Paisajes Distantes / Distant Landscapes: An Altiplano Project

In Bogota, the city where I live, the vaccination process has progressed the past months, and the restrictions to circulation have finally ended (they lasted for more than a year!). As businesses, restaurants, schools and public transportation reopen, the city is waking up after a long sleep. To provide a record of some of the urban and everyday life transformations that happened during the pandemic, I would like to share some of the images and sounds of Paisajes Distantes/Distant Landscapes, a collaborative art project I worked on in 2020 together with my friend Daniel Cardoso Llach and that we presented (virtually) at the 11th International Conference on Computational Creativity ICCC’20.

Paisajes Distantes/Distant Landscapes is a networked audiovisual performance that explores the lockdown urban transformations of Bogota (Colombia) and Pittsburgh (USA) through a creative dialogue that mixes, processes and synthesizes visuals and sounds recorded at the two cities during the 2020 quarantines. Although the performance was selected to be presented at the physical space of Convento São Francisco in Coimbra as part of the ICCC conference, the evolution of the pandemic and travel restrictions forced us to present the project as an audiovisual piece on a virtual platform. The piece comprises music played remotely and in real time by us — each one in one of the two cities — through a networked music performance (NMP) system, and visual and audio materials recorded during the pandemic.

Among the different instruments, software and devices we used for creating Paisajes Distantes/Distant Landscapes, we found in LiveLab a powerful browser-based media router for collaborative synchronous performance. Designed by CultureHub, LiveLab is open and free, and offers a robust networked music performance (NMP) system that artists can use to collaborate, rehearse, and produce multi-location performances using multiple camera and audio streams. Compared to other NMP systems available today, LiveLab offered us an easy to set up infrastructure (it runs on a web browser) that was flexible and intuitive. We tried other systems such as Jamulus, Soundkjack and Jacktrip, and even experimented with Zoom, but none of them gave us the robustness, control, and minimal latency for doing a music jam remotely.

LiveLab NMP system interface

For us, emulating an in-location jamming session experience was a priority. With Daniel we have have been playing music since 2007 when we started our project Altiplano, an experimental music duo that combines electric guitars, synthesizers, samplers and computers. The name Altiplano is a reference to the Colombian Andean highlands where both of us grew up and where Bogota is located. Since the beginning of Altiplano in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we found physical spaces at our and friends apartments, universities, and gardens to perform live jams. When each of us moved to different cities in the US, we found time and spaces to meet in different cities and arrange live performances. Whenever we played we recorded our live sessions and later worked on them, remotely, to select and post-produce music tracks and edited mixes. Some of those tracks can be listened in our personal SoundCloud channels (e.g. estación, venado, carrilera), others remain in computer hard drives and are waiting to be published online. However, we never explored the possibility of jamming at distance and using and NMP system until we developed Paisajes Distantes/Distant Landscapes.

Besides solving the technical problems of a networked music performance and choosing LiveLab as our NMP system, we worked for several months documenting visually and sonically the cities where each of us was living during the pandemic. We recorded hundreds of audios, videos, and captured many photographs from our windows and also through urban explorations in Bogota and Pittsburgh. These multimodal records became the material for assembling the audiovisual piece. We shared those materials with each other in online servers, reviewed and organize them in different folders thematically. During the networked performance sessions we had we sampled and digitally processed (granular synthesis) many of the recorded sounds so they became part of the sonic atmospheres and landscapes we created. From these performances we selected a short 10 minute music track and made a video that could go along with it. For the video we selected some of the moving and still images we took and used them for building a montage that portrays the two urban landscapes during the confinements of 2020.

Altiplano multi-location music networked performance (Bogota / Pittsburgh)

Some of the urban transformations that occurred during the confinement have become part of the new normalcy. In Bogota, the move towards a more bicycle friendly city and rise of alternative forms of mobility has lasted until today. And hopefully it will endure. Many of the new cycle-routes (ciclo-rutas) created in 2020 became permanent, and the exponential increase in the cyclist population has even caused a shortage of bicycle parts and a boom of bicycle stores, cafes, and workshops. The informal pop-up ciclo-talleres (bicycle workshops) that have emerged around the city is an example of how this transformation has changed the urban landscape. Likewise, the hundreds of delivery workers that use bicycles as their main form of transportation and that work with digital platforms such as Rappi, Domicilios.com and TuOrden.com.

Cyclist delivery worker on a cicloruta (ciclo-route).

Itinerary street vendors and street musicians also continue to wander around the Bogota neighborhoods in search of customers and audiences today. Their voices are still heard in the mornings and afternoons as they announce fresh vegetable and fruits (avocados/aguacates continue to be one of the most offered products on the streets) and sing songs from different genres (e.g. mariachis, llanera, vallenato). For many of these musicians there are no digital platforms that could offer the opportunities they find in the streets, in the sidewalks, even if they are scarce.

Street musicians wandering through Bogota in the search of audiences

These and other changes in the urban landscape of Bogota can be seen and heard, juxtaposed to sounds and images from Pittsburgh, in Paisajes Distantes/Distant Landscapes. Although with this project we have proven the potential of using digital tools and networks for creative collaboration, distant encounters and new forms of co-presence, it would be great to bring the music performance, photos, and videos to a physical space and experience them in-person. I hope that happens in the near future.

Paisajes Distantes/Distant Landscapes video piece

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