Week 1: Dream Review

From a super important writer at the New Yorker or NYTimes...

Scott Reitherman’s new project _____ plunges participants into an aural experience of New York City in ways that charge the stories with a spatially dynamic liveliness. Building on traditions of psychogeographic derivés, sound walks, and historical neighborhood tours, Reitherman’s project transforms the pedestrian experience into anything but that.

We are accompanied through an aimless stroll of the city with Reitherman as our ghostly narrator, who - through the use of binaural audio recordings - appears at times to walk beside or in front of us, telling us stories of the characters behind the local businesses as we pass them or reading pieces from the New York Times of location specific relevance.

We are prompted to consider classic themes of urban life like voyeurism and loneliness and alter how we perceive our own exteriority within public space via a variety of playful interventions (e.g., “For the next 30 seconds, pretend you are a spy”).

Furthermore, the noise of the street is passed through our headphone mic and spun out in real time to our ears as music, constrained to different keys or moods depending on which zone of the city you’re in. On Houston and Broadway I felt the musical backdrop change to a chaotic, anxious minor chord, yet when I wandered into Central Park I felt the generative score melt into a placid and calming backdrop.  Best of all, your experience is guaranteed to differ: particularly depending on time of day, location, and random sonic chance (e.g., car horns, ambulance sirens, people yelling at each other).

These provocative and hi-fidelity aural interventions are impactful, and we are left never quite knowing what is real and what is prerecorded sound. The pacing of our guide’s footsteps subtly pace the experience, and conversations pass by your head that may or may not belong to the humans on the street with you. I found my attention drawn towards other observations as well when I removed the headphones. For example, I’ve never been made to consider just how loud and noise polluted this city is until I took this walk with Reitherman.

Along the way we move through cinematic scenes and stories - almost like an interactive podcast - and as we are encouraged to wander freely and without destination our personal acoustic adventure unfolds. The adventure lasts as long as you like, and if you want you can mute the narrator and just enjoy your personalized soundtrack.  If you want to feel more co-authorship, there's a map that indicates where to find new narrative easter eggs, subtly gamifying the walk in a way that suggests an acoustically focused spin on part of what made Pokemon GO such a success.

Yet crucially, I found myself mostly unconcerned with seeking out moments on the map; they always found me. The intimacy of this mixed reality experience is impactful: before long you are walking, breathing and wondering as one with Reitherman. It’s a simple and beautifully invasive trick he has cast that will delight fans of podcasts, ambient music, and augmented reality, in ways that are refreshingly focused not on the visual but the powerful immersive storytelling qualities of the aural.