Opening Sound Shuttle sound installation

We are happy to present the Dutch premiere of the sonic art installation Sound Shuttle, a collaboration between Max Hirsh and Michael Schiefel, in De Verdieping on Wednesday 23 March from 17:00 to 22:00. This work takes a playful approach to the acoustic dimensions of life on the go. Reconfiguring the noises produced for and by people in transit, the exhibition highlights the influential role that acoustics play in shaping our experience of the everyday urban environment. Traveling and commuting is the essential daily experience shared by many, from the MTR in Hong Kong, the Sherut, ‘shared taxi’ in Tel Aviv, Israel to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. Around the world, transit spaces enable our movement across cities, countries and continents.

Sound Shuttle is an intersection of sound art with urban studies. The project has been ongoing for 4 years and was shown in Berlin, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv previously. The sounds are field recorded of commuting networks in various cities such as Berlin, New York, Tel Aviv, Ho Chi Minh City and Beijing with a special made electronic device designed by Max.

Max Hirsh
Originally from Berlin, Max is an urban and architecture theorist and is currently a PhD Candidate in Architecture at Harvard University. His dissertation – Airport Urbanism: The Urban Infrastructure of Global Mobility investigates the expansion of international air traffic and its implications for architecture and urban design in Amsterdam and Hong Kong. Max has been a visiting faculty member, guest lecturer, and design critic at Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and South China University of Technology. His writing were published in Log, History & Technology, The Next American City, and Informationen zur modernen Stadtgeschichte.

Michael Schiefel
Michael is a Berlin-based experimental/electronic jazz vocalist and Professor of Vocal Jazz at the Franz Liszt Conservatory in Weimar. Michael has recorded 15 albums over the past decade. His solo performances feature multilayered vocal loops that vary between grooves, soundscapes, and lyrics. Michael’s latest album, My Home is My Tent, was released in Fall 2010. Michael has been a visiting scholar at Harvard; and has given concerts and master classes in Europe, North America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

On the same night we will have the Rijksakademie Beamclub with Allard van Hoorn and Sarah van Sonsbeeck. More information at De Verdieping website. Join this event on Facebook.

By Juha — Posted March 16, 2011 — 68 Comments

Urbanode call for collaboration

Yesterday I had the privilege to give a brief presentation of Urbanode at the Cognitive Cities Conference in Berlin. To give more background information, here is the full text on Urbanode as written by VURB co-founder Ben Cerveny:

The Urbanode project, a research partnership with Digitale Pioneers, begins the process of creating public system software by wrapping the controls for lighting control systems, such as those found in theaters and nightclubs, in a javascript programming framework.

Javascript is well on its way to being the default choice of lightweight scripting notations for all types of webservices. It has become common practice for any large-scale social networks, streaming media services, and informations systems to present a publicly accessible javascript application programming interface, or API, so that 3rd party developers can call on their functions or read their data in any program. In HTML5, the latest specification for web browser functionality, javascript takes on animation capabilities with the concept of a canvas that the application can draw to, as well as the more traditional mechanisms for creating dynamic applications by manipulating the Document Object Model. In Urbanode, we start to apply these same document-related scripting paradigms to space itself. How do you write applications in javascript that treat space as a canvas? What does the Spatial Object Model, or SOM, look like?

In thinking about designing for programmable spaces, it might be useful to consider a few user scenarios. In this first pass at understanding the design opportunities, lets look at use cases in 3 separate categories of interaction:

1) Direct Manipulation

2) Environmental Control

3) Ambient Information

Direct manipulation is perhaps the most straightforward example. A user might come into a danceclub or other venue and open their Urbanode browser on their mobile device. The Urbanode browser would query the local server and return a list of applications available in the space. In this scenario, let’s suppose there is only one called “Light Commander”. The user selects this application and the browser retrieves the appropriate web interface, which initially presents a schematic view of the lighting in the space, with each light color-coded to indicate whether it is under the control of the venue operator, another user, or available to be controlled. The user taps on an ‘open’ spotlight and is presented with a control interface with a color wheel, directional controls, sliders for focus and brightness, and light pattern icons. There might also be a timer counting down a short interval until the light reverts to ‘open’ and must be re-acquired.

Urbanode running from an Android Phone from VURB on Vimeo.

Environmental control is oriented around locations within the space, rather than specific pieces of controllable hardware. In the scenario we will consider here, let’s imagine a restaurant in which each table has network-accessible properties like “mood” or “energy level”. When the diners first sit, they can open the Urbanode browser and scan a a symbol on the table with their phone’s camera to log-in to that space. The application presented is a simple scrolling list of mood choices like “romantic”, “party”, and “family”. Each choice dynamically effects the table-specific lighting brightness, color, and variation over time. These mood choices might also reconfigure the music stream or other audio, and also be displayed to the staff on a separate monitor so they might choose to service tables differently depending on selected mood.

Ambient information applications serve as ways to map data from network sources [webservices data, mobile device polling, or sensor data] to attributes of environmental mediation like lighting or audio. Let’s suppose the spotlighting on an obelisk in a public square is programmable using Urbanode. A citizen with permission to control those lights could build an application that displayed realtime sporting information using abstract color patterns and sequences. As citizens entered the square, they could consult their mobile devices, open the Urbanode browser, choose the “SportsMonument” application, and learn what the color mappings represented [say a soccer match in which the team colors of the team in the lead would be displayed, brighter depending on how big the lead is].

These examples are by no means an exhaustive catalogue of possible uses of the Urbanode infrastructure. On the contrary, we hope this initial framework inspires a whole range of uses, many surprising to us. We plan to continue adding to the catalog of environmental services Urbanode can control, starting a broader range of lighting equipment and eventually audio hardware and projectors. This kickoff phase in collaboration with Digitale Pioneers marks a strong start to an ongoing investigation of how we will build and live in the public spaces of the future.

The VURB Foundation is looking for new partners and collaborators to start working on new prototypes and services. For more information, please send an e-mail to

By Juha — Posted February 27, 2011 — 5,413 Comments

Juha is contributing to Cognitive Cities Conference

I am delighted and honoured to have received an invitation to give a presentation at the Cognitive Cities Conference in Berlin this weekend. I will talk about my experiences with VURB and the no longer fictional dimension of the networked city. The line up of this conference is impressive, with Adam Greenfield (Urbanscale), Warren Ellis (author) and Matt Biddulph (data strategy Nokia) amongst many interesting people. It will be moderated by Wired Editor at Large Ben Hammersley.

My contribution will be the personal history of a heavy user of the city and its public spaces, and a visiting member of the different tribes of users of the built environment. I have been fortunate to have been hanging out with inspiring people that have been passing through Amsterdam in the past years. Combined with my own interest in how public spaces work and how people make decisions to go about the city, this should hopefully result in a gonzo-journalist portrayal of Amsterdam as an interactive city.

Many thanks to the organisation for this invitation, I look forward to seeing you all in Berlin this weekend.

By Juha — Posted February 22, 2011 — 2,735 Comments