Jason Sweeney is in an urban environment conundrum. He adores the dynamism of cities. Yet the musician, artist, and filmmaker finds the need to escape ubiquitous urbanity. Drawing on 15 years of experience working with technology, city navigation, and public participation, he recently launched Stereopublic, an app that lets urbanites locate quiet spaces in bustling cities. Makeshift asked him about the dynamics of cities and music.
Makeshift: What sparked Stereopublic?
JS: I am a socially anxious type, a card-carrying introvert and a highly sensitive person, so the very act of seeking out quiet spaces in my work and daily life comes naturally. I’m often prone to bouts of anxiety when surrounded by crowds. I wanted to make a project that invited other quiet-loving people to be part of a community, perhaps a sort of anti-social networking. A sonic health service for our built environments.
Has music influenced your ideas?
When I compose music, I am always listening for those quiet spaces between the notes. Quiet moments, a tiny pause, spaces to accentuate beauty and tenderness. And I believe cities can have these in-between spaces too. So this idea of mapping the quiet is almost like a musical score of dots representing where the pauses in the city are.
How do you reflect this notion in a city?
A city should be about balance. A place that embraces a sense of left, right, and everything in between. Also, the stereo effect—that we, as city visitors and/or dwellers, can somehow coexist in an urban environment that is not mono but that can span many sides of the human experience: the quiet, the noisy, the intro, the ambi, and the extroverted. I think of a city as a living, breathing organism.
Tell us how Stereopublic works.
Using the free iPhone app, each participant, or “earwitness”, can go into an activated city and find their quiet space, take a 30-second audio snapshot of it, a photo to help other people find it, color their mood, and then submit it directly to me. Once I receive a submission, I respond by making an original ambient piece of music especially for them, which can integrate or remix their recording.
How have users responded?
I find there is a sense of dedication shown by people participating in the project—from city dwellers to architecture and design students. People are requesting that the app’s geo-fencing of their cities be extended further out from central business districts to incorporate city fringes or parks at the outskirts. Originally I resisted this idea but then was led by the participants’ desire to really have an autonomous say in how the project unfolds. Still, I do like the challenge of having to actually find a quiet space in the more condensed city areas as a way to put into question how we might be forgetting to integrate them into our urban planning.