Elapse – Soundscapes Landscapes, City Above Life Below
Geo-locative smartphone app developed in the context of Soundscapes Landscapes, City Above Life Below, a project of the artistic collective Medea Electronique presented at the Onassis Cultural Centre
Elapse sought to evoke the sonic imagination of audiences as they moved through Keramikos, a dense urban neighbourhood of Athens, Greece. Elapse was one of eight works commissioned from international artists by the collective Medea Electronique to appear on a bespoke geo-locative smartphone app.
The artworks on the app invited the user to discover aspects of Keramikos usually hidden from awareness, from the area’s rich ancient history to present-day issues that affect it. The app user walked the streets of Keramikos holding a smartphone and wearing headphones. In response to the fixed, immersive audio-visual works composed by the other artists, Elapse invited users to pause and become absorbed in their surrounding environment in the present moment. As the user wandered the streets of Keramikos, guided by the app, they would encounter diverse spatial environments and aesthetic “virtual” experiences related to their surroundings to varying degrees. Elapse repeatedly punctuated this experience by holding out to the user an invitation to pause. The work emphasised the user’s listening agency and the sheer range of possibility of sound in urban space.
To produce Elapse, we spent several days immersed in Keramikos. We planned a route that would allow us to become familiar with the lived spaces of the neighbourhood and its distinctive mix of residential, hospitality and small-scale industrial buildings. We identified and documented fifteen locations along this route; the work developed through an iterative process of walking the route, recording the walk with binaural sound and still photography, and later revisiting the walk with a detailed listening analysis.
When a user arrived at one of the fifteen locations we identified, their smartphone app vibrated. Any sound already playing stopped, and a short text appeared on screen. This text evoked the interaction of sound and the built environment at that location.
After a few seconds, a new slide appeared. The left of the screen featured a composite image which showed the location in which the user stood. The image combined photographs of this location at two distinct and contrasting moments in time – both late evening and early morning. In a column on the right of the screen, a diary entry showed the street name and the date of our initial visit to the site and described a sonic event that took place at that time.
Elapse thus drew to the user’s attention the contingent relationships between sound, movement and the built environment through time. Through this work, we propose active listening as an everyday activity that allows one to rediscover urban spaces, drawing overlooked worlds of sound resolutely to the foreground of attention.