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Jason Sweeney Talks Stereopublic & The Creative Journey

Nov 26, 2013

As a successful recipient of two grants through the Creative Australia – New Art initiative, Jason Sweeney embarked on a mission to create an innovative participatory art project – a mobile platform for crowd-sourcing quiet spaces in the urban environment. Since its official launch at the 2013 Adelaide Festival, Stereopublic has taken the world (quietly) by storm, winning the TED City2.0 Prize and being launched onto an international stage. Owen Leong and Jason Sweeney discuss the creative journey of the project.

How would you best describe Stereopublic to someone experiencing it for the first time? 

JS: Stereopublic is a smartphone app and interactive website that allows you to go into your own city, search for places of retreat, seclusion or spaces away from sounds of the crowd and add them to an ever-growing map of quiet spaces. When you find your quiet space and want to add it to the map, you are asked to make a 30 second ‘field recording’ of it, a photograph which will help other people to find your space, select a mood colour and finally have the option of requesting an original ambient composition be made especially for you. This composition will integrate your 30 second recording as a kind of collaborative remix. You can also take the app out and discover other people’s quiet spaces, listen to the compositions made for those locations and even take yourself on a pre-planned audio walk depending on how much time you have in the day. When you get involved in Stereopublic, you become an ‘earwitness’ to your city and join many others participating all over the world. You become part of a quiet-seeking revolution.

 How did the Creative Australia – New Art initiative support the creative development, production and presentation of Stereopublic?

JS: The incredible financial support from the Creative Australia – New Art initiative allowed Stereopublic the invaluable space to be developed, trialed and tested over a significant period of time – especially in collaboration with the design studio Freerange Future . The creative development period gave me time to work with them on a different kind of collaborative approach on both sides. For Freerange Future, this was no longer about a ‘client’ relationship but a true creative exploration into a participatory art project. The funding also coincided with winning the TED City2.0 Prize giving the project an international profile even before it had reached the stage of going into production. The Creative Australia funds and the TED Prize attracted more financial support from Arts SA and Adelaide City Council who also came on board as collaborators in a way – Arts SA followed my journey through a fellowship period, including a short profile video on Stereopublic and Adelaide City Council and the Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood officially launched the project in the 2013 Adelaide Festival. With the subsequent – and significant – production and presentation funds from Creative Australia – New Art, my team was given full opportunity to realise this work and release it internationally in March 2013. The support allowed me to engage the entire studio of Freerange Future to be part of the project – from core design, conceptual development, coding, testing, project managing and, more importantly, experimenting creatively to discover the potentials of what Stereopublic could be. This kind of seeding to fruition funding is so important in allowing for the time and space needed to ensure the project is as successful as it can possibly be. To date there are up to 32 cities around the world in Europe, Asia, USA, UK, New Zealand and across Australia participating in the project with interest from people in new cities almost every day.

 What was it like presenting Stereopublic at the TED City2.0 conference in New York?

JS: Presenting Stereopublic at TED City2.0 in New York City was a pinnacle moment of the project where I was given the opportunity to speak and call for global ‘quiet-seeking’ action on an international stage. TED has been engaged with Stereopublic since its inception and has gone on the journey as a storyteller and supporter. In many ways, presenting at the conference was a natural step in this journey and the world-wide community built around the City2.0 initiative continues to follow the work and participate in it. The conference and the talk was a significant opportunity for me to speak directly to the TED audience – both online and onsite – and to facilitate discussion on the day with a ‘quiet’ lunch held between the second and third sessions. I made a vast array of connections on the day and discussions continue now with urban planners, artists, architects, city council officers, thinkers, musicians and like-minded introverts. The conference was the global platform to officially launch the project on an international scale and the interest I’ve received since the talk has been phenomenal.

Where do you situate Stereopublic in the Australian and international context of audio, participatory, and socially engaged experimental art?

JS: I really do feel like Stereopublic is actually part of a very long tradition of artists working in participatory ways, in the public realm and particularly those working in acoustic ecology (the vast sonic histories of the R Murray Schafer and the World Soundscape Project begun in early 1970s and continuing across the world to this day – including the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology), radio art/net art projects and field recording – work that often engages new communities, experiments with technologies and interfaces, documents an audio ‘snap-shot’ of a period of time, archives – sonically – our ever-changing urban world. Interestingly I never set out originally for the smartphone app component to be such a main focus but rather an additional element in the quiet-seeking concept. However, what I realised is how powerful the GPS-enabled phone is for project’s like Stereopublic – as a tool, as an audio device – that it not only allows someone to participate directly and creatively but also to connect socially in that larger global sense. I really do owe a lot to my years of working with my artistic comrades pvi collective  and especially their incredibly rigorous work developing mobile/app based projects like ‘transumer’ and ‘deviator’. My 11 year involvement with pvi collective as a collaborator and sound artist has given me incredible insights into the processes, successes and failures of working on mobile platforms as the core device for an art project. And it’s not always smooth sailing! Of course I also see this work as part of, and inspired by, the lineage of works by Blast Theory, Melbourne’s One Step At A Time Like This, the audio walks of Janet Cardiff or Duncan Speakman, the field sound works of Australia’s Lawrence English, Hildegard Westerkamp’s radio soundscape works and one of my biggest inspirations, the highly experimental Radio Rethink exhibition/residency that happened at the Banff Centre in 1994.

What are you working on in the future?

JS: The next main iteration of the Stereopublic ‘world’ is the project Sound Introversion Radio –  – which is premiering at the 2014 Adelaide Festival. This project is a 24/7 experimental and ambient online music channel that invites public participation of sound works, field recordings, playlisting and more importantly ears for listening. We’ll be set up during the festival in  (a DJ/electronic music hub and online station in the heart of Adelaide) for 2 weeks and be operating from a custom-built ‘quiet radio console’ that will be accessible to the public to visit, a space seek sonic down-time, attend with live events and listen to playlists. Yuri Tománek (who was the builder of the Stereopublic app) will work with me as co-curator and sound artist/musician and we’ll be in residence the entire festival, creating playlists and performing live. After the festival, the online channel will continue as both an automated ambient music portal and a programmed space for live events throughout the year.

To take part in the quiet-seeking revolution, visit Stereopublic .

Find out more about Jason Sweeney