evocative characters. They can be arranged in sort of a definition triangle, with each being used to describe the next one, let’s try this. What’s the sound of time and what’s the sound of space?
Salomé Voegelin: I want to bring these two questions together, which in many ways also answers the next. In the tradition of Western Philosophy there is a great dialectical urge to keep things apart, to see them as conflictual, defined against rather than through each other. Which is by the way a very visual “deducticism” in the sense that the meaning and status of the one is produced by deducing it from that of the other, rather than through the experience of itself. And so time and space are understood to cancel each other out, negate each other or use each other to the end of their own realization; and they are defined by their purpose rather than their experience. It is the function of the space by which I measure it rather than its experiential time, and it is the purpose of the time by which I read it rather than the experience of its space. Time and space thus exist in a purposeful conflict that seeks a resolution in a higher order synthesis, a better space, a better time, outlining a progressive understanding rather than a place to be. Thereby hinting at continual improvement that renders time and space vehicles only, to propel the subject, who passes through their a prior existence, onwards and upwards, towards always yet another such conflictual place.

Sound, a sonic sensibility, challenges the possibility of such a dialectical differentiation and the consequent imagination of their relationship as necessary progressivity. It sounds space in time and time in space and produces a place that is neither oppositional nor deductional. Instead it presents space and time as extensions of each other, where they exist in a critical equivalence: not the same but not combative either; an agonistic play that defines them both, but never for long in the same shape, inviting the experience of fixedfluidities and fluidfixities that are permanently differently now. Such time and space is a moving realm that changes in the continuous presence of perception. This realm is not functional however, but playful, and neither is it relative since it is generated through the listener’s experience where time and space find their particularity and contingent hold.

This proposition is based on the experience of sound as an invisible formless thing that is not there before its encounter, as is the assumption in a visually orientated philosophy, but is generated in my perception of it, always now.

urbanTick: You remove the dash between time-space in your book, can you explain this and how this relates to sound?
Salomé Voegelin: The dialectical conflict that is born from and leads to this progressive imagination of place is based on the idea of time and space as two autonomous entities (Gesamtheiten). It is, almost paradoxically, their exclusivity that allows us to pitch them malevolently against each other rather than focus on their playful interaction. I call both together through the notion of time-space, but remove the dash to call them timespace in order to avoid the possibility of exclusivity and immanent antagonism. In this way I aim to highlight the need to keep them together while also stressing their equal difference: They are elements of equal significance, they are neither the same nor opposed to each other but are generated through each other in the effort of perception.

urbanTick: Is there a past and a future in sound or is there only the here and now?
Salomé Voegelin: The term timespace allows not only for the imagination of a present place, as produced in the playful agonism between a present time and a present space, but also brings to perception the notion of an over-there and of another-time that are not opposed to or outside this moment of now but that constitute it in its extensionality. What I mean by this is that the now of a sonic timespace is durational. It is a thick slither of now, again a seeming paradox, but an imaginative possibility. Listening is extensive, it generates space in the temporality of its material. And it builds this temporal space not only from what we hear but also from what that audition produces in terms of a generative possibility. Sonic possibilities and memories trigger the present perception and also rush into this present moment to extend its space, which we prise open in the time of our listening to inhabit as place. This thick place of a present timespace allows us to inhabit the now, and at the same time it is our effort of perception, inhabiting that now, that produces the extensity of its place.

This extensity is of course not exclusive to the sonic perception, but a sonic sensibility has the ability to imagine it. In sound we inhabit our perception, we are always part of it; our sounds are as much part of the soundscape as those we perceive to be over-there. And it is this sensibility of simultaneity with one’s surroundings that enables the imagination of an inhabited, agonistically playful and thick now rather than of an exclusive, conflictual and functional now.

Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Lovely.

urbanTick: You are characterising the experience of sound as the here in sort of a thick slither of the present and as evocative. To what extend can we imagine the sound? Almost as in the secondary school physics example, where the excited teacher demonstrates with some fireworks how the light, the smoke, travels faster than the sound, the bang. From experience we’ll already be awaiting the sound as we see the little firecracker blowing up.
Salomé Voegelin: Sound is never an a priori, it is not there before its experience, but is generated in our audition and this audition is what extends its present moment to include all that could sound as well as what does. There is an anticipation to listening, which is particularly forceful when we are in silence; an almost breathless waiting for what might eventually sound. This anticipation is my agency of listening as a pull to generate the heard. Unscheduled radio is a good way to experience this: the formless invisibility of its sound means that our anticipation never leads to the fulfillment of one’s expectations but to the production of the heard, and this heard involves the imagination of ourselves at the moment of its production, inhabiting it. We do not imagine the sound but produce it, as imagined, in our auditory imagination.

urbanTick: In your book you mention Doreen Massey’s description of space and time as conventions, as matter of perception as well as believe. To what extend does this conception apply to sound.
Salomé Voegelin: Massey’s ideas of space and time not as dialectically opposed absolutes but as constituted in perception and therefore dependent on the inhabiting subject, has very crucially influenced my own thinking about time and space in sound. Her articulations are in many ways a critique of the theorizations of time-space compression in the networked age where fluidity is generally articulated as crisis and fixity seen as providing the certainty of place. She re-assesses these absolutes and makes any judgment dependent on the subject’s social and political narrative instead.

In sound too the reality, the timespace, of a situation is not absolute but depends on the perceiving subject. Sound does not provide us with representations of a priori situations, but forces us into its timespace place, to inhabit its material and generate it in this inhabiting simultaneity. There is then in sound too not one sensibility of time and space but a multiplicity of possibilities, which reflect back on the particularity of their perception rather than on a stable and absolute reality.

This is a very interesting starting point also to consider sound and a sonic sensibility in relation to art and the acoustic environment not only in terms of its aesthetic appreciation, but also in terms of a political and social consequence of a sonic subjectivity, a sonic community, etc.

Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Oblongs in Square Spaces.

urbanTick: Practically everything has a sound to it. Be it the clicking of the keyboard while typing a text, the whistle of the water boiler or the beep of the scanner at the supermarket till. Would it be possible to classify different sounds according to time?
Salomé Voegelin: Putting aside the notational control over time in conventional music production and its learned appreciation, for me the interest in considering the time of sonic occurrences does not lie in the duration of the sound but in the duration of its perception, and this recalls my answer to your last question, how it involves the aesthetic, social and political situation of the perceiving subject. In other words my interest lies not in classifying sounds as autonomous and abstract entities, but to engage in the time of their perception understood as the moment of their inhabited generation. These moments are not bound to clock time but generate our individual sense of it, as well as the sense of ourselves as sonic subjectivities inhabiting that formless time.

The discussion of this perceptual time and self in sound could grant us access to the reality of the world as a multilayered thing, illuminating “possible worlds”, whose spatiotemporal formation is formless by itself, dependent on the generative perception of its inhabitants, and mirroring their own formless possibility.

urbanTick: Is sound timeless?
Salomé Voegelin: It is not timeless but its time is full of space. It produces space from its time and invents the time of its space. Together they create the thick and complex slither of now that is our listened to environment and it is in listening, through an auditory imagination, that we appreciate the complexity and reciprocity of its time.

urbanTick: Do you think different times exist, take place or could be constructed?
Salomé Voegelin: The sense of now as a thick timespace invites the idea, mentioned already in response to your earlier question about the time of things that sound produces, of “possible worlds”. The suggestion that listening, the auditory perception, is not a receptive mode but a generative effort, which produces the now as a thickset thing that we construct and inhabit in our subjective particularity, might lead us to argue that there is not only the one, visual, world, which we pragmatically refer to as the real world, but that, there are many other, possible worlds that we thus generate. And, in extension that it is through sound, a sonic sensibility that we gain access to those other layers of reality, those possible and even impossible or at least improbable worlds. These other worlds do not cancel out or negate the “real” world, but extend and augment it. These worlds might or might not be indexically linked, thus no causal connection might exist, but inevitably, the imaginative perception of such possible worlds expands the way we experience the “real” world.

As a consequence of the idea that space and time are produced as timespace, and that this timespace is a thickset thing of present, past and future, of an over-there and of other-times, and the related idea that the world, experienced via a sonic sensibility produces possible worlds, we could imagine that equally there are different times, possible times and maybe even impossible times. They are a matter of perception, of invention of experience, but not less real, as it is our perception that generates them, and our subjectivity that guarantees them.

Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Skating.

urbanTick: These soundtimespaces of individual experience and timing, how can we make them sharable as important elements of interaction and social existence?
Salomé Voegelin: Sonic sensibility, in its insistence on contingency and experience rather than permanence and recognition questions the possibility and authenticity of the linguistic exchange. Instead of building on the certainty of language, a visual set of signs and symbols, it suggests a much more fragile and formless exchange. It suggests that communication is founded in principle on misunderstandings with exceptional moments of understanding, “moments of coincidence”, when our worlds overlap momentarily. This is not as frightful as it might sound. It simply means that we have to work harder to be understood and to stay in communication. That we cannot take communication for granted simply because we have the tool, language, to communicate, but that the actual moment of exchange needs my agency of speech, understood as the development of my agency of listening into language, to coincide with your willingness to share in that exchange. Sound elucidates the responsibility of listening and speaking as the basic condition of communication. A sonic exchange is based on the desire to share the heard rather than on a shared order or lexicon.

urbanTick: New media and technologies have questioned the definition of location with real time communication; the physical location of the body might no longer be the only indicator of the local. Did this change timing in sound, across different places?
Salomé Voegelin: Sound in many ways precedes and makes thinkable virtuality long before the technology enabled the production of digital places, virtual communication and multi-locationality of bodies and things. Sound’s invisibility and formlessness engenders an imagination that is not dependent on the reality of places and things but produces places and things and consequently invites us to invent our location in relation to those places and things. The body in sound is always the indicator of the local as it is its inhabiting that generates that local, however, what that body and what that local is, is a matter of imagination rather than of certainty in sound.

urbanTick: This year has seen a number of projects recording sounds to preserve them. On one hand this is part of the technology hype and we do it because we can, but on the other, is there a history of sounds?
Salomé Voegelin: I am fascinated by phonography and aural history, which, in terms of documenting, narrating and extending time and space are closely related, since both, in their own way, play with notions of the “real”. They both use sound to renegotiate reality, how it is constructed and told; what is real time, what is real space. And ultimately both invite us to generate our own sense of time and space.

Aural history of course has been around for a long time and listening to people describing their personal histories of the second world war, say, makes it apparent how very personal, individual and full of stories rather than realities and truths history, its times and places, is.

Phonography used as a strategy to garner material for composition of the patently composed, or to make us aware of the different facets of a visual reality, is very interesting in terms of how it problematises and plays with our ideas of a real space and a real time. Phonography is highly experiential. I am sure we can try to read a phonographic work as much as we read a photograph, but I doubt we would succeed to neatly summarise it. Rather phonography invites a constant re-telling of the scene recorded, a filling-in of the invisible space that is left by the microphone, constantly re-generating it with our own thick and expansive sense of time and space, producing our own timespace place from the heard.

urbanTick: Thinking of everyday practices and experiences, does sound tell the time?
Salomé Voegelin: I don’t think sound tells the time but it fills time, not in the sense of making it pass more pleasantly, functionally or usefully, but in the sense of making it thick with experiential stuff – a clump of sensation – senseable, in the sense of available to sensation, not however as a certain and shareable clock time but as a much more personal pulse by which we generate the world we inhabit at that timespace moment.

urbanTick: Time is often generally thought of as clock time, the continuous ticking sound of the counting of identical units. Is sound linear?
Salomé Voegelin: This personal pulse, which generates the timespace moment, which I mention in answer to your last question, is not linear at all. It draws the past and the future, the over-there, and the other-time and all sorts of things into its space not as a linear construct but as a fragmented constructing that fragments the listener too.

Sound by Salomé Voegelin / Hänsel und Gretel.


In an interview series urbanTick is looking closely at meaning and implications of time in everyday life situations. In the form of dialogs different aspects are explored, with the idea to highlight characteristics. The main interest is circling around the construction and implementation of different concepts of time between independent but related areas of activity, such as leisure and work, private and public, reality and virtual. This interview series will not be continuous, but more adhoc, so you might want to use the interview tag to catch up with the rest.

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