A Drifter's Guide to Urban Field Recording, Mexico City, 2012

took place on June 26 as part of the Bio 5 Urban Video Project at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Xochimilco in Mexico city. Part public practice, social experiment, and technical exercise, the work encourages a critical reconsideration of the urban environment in an embodied way, through Deep Listening (based on Pauline Oliveros' method) and audiovisual walks (based on World Soundscape Project style soundwalks). Augmenting and subsuming official mappings, this process documents the psychogeographical ambiences of the moment, capturing the incidental nature of urban life as a real-time composition.


45 art and design students participated in three exercises. First, I gave a lecture in Spanish on musique concreté, the Situationist Derivé, acoustic ecology, and contemporary takes on these practices. Next, we conducted a group listening exercise. Lastly, the students conducted an audiovisual walk during which they used Zoom recorders and Flip cameras procured via a Kickstarter campaign, along with binaural headset and contact microphones constructed by myself, to collect media. Using this media, they created compositions with custom software I created in Max/MSP called The Drifter, inspired by the Gysin cut-up method.


This happened against the backdrop of a contentious political campaign in Mexico, and the response of a new student movement: Yo Soy #132. Disregarded by the unabashedly pro establishment media, this grassroots student movement has energized the political discourse in Mexico, despondent after decades of corruption. Given global trends toward austerity, in a country with a stark socioeconomic divide, demands for better access to education prove especially poignant. While in Mexico city, I documented both a major Yo Soy #132 demonstration at the headquarters of the main television network, Televisa, and a rally to mark the closing of the Leftist PRD campaign in Zocolo square with 1.4 million attendees.


Using the custom microphones and portable HD camcorders purchased with Kickstarter funding, S Serrano and I did an audiovisual walk around the neighborhood we stayed, Colonia Roma. We threw the audio from his walk and video of mine (taken at the same time on opposite paths), into The Drifter.