Geolocating beyond coordinates: spatial stories of researching – relating – creating

Nikos Bubaris and Ismini Gatou

Recommended citation: Bubaris, N. and Gatou, I. (2021). ‘Geolocating beyond coordinates: spatial stories of researching – relating – creating’, entanglements, 4(1): 126-144

Abstract

In this article, we argue that geolocation is the key element in creating, experiencing and performing locative mediaworks. Based on a locative media workshop we conducted, the article traces the forms and phases of geolocating involved in making an audio walk app, from the generation of content to the performative experiences of users in the field. Location-awareness is shown to be a shifting, generative and multiplicative process of interfacing embodied knowledge, technological affordances and environmental phenomena, instrumental in blurring the boundaries between research, theory and creation.

Keywords: locative media, research-creation, audio walks, sensory ethnography, cross-rhythmical spatiality  

Introduction

In this article, we examine geolocation in audio walks as a creative technique for reconfiguring relations between people, technologies and the environment. Audio walks involve listener-walkers who, with the use of portable audio media, hear (about) places while they are in situ. Geolocating, namely the assigning of audio content to a given place, is achieved through the use of location-aware technologies in the context of audio walk apps. In the case of GPS, for example, geolocating involves the association of an audio file with an area drawn on a map with software. Given that the coordinates of the user’s physical position are identified by the GPS within the mapped area, the file can subsequently be played back on a mobile device. In our analysis, we extend the definition of geolocation in two ways: first, the technical function of geolocating is enriched with temporal, spatial and modal dimensions of producing an audio walk (recording, editing, mapping, playback); secondly, as a result, geolocating becomes a fluctuating process of interrelating human, technical and environmental agents throughout all phases of creating an audio walk.

“Geolocating beyond coordinates” derives from our experience in combining multimodal media (audio, video, multimedia) with walking projects and, particularly, from the understanding that emerged during ‘data-walks,’ the locative media workshop that we organised at the Data-Stories: New Media Aesthetics and Rhetorics for Critical Digital Ethnography Confestival held in Volos, Greece (31/5–2/6/2019). Some weeks before Data-Stories, an open call was published on the event’s Facebook page in order to invite people with a specific interest in the workshop’s theme to apply to participate. Out of many applicants, the final working group was constituted by a diverse, interdisciplinary cohort of eleven people from various academic, artistic, and professional fields: cultural studies, art history, curating, social anthropology, visual studies, cinema and documentary, archaeology, gender studies, cultural technology and cultural management. The workshop consisted of three parts. In the first part, we listened, made and recorded sounds improvising on creative practices that enabled us to affect (and become affected by) what was happening around us, mentally and sensorially, while walking in the field. In the second part, we collectively listened, discussed and edited our sonic data in the studio, creating a reflexive sonic cartography. Finally, we invited people to install the completed audio walk app on their mobile devices and walk in the same area to (re)experience the audio content any time they liked.

During the three-day ‘data-walks’ workshop, creating a geolocated audio walk would provide an occasion to collectively research and develop a relational approach with(in) the city. In what follows, we reflect on this ‘workshop process’ as a way of traversing technical, physical and cultural spaces and generating spatial data co-shaped by creators and users alike. At the same time, we speculate on the multiple shifts mobile digital media could bring to narrativity within research, especially when the locative narrative is combined with an affective and multimodal way of relating to our environments (physical/digital) and to others (human/non-human). Finally, our research resonates with other similar projects (Saunders and Moles, 2016; Steindorf, 2017) that propose audio walking as a critical and creative practice in ethnographic research, particularly when working with team-building techniques, small focus groups, communities and other kinds of collectives. Specifically, we propose that ‘data-walks’ can be used as a methodological tool both for keeping ethnographic notes (the field experience) and for sharing them with others within a bodily, experiential and affective context encompassing vocalized narratives and multisensorial modalities (the locative experience). 

‘data-walks’: a ‘research-creation’ approach 

In ‘data-walks’, we delved into the experiential dynamics of making an audio walk by addressing issues of place-making, intersubjectivity and technicity. Practices of place-making include a wide array of interactions between people and locations, which aim to turn abstract space into meaningful place (Tuan, 1977) and, conversely, turn stable images about a place into a flux of intersecting movements re-inhabiting it (de Certeau, 1984). As cultural geographer Angharad Saunders and cultural sociologist Kate Moles (2016) point out in the context of their work on community-produced walks in Cardiff, audio walks create possibilities for place-making by multiplying lifelines, sounds and mental wanderings moving in and out of specific locations. Intersubjectivity in audio walks involves contingent encounters in which users become aware of their spatial presence via the presence of others. As a result, audio walks have recurrently opened the way to foreground personal and social voices normally masked, silenced and not-yet uttered (Steindorf, 2017). Furthermore, the “other” does not only refer to the physical or mediated presence of human subjects but also includes organic, environmental and technical agents. Place-making and intersubjectivity are decisively modulated by the technicity of the media used in creating and experiencing audio walks. Drawing on French philosopher Bernard Stiegler (2009), we define technicity as the capacity of technology to provide orientation in time by relating memory to anticipation (see also Ash, 2011). When editing a sound in the context of making an audio walk, for example, the creator draws upon the past experience of recording the sound in the field and, at the same time, visualises the sound as part of the audio walk application to be re-experienced in the field.  

In ‘data-walks’, we materialized practices of place-making, intersubjectivity and technicity by adopting a multimodal approach to doing research, focused not only on the different sensory modalities that might be engaged in our creative practice (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch), but also on the multiple interconnections and emplaced interrelations between them (Pink, 2009). The process of geolocating in ‘data-walks’ (i.e. walking, recording, editing, mapping) not only aimed to “entangle” sensory studies, design ethnography and media theories regarding media walks, but also blurred their boundaries through a ‘research-creation’ perspective (Truman and Shannon, 2018).

‘Research-creation’ can be defined as the complex intersection between research, theory and art, seen through what cultural theorists and philosophers Erin Manning and Brian Massumi call a “mutual interpenetration of processes” (2014, p.89). Unlike in ‘arts-based research’ methods, where the artistic media are used as ways of disseminating or representing the qualitative research material, the creative process in ‘research-creation’ is the research and the theory (Truman, 2016, p.138). This also resonates with new media theorist Jussi Parikka’s observation that “in addition to the realisation that theory should be seen as a situated practice, we can also consider practice as theory” (2011, p.34). Thus, the practice of research in ‘data-walks’  was not only accomplished through the serial procedure of collecting, analysing and representing data, but was also generated through the collective actions of the participants at each stage of the workshop (Truman and Shannon, 2018).

‘Research-creation’ practices helped us expand concepts of “land and geos, affect, transmateriality, and movement” (Clough and Calderaro, 2018, p.xii) by urging participants and users to develop “a reconfigured relationship of the body in space, as mediated by the mobile technology” (Rueb, 2014, p.243). Following this approach, the workshop was not experienced as a linear process directed towards a defined end, but as a research methodology in which each moment was generative and, at the same time, part of an emergent flow of interrelated events. This form of doing research and theory was particularly important to the core practice we performed in the workshop, namely the practices of relating to each other and the environment through audio walking. 

The continuous research-creation of geospatial data is the common thread that ran through all phases of the workshop. Geospatial data do not (pre)exist, waiting to be gathered from somewhere “out there.” Rather, they are the dynamic outcome of our tempo-spatial interactions with our surroundings. Spatial data are events that make us (re)experience time and space. In this sense, the narrative form of the ‘data-walks’ project was location-generated, distinguished from other locative narratives that bring in “external” storytelling forms like games, spatial annotation, tourist routes and travelogues. Locatedness was orchestrated through the relational practice of walking. As cultural theorist, political philosopher and practicing artist Erin Manning writes in her book Relationscapes, “from walking to relational movement is not a big distance, but the term ‘relational’ refers more to a ‘walking-with practice.’” She adds that “walking-with is more than taking a step, it is creating a movement”, thus “a relational movement means moving a relation” (Manning, 2009, p.30). In ‘data-walks’, we proposed that participants develop three embodied modes of relational movements while walking: to diffuse, by sensing ambient elements of the environment such as light, soundscape, streetline, rain, etc.; to delineate their regions of interactions by directing their perception toward specific elements of the environment, stopping and talking to passers-by, etc.; and to externalize “inner” feelings generated by the above relationalities, in real-time, by recording their voice and taking “voice-notes.” “Voice-notes” is a creative methodology that situates “the ‘walking-voice’ within a more intimate process of keeping—and audio recording—one’s own voice, while walking-alone in the field” (Gatou, 2020, p.64).

The walking area of the project included the courtyard of the Tsalapata Museum in Volos where the Data-Stories Confestival took place, the surrounding parking lot and the neighborhood located close to the remains of an old Byzantine wall. The significance of this choice of space lies in the fact that it actually linked three different sites: the venue of the confestival, an archaeological site and a residential area, functioning as an interconnecting zone in-between them. This area is also characterized by inspiring alternations between built and green areas, even and uphill surfaces and various social uses of space. Moreover, the selection of this specific urban space as our “field” was intended to provoke a re-thinking of the notion of the “field” in research (both the field-as-space and the research-field). In ‘research-creation,’ the aim is to draw attention to the conjunctive dash between ‘research’ and ‘creation’ and, thus, to all the frictions, entanglements and (in)tensions with the world (human and non-human) generated in the process (Clough and Calderaro, 2018, p.xiii). From this perspective, the (ethnographic) research field is also considered as a differential process through which bodies ‘field’ the environment. Fielding through moving bodies, in these terms, is not an activity taking place at a site, but an ongoing multiplicity of positionings in movement (Arakawa and Gins, 2002, cited in McCormack, 2008, p.10).

In ‘data-walks’, the above practices of relating were critically formed and transformed via the affordances of the various audio media we employed. During recording in the field, we used mobile audio devices (Zoom, Tascam) with their built-in microphones, and with plugged-in DIY contact (piezo) microphones. The former capture sonic vibrations travelling in the air, while the latter capture vibrations of solid materials (like metal, wood) caused by environmental phenomena or by the participants themselves. The portable and embodied features of these audio media enhanced movement of human subjects in the world: contact mics, for instance, augmented our haptic relationalities with the materialities of the environment, rendering audible vibrations of which we would not otherwise be aware. 

Figure 1. Interacting sonically with a traffic sign after first attaching a DIY contact mic. Credit: Nikos Bubaris.

This process was further extended in the studio, as the multichannel editing software Reaper informed our shared listening experience. During the studio phase, we spent time listening to the field recordings, comparing, discussing, laughing and, at the same time, critically reflecting on our position in relation to the space, to each other as a group and to the other people we had met in public space. This open and dynamic process of re-thinking, selecting and re-arranging the sonic material was constituted anthropo-technologically through, for example, analytical listening. Analytical listening is defined by the technical feature of repeatedly playing back the same sound (Truax, 1984, p.147–151), which helped us to make decisions regarding the possible selection of sounds and the subsequent technique of editing them.

Figure 2. Participants collectively listen to and edit their sound recordings at the University of Thessaly’s computer lab. Credit: Ismini Gatou.

Finally, to create our GPS-triggered interactive audio walk, we used the online platform Echoes, which provided various tools enabling us, for instance, to customize the size and shapes of the geolocating audio (e.g. circles, parallelograms, polygonal and multi-sided shapes). This feature, in turn, allowed us to experiment with practices of mapping that combine elements of physical space with sound events within the GPS-triggered locations of the mobile application (see Figure 3).

Mapping for geolocation

Geographical maps have been widely criticized for establishing a vertical ‘view from above’, a distanced gaze that turns space into a representational image shaped by hegemonic discourses, such as objectivism and colonialism (Dorling and Fairbairn, 1997; Harley, 1998; Farman, 2012, p.45–46). The introduction of digital interactivity to mapping potentially interpolates fragments of a missing horizontality—of our co-existence in space—as well as other occluded spatial, sensorial and affective dimensions. As sound theorist and artist Angus Carlyle points out, when online interactive maps are “re-assembled for a sonic geography, something strange can happen […], the apparently inherent abstractions of the ‘view from above’ can be partially disrupted, the drifting eye-ball can find itself a body” (Carlyle, 2014, p.142–143). In this paper, we elaborate on Carlyle’s assertion by arguing that mapping areas for retrieving audio files through the use of GPS in audio walks (in one word: geolocating), rather than being aligned with a distanced ‘gaze from above’, are inextricably bound to the experience of our moving bodies in space and to the experience that was produced out of this movement. Moreover, since our final project is a mobile app that functions only in the field, geolocating is more than a freezing of our prior in situ actions and experiences in a representational space; it stimulates users to re-experience the same place by integrating audio content to the present location and to their emergent feelings, thus constantly and dynamically generating a multiplicity of new [data] “stories” created through each performative interaction with the mobile app. 

Following this line of thought, the practice of collaborative marking of areas for geolocation in space did more than define the latitude and longitude coordinates of our location. Within the proposed research-creative framework of ‘data-walks’, we argue that geolocation constitutes an assemblage of sonic events, acoustic experiences and sound-making practices; technological affordances of recording, editing and mapping; features and structures of the physical and built environment; storytelling techniques and methodological tools; and, finally, all the sensorial interactions, bodily movements and rhythms enacted in a given space. All these elements of geolocation have been accumulated not only throughout the workshop, but also afterwards: that is, every time someone experiences the locative audio walk application. This multiplicity of time, space and bodies in geolocating unfolds an open dynamic process that we address in the rest of the paper with reference to a) the production of the geolocated areas within the workshop process and b) their locative storytelling function with regard to content, space and time.

The sonic cartography of ‘data-walks’

The sonic cartography of the locative app of ‘data-walks’ ultimately consisted of thirteen geolocated areas covering the walking space of the project (see Figure 3). These areas are either found side-by-side or, in many cases, one envelops other(s) by overlapping or traversing them. An audio file was attached to each area, and each audio file was composed of many different sonic events that were previously recorded in the area. The selection of the field recordings and the subsequent editing of the audio files were made collectively during the second part of the workshop in the University of Thessaly computer lab. In this section, we will briefly present the geolocated areas in relation to their audio content and the approach we adopted during the workshop. Far from reproducing the distinction between form and content, in this paper, we consider “content” as the dynamic outcome of the interactions between participants and the environment, informed by the research approach adopted by participants. The geolocated areas are presented here as separate entities for analytical purposes only; they were actually grouped into broader acoustic zones, based on content, space and time, as we will elaborate below.

Figure 3. The 13 geolocated areas of ‘data-walks’. Screenshot from locative app οn the Echoes.xyz platform.

Geolocated area no. 1 covers the area of the museum’s complex and on a sonic plane features the ambient sounds of birds, distant human voices and footsteps. It also acts as a cohesive audio background or container for areas no.2–5 with their corresponding sounds. Oblong area no. 2 features the sound of the pulling of a suitcase, which is co-produced by the materiality of the moving object, the pattern of the paved courtyard and the rush of the conference participant who has just arrived. 

Polygonal area no. 3 contains various short sounds produced with the attachment of the contact microphones to metallic surfaces, materials and exhibits in the courtyard of the museum. In the beginning of the sound piece, we hear a voice saying: “I am testing the recorder; I am testing the recorder…”. This is Christina, in charge of the operation of the Laboratory of Social Anthropology at the University of Thessaly, preparing the equipment for us before we even arrived in Volos. This editing intervention was made here as a way to incorporate the multiple stages of a research-workshop process in a more transparent way.

Small circular shape no. 4 is placed in the entrance of the museum, where the automated teller machine (ATM) is located. At the beginning of the audio file, participants discuss how they will operate the machine using contact mics and later we listen to the resultant (typical and nonsensical) sounds of interacting with the ATM.

Audio 1. Yard.
Audio 2. ATM.

All three areas above (no.2–4) include sonic events that were mainly produced by the ways participants experimented with the technical potentialities and limitations of contact mics. 

The long rectangular shape no. 5 is placed in the parking lot outside the museum, towards the street. The audio file contains personal vocal notes and discussions among the participants, like Yiannis listing the things around him and Maria and Pafsanias questioning whether the remnants of the opposite Byzantine wall fits “naturally” into the hill.

Similar to geolocated area no. 1, which includes all recorded interactions between participants and materials in the museum’s complex, area no. 13 contains other smaller areas (no.7–12) that sonify the various ways participants responded to their encounters while walking in the nearby neighborhood. These two biggest areas, no. 1 and no. 13, are bridged with the long no. 6 that follows the shape of the meandering road. In this area, we pass from the eerie sounds of the contact mics to a soundscape of movement in which recorders become transparent tools that capture “without distortion” sounds of footsteps on dry leaves and the passing of bicycles, motorbikes and cars.

Like geolocated area no. 1, area no. 13 functions as a sonic background for the various events that occurred in the neighborhood next to the museum, such as the sound of raindrops falling on various surfaces, played in a loop. Τhe actual rain was a totally unexpected physical event (at least for that day’s weather forecast), which affected the “eventuality” of acting both in the field and in the studio: on the one hand, it impelled us to speed up what we were doing outdoors in order to protect our audio equipment and, on the other hand, it provided us with a sound element of acoustic and spatial continuity that we curatorially turned into a specific ‘atmosphere’ of the audio walk, encompassing all the other geolocated areas within the neighborhood.

The circular area no. 7 comprises the park next to the street. Together with the sounds of nature, we hear participants talking, like Marianna who gives her position coordinates in terms of the surrounding landmarks (“outside the Tsalapata Museum”) and shares her activity at the moment “blowing on a dandelion flower.” We also hear a woman who resides in the area, talking to Maria, another participant. Some of these sound events are also audible in the areas no. 8 and no. 11, respectively. The placement of the same sound events in different areas reveal how the diffuse character of acoustic space potentially informs a nexus of interconnected spatialities and overlapping temporalities in ‘data-walks’. In the long polygonal four-sided shape no. 8, we hear Eftychia, who keeps “voice-notes,” describing what is happening around her and how she moves in space, watching a man smoking a cigarette in the park, listening to the bell, etc. Eftychia’s intense activity of producing “voice-notes” resonates with her feedback on the workshop’s experience and her commenting on “voice-notes” as “another way of keeping ethnographic notes in the field.” This approach gives us another perspective on the act of keeping (e-)fieldnotes, as a practice that de-centres the ethnographer as a key agent of the production of anthropological knowledge; the ‘voice-note’ practice suggests that this knowledge is constantly co-produced as an encounter, constructed through different forms of interactions and mediated in and through digital interfaces and technology (Horst, 2016, p.162–163). Similarly, another participant, Pafsanias, smokes in the park (this is the man Eftychia was describing) and contemplates how “the smell of the rain in the summer can activate memories from other places and times, something that might bring you closer to an unfamiliar place like this one.” 

Video 1. Park.

The other geolocated areas contained in area no. 13 are placed in the heart of the neighborhood. In the audio content of these areas, the predominant social character of the built environment is connected with the thoughts, memories and free associations of the participants, activated by their mind, body and senses in situ. In this way, the ‘external’ world of the residential area is mixed with the ‘internal’ world of the participants. In the circular area no. 9, for instance, Eftychia continues keeping voice-notes, describing distant objects in her line of sight. This double-sided perspective of the ‘outside’ (the world) and the ‘inside’ (the subject) was also highlighted by Eftychia in our discussions after the workshop, as a way of “re-connecting with the field on multiple levels.” We can also hear another participant, Maria, saying in a low voice: “Should we stop it and record it again?”, bringing to light the fact that the field-recording’s politics of editing, selecting and curating the research material operates from the very first moment of being in the field.

Video 2. Church.

The long polygon no. 10 transverses a complex of streets. Outside the local bakery, Mariana converses with a man who has come from far away to enjoy the unique taste of the cheese pie that has just been baked. A few meters away, Justine keeps voice-notes as she follows cats, stops to take a photo, and reads the street names. Justine’s voice-notes combined the ‘descriptive’ approach (of what is happening around her) with an ‘affective’ one (a nexus of thoughts, memories, feelings and emotions) in relation to her presence in this specific space (she has the impression that she has been here before). Justine’s impressions resonate with what Pafsanias said in area no. 8 about the interconnections between space, memory and the senses.

Video 3. Bakery.

In areas no. 10 and no. 11, audio content concerns the “external” social aspects of space, as the participants of the workshop prefer to socialize and speak with residents of the neighborhood whom they encounter. Indicatively, an old woman informs Maria that this place has been historically inhabited by financially-disadvantaged families and nowadays it is “left like this” because the Archaeological Service does not allow them to build new houses so close to the existing archaeological site. Justine meets an old man, a native of the nearby city of Farsala who moved to this area when he got married to a local woman. In return, the old man asks her questions about her reason for being there, and the aims of the workshop and conference we are attending.

Video 4. Conversations.

In the remainder of the paper, we discuss how practices of place-making, intersubjectivity and technicity inform the process of geolocation in ‘data-walks’. How are geolocated areas formed within the given context and what new productions of self, space and experience are triggered through this process? We elaborate on geolocation as a mode of interfacing human, technical and environmental agents with reference to issues of audio content, space and time, which emerged during the three phases of the workshop, i.e. a) recording in the field, b) editing and mapping sounds in the lab and c) listening to the audio walk application while walking back in the field. 

Content as the outcome of generative mediation

Examining the multiple interactions out of which geolocated areas and audio content occur, we recognize mediation as key for relating participants to each other and to the environment. In ‘data-walks’, we consider mediation not as an intermediate process connecting two pre-formed entities, but as the “process, action, or event that generates or provides the conditions for the emergence of subjects and objects” (Grusin, 2015, p.129). A notable case of this involves the use of contact microphones in the courtyard of Tsalapata Museum. Contact mics induce certain bodily gestures towards objects (i.e. knocking and rubbing surfaces) in order to render audible material features of space. Furthermore, the short duration of these sounds, followed by a short pause of evaluative listening, create a sensorial rhythmical pattern of the participants’ exploratory intentionality toward the objects. Notably, this haptic mode of sound-making runs counter to the predominant sensorial politics of ‘don’t touch’ in museums, offering the chance of ‘getting to know’ the place in a different way. Another generative moment of using contact mics was developed by Nuri, who attached them to her skin while walking in space. Her intention was to use this audio-embodiment technology to “animate the mutenesses of the public realm” and, through that enactment, to address the “impossibilities of narration in public space, exploring issues of (non)visibility/audibility/mobility in it and its non-normative potentialities.

Audio 3. Contact.

“Voice-notes” proved to be another mode of mediation that favored the generation of content through improvisation. The ‘walking-voice’ seen as an “important linking element between the narrativity of speech and the embodied experience of walking” (Gatou, 2020, p.65), heightens an affective openness to the environment and, at the same time, a contemplative articulation on this relationality, coloured by a subtle “loneliness.” In this way, audio recordings serve as a motive and an excuse for participants to walk-and-talk / talk-and-walk alone in public space, which potentially turns audio media into a creative methodological tool for ethnographic research.Another way of producing a relational approach to the locative content was through the event. Through events, a series of interactions are interlinked in a perceptually meaningful unity while participants explore their surroundings and experiment with their bodies and audio media, in order to produce the primary content of the mobile application. In ‘data-walks’ we experienced both staged and random events. While the rain was an unexpected occurrence, the suitcase rolling in the museum’s courtyard was collaboratively staged as a warming-up and bonding game by participants who were just getting acquainted with recordings and with each other. The direction and the duration of events become significant factors shaping the geolocated areas. For example, the suitcase rolling resulted in a long and narrow parallelogram (area no. 2 in Figure 3), while the localized interactions with the automated teller machine formed a small circle (area no. 4 in Figure 3).

Figure 4. Participants “staging” the sonic event of a suitcase rolling on the ground to record it. Credit: Ismini Gatou.

The produced mass of information is another factor that determines both the shape and the content of the geolocated area. The produced mass of information is indexical to the affective connections between humans and place, conditioned by the technological medium. A characteristic case in which the mass of information was quite dense was in the neighborhood near the museum. The pervasive social character of the place induced participants to interact with residents and, in turn, to heighten participants’ perception of the non-human elements of the area (like streets, houses, pets, the weather). The resultant dense mass of information, both on a quantitative and qualitative level, provided fertile ground not only for furthering the number and the shape of the geolocated areas in conjunction with the duration of their audio content, but also for re-experiencing the particular area during the third phase of the project (i.e. when participants and other users walk-with the mobile application again in the field later on). 

Mixing spatialities

Our second analytical category concerns the role of space and particularly how the participants of the workshop and the users of the audio walk relate to, and with, it. Notably, during the second phase of interconnecting audio files and geolocated areas, participants developed reflexivity regarding the grouping of their spatial interactions and experiences with the existing zonal forms of the urban grid. In the cases of the museum’s courtyard, the parking lot, the street and the park, for example, the spatialization of audio content is enclosed within the boundaries of these areas as they are marked on the Echoes map. However, if the drawing of several geolocated areas of the audio walk application conforms to “objectively” represented areas of the map, the spatial interactions of the participants and the resulting audio content often departed from the semantic and discursive relations that normally prevail within these areas. ‘Data-walks’ heightened participants’/users’ perceptions of space, while simultaneously leading them to question the fixed “borders” of the socially-defined spaces in which they walk (the museum, the neighborhood, the ancient site, the natural environment). As we discussed above, the haptic interactions of the participants with the exhibits in the museum’s courtyard prompted them to problematize the hegemonic bodily discourses promoted by other mobile apps, like audio guides, which normally place visitors opposite the exhibits whilst transmitting logocentric interpretations about the value of cultural heritage monuments. 

The complementarity of the objective “representations of space” with the performative “spaces of representation” (Lefebvre, 1991) in ‘data-walks’ highlights the key practice of mixing spatialities, whether they be physical, cultural, conceptual or sensorial. As Eftychia noted, the workshop process was “kind of a re-connection with the field, as this spatial experience enables you to be more contemplative on the social, the spatial, the physical and the cultural level simultaneously.” Another participant, Justine, underlined the blurring of ‘internal-external’ relationality developed during the workshop, noting that “although it was a process that at first seemed to capture the ‘outside’, it turned out capturing the ‘inside’, making you ask yourself why had you noticed that thing or the other.” In audio walks, mixing spatialities is not only enhanced by media but also is grounded in the practice of walking, enabling the synergy of the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’, nature and culture, body and mind (Solnit, 2001; Gros, 2014).

Proximity and directionality are two significant spatial properties that define embodied experiences and the related creative practices of ‘data-walks’ participants. Proximity refers to the relative distance of external stimuli that participants sense and pay attention to. In ‘data-walks’, proximity was shifting between “narrowing down” to a point (as in the case of interacting with the ATM) and “extending” the limits of the human perceptual field (as in the case of Eftychia commenting on a high town clock mounted at a very far distance, listen to Video 2 above). The inclusion of the latter in the audio content of the application extends the spatial experience of geolocated areas as users can sense spatial entities that extend well beyond their geolocated position. Another case demonstrating how spatial entities and events elude accurate and fixed boundaries in space concerns ubiquitous events such as rain, bird song and wind. In ‘data-walks’, such events served, on the one hand, to demarcate sonically and spatially the two main geolocated areas of the museum’s courtyard and of the neighborhood and, on the other, to foreground several sonic events within these areas.

Another case in which geolocation does not conform to a single, fixed location regards the positioning of a single event in multiple geolocated areas as a result of the collaborative framework of our research project. During field recordings, different participants captured the same event (e.g. the sound of the church bell, the sight of a person smoking) from different perspectives, placing it in the geolocated area in which they perceived it. The resultant multi-positionality of the same event might deviate from the established design principle of avoiding redundancy. However, in ‘data-walks’ this duplication captures and re-produces the importance of situatedness in experiencing physical and social space, which resonates with what Donna Haraway (1998) has termed ‘situated knowledge’. Moreover, the dispersion of the same event in the different geolocated areas of the ‘data-walks’ application turns the phenomenon’s original simultaneity in space into spatial variations encountered in time while someone walks-with the application back in the area. This technique of mixing spatialities thus brings us to the final issue of temporality.

Cross-rhythmical spatiality 

Despite their emphasis on space and place-making, creative practices of making locative media (could) promote a playful synthesis of space with time (Speed, 2011). In this sense, ‘data-walks’ is a site-specific as much as a time-specific project. In ‘data-walks’, temporality does not refer to slices of time experienced in particular locations, but to the mixing of different flows of spatial events initiated throughout the workshop process and still at play in new ways. These flows are enabled by audio media in conjunction with walking and mainly concern a) the movements of the participants in the field while producing spatial data, b) the duration of the audio files in relation to the sonic cartography of the application and c) the experience of the audio walk application while walking in the area.

Primary spatial data occur in the field through the kinaesthetic performances of the participants. While listening, making sounds and recording in the field, participants sometimes were accelerating their pace in certain directions and other times stopping for a while to interact with an object at hand. These changes in walking pace develop an affective temporal cartography of space based on the embodied modalities of tempo, range and vector (Bubaris, 2017). In ‘data-walks’, the spatial experience of the participants in the field are created through, and determine, the changes in their movement; participants zigzagged to explore the museum’s courtyard, accelerated their pace on the pavement embodying the transient function of the street and wandered through the neighborhood being open to encounters with residents or passers-by. 

Later in the studio, editing the audio content in conjunction with shaping the geolocated areas was informed by the embodied temporality of walking in the field while at the same time creating a new temporal condition for experiencing the audio walk application. The temporal properties of the audio files (i.e.duration, rhythm and density) were formed by various factors such as the semantic value of spatial data, their varying tempo-spatial plasticity, storytelling principles, and the technical properties of the geolocating software. Editing the sounds of raindrops is a case in point. For participants, rain was a memorable experience of the distinct agency of the environment, which initially transformed their sensorial experience of the place and later marked the end of their activities in the field. In contrast to other location-specific sound events, the pervasiveness of rain enabled participants to mold it to cover the entire area of the neighborhood. This practice of geolocating rain both marked the two main areas of the audio walk and provided a sense of narrative continuity of all the events that happened within the neighborhood. The extended geolocated area of rain was combined with a favorite technique of programming: the loop (that is, the repeated execution of a short audio file, which makes an application lighter and operate faster).

During the use of the audio walk application back in the field, the embodied temporality of performing the initial recordings and the playback of audio files attached to the app’s geolocated areas were further mixed with the social and natural rhythms of the area and the walking pace and experience of the user. The cross-rhythmical relationship of these four flows of events act together to form an extended mixed reality of physical, mediated and imaginary events that are generated, compared, extended, transformed, synchronized and de-synchronized in relation to each other. Amid this multilayered and changing environment, users who performed the audio walking, either just after the completion of the workshop or in the following months, have often mentioned to us occasional coincidences and fluidity, rather than fixed location-specificity of the mediated events to physical coordinates. They particularly pay attention to the mediated events that were still present (e.g. the sound of the flag poles outside the museum) or non-present (the cheese-pie of the bakery), changed (residents perform other routines than the recorded, or are absent) or complementary (children now play in the park). Cross-rhythmical spatiality makes users aware of the differentiated temporal attributes of the spatial elements. This experience is continually re-created every time someone performs the audio walking. In this sense, ‘data-walks’ has a detectable beginning with no end. 

Closing remarks

Ιn this paper, we consider geolocation as a generative and multiplicative process of relating humans, technologies and the environment. As we demonstrated through the ‘data-walks’ locative media workshop, using locative software to demark lines on a map can do much more than correlate a fixed background of coordinates to users’ positions in physical space, triggering assigned audio files. Τhe shapes of the geolocated areas in ‘data-walks’ came-from and refer-to the multiple connections and interrelations that occurred during the workshop and could potentially emerge in the future with the use of the audio walk app. In this sense, geolocation forms, and is formed by, the kinaesthetic movement of researchers and users, the temporal structure of the audio files of the app, and the social and natural rhythms of the area. Geolocation brings these processes together without affecting the distinct temporal features of their flow. This synchronizing/de-synchronizing feature of geolocation generates a unique cross-rhythmical “story” every time someone performs the audio walk app on location. 

Moreover, in ‘data-walks’ we explored the various ways research discourse is produced. Rather than hinging on “a single ethnographer as the centre of the encounter” (Horst, 2016, p.162), we provided multiple viewpoints at once, drifting and reflecting on the conditions that make an encounter. Instead of conducting conversations more resembling sedentary “interviews,” we engaged in short interchanges with passers-by about things happening at that moment, in that location. Furthermore, we “used” our ‘haptic-interactions’ and our ‘walking-voices’ as creative mediums for exploring various forms of presence/absence and visibility/invisibility in public space. The creative methodology of ‘data-walks’ urges participants to co-produce research material by bringing the sensorial, the intimate and the affective into dialogue with the cognitive and the discursive. This blurring of boundaries between research, theory and creation could potentially have meaningful applications in engaging with different communities in various contexts and fields, opening up new ways of doing research-with.

Acknowledgements

We would like to mention and deeply thank all ‘data-walks’ participants for their collaboration, co-creation and insightful comments during and after the workshop process: Justine Arvanitis, Vicky Birou, Nuri Diakaki, Dora Intzirtzi, Eva Kaltsogianni, Pafsanias Karathanasis, Yannis Koukmas, Katerina Markoulaki, Eftychia Vardouli, Mariana Ziku and Maria Zoumaki.

Also, we warmly thank all members of the ‘Data-Stories’ organizational committee—Penelope Papailias, Petros Petridis, Constantinos Diamantis, Eleni Tsatsaroni and Nikos Paschoulis—for making the Data-Stories Confestival happen, as well as for their kind invitation and support to create ‘data-walks’. To Penelope Papailias, in particular, we extend special thanks for her valuable comments on earlier versions of this paper. We would also like to express our gratitude to Christina Mitsopoulou, administrator of the Laboratory of Social Anthropology of the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, for her help and support—whenever needed—during the workshop. Finally, we are grateful to Josh Kopeček for the support on Echoes.xyz, Christiana Chiranagnostaki for the editing and subtitling of the embedded videos and Ellie Walton for her copyediting of the text.    

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Nikos Bubaris is Assistant Professor at the Department of Cultural Technology and Communication of the University of the Aegean. His research interests lie at the intersection of media studies, cultural theory and sound studies. His research-creative work includes walking projects, on-screen multimedia applications, soundscape compositions and installations for public actions, performances and exhibitions. He has published on media walks and mobile media, sonic cultures, sound design and art, digital content, user-interface and interaction design. 

Web: https://aegean.academia.edu/NikosBubaris

ORCiD: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7642-7057

Ismini Gatou is a PhD candidate at the Cultural Technology and Communication Department of the University of the Aegean (Greek State Scholarship Foundation Fellowship). Her fieldwork is centered on the America Square neighborhood in Athens. She has a M.Sc. in Cultural Informatics (University of the Aegean, 2015), an MA in Media and Culture (Panteion University, 2009) and a a B.A. in Communicationand Media (University of Athens, 2005). Her research interests focus on media studies, locative media, cultural theory, sound studies, walking studies, anthropology of space, sensory and multimodal ethnography.

Facebook: @ismini gatou