Soon after the first COVID lockdown was imposed in March 2020, the two of us (August Black and Betsey Biggs) began conceptualizing and building a project that would help us to feel connected with the rest of the world at a time when we were isolated at home. We imagined an audiovisual portal that would allow us to submerge ourselves in landscapes other than our living rooms, providing a temporary escape hatch into a universe of sound and image that mirrors our own in fractured and uncanny ways. Using publicly available geo-tagged audio recordings and panoramic images as our raw material, we created an ongoing and ever-changing immersive transmission on the web.
We Are Here FM is a live broadcast created by software in real time, a constantly evolving landscape pairing geo-tagged audio recordings and panoramic images with quiet ambient music generated by the audio to create unnamed, hyperreal landscapes in which audio-visual pairings that have never coexisted acquire a veneer of the ‘real.’ No place names or context are offered, and geographical coordinates are randomly chosen every five minutes. Thus all landscapes are presented equally on their own terms, and participants must negotiate the space by using their own eyes, ears and imaginations, unaffected by any preconceptions context might give. By immersing participants in a realistic yet artificially created landscape made from sounds and images from the past to generate an experience where visitors must locate themselves — physically, emotionally, socially and politically — in a non-contextualized present landscape, our artwork slits an opening in the fabric of the ‘real,’ allowing for the imagining of possible, speculative future worlds.
To date, We Are Here FM has been primarily experienced by people visiting the website on their computers. While listeners might tune in individually, the transmission is synchronized; everyone sees and hears the same landscape at the same time. There is an intimacy to this engagement of the project; it lends itself well to a more ambient experience, where the imaginative act is implicit, personal and interior. We might imagine a web of narrative connecting all listeners.
We are also eager to install the project as a more immersive public or gallery installation with spatialized sound, to explore how participants might relate to one another in a shared space. Because the scenes are stripped of any informational context, visitors would negotiate the space together, co-creating a new, temporary world shared by all present. We believe that this socially engaged experience might act as a valuable means of connection, and we hope that these temporary landscapes might become collaborative sites for the imaginative co-creation of speculative fictions. We find the very act of (even unspoken) collaborative imagination to be powerful, particularly in an age of isolation.
We Are Here FM has an ambiguous relationship with narrative. On the one hand, participants are invited, if not compelled, to create meaning from discrete, unrelated media clips that are fused together only because of their shared geographical data and the code we’ve written. And then every five minutes — just as listeners might have become comfortable with the world they’ve created in their minds to make sense of what they’re seeing and hearing — the screen abruptly transitions to a new location, offering a reflexive reminder that we are looking at and listening to artificial media and not lived experience. This moment between landscapes is fraught with the collapse of narrative and time: we think back and reflect on what we just witnessed in the recent past; we continue listening to the generative ambient music which connects the two worlds and plants us in the present; and we anticipate the coming landscape of the future, wondering what it will be, how we will relate to it.
After experiencing this work for several months, we have come to believe that this collapse of narrative and time, which invites participants to engage in individual and collaborative acts of anticipatory imagination over and over again, is one of our project’s most powerful aspects; the cycle of creation and destruction and creation all over again. We hope you will enjoy creating new worlds with us.
We Are Here FM was made using free and open-source software such as React, Node.js, and the Janus WebRTC server.
collaborate on projects bringing together transmission practice, sound art and place. Their web-based installation, We Are Here FM creates haunting hyperreal audiovisual landscapes from geo-tagged audio and panoramic images,and their Front Yard Radio project (in progress), will create a network of hyper-local,user-friendly public radio stations.
UserRadio, Hear Here, and Mezcal. In the past, he’s been a member of arts organizations such as the ORF Kunstradio and the Ars Electronica Futurelab, as well as a former member of the engineering team at Cycling ‘74, makers of Max/MSP. He has shown works at festivals and venues such as Ars Electronica Festival, Dutch Electronic Arts Festival, Wave Farm, Transmediale, Pixelache, LA Freewaves, Piksel Festival, Polar Circuit and the Tasmanian Museum of Art, among others. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Critical Media Practices at the University of Colorado. august.blackis a hybrid practitioner of art, design and engineering. He makes experimental spatial and acoustic situations, often building his own technological artifacts and instruments in hardware and software. His current interests span the fields of the philosophy of technology, software studies, techno-politics, peer-to-peer networking and AI/machine learning. Starting in 2000, he has built a number of web-to-radio systems such as