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Urban Feedback London Tokyo, Tokyo Nomad by Giles Rollestone with Kathryn Best

'The city as we imagine, the soft city of illusion, myth, aspiration, nightmare is as real maybe worse than the real city we can locate on maps, statistics, monographs on urban sociology, demography and architecture.'
Jonathan Raban, Soft City [1]

'The city as a text, as signs and inscriptions by human beings in space, so that users, people moving through the city, can be seen as readers of poems...'
Roland Barthes, Semiotics and the City [2]

The contemporary city is a subtle fabric in which streams of information, the flows of different kinds of energies, are more important than the material fabric of the buildings. These streams are condensed in the city space; sometimes you can perceive these streams directly with your body. We breathe air, which is compressed with information. It's a specific reality of different information energies which is very different from the physical reality of the city. Toyo Ito [3]

Urban Feedback London Tokyo, Tokyo Nomad
'Urban Feedback London Tokyo, Tokyo Nomad' is a CD-ROM and web site inspired by the chaotic energy of Tokyo. The project captures and relays a sense of Tokyo through the relationship between time-based media and the subtleties of interaction. Based on journeys through the streets of Tokyo, the authors have created an abstract digital language that captures the beauty and discord of the urban experience. Sound, image and text are used to construct a series of free-form explorative 'spaces' that are like dreams played in fast forward; a seductive mantra for the media-savvy city-dweller.

'Urban Feedback London Tokyo, Tokyo Nomad' forms part of a continuing series of city based projects that reflect the fractured experience of the urban environment. Previous projects include the multi-award winning 'Urban Feedback' CD-ROM released on Neville Brody's Laboratory label in 1996.

'Tokyo Nomad' is a reactive environment which, over time, reveals ambient views and impressions of Tokyo; the city you inhabit, or Tokyo the city you dream of visiting.

'London Tokyo' is inspired by the chaotic energy of London and Tokyo. Fragments of media ranging from street sounds to texts and films are fused together forming a dynamic reactive collage.

Funded by Digitalogue, the Tokyo based new media publishing label, and exhibited internationally, the project has already received three international awards. Urban Feedback London Tokyo, Tokyo Nomad forms part of a continuing series of city-based projects that reflect the fractured experience of the urban environment.

The city as metaphor and inspiration
Each individual lives within their own perception of the city, which they consume and are are consumed by. Nothing is ever experienced in isolation, always in relation to its context, which includes the sequences of events over time leading up to it and the memory of past experiences. In different situations these sequences are reversed, cut and sometimes lost, sometimes abandoned.

We are at once drawn together and mutually divided by our subjective awareness of the same physical architecture. The softer architecture of perception is not as readily definable. It exists in the hyper-reality of the mind, a fiction built of eidetic flashes and fragmentary memories.

In developing the interface for the CD, the aim was to stay close to this perception of urban space. The limitations of the concrete need not apply in digital space. The work is an attempt to identify and develop a more sensitive language based on the subjective imaging of the visual landscapes we carry within us.

'Urban Feedback London Tokyo, Tokyo Nomad' is comprised of sampled and abstracted visual and aural elements which reflect this spatial and temporal mapping process. These are woven into the structure of the interface as visual cues which are scattered throughout the virtual environments within the project.

The work functions much as a scrapbook of random quotes, found sounds and glimpses of nostalgia which are 'authored' by the user as they interact with the work, much as an individual may wander through an actual street and derive significance from what others may not notice. The casual juxtaposition of word and image within an urban space can sometimes have tremendous poignancy for one individual where another passerby may be seduced by a different visual or aural incident within the same street.

The juxtaposition of image, sound and text acts as a filter that manipulates the user/audience response. This leads to the possibility of 'open' meaning which provokes the user/audience actively to consider and experience multiple interpretations of the piece's meaning, creating associated, subjective narratives of their own.

The journey as navigation

Within any urban environment there are those who wander like Baudelaire's flaneur and those who rush through spaces consumed with their specific task at hand. Some 'consumers' of the work have felt uneasy with the absence of specific rules and an obvious goal or reward based structure by which to navigate. Others have been inspired, and have understood the synthesis of subject and form. We believe the natural capacity of the medium to deliver a vision of a flickering, image-rich landscape and the added ability of the viewer to choose their own journey through the layered spaces lends a strong sense of connectivity which would be hard to emulate in any other media.

Choosing to represent a city as a structure made up of transient, fluid connections between people, places and situations offers an opportunity to explore the fundamental patterns and motivations behind city life. These could offer insights into how we might participate in networked (internet) based spaces and come to understand the relationships between ourselves and the world outside.

[1] Jonathan Rabin , Soft City, Collins Harvill, London, 1984, p10.
[2] Roland Barthes, 'Semiotics and the City', from Jan Brand and Hans Janslign, Het idee van de Staad, Arrnhem, 1983.
[3] From 'Avant Space - The Architectural Experiments of Toyo Ito'.

Published paper Cybersonica 2002, ICA, London

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© 2005 | Giles Rollestone