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The Tactical Sound Garden
by Mark Shepard

TSG Toolkit: Concept Diagram
Copyright © Mark Shepard


Mark Shepard
Assistant Professor
Departments of Architecture and Media Study
State University of New York at Buffalo
3435 Main Street
Buffalo, N Y 14214

The Tactical Sound Garden [TSG] Toolkit is an open source software platform for cultivating public "sound gardens" in contemporary cities. It draws on the culture of urban community gardening to posit a participatory environment where new spatial practices and social interactions within technologically mediated environments can be explored and evaluated. Addressing the impact of mobile audio devices like the iPod, the project explores gradients of privacy and publicity in developing a platform for public collaboration in shaping the sonic topography of urban public space.

The TSG Toolkit enables anyone living within dense 802.11 wireless (WiFi) "hot zones" to install a virtual "sound garden" for public use. Using a WiFi enabled mobile device (PDA, laptop, mobile phone), participants "plant" sounds (or “prune” those planted by others) within a positional audio environment. These plantings are mapped onto the coordinates of a physical location by a 3D audio engine common to gaming environments - overlaying a publicly constructed soundscape onto a specific urban space. Wearing headphones connected to a WiFi enabled device, participants drift though virtual sound gardens as they move throughout the city.

The TSG Toolkit is a parasitic technology. It feeds on the proliferation of WiFi access points in dense urban environments as a free, ready-made, locative infrastructure for cultivating community sound gardens in contemporary public space. Access points producing the WiFi signals used to determine the location of a participant may be open or encrypted, and need not be "owned" by those deploying the TSG system. Where the presence of WiFi access nodes is minimal, gardens simply consist of plantings along a sidewalk. Where a local density of nodes exists, gardens potentially take the scale of a neighborhood. In cities where wireless networks are pervasive, gardens potentially extend throughout the entire city.


1. Upon entering a sound garden, participants connect to a TSG server using a web browser, create a profile, and download a small software application along with a library of sounds and environmental variables to their mobile device.

2. As one moves through the sound garden, the software periodically identifies the participant's position within the geographic limits of the physical location. This positioning information is fed to a 3D audio engine, which subsequently outputs a real-time audio mix of the sounds in the garden specific to the current location of the listener.

3. To plant sounds, the participant uploads sounds recorded or stored on her/his device or selects from pre-existing sounds in the library. S/he then sets parameters for volume, loop, and schedule for playback. This sound, its parameters, and the current location of the planter are subsequently broadcast to all participants currently in the garden.

4. To prune sounds, the participant selects a sound within close proximity to where s/he is standing, modifies any of the parameters of that sound, and attaches a short message to be sent to the planter of that sound. These modifications are then broadcast to all participants currently in the garden. The planter then receives a message that the pruner has modified their sound, along with any message the pruner has provided.


Artist Biography

Mark Shepard
Mark Shepard is an artist and architect whose work explores the opportunities and dilemmas emerging in the wake of an expanding information economy. His cross-disciplinary practice draws on architecture, film, and new media in addressing new social spaces and signifying structures of contemporary networked environments. His current research focuses on the impact of mobile and pervasive technologies on architecture and urbanism.

His work has been exhibited at Anthology Film Archives, New York; Artists Space, New York; Queens Museum of Art, New York; Beall Center for Art and Technology, University of California, Irvine; Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art, Florida; Cyberfest, Boston; Hot Docs, Toronto, Canada; Viper International Festival of Film, Video and New Media, Basel, Switzerland; Impakt Festival, Utrecht, the Netherlands; and the Arealle99 Electronic Arts Festival, Brück/Linthe, Germany. It has been supported by the New York State Council on the Arts, The Experimental Television Center, the U.S. Department of Education, USIS BERLIN/Amerika Haus, and the Brandenburg Ministry of Economics, Culture and Technology, among others.

He received the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship in the Humanities and holds a M.S. in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University; a M.F.A. in Combined Media from Hunter College, City University of New York; and a B.Arch from Cornell University.

He is an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Media Study at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

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