Udo Noll

aporee soundmap showing streets of Rome with aporee menu and information

Udo Noll is an artist and programmer based in Berlin, Germany. He is the developer behind aporee.org, the main projects of which are an open global soundmap of recordings made from around the world, and an intelligent online radio stream that selects recordings from the mapping project based on listener location, user activity, and other factors. Taken together, the overlaying of the space of radio onto geographical space creates what Noll refers to as “affective geographies”. We got in touch with him to find out more.

Fluid Radio: What are your earliest memories of radio?

Udo Noll: I remember the receivers we had in our house. They had a dedicated place, on a tea-cloth, on a kitchen cabinet. My parents and grandparents both had the same model. It still exists in my parents’ kitchen.

I remember the illumination of the dial, and written names. I also remember a magic eye in green, from an old tube receiver. But this was later, I got it from an aunt who died when I was in school. However, these memories merge…

And I remember the sound of a programme, on Wednesdays, on AM, where people could request music. My dad used to listen to it, he recorded songs with his reel-to-reel tape recorder.

What factors led to you setting up radio aporee?

I had already some skills in server technology, programming etc., and I’ve worked in (collaborative) net art projects since 1995. My interest in radio and maps/mapping/cartography, which is reflected in earlier works (see for example http://on1.zkm.de/netcondition/projects/project11/default_e and http://aporee.org/aporee.html — scroll down) was of course fundamental.

And, from 2006 or so on, Google Maps became available. That was the first time a global geography was accessible, including an API for using it in mashups. The reason why I was started it was a sort of disappointment with the situation at that time, late 2006. I had the feeling that “the in-between” was dissolving because of too many functions, fictions and narratives driven by business, markets, and the reach for progress. Life happens in places, there you can observe it best, and that’s why I wanted to start with places, in front of my door, in my neighbourhood, etc.

The radio aporee website describes it as an “ongoing experiment exploring affective geographies and new practices related to sound/art and radio”. Can you expand on what this term “affective geographies” means to you?

Maybe best with words from a favourite writer, German poet Jürgen Becker:

“[…] a landscape of consciousness, which contains all experience of real landscapes, with their places and regions, resurfacing on the fields of a poetic map, in the adumbrations of a possible topography.”

Listening to the radio stream, I am often struck by how similar many of the recordings sound, regardless of where in the world they were recorded; one urban environment or field with birdsong often seems to sound pretty much like another. Do you think that isolating the sonic elements of sites can serve to perpetuate an impression of homogeneity? What aspects of field recording and broadcast can work against that tendency?

Hm. I wouldn’t agree. Even the redundant sound of machines and traffic has differences at different locations. Bird songs definitely, don’t tell your assumptions to the nature recordists among the aporisti… ;)

Surely the Atlantic waves sound similar to the Pacific one, similar landscape given. Or forests of similar latitudes, cities of comparable culture, etc. But Marrakesh definitely sound different from Berlin, or Mumbai.

One simple tech thing that makes it possible to distinguish is sound quality. A “good” recording, the right position in the field, enough time to tune in.

How do you feel the recordings uploaded to the site have changed over time? Do you notice patterns reflecting world events or changing attitudes? How might the project serve to document historical developments as well as present moments?

I haven’t thought about that yet too much. It’s also not what I’m looking for. If you consider the “historical” in micro contexts, small areas, personal changes and practices, then yes. If you want to hear the ongoing gentrification of my neighbourhood, check out the recordings of my friend and aporisti Henrik Schröder. He’s made recordings at a few spots for years, so you have hundreds of sounds behind one red dot. You can zoom through and hear how a weekend sounded 5 years ago, and how it is now. Or this project which we are making together.

There were changes in past years, in the type of recordings, for different reasons. One is that the project has reached some recognition within the scene of people involved with field recordings, and related practices. That influences newcomers too. My own talks, discussions, presence at festivals etc. may also play a role. Some contributors have developed their own practice because radio aporee exists.

Then I more or less gently enforce some minimal standards, e.g. a minimum length and audio quality. The development of the site and its tools are giving direction too.

The project as it stands is an impressive technical as well as cultural achievement. How do you plan to develop these technologies in the future? Will development be open-sourced?

I’m a great fan of open source software, but the aporee code and developments are not open source. The reason is that this step would need a great effort to make the code “clean”, i.e. not so deeply interwoven into my long term experimentation with the technical (server-)platform. To be honest, the code reflects all states of my personal abilities, from messy spaghetti style to clean and elegant object-oriented…

To put that online as open source would require cleaning it up, organising it, versioning it, managing it. That would add a huge load of work, and I don’t see who would help me develop it. I received no offers of technical help in 7 years from the sound art / phonography or field recording scene. That’s understandable, not so many actually program, and very few have a clue about the server side, databases etc.

So, things develop according to my time, ideas and resources, and influenced by others, their ideas and wishes (well, sometimes ;). It is a continuous process. Sometimes I don’t touch the code for months, just thinking and working with the platform; sometimes I have weeks of great success in developing new ideas, improvements and so on. It’s open-ended…

For “digital surviving”, I have created a mechanism that synchronises the whole content with archive.org, which is definitely the best and most ethical “hard drive” available worldwide.

What do you wish people to be mindful of when contributing to the project? What makes a good radio aporee recording?

Please check the housemeister’s does and don’ts ;)

Thank you for your time Udo!


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