19 Airplanes App for iPad, soundtracks and documents

I purchased an iPad not long after its first release in 2010. I thought it might made an interesting medium for an art work–not a art creation app, nor an art sharing app, or even a portfolio, but an art work in and of itself. In late 2010 I began talking with software engineer John Clark about my idea. One thing led to another and in late 2011 I released 19 Airplanes on the Apple App Store.

The app showed a series of images–disturbing, cropped pictures of passenger planes from my 2001 still photography project of the same name (made a few weeks before the attacks on 9-11). The soundtrack was made up of radio calls from various New York emergency services. If you manipulated the iPad–tapped your fingers on it, swiped its screen, shook it, spun it–the airplanes and the emergency radio calls would slowly fade out and a new set of images would fade in, along with a new soundtrack. But you had to work at it to get the airplanes to fully fade–and as soon as you stopped swinging the iPad about and tapping on it the airplanes would start to fade back in. This second set of images and second soundtrack were not documented in any way–you had to discover their existence wholly on your own.

To my knowledge this was the first iPad artwork, ever.

After a year’s run on the App Store I took it down–largely due to the need to update the software as new versions of the iOS operating system were released.

To give you a fragmentary sense of the project I have (below) published two versions of the audio track. Originally I had hoped to use the longer version–nearly two and a half hours in duration–but constraints imposed by Apple limited me to ten minutes. Thus, the second, shorter version of the soundtrack is the one that actually appeared in the app.

There were no operating instructions to the app, other than a start button, but the viewer did see a series of text slides as the work began plus an “about” text appeared at the end of the app–the same text on the iTunes information page. Finally, I’ve include a screen shot of the app’s “splash” screen. All are included below.


The full length audio (2 hours, 20 minutes, not used. Headphones recommended.):

[jwplayer mediaid=”1529″]


The edited audio (10 minutes. Headphones recommended.):

[jwplayer mediaid=”1527″]


Beginning slides

title1 title2 title3 title4 title5 title6 title7



“About” screen text

The photographs of the airplanes were made in September 2001. The audio is a highly edited compilation from a combined fifteen hours of the radio communications on 9-11 from the New York Fire Department (Manhattan and Brooklyn fire and EMS services). Care has been taken to keep each of the individual recordings “in sync” with each other.

Of the emergency responders, three hundred and forty-three firefighters and paramedics were killed when the towers collapsed. Although usually not identified by name, many of the voices heard on the tapes, racing toward the disaster, were no doubt those of men who later died.

There are many stories from that day. Two which can be heard on the audio track are of special note.

In one you can hear the distress calls of a civilian who, in the aftermath of the collapse of the South Tower, took shelter in an empty fire truck and used the radio to beg for aid. That man was rescued.

In another case, toward the end of the audio, you can hear the weak voice of a firefighter calling in, saying that he was trapped. He seems to fade in and out of consciousness as he attempts to answer the dispatcher’s questions and to provide clues as to his location. Acting battalion chief Al Fuentes was rescuing other firefighters when the North Tower collapsed, knocking him into a slight depression in the ground, trapping him beneath a steel beam. Seriously injured, disoriented and struggling to stay awake, he directed rescue workers to his location. He spent the next weeks in a coma but ultimately recovered.

About the creators of 19 Airplanes Darin Boville was born in Akron, Ohio. He attended the University of Akron and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government where he specialized in government policy toward science and technology. He has been exhibiting his work since the mid-1980s and was a pioneer in the mid-1990s in using the developing World Wide Web as a means of sharing art with a geographically dispersed audience. His work tends to concentrate on themes related to technology, history and current events, and art itself.

He lives in the small, seaside town of Montara, California with his wife and two daughters.

The software was developed by John Clark, a chemist and software designer. John lives in Oceanside, California.

(Note that when I wrote this–“Although usually not identified by name, many of the voices heard on the tapes, racing toward the disaster, were no doubt those of men who later died”–I was under the impression that no women rescue workers died in New York on 9-11. That is a mistake, three died: one a two police offers and one, Yamel Merino, an EMT. I do not have recordings from the police departments on my audio but I do have a number of recordings from EMTs. My apologies for this error. About.com has an excellent, concise history of the female lives lost that day, both in New York and elsewhere including passengers, Pentagon workers and emergency personnel. )


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