Janet Cardiff Sound Art


Just a quick note on some material in this hard-to-find catalogue resume of Janet Cardiff‘s work.

It’s called Janet Cardiff: A Survey of Works, with George Bures Miller

Cardiff is well-known for her early-days “sound walks” where participants were given a Walkman or similar device to listen to as they walked about. Stories were told or experiences recounted in the audio track. The idea is simple, but from what I understand (never had the pleasure..) it was the story that made the experience engaging.

I first came across Cardiff’s work while doing sort of informal background research for the PDPal project where we were trying to understand interaction in the wild — away from desks and keyboard and all that.

What I find curious about her work is the way it augments reality before people even really thought about all this augmented reality stuff — but, it does not fetishize little tiny screens and orientation sensing and GPS and all that. It uses our earballs rather than our eyeballs — and somehow that makes it all much less fiddly. Although — if you look carefully at the bottom image you’ll see an image from a project in which one does use a screen — from a small DV camera which is playing a movie for you as you go along.

Janet Cardiff

Parenthetically, I think Cardiff had one of the best augmented reality projects with her telescopes. I’ve only seen this as documentation when I saw Cardiff talk in Berlin at Transmediale 08. There should be more documentation of this somewhere, but the effect was to look through the telescope and see a scene in a back alley that was the back alley — only with a suspicious set of activities being committed — perhaps a crime. The illusion was in the registration but the story was in the sequence of events that one saw, effectively the story. So much augmented reality augments nothing except coupons and crap like that. There is no compelling story in much augmented reality, but I don’t follow it closely so maybe things have changed.