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May 11, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Weird Internet Shit |
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Weird Internet Shit

From a laptop on a bed in a bedroom in a flat in Wellington, the voice of the LAPD ring out.

Uh, Portland Street:

Four Four Five southwest stairwell, there’s an —inaudible— a break-in to a marijuana dispensary, description: possibly armed with a knife.

It’s 2.56 am on Sunday in LA, so there isn’t that much going on. Break-ins. Stray dogs. Suspicious driving. Mostly there is silence, gaps in the transmission, time for me to write this. Filling them in, above the sound of my typing, is an almost soothing hum, crackling out from the laptop speakers. It rises and falls, from comforting to disquieting, sparse notes punctuating the formlessness. I am listening to Los Angeles.

Roger; checking the basement too.

Youarelistening.to is disarmingly simple. On one page, it combines a police-radio stream from a city of your choice (the default is LA), an extensive playlist of ambient music, and a picture of said city from Flickr. You kind of have to hear it. It feels like being the protagonist in a very sad action film, like witnessing something beautiful that you can’t photograph, like watching the credit sequence after a particularly moving episode of television for hours at a time.

Two Four Five Five Two Four 89…

It’s perfect to work to. Ambient music is generally good for this – but adding in the radio streams keeps it slightly interesting, without quite distracting you. You feel plugged into the world at large, in solidarity with everyone else working through the night, rather than just alone with your essay.

Grey-blue sweater, white shoes, D.O.B. September 12, 1998.

You can customise youarelistening.to extensively, loading in any radio stream you want. You can have it read out tweets in a blank robotic voice, or New York Times headlines, or aeroplane arrivals. Earlier this year, everyone had a livestream of the Kiev protests going.

… possibly being followed by a suspect in a white van, be advised the driver is a female with possible mental illness…

I’ve tried a few, but nothing beats police radios – from LA, from New York, from Saint Petersburg. Wellington Police encrypt their police radio for safety. I don’t know why I find the sounds of things going wrong so comforting. It might be the organisation – the structures of society noticing things and rectifying them. Then, I’m white, so the police are almost always a comforting presence.

43-year-old male, not breathing, and cold.

Someone on the other side of the world just died. Did I incorporate their death into my aesthetic experience?

Artificial structures are more interesting than natural ones. I’d rather explore the endless possibilities of human output than the brute realities of genetics and geology. Youarelistening.to keeps you aware of all the things around you that keep civilisation going. There’s no stream that allows one to witness the less glamorous tasks – the late-night cleaners, the taxi drivers, the empty-bus driver – but it’s a start.

 

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