Playable City Lagos


A few days ago I came back home after a trip to Nigeria where I was participating in “Playable City Lagos”, organised by Watershed and the British Council.

The aim of the 10 day program was to encourage new thinking, relationships, and ideas around the theme of a Playable City. It involved a number of creative people living Lagos as well as a few of us from Britain, and we spent the first few days getting to know each other and exploring the conceptual basis for this theme. What does it mean for a city to be “playable”? Why is it important? Can residents of a city like Lagos afford the time to play, when the legendary traffic jams force people out of bed at 5am?

The group discussions and personal conversations that came out of these first few days were fascinating. It was such a privilege to be able to dig deep into the identity of the city, hearing about day-to-day experiences as well as larger generalisations and patterns.

We eventually split into groups in order to develop ideas that we could put into practice and test in the city. I ended up working with Desiree Craig, Inua Ellams, and Jeremiah Ikongio, a fantastic group – our only problem was that we had too many ideas.

Eventually, however, we decided to try and make something that focused on Danfos. These are the yellow minibuses that operate as one part of a multi-layered public transport system within Lagos. They are publicly regulated but privately run – putting them somewhere in between the informal motorbikes and the big fancy BRT buses which wouldn’t look out of place in any European city. Incidentally, the Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh has done some really great work about the sound of Lagos in general and danfos in particular.

Playable City Lagos

You can’t go very far in Lagos without seeing a danfo, typically crammed full of people and in varying states of disrepair. They are cheap, easy to use, and very democratic – several locals told me that in any danfo you’ll get a nearly perfect cross section of Lagosian society.

I found this fascinating, which shouldn’t be a big surprise because I keep finding myself doing projects about public transport. There is something very interesting to me about how at given moment in Lagos thousands of people are having something of a shared experience: sitting in a danfo, surrounded by strangers, on their way somewhere (and probably stuck in traffic).

Danfo bus stop

As a group we started thinking about how we could play with this idea, and we came up with the idea of connecting random people in random danfos. What would happen if you could start up a conversation with someone you had never met who is in the same situation as you, but in a different place? What would you talk about? What kind of serendipitous interactions could be created?

And so we created the Danfone.


The concept behind this is that a number of buses would be fitted with Danfones, which have only a phone receiver and some non-linguistic instructions. Picking up the phone would make a phone in some other random bus ring. If someone in that bus picked it up, you’d be connected and you could have a chat. If you hang up and try again, you would be connected to a different bus. That’s it! It’s an idea that I found pretty freeing in its simplicity. The lack of structure opens up a bunch of questions and unknowns, which I really liked.

We didn’t have enough time to build a fully functional version of this, so we made a sort of proof-of-concept. We focused a lot on the design, making it fun and engaging (with some flashing LEDs of course), and making sure the interaction made sense. To that end we hacked an old fashioned telephone handset into a mobile phone, since we liked the idea of a really tangible interface with very little control.

Danfone progress

To test out our creation we brought it out to one of the main bus stops in the centre of the city, right next to Tafawa Balewa Square, and pitched it to the danfo drivers. The people at the bus stop (and on the way there) were remarkably responsive to the idea, with some really interesting conversations starting up about how it would work and how it would be used in practice. Several people mentioned how it fit well with the Nigerian traditions of group discussion and gossip (ofofo).


In practice the way we used our prototype was hilariously low-tech: we dialled the number of a mobile phone hidden in the Danfone, answered that phone and then put it all back together so you could only speak through the handset. Then we put the whole thing in a danfo and waited for people to interact. The incredibly patient Desiree waited for anyone to pick up the phone and have a discussion. We did this twice, once with Inua and Jere in the bus engaging with people who were interested, and once with Jere hiding in the back to see if anyone would pick it up.


It was only really half of a test, but I would say that it was very successful. A few people spoke to Inua and Jere and tried it out, and on the second test a very curious person built up the courage to pick up the phone – only for the mobile to drop the signal! That was a bit frustrating, but by showing the limit of our prototype we also saw the potential for what it could be.

As a part of our work we also thought about what future possibilities could be explored. For example, we considered a future radio show, “Danfo Diaries”, which could be built out of conversations between strangers on danfo buses. This could make for some pretty compelling listening, and encourage future conversations.

I’m super proud of this project. I think it embodies the idea of playfulness really well – it does not get in the way or require extra time and energy, and it does not pretend to be creating extrinsic value. It is open and free and potentially magical (or funny or sad).

It’s really hard to sum up my time in Lagos in a blog post. To say it was an “incredible time” really doesn’t seem to do it justice. I learned so much and I’m only beginning to process it all. Whilst I definitely think that the Danfone is a powerful idea that can be developed further in a number of directions, for me it was only a part of the whole experience. Many thanks to everyone involved!


Spores in Santa Cruz

Category : Installation, Spores

Secret Sounds of Spores

Last week, after finishing my Smithsonian fellowship in Washington, I travelled out to California to install my Secret Sounds of Spores installation at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Secret Sounds of Spores

If you’re not familiar with the piece, it is a musical installation that uses a mushroom to control music. A green laser shining at the mushroom reveals falling spores, and a camera sees those spores and uses them to send pulses to small electromechanical instruments that play in response.

Secret Sounds of Spores

I built a smaller and slightly improved version of the installation for the show, “Wild Mushrooms & Functional Fungi”, which includes a number of other wonderful mushroom-based pieces. My new version uses cherry wood from the farm in Maryland, which I think looks lovely.

Secret Sounds of Spores

The opening was fantastic – I had tons of brilliant conversations and fascinating feedback. Many thanks to the museum staff for making it all happen. The show will run until the end of March 2016, so be sure to go and have a look if you’re in the area.

Secret Sounds of Spores

Special thanks to Felipe Goncalves for laser cutting the connecting parts to the installation, and to Danny Haeg for hosting me in California. This new version of the installation was made possible thanks to a Creative Scotland artist bursary.

Currents in Glasgow & Edinburgh

Category : Installation, Music

Currents at New Music Biennial

After a super fun performance with my Fan Club in London at the Southbank Centre (which was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3), we will be performing this week in Edinburgh at the opening of the Edinburgh Art Festival on Thursday evening and on Friday in Glasgow for the PRS New Music Biennial.

In addition, the installation for Currents will be opening up to the public starting this Friday, and running for the duration of the Edinburgh Art Festival. It is comprised of 172 fans inside a Victorian police box which recreate the current wind conditions from six locations around the world. I’m quite excited to open that up to the public.

The police box is on the corner of Easter Road and Albion Road, EH7 5QJ, and will be open every day from the 1st-31st of August, 10am-6pm. More info on the EAF website.

The show in Glasgow is on Friday August 1st at 8:30pm in Glasgow Concert Halls, and it’s free. More information here.

Photo by Elliott Franks.

announcing: Currents

Category : Installation

I’m very pleased and flattered to announce, somewhat belatedly, that I’ve been commissioned by PRS and the Edinburgh Art Festival to create an installation and musical performance for the 2014 Art Festival.
The project will be produced by Suzy Glass and will feature performances in London and Glasgow broadcast by BBC3 and a large scale installation in Edinburgh.
The overarching theme is “common-wealth” and my work will look at connections between different commonwealth areas around the world, particularly with regards to weather. I’ll be hacking electric fans and using them to recreate wind patterns from different weather reports.
You can read a blog post I wrote for the PRS here.

Back in Amsterdam

Category : Installation, Spores

Phew, lots of traveling these days…I’m now back in lovely Amsterdam, where it finally feels like summer. I’m here for the very exciting ‘second opening’ for the Paddestoelen Paradijs show, which includes my Secret Sounds of Spores installation among many other amazing fungi-based artworks.
The event will feature a concert by the DNK Ensemble, who will be playing music along with my installation, which is very exciting indeed! I’m really looking forward to hearing what Koen Nutters has arranged. I’ll also be giving a short talk about the work, and it sounds like there will be loads of other amazing things going on.
So if you happen to be in Amsterdam, do come along!

Droplets at the Travelling Gallery

Droplets is a water-reactive art installation which I recently installed in the Travelling Gallery as part of the Alt-w Shortcuts show.

The Travelling Gallery is an amazing project run by the City Art Centre here in Edinburgh, which aims to bring contemporary art to far flung destinations all around Scotland. It does so with a very impressive specially designed gallery bus, which brings the art to you! I’m very flattered to be involved in the current show, which is comprised of artists who have been supported by New Media Scotland with an Alt-w award in the past, as I was with the Secret Sounds of Spores.

For this show I took certain elements of my Weather Gage piece and modified them to work in the Travelling Gallery, this time using water rather than wind. Pieces of hand cut Maryland cherry wood are spread along the wall, each fitted with a custom built solenoid and LED circuit. These are triggered by a watering can which is placed at the base of the installation, allowing visitors to bring the work to life themselves.

I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out, and I’d like to thank Alison Chisholm and Mark Daniels for supporting this project. If you are in Edinburgh today or tomorrow please go and see it down at the City Arts Centre on Market Street, or on Thursday at Waverley Court. Otherwise, check the tour dates to see when it will come to you!

Ignite presentation in Amsterdam

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at Mediamatic in Amsterdam as part of their Ignite series of presentations. It was Ignite #15 and I had a great time! Many thanks to everyone involved for having me over. Many thanks as well to my friend and sound artist Nanny Roed Lauridsen, who recorded my talk and posted it on her website (a site which is, incidentally, full of great recordings like the sound of ice skaters on a canal in Amsterdam recorded from underneath using a hydrophone).
Here’s the mp3, it’s a very quick 5 minute presentation where I go through the whole story behind the Secret Sounds of Spores and talk about why I did it!
Yann Seznec – Spores, Ignite
The installation is looking great, too, here are a few more photos for you…
Mushroom and laser closeupGallery installationBlack walnut spore note closeup

Secret Sounds of Spores in Amsterdam

Category : Installation, Spores

A few weeks ago, at the end of a batch of One Pig shows in Germany, I went over to Amsterdam to install my Secret Sounds of Spores piece at Mediamatic. You can see the project page on the Mediamatic site here.

It will be in the gallery until around the end of April or so.

What a great place! It was super fun and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. My work is part of the Paddestoelen Paradijs show, which features a number of fungus-themed artworks in their amazing gallery. One huge advantage of this is that there are plenty of mushrooms to use in my piece – so every few days a new one is put in the jar to drop some spores through the laser.

Here are a few pictures of the setting up and final product:
I’ll be heading back next week to present the project at Mediamatic as part of their Ignite series. Please come by if you are able – you can RSVP at that link, it starts at 8:30pm.

The Weather Gage

The Weather Gage, Bangor WalesA few months back I was invited down to Wales to build a sound sculpture for Bangor Sound City. I hand built a series of solenoid-triggered glockenspiel notes mounted onto cherry wood from the Hicksville Planing Mill in western Maryland. These hung from an alcove on the Garth Pier in Bangor, North Wales. Small propellors mounted outside the alcove were designed to spin in the wind, and control the rate of playback. Here are a few photos from the building phase:
Building The Weather Gage Building The Weather Gage Building The Weather Gage
The only problem was that I overestimated how much wind there would be! The propellors didn’t spin like they were meant to. The hanging notes worked really well, though, and the opening day was blessed with glorious sunshine. Here’s a video I’ve made showing it in situ:

The installation was up for several days, and I had a wonderful week in and around Bangor, Llanrwst, and Nebo. I played a super awesome gig in Conwy, spoke to some wonderful students at a school outside of Bangor, and I even managed to catch a very exciting Llanrwst United FC match. Many thanks to northern bloc and Datrys for supporting this project. A very special thanks also to Dominic Chennell and his beautiful family who hosted me during my time there and to Jacqui Banks who drove me all around the countryside!

Secret Sounds of Spores Installation

This blog has seen many many posts about my Secret Sounds of Spores project over the past nine months or so. It’s been an incredible journey and I certainly hope we’ll be able to take it even further in the near future.

In the mean time, here is one more video showing the installation as it happened at Inspace in Edinburgh in January. I thought it worked really well in the gallery space, and we got extremely positive feedback. We’d love to show it at other galleries or shows, so please get in touch if you’ve been looking for a fungi-based sound installation.

A Spectacular Success

Category : Installation, Spores

Wow. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that the Secret Sounds of Spores Spectacular would be such a success. I’d like to thank everyone who came down, and apologize to anyone who got turned away. It was a brilliant night, and I was so pleased by all of the feedback and amazing discussions I had throughout the night. Special thanks go to musical guests The Dyad, whose swirling improvisational electrojazz combined with the mushroom-spore-triggered instruments with astounding results.

It will take me a while to go through all of the video and audio for the night, but many thanks to all of those who have sent or posted things already. This includes Mark, whose photo is above and has posted a number of videos to YouTube, and Andy and Chris, who posted these photos to Flickr:

Thanks also to all the people who have come into Inspace over the past few days to see the installation. I’m afraid we have to take it all down today, but fear not! It will be back up in Glasgow in a few weeks at the Arches for the Sound Thought Festival, and then again for Maker Faire Newcastle. Much more documentation to come, but a big thanks once again to everyone who helped make last Friday such an overwhelming success.

Secret Sounds of Spores Spectacular!

Category : Installation, Spores

Spores Spectacular FlyerThis week I’m very excited to present the Secret Sounds of Spores at Inspace in Edinburgh. Please come along and see it for yourselves! I think it’s going to be totally gorgeous, I can’t wait to get it all finished up. Just in case you haven’t been following this project at all, you can learn all about it here. In a nutshell: lasers, mushrooms, and handmade electro-mechanical instruments. Sweet.

Patrick and I are busy installing everything in the gallery space today and tomorrow, and starting on Wednesday the show will be open to the public. The installation will be viewable between 4-8pm on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week only, so be sure to come on by!

As if that weren’t enough, we will be holding a very special event to celebrate the Secret Sounds of Spores, on Friday night at 8pm. There will be drinks and merriment, and musical guests The Dyad will join me to play music with a live mushroom or two. I am pretty sure that this will be the world’s very first human-fungi live musical collaboration. At least, the first one with a Fender Rhodes and a laser.

Inspace is part of the University of Edinburgh (and is the headquarters of New Media Scotland, who funding this project) and can be found at 1 Crichton Street, EH8 9AB. Hope to see you there!