Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Map of FM transmissions from URBANtraces.

Spring is a rare and precious time of year on the East Coast. It's a fleeting season - sometimes the chill of winter downshifts directly into the oppressive humidity of summer without so much as a warning - making any mild and sunny weather seem like a gift. Bulbs push through the soil, cherry blossoms bloom, and the mosquitoes have yet to launch their seasonal invasion. It's also the time of year when windows begin to open. There's nothing like that first night of sleep, a cross breeze blowing the curtains, and the ambient sounds of the city floating up from the street (until the car alarms and the 3 am drunks chime in, of course).

Last week, artist Steve Bradley amplified those urban sounds with a three-month media project in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore. Bradley and a team of media artists launched URBANtraces, a neighborhood radio project that has several low-power FM transmitters broadcasting at 87.7 FM. The transmitters are located at various sites, including people’s homes, shops, and art spaces, offering a rare window inside these otherwise closed-off interiors. It's an audio map of the city and they will be available 24/7 through August. Those who can't walk the streets can download archived podcasts that will appear on the site.

David Byrne's installation Playing the Building turns a warehouse into an instrument.

Another interesting city-based audio project is running through August in New York. Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has retrofitted an antique organ into a historic building, turning the infrastructure into a musical instrument. I wrote about the installation, Playing the Building, on the Metropolis blog and you can read more by clicking here.