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Pedestrian Symphonies Get People Together To Play Weird GPS-Controlled Music

“Playable cities” engage their citizens in fun, tactile, social activities, prompting people to look up from their phones and become part of a community again. We featured a few ideas for doing that here. And now comes another: “pedestrian symphonies” where groups of people walk together, playing music from GPS-enabled sound-boxes.

Circumstance, a British music group, orchestrates events where it hands out up to 30 mini-speakers. As groups of people walk about town, their phones trigger the devices to play music as they get to certain points. Each speaker plays its own instrument, creating a weird dislocated sound, with passages going off in different places.

“The sound of the piece is shaped by how each audience ensemble is grouping themselves,” says Duncan Speakman, director of the ensemble. “For example, if the group is all sticking close to each other, the sound is quite dense. Then, if there’s a straggler distancing themselves from the group, their instrument might come in as a distinct, but distant sound.” The music will be different each time as the groups will move at different speeds through the city, setting off the passages at different times.

The group’s latest “social composition” is called A Folded Path, which it’s currently touring around Europe. It hopes to come to the U.S. soon, though no dates are set yet.

Because the participants can affect the musical outcome, Speakman says the experience brings people together. “Mobile technology is brilliant at connecting us to remote people and places, but it simultaneously tends to distance us from our immediate surroundings. In this piece, we’re using them to create a shared listening space in the city,” he says.BS