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How to Make a Sound Map: Cartographic, Compositional, Performative

What is a Sound Map?

Firstly a contradiction. The definition of sound map should not be taken too literally. The idea of map, mapping, journey likewise should not be taken at face value, that is, as a two-dimensional means-to-an-end. To use a philosophy crudely, not all swans are white; not all maps are two dimensional.

Maps are ultimately representations, which suggest no boundaries as to how it is represented indeed representation is chosen by those representing. They should accepted as a subjective truth insofar that the map is an abstraction derived from something- the geographical territory- but it is not the thing itself.

What I am trying to say is that like any map, sound maps should have no prescribed method. However you choose to represent, do what you want. But here are a couple of methods. (If you’re interested in the philosophy, check out ‘Map-territory relation’ on Wikipedia and the links on there. Bateson, Baudrillard, Korzybski, eat your heart out.)

How far can we push the boundaries of the typical cartography of a sound map?

Mapping Sounds

Let’s start with the most straight forward method of mapping and embedding sound files on an existing map programme such as Google or Bing. There are two online tools you can use to create a sound map. They don’t require signing up but the advantage of doing so is that you can save maps and edit or add to them at a later date. Umapper and Map Maker are two services I found.

Map Maker

This is a simple tool that is straight forward and not as buffed up with custom features like those of  UMapper. All is is is a Google Map with the ability to place those red markers with the ability to embed flash-based links such as SoundCloud players.

You have to sign up (for free) in order to share an iframe link, see below, otherwise you can export a javascript code. To make a map simply find the location of your field recording- be as precise as you like- and click to acquire the longitude and latitude of that place.

You then have to title the marker and add some text. Call it what you like within the character limit and use the ’embed’ code on the Soundcloud file. This can be done as many times as desired and then you can save your map once it’s titled.  Wordpress doesn’t like iframe codes so please click on the link to find my example.

Tariq’s London Sound Map

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 14.20.33

UMapper

Umapper offers much more custom features than MapMaker and can therefore provide a more detailed representation. You have to upload your sound files to the site (copyright is still your own) and it can only supports MP3 file format. Each marker contains a media player and an image as well, if uploaded, to support the file.

The maps are more interactive and with the use of shapes and so on allows you to be more creative with how you choose to create your map. It’s a bit more time consuming and I had problems uploading and playing back my audio files and images so I can only offer an existing example by way of the London Sound Survey

Sound Map by Composition

During his talk on Monday Chris Watson suggested another kind of sound map, this time by way of composition. His current work at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield is an example of this insofar as he attempts to take the listener on a journey through his hometown Sheffield. He does this by using ambisonic diffusion to immerse the listener in his soundscape of field recordings collected from all over the city.

In terms of composition it begins at the peripheries of Sheffield, on the hills, and finishes beneath the train station in the heart of the city. We heard sections of the 36-minute piece during his talk and witnessed how he exploits the acousmatic potentials of this kind of mapping. However the veil is lifted ever so slightly by the accompanying black-and-white photographs that depict the places he record in an non-synchronised random slide show.

In the same category a slightly different method can be found in Matthew Barnard‘s work Woche (with apologies to Ruttman and Brock). Although this piece is a document of a week in central London, with no necessary continuity in terms of time or place, if we allow the term ‘sound map’ to be broadened then we have a composition that maps the experience of the busy city represented using heavy, and pretty, aesthetic devices.

By way of the binaural method and the unique psychoacoustics thereof, we play the part of the recordist, experience the places he or she visited, and hear the acoustic environment, as accurately as possible, the way they did.

My piece Avignon Off’13, also binaural, likewise ‘maps’ a journey during a certain period but contains all phonographic material  and no electroacoustic processing. These two pieces are two further examples of how sound map can be created using composition.

Marcus Leadley is another to look out for. If you ever meet him at a conference or symposium, it’s likely he has a sound walk prepared for people to talk part in. Marcus, records souunds of place using various recording techniques and compiles them into a randomised composition built on Max MSP.

He sends the output to a radio transmitter and listeners are required to wear wireless headphones and explore the places that are randomly appearing in the soundscape composition. Listening to Marcus Leadley’s Hidden Sounds of Whitstable showcases some of the sounds he is able to discover:

Sound Walks

Sound walks are another to ‘map’ the sounds of a place using what ever creative tools the artist chooses. Usually sound walks are live pieces in which the artist takes a group of participants through a place in order to raise more awareness to the acoustic environment. However they can take the form of compositions and be done for aesthetic purposes.

This practice was formed alongside soundscape ecology at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Artists such as RM Schafer, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Barry Truax took part in defining the theory and Westerkamp had her brilliant essay on soundwalking reprublished recently. Click the picture to read:

soundwalkmap

Through soundwalking Hildegaard Westerkamp identifies that ‘we cannot close our ears’ and therefore ‘cannot help hearing all sounds.’ She attempts to ‘remove the initial hearing barriers’ in order to ‘become fascinated by exploration.’ Soundwalks need not be ephemeral and presented only in a live format. By use of various methods artists have come up with ways to document their walks from the very literal (see the map above) to very impressionistic.

During a rhythmanalysis soundwalk of Newcastle in 2011, Justin Bennett instructed the particpants to draw a small circle in the centre of piece of paper and then a large circle that has the smaller one in its centre. The use of circles is fairly relevent to the psycho-spatial properties of experience of listening. See the blank diagram:

photo 1

The listener, or rhythmanalyst, can use any language or pictures to describe their experience. For example:

photo (1)

And Justin Bennett’s [hard to read] soundwalk map of Newcastle City Centre:

photo 2

Other artists record their sound walks binaurally and appropriately ask listeners to use headphones to listen to their walks. Binaural sound artist Dallas Simpson composes walks and improvises performances by interacting with the landscape to make unique pieces usually intended for headphone reproduction. See Dallas Simpson’s Personal Performances.

If you’re interested in a deeper history of sound walking, it goes back into the depths of poetry. See Seán Street’s The Poetry of Radio: the Colour of Sound for more (also available as an e-book on the University of Hull library catalogue).

These have been three methods of mapping sounds: cartographic, compositional, performative.

If you’ve found this pose helpful, keep checking back for more! For a growing list of Sound Maps found online, see this page of the Acoustic Ecology @ UoH blog: Sound Maps

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