Radio Vox Populi

a group of webloggersOver the past week I’ve been working on turning weblogs into an art installation. I really wanted to visualize in some way the current activity within the weblog world. Riding an early title from blogdex (“wired vox populi“), I thought it would be interesting to see what the voice of the people actually sounded like. To accomplish this feat, I enlisted some simple off-the-shelf linux tools. The result is Radio Vox populi.

The system takes the update monitor from and crawls them using a simple perl robot (LWP::Parallel); in the event that RSS feeds are provided to, these are crawled immediately, and for others RSS autodiscovery is used to find RSS feeds. The first post from each RSS feed is then saved.

The text of these posts is cleaned up (and abbreviated in the case that it’s exceptionally long), and run through the Festival Speech Synthesis System using a number of different voices. These corresponding voice-posts are sent out to the sound card in the order that they were received, punctuated by a few different radio-tuning noises (thanks to Andy). The output of this sound is streamed to the web in real time using the Icecast streaming media server.

For the installation I wanted to give the sound an old-radio warmth so I bought an antiqueish Irish tube radio (circa 1960) for a striking price of €30:

that warm old-radio sound
My first Irish radio

The installation currently uses an 1/8″ to 1960’s radio adapter that I threw together (it has a phono-in in the shape of european power plugs) but I hope to build a low-power AM transmitter soon so that it has that the signal fits the era of the radio.

Right now the piece is installed at the Media Lab Europe, but I’ll be bringing it back to the Media Lab sometime next week. Of course it’ll also be available on the web 24 hours a day.

19 thoughts on “Radio Vox Populi

  1. This has got to be one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a long time.

    I just saw part of the Son et Lumiere at the List Visual Arts Center. The installation by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin was so inspiring and powerful it’s made me want to re-learn my electronics skills to make something so cool 🙂

    Oh, and btw, the feeds that are in other languages are hilarious 🙂

  2. This is very cool! For a visual hack reminiscent of this, try out the “fontglide” and “ljlatest” programs I wrote for xscreensaver — “fontglide -program ljlatest”. It takes the latest posts from LiveJournal and rolls the text across the screen in a very “designey” way, making the most banal things look like slogans.

  3. Wow! That is very interesting. Great concept!
    I am an artist myself, so I appreciate this from that point of view.

  4. The “continue reading on my site” phrase is generated by the system in the case that the post is too long to be read out in a timely manner. Posts are cut off if they exceed a certain number of words, and “continue reading” is slapped on the end. It was the most convenient way to play all of the weblogs while still taking turns.

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