Questioning the proliferation of mobile devices in urban space


“Inquisitive Devices” is a networked sound installation that examines the transition from public to personal broadcasting, and the present day usage of the radio spectrum through the proliferation of ‘Bluetooth’ enabled personal communication devices carried by pedestrians in urban centers. “Inquisitive Devices” actively searches several points of neighborhood intersection for Bluetooth signals and creates audible sounds based on the advertised names of detected Bluetooth devices, using speech synthesis and real-time audio filtering techniques. These sounds are replayed in spatial patterns over a networked speaker array spread out throughout the physical location, based on the movements of visitors inferred from the detection of their device’s names. The project attempts to begin a conversation between people and the devices they carry with them daily that simultaneously transmit signals in public space.

Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Tim Redfern
(thanks to David Reitter, Julian Moore, Erin Kennedy for working on the software version)


Art.Mov Festival, 11/21/08-11/25/08, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

CONFLUX Festival, 9/11-14/2008, New York, NY, USA


As and increased abount of digital devices permeate the environments we inhabit daily, there is a sense that their presence becomes ubiquitous, invisible, and eventually blends and dissappears our everyday existence. “Inquisitive Devices” attempts to challenge this notion of invisibility by creating a dialog between people in these public spaces and their personal devices.

In the digital age, networked communication platforms and mediums are becoming more and more user friendly and allow for multitudes of types of interaction, voices, and exchanges of images, sounds, and text, both synchronously and asynchronously. Messages can be sent, voices can be heard, and events can be realized with organization and clarity that never before existed. In particular, emailing lists have become important means of maintaining ties within groups, relaying important information among peers or collaborators, and forging a sense of community that transcends all national and cultural boundaries.


The speakers and computers were placed in 3 small birdhouses that could be easily integreated into gardens or other urban spaces. The speakers were used to invoke conversations with pedestrians using the advertised device names of visitors to the space as they move around the Bluetooth nodes. This provided an ambient form of welcoming greeting to people in the space and also forms a collective sound environment based on the amount of people (and their devices) entering the space. The project attempted to highlight the increasingly prevalent amount of mobile devices we carry with us daily, and convert the private broadcasts of device names into a publicly broadcast, interactive sound-artwork.

Picture of Inquisitive Devices on display at Conflux 2008 (9/11/08 – 9/14/08)