Listening Post, 2003

Mark Hansen

Listening Post: Rendering the evolving landscape of online public discourse (or, a statistician, an artist and 200,000 complete strangers)

Date 8/25/03

Affiliation Artist & Media Theorist, University of California, Los Angeles


Listening Post, a collaboration between Mark Hansen and NY artist Ben Rubin, is an award winning multimedia art installation designed to convey the magnitude and diversity of online communication. Exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, December 2002 through March 2003, Listening Post provides a meaningful rendering of a massive data stream consisting of thousands of simultaneous Internet-based conversations. The visual centerpiece of Listening Post is a suspended, curved grid of more than two hundred small screens. These screens display fragments of text that are continuously gathered in real time from unrestricted Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards and other forums. The work is structured as a sequence of "scenes," each of which organizes incoming communications according to different statistical criteria. Mirroring the fluidity and dynamism of the Internet itself, topics emerge and change from day to day, hour to hour. A coordinated audio component underscores the content presented on the screens, layering algorithmically generated musical compositions with the vocalization of captured messages, spoken by a text-to-speech system.

The technical challenges implied here are considerable; from "frugal" monitoring agents that continually recognize and cull new content, to statistical natural language processing and dynamic clustering schemes that allow us to track topics and extract representative phrases. In this talk, Hansen will describe how his work with Rubin has evolved, starting with their early experiments with pure sonification of Web traffic. Hansen will emphasize the interplay between data analysis and design, between modeling and expression and end with their most recent project, a public art commission involving a live data feed from Google's news service.


Mark Hansen is currently Associate Professor of Statistics at UCLA, where he also has an appointment in the Design|Media Art Department. Previously he was a member of the Technical Staff in the Statistics and Data Mining Research Department of Bell Laboratories.

-- As of 8/25/03

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