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Satsymph - An interactive GPS-triggered contemporary symphonic soundscape

One of the many projects I'm working on has been shortlisted for the PERFORMING RIGHTS SOCIETY FOR MUSIC FOUNDATION NEW MUSIC AWARD (PRSF New Music Award).

The [ "SATSYMPH" ] (as in Satellite Symphony) project blends symphonic textures and spoken word recordings in a collaboration between [ Marc Yeats south-west-based composer and artist ], [ Ralph Hoyte poet ], and me [ Phill Phelps - programmer].

For me, SATSYMPH is an attempt to combine the worlds of Live and Recorded sound which affect audience engagement in different ways. SATSYMPH offers three levels of audience engagement:

  • Level 1: Participants use an iPhone app using time-varying GPS co-ordinates to trigger recorded sound. Movement (and lack of) directly controls the audio experience. You literally walk through your own unique path through a performance of a symphony.
  • Level 2: Participants can opt-in to record and share a GPS trace of their movements via a website. Visitors to the website can passively replay the unique personal experiences shared by others.
  • Level 3: Live performances at three venues will serve as a platform for a collaboratively generated experience, the score for which will have been generated by GPS traces recorded and uploaded by participants earlier. 

The following text is extracted from an interview with into magazine.

[Q] Was there a particular event, idea, connection, moment of inspiration that sparked the idea for your project?

[A] Shortly after Captain AHAB first introduced me to [Ralph Hoyte]; I was invited to speak at a performance poetry event held on the 21st of Feb 2009 at [ one of the nodes for the Fragmented Orchestra ] (winner of the last PRSF New Music Award) where I read [ the source code to "Ping" ]. At that time, Ralph was working on interactive GPS-based poetry and spoken word concepts, where he described this scenario:
"a participant moving between overlapping regions in GPS space, producing a gradual buildup of audio, or a cumulative effect from region to region. By the time they reach a certain co-ordinate they have a full-blown symphony blazing away. If they reverse their steps, the opposite happens, gradually reducing the complexity down to just a single instrument."
This eventually developed into the PRSF proposal for SATSYMPH, and if we win the award it may become a reality. You can [ vote for SATSYMPH on the PRSF new music award page ]. Please do!

[Q] All nominees' work is very different, but all seem to share a common concern with extended possibilities - either in the way that sound is created or the way in which it is listened to. How important is this idea of extended possibilities to you?

[A] SATSYMPH is extremely flexible and extensible on many levels.

SATSYMPH can be a personally experienced symphony - something a traditional performance physically cannot do. Whilst the three performances provide an opportunity for a collaboratively composed symphony - something an individual experience cannot do.

This is all possible thanks to the modular content, but this challenges the idea of authorship, and simultaneously feeds back into authorship.

  • When we compose the modular content - we are authors.
  • When we composing region behaviours - we are authors.
  • ...but that's where we stop being authors
By using the SATSYMPH iPhone app, participants simultaneously become the authors of an interactive personal experience, and a collaborative communal one. Now that to me is very exciting in terms of audience engagement and extended posibility!

Cloud composition? Hivemind combinatorics

For me, part of creativity is to rationalise and overcome overwhelming combinations and permutations of separate ideas.

It's these extended possibilites and permutations that are so exciting - but daunting - for any individual involved in a creative activity ( whether composing music, programming, or otherwise ).

AHAB introduced me to the idea of collective thinking when reading Kevin Kelly's book "out of control" and these concepts have been at the back of my mind ever since. A group or "cloud" or "swarm" can explore in parallel so many more possibilities than a single person can.

In terms of SATSYMPH, parallel creative exploration comes from the minor variations in the time-varying GPS co-ordinates: Two people exploring the same GPS territory are extremely unlikely to trigger every single region behaviour they come across in the same way at the same time every time.

When a single SATSYMPH participant is authoring their own experience, and their iPhone is taking a log-file of the triggers used to create that experience, they are exploring the territory alone. By sharing log-files - the "swarm" of participants can collectively explore in parallel an enormous number of permutations.

The SATSYMPH website will serve as a hub for this collaborative exploration effort, and a blend of the various shared log-files will be used to generate the score for the three live performances.

All this is possible due to the modular approach to composition in general thruought the SATSYMPH project, and a great deal is down to AHAB - Thanks cap'n - I couldn't be doing this if it weren't for you!

SATSYMPH - Marc Yeats composer, Ralph Hoyte poet, and Phill Phelps programmer.

(c)2010 zenpho@zenpho.co.uk - Phill Phelps