Generative psychogeography

Here’s a nice kind of pattern - generative psychogeography.

Wilfried Hou Je Bek won the Transmediale Software Art Award for his work on this back in 2004. On the face of it, his ‘.walk’ instructions for navigating a city were super simple, e.g. “second left, first right, third right, repeat”, so it’s interesting to think of it as ‘software art’. But this is very much the flavour of the software art community as it existed at that time - constantly trying to challenge its limits.

Here’s a nice write-up about it from Wilfried on the legendary Space Hijacker’s website:

There’s some nice thoughts on the effects of human agency on the algorithms that we follow… and this nice bit on patterns:

Finally some words on the patterns that emerge when executing the algorithm. Even though closed loops do seldom occur, half loops & spirals do happen quite often. Especially spirals tend to emerge with some regularity & that is a wonderful thing. Spiralling means that you are strolling around the same streets generation after generation without ever making the same combination of streets twice. This pattern offers great psychogeographical effects because in this way a certain, ‘objectively’ chosen area (note: not subjectively as the situationists chose their areas) can be mapped & experienced thoroughly. After a while the route suddenly pushes you into another directions, perhaps your route then prescribes an tenfold of turns, if luck will have it, you have to cross large bridges, or you have to wait a long time for the next turn in some endless straight street, making you cross large distances. What also might happen with some probability is that you’ll walk half loops, which if you look back at the map afterwards are only small deviations from a large loop. Future explorations will show what patterns emerge with what predictably."

Thanks for creating this Alex.
Generative psychogeography was a mixture of different things; the obvious psychogeo/situationist angle, and then maybe more the London Psychogeographic Association channelling Thomas DeQuincy than the sturdy, often incomprehensible old school French ones. But also the simplicity and what-if quality of Fluxus pieces, Willian Burroughs and his cut-up, the Game of Life (which follows reason and is yet unpredictable), the principles of Eno’s ambient (itself rehearsing the themes of GoL), a website called which you yourself were connected with I think, and there will be more. I have always been bad in archiving things, but a few things survive here and there.

To be fair, in hindsight ‘generative psychogeography’ sound apocalyptically pretentious a name for sending people on their way with the instruction:

Second street left
First street right
Second street right

Yet somehow it could sometimes achieve its stated goal of creating a trajectory that would make you navigate familiar streets in unfamiliar ways, repeatable, endless and without thinking. By framing it in a particular historic or geographic context the algorithmic walk was then presented as a peripatetic powerdrill in the tool kit of open source urbanist intervention and research. The words are coming back to me as I type this…

Later this developed into something called .walk (dot walk) which was purporting to build a ‘pedestrian computer’ by creating algorithms where .walkers would exchange information as they met while walking their -mind numbingly- instructions. This indeed won a software award, which seems as crazy now as it did then. We had just moved to a new house, and you, and all readers, will be happy to know that the prize money (2000eu) was spent on a new bathtub. The glories of the Derive!

Most of all this was done under the name but I got rid of the domain years ago so no need going there for this.

I would not now why anybody would want to, but am more than happy to answer any questions.

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