Sounds and the City
Soundmapping is a practice that dates back to the 1970s, when R. Murray Schafer students used to spend the 24 hours listening to a specific soundscape in order to reconstruct later in the studio, a 24 minutes excerpt of our everyday listening experience for future monitoring, memory, and for art’s sake. Definitely a good practice and a valuable experience, better done at seaside places in summer than in a winter night in the Alps (as some former students reported to me!).
Today, soundmapping is a growing community that borrowed practices from the code hacking philosophy, and relies on crowdsourcing and Open Street Map – better than Google Maps – to create web geotagged sound libraries and interactive maps based, of course, on sound. There are many, cool Soundmaps projects out there, that cover areas of the world, singles countries, cities, or even a specific territory.
A steadily growing practice that brought sound studies out of the closet, and is eventually making people that yes, the sound we hear around us is important.
Then, something happens. Some weeks ago Google itself launched, together with Amplifon, a new sound feature for the Street View function of Google Maps. Not only can you see the streets from a human scale, without the need to be there, and with an interactive approach so you can navigate the street as you would don on foot. Now you can also hear it, and yes, it is interactive too. The sound moves in a stereophonic space, so you have the feeling of the soundscape moving around you when you move around the Street View map.
Once again, the bottom – up approach in everything related to our common, shared space, the city, is adopted by the big players. Which is a good sign, and a warning signal too, as we discussed before.
There is another element, too. Google Map is a digital, web – based product. But web based maps can embedded anywhere where there is an Internet connection, and this is the case of some pilot projects of Interactive Urban Furniture that are starting appearing on our street, like Urbanflow by Adam Greenfield.
What happens when this new, multi-sensory features like Sound Street View go back to the real world? When the soundscape, artificially removed from its original living context to be archived on a digital map, is brought back to real life?
We see more and more that a multi-layered city is developing, one that will integrate real everyday life with a IT, Digital, internet based layer. Conflicts can emerge, as we know, but also opportunities to shape a different reality and a different public space. This can happen only if we do not forget what it is all about: real multi-sensoriality, physical space, and living bodies. Interactive Urban Furniture that can incorporate physical elements like sound, are a good point to start.
We will talk about this more and soon.