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Street Ears

by Eric Powell and Matthew Griffin

Virtual maps contain the potential for interactive forms of representation that can be experienced by a wide range of user groups--including the visually impaired. The Street Ears project and application examines how sound-based mapping strategies destabilize the notion that maps are inherently visual media. Through research-creation methods, our project explores the ability of mobile media technologies to promote accessibility and generate new ways of perceiving space. The key questions that drive the project are: how do soundmaps encourage direct, embodied relationships between physical space and virtual space, and how can these relationships challenge normative assumptions about maps and mapping?

Soundmapping allows individuals, researchers, and scholars to engage with space in a dynamic way, generating dialogues about concepts of noise, quality of life, and the navigation of the everyday. Within Street Ears, these conversations find new resonance through practical application, particularly in the construction of a locative media/ immersive audio smartphone application that represent the diversity of urban experience. Through an extension of the phenomenological approaches found within soundwalking methods, Street Ears frames the study of aural environments through concepts of movement and accessibility.

Street Ears has been specifically built for networked mobile devices to take advantage of the accessibility of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) information. The first iteration has been built for the Android platform, but the ideal version would become platform agnostic, both from an accessibility perspective, and to be able to maintain access to Google Location Services (or a similar service in the future), which will be available on all major mobile platforms. The significance of using GPS is that we can then introduce the user’s latitude and longitude as variables in the software, which is fundamental in creating a dynamic, user-controlled soundscape/soundwalking experience.

The latitude and longitude variables allow us to very simply calculate the relative distance between the user’s location (translated from their actual location to their starting location on the soundmap they have chosen) and the recording points of our created maps, which in turn allows us to mimic the relative volumes they would experience in real-life. However, we have discovered that the richest listening experiences occur when the user is consistently immersed in sound, so the ‘true’ acoustics have been modified slightly for the aesthetic experience of the project (otherwise there could be moments of little or no volume coming from the user’s headphones, which does offer its own amount of interest, but it isn’t what we’re going for with this project.). The most significant thing to remain is that the user must experience a change in sonic environment as they move through space. The user has control over the rate of this change, as they have the ability to scale the relative distance of the recording points.

For this conference we will provide a number of devices that have the Street Ears app pre-loaded, but participants will be encouraged to download the app, and use their own Android devices as well. This will provide listeners with an opportunity to try the app as part of the program. The users will have the ability to access a number of different mappings allowing them to explore a number of alternate sonic locations including Montreal Canada, Dubai UAE, and Hong Kong.

Download Street Ears