LOS ANGELES — Sublime’s “April 29, 1992,” a song about the Los Angeles riots, features it amidst a hip hop track. The Wire and Cops have made it famous. Police radio chatter is the stuff of media legend, a glimpse of urban turmoil in America’s most infamous neighborhoods, from Baltimore’s west side to Los Angeles’s south central.
Drawing inspiration from Robin Rimbaud and the lovely Mission Control site by soma.fm, artist Eric Eberhardt decided to turn them into a media landscape. Tapping intro radio streams and SoundCloud ambient radio, Eberhardt has created You Are Listening To, a web site that mixes hypnotic beats with the equally hypnotic chatter of police and fire forces.
“I first got the idea about a year and a half ago after the Giants won the world series,” he told me in an email interview. “There were crazy street parties going on all over the city that night & when I got home I noticed some people on Twitter were posting links to a site (soma.fm) where you you could listen to the SFPD radio in real time. After listening for awhile I started playing some music in the background & thought it sounded really cool.”
He set up the site using radioreference.com, which features a number of embeddable police streams, as well as SoundCloud’s embed feature. The remixes are backgrounded by the nighttime skylines of the relevant cities, which currently include Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Montréal. Eberhardt’s plan, eventually, is to include all the cities from radioreference.com and even develop an app for iOS.
It’s a fascinating way to experience the city. Until the app is available, most people tuning in will be listening from the comfort of their homes and offices, an ambient bubble amidst an abstracted aura of violence and turmoil.