The technology behind Hermes

Here's a short extract from a longer press-release explaining the technology behind 'On a Theme of Hermes' to a non-technical audience.

Your smartphone is an amazing device! It can sense the outside world changing, and it can MAKE changes in the world too. There is an impressive number of "standard" sensors and interfaces packed inside:

  • Touch (fingers on screen)
  • Movement (changes in linear acceleration)
  • Rotation (gyroscope)
  • Orientation (gravity, magnetic compass)
  • Sound (microphone)
  • Light (ambient light, camera)
  • GPS location
  • Cell phone network / Bluetooth / Wifi signals

Programming the smartphone to detect and react to these sensors is the fun part! A common thing is to adjust screen brightness depending on the ambient light level, as well as choosing appropriate landscape/portrait screen modes by using rotation and orientation sensor information.

'Hermes' reacts to GPS location, playing back sounds through headphones. There can be complex rules to decide which sounds to play - it is not necessarily the case that walking to a certain GPS co-ordinate will trigger a sound. For example: A "rare" sound could be triggered by staying between a pair of boundary co-ordinates for a certain period of time, or by walking into a specific more than twice.

When building the 'Hermes' soundworld, each of the sounds in were (loosely) categorised by 'mood'. These categories were subsequently used to relate to specific landscape features in the fixed locations (Hamworthy Park - Poole UK, MShed/Arnolfini/Millennium Square - Bristol UK, and Odra Islands - Wroclaw Poland). We feel this creates a sonic experience that flows with the individual landscapes - literal journeys through harmony and dissonance.

Although the 'Hermes' soundworld is best experienced in one of the above locations, a taster version is accessible anywhere in the world. This works by spreading a grid of sounds in a radius around you. Of course, this machine-built soundworld does not align to landscape features in the same way in terms of 'mood' but - for me - this is perhaps the most interesting aspect of GPS-triggered media (as the transitions between adjacent sounds becomes the focus - along with the tendency of the mind to form relationships between the surroundings and the sounds being heard).

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