a film by Martijn van Boven & Tom Tlalim





news synopsis


Field Notes From A Mine part of Tiger award competition

Field Notes From A Mine is officially selected for the Tiger Award for short films
of the upcoming International Film Festival of Rotterdam, 2012!

More info coming soon...

World Premiere at International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2012

Field Notes From A Mine will have it's world premiere at
the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, 2012.


The passing of landscapes and the crossing of borders mirrors a process of transformation of the walker. The multilayered process of translation and exchange enacted in migration is narrated in this data-driven documentary film.

Field Notes From a Mine is a computer-generated film which features no filmed or recorded materials. Instead, the image and sound express data which was collected along a route which crosses Africa from East to West. The data is organized as a map, which contains of cities, villages, oasis's and unnamed places in North Africa, and the paths between them. These paths are historical pilgrimage routes which were recorded between 1300 and 1900 C.E.*.

Being a networked grid, this map became a placeholder for information about the cities and the paths. The additional data superimposed on this basic map, included contemporary national borders, records of geographical and weather conditions, pictures, colour schemes, and ethnomusicological analyses of the local music.

The structure of the film follows one route on this map. The route starts from a place without a name in South Sudan, and continues through the continent to Marrakech in Morocco. This whole route is walked through the network of pilgrimage paths. Along the timeline of the film, border crossings become important catalysts as they divide the film into parts. Along the 20 minutes of the film, 6900 kilometers are travelled and ten national entities are crossed. Each crossing is the start of a part in the film. It was important for us not only to record an immersive reality of space, transformation and movement, but also to engage with the static gaze of the border, and the rational demarkation of the space being covered. The border is therefore not meetly seen as an obstacle, but as a parallel world where a different life and development takes place.


For Further information, bookings
or technical specifications
please contact:

Martijn van Boven or Tom Tlalim
info [@]

World wide distribution goes thru
the NIMk ( Dutch Media Art Institution)
please contact:
Theus Zwakhals: theus @

General link to the web-site ofNIMk

Technical Background

Being an abstract film, an important part is the dialogue between the sounds and image. This dialogue articulates the real story of the work, which is at times synchronous, or asynchronous, counterpointal, or a refrain. Making a documentary about a data environment is a somewhat paradoxical endeavor. It requires to adopt a critical observer position. The recorded impressions of the data sometime include illusive elements which are beyond an image or a sound. The film searches for a sense of multidimensional memory, for patterns, residues or blueprints, echoes that express land formations. These are all part of the story.

Trying to take a critical, observer position towards an abstract world of data and software environments, is a statement in its own right. The possibility of making such a speculative documentary about walking in Africa, without having been there is overwhelming. It is worth acknowledging that taking a distance from technological environments is ever more difficult in western life. As abstract film makers, we often have to produce the software which produces our art. In this film we produced software which produces documented walks through data. so that we then could treat these documentary renders as footage, or as field notes from an excursion into a world which essentially has no image or sound at all. The ability to gaze into the data mine is probably one of the more creative emerging fields of our time.

Used Materials

This section consists of a cross section of code snippets, scripts, URL's used as resources to study
the pilgrimage route and some short audio-visual clips.

  • movies
  • audio
  • scripts
  • links
  • A list of terms

    A List of terms associated with the route, concept and procedural methods we applied during the making of the film:

    - time dependent data
    - Data Mining
    - dynamic environment
    - Continuos vs discrete
    - Internal Vision External Sounds
    - Web Crawler
    - Satellite images
    - Data Interpolation
    - Subjective perspective
    - Point of View
    - Cut / Editing
    - Landscape
    - Motion
    - Music and environmental sounds / soundscapes.
    - Coding
    - Travel
    - The Walker
    - Discovering about an unknown environment.
    - Participant observer
    - The eye and the other
    - Inside and outside
    - Migration
    - Field notes
    - Camera and lenses and microphones.
    - Synchronator
    - Border Crossing / Halt
    - Documentation
    - Abstract Imagery
    - Terrain View
    - A- > B System
    - Desert
    - Dust
    - Investigation of Information
    - De-Anonymize of data
    - Separate the relation between image and sound
    - Location defines the image & sound rendering
    - Travel interpolation
    - Nomads / pilgrims are unknown to us.
    - A place that we are detached from.
    - Four major routes to investigate. North to South / West to East.
    - The discovery of unknown places which are named loc or tmc.
    - Data not from a historical perspective but from a formal one.
    - The route contains a variety of information, waiting to be discovered.

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    Ethnomusicological registrations

    The Africa Museum, a reminisce of the prolific Belgian colonial project, dedicates a part of its website to a catalog of ethnomusicological registrations, which are organized on the map of africa. These recordings were catalogued between the 1950 and 2007. While the source recordings are not obtainable online, the cataloged data includes visual graphs of various musicological analyses of the African indigenous music. These analyses are presented as graphs which include melodic 'data', banks of pitch candidates, tone scales and Tessitura, but interestingly do not contain rhythm data.
    It was interesting to reconstruct those indigenous sonograms back into electronic sounds, creating a kind of morphing digital ethnicity along the route. The visual pitch graphs were converted into numerical data and fed as input to an FFT patch.


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    Google Earth Satellite Images

    Satellite images were collected along the route and used as source material for both visual processing, and as raw colour input for sound. The images were morphed into each other to create a continuous colour gradient change sequence, which expresses the route.

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    Africa: Conflicts Without Borders

    This data map registers regional conflicts in North Africa in the years 2007 to 2009. The map is as a georeferenced data file, which was used to determine when areas of conflict are crossed along the route in which the film takes place.
    The map visualizes conflict in Africa as sub-national and transnational areas of armed conflict, inter-communal strife, and political violence that occurred in the first seven months of 2009. Areas of conflict were drawn around locations of reported conflict incidents in 2009, as well as around concentrations of internally displaced persons inside affected countries and cross-border rebel bases and refugee camps in neighboring countries.
    The maps was compiled by the US State Department's Humanitarian Information Unit

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    National Borders

    The crossing of national borders is an important catalysts, dividing the film into segments. Each time the route crosses a national border, it's being audio-visualized by material created with the Synchronator module.

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    Geographical and weather data

    Geographical data along these pilgrimage routes was collected with the wonderful Geonames API. This data suppled us with material with which to create the audiovisual environment for the film. Data includes altitude, temperature, air pressure, wind direction and speed, etc.. When superimposed with the grid of pilgrimage routes, the data becomes a 3 dimensional score of parametric data.


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    Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD):
North African pilgrimage routes 1300-1900 CE.

    The route of the film follows traditional pilgrimage routes from North Africa. The data on the prevalent routes used between 1300 and 1900 CE, was drawn from a data set compiled by Dr. Matthew T. Ciolek, Head of the Internet Publications Bureau, RSPAS, at The Australian National University, Canberra. The data set is collected from various sources, including the map 'African Pilgrimage Routes to Mecca, ca. 1300-1900', published by Umar al-Naqar's in 'The Pilgrimage Tradition in West Africa' in 1972.

    The academic website of Dr. Matthew T. Ciolek has a range of data sets in different formats which include data on the Tsunami, Aboriginal Studies, Internet data, Buddhism and much more. A map of North African pilgrimage routes in the years 1300-1900 CE, was used as the fundamental spatial grid upon which the structure of the film is organized.


    Ciolek, T. Matthew. 2005. Georeferenced data set (Series 1 - Routes): North African pilgrimage routes 1300-1900 CE. OWTRAD Dromographic Digital Data Archives (ODDDA). Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD) Project. Canberra: - Asia Pacific Research Online.
    Copyright (c) 2005 - present by T. Matthew Ciolek. OWTRAD materials and data sets may be used and distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License (the latest version is presently available at

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    The Route: Loc16 in Sudan, to Marrakech in Morocco.

    This route organises the structure of the film. It starts out in an anonymous location in South Sudan, to the north of the Zefah Game Reserve, and continues for 6493 km, to the vicinity of Marrakech in Morocco. On the way the route crosses 9 borders from South Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Morocco.

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    Data used in the film

    Field Notes From a Mine follows a route which starts from a place without a name in South Sudan, and continues westwards through the continent, all the way to Marrakech in Morocco. This whole route is walked via traditional pilgrimage routes which are spread throughout Africa. As the film progresses, border crossings become an important catalysts, dividing the film into segments. In the 20 minutes of the film, 6900 kilometers are travelled and ten national entities are crossed.

    Each crossing is the start of a part in the film. This temporal construction shows the artificial presence of borders within the continuum of the continent, while it also strengthens the sense of opposition between a discrete and a continuous relation with space, which are embodied in digital and analog technologies. It was important for us not only to record an immersive reality of space, transformation and movement, but also to engage with the static gaze of the border, and the rational demarkation of the space being covered. The border is therefore not meetly seen as an obstacle, but as a parallel world where a different life and development takes place.

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    Sound approach and techniques

    Sound and music are historically different layers in documentary films. Sound design is often a much more potent medium in documentary, as opposed to actual music, because sounds are perceived to be more objective. But this is not always the case... When working on this film, the sound composition includes three conceptual stages: The filmed documentary environment, edited sounds, and a bit of composed music. The dialogue with the filmographic language, will become the determining factor with regards to the approach taken. For example, silences is often very productive in opposition to active images, and darkness works very well when sound is highly expressive.

    The first level of sound composition is the documentary space. Here we play sounds and images as they are recorded from the computer system, in order to produce a sense of a documentary reality. This is an equivalent of ethnographic films, reality TV, or audiovisual research reports. We have created a generative audiovisual environment based on data, so now we can listen to it, and select materials as we walk through the nomadic routes. These include spatial city sounds, wind, sounds of the walker's body, etc. Which are played using a custom-made psychoacoustic panning algorithm, that expresses the depth and orientation of sounds.

    This part is similar to a generative installation, where events take place according to the data set. We can then record instances where the landscape or environment are particularly interesting. Or rather static parts of the journey, that help to establish a sense of the basic environment in its mundane nature, and emphasize dramatic events later on. Here we employ the virtual equivalent of physical models of lenses, microphones, recording angles, etc. which produce different perspectives. It's important to note Bill Viola's films as a powerful artistic approach to this documentary stage. Particularly, "The Passing", where his notion of the camera-as-open-eye is explored. (inspired by Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera).

    The second level is when sounds and images of the environment are manipulated in the editing stage, with different cinematic means including cuts, superimposition, mixing, different visuals with different sounds, fades etc. This is the first stage where we manipulate the time of the film. This is also the place where the boundaries between documentary, drama and propaganda tend to blur. For example, post colonial films such as Pino Solanas' "La Hora de los Hornos", Guy Debord "Society of the Spectacle", or Cinema Verite films incl. Shotgun Joe: Crime and Prison.

    The third stage is the 'music' of the film. Music is dangerous in documentary films because it tends to expose the manipulation of the makers. So it has to be handled carefully. I tend to prefer a deliberate and clear use of music. For example, the use of an external, composed work that returns every so often to express the procedure of the journey. Some extreme examples of heavy use of music can be Riefenstahl's Triumph of the WIll, Nuridsany and Pérennou's Microcosmos, or Werner Herzog's Wodaabe. In these cases, the documentary images seem to be driven by the music, and to dance to it.

    This traditional production-line analogy, can help to illustrate the different roles sound and music traditionally have in the artistic language of documentary film. Unlike in drama, documentaries speak of actual events. If we want to make a documentary about a completely orchestrated event, such as this data environment, we should make careful choices with regards to what means we use to produce a sense of objectivity. We may not have to remain objective, but I think that this is the unique aspect of this film. Obviously, our data is not objective, nor are our programs. Being aware of the different sonic production phases I outlined here, could help us choose a strategy for the creation of this film. I propose to carefully select the materials, and work on the timeline of the film to express the script, rather than remain tied up to the data routes as a way to create the structure.

    As the film develops it will be possible to play with how much of concrete scenery we would like to expose to the audience, however I do believe that the artificial construction of an internal and external environment using sound is essential, and allows the layer of sound to be both a reflection of actual space and movement, and also engage with the historical language of documentary film.

    There are three conceptual layers:
    1) The immediate documentary environment (inside and outside sounds),
    2) The manipulated 'filmographic' sounds ( edited sounds )
    3) The film music.

    Different mappings and interpretations of data, physical models and synthesis techniques were employed in the making of the film, all with custom-made software which employes physics objects such as integrators and differentiators, springs mass systems, as well as a binaural panning algorithm, dust generators, feedback FM, and custom built FFT-based video data sonifier and a Huygens-based spatial panner.

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    A data-driven documentary

    This is a data driven 'documentary' film which imagines a nomadic walker going through an excursion from one locality to another, passing different landscapes and crossing borders on the way. Throughout the film, we don't see that walker, but the environment itself operates as an expression of the experience of that walker.

    Being an abstract film, the dialogue between sounds and visuals produces and articulates the language of the film. This is a dialogue that can be at times synchronous, asynchronous, or counterpointal.

    The film images are computer generated animations and sounds, and contains no filmed or recorded footage. It's a data-driven documentary. We created an environment which is based on data and rendered by computer code. This practice makes the process of film making different than a regular documentary film.

    At the first stage, we built a computer-generated documentary environment. Then, we move on to filming and recording the environment, and then we edit and manipulate it into a film, using a simulated cinematic means.

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