Yesterday, I started a new project Echo Location at Bedford Creative Arts, which will be a collaborative sound mapping project with the people of Bedford to think about the question – What does Bedford sound like?
Echo location is an online and offline work, where people record sounds, and upload them to the echo location sound map by using audioboo and tagging them “echoloc”. These short samples can then be triggered by ‘playing’ the map like a musical score. There are plans to expand the functionality of the online map and how it can be interacted with. The soundmap is similar to the birdsong mapping project twitchr and is also created in collaboration with digital artist Ed Holroyd.
I will also be developing an installation / performance using the uploaded sounds for Spring 2012, so this is a project with some time to develop and mature.
For the first test run of the Echo Location Sound Map, I was invited to the meeting of the board of directors of Bedford Creative Arts to involve them in the process of how Echo location develops. I introduced the project with a talk about how the idea had developed, and then we went out with a variety of sound recording devices to capture some sounds from nearby to then upload.
We tried to follow a circular route, but from quite early on, it became apparent that this was not really working as a format, and people wished to wander off and record at their own pace. It was also very evident that the differences with the sets of equipment really impacted on their experience. Being able to monitor the sound on headphones, adjust levels and listen to the world through a microphone is extremely engaging, as the sound feels ‘magnified’ and very immersive. This means the Edirol R09 handheld recorder with built in mics, and the minidisc recorder with a mic attached were the most successful set-ups.
Some people recorded using audioboo directly on their mobile phones. The advantage of this method meant that the recordings were automatically geo-tagged. however, the sound cannot be monitored when recording, which is not as engaging as an activity. however, the sound quality from the iphone was better than I had anticipated.
For future events, I would ideally like participants to use handheld recorders with built in mics and then work with Audacity to select the sections of sounds we wish to upload afterwards. This way, the experience will hopefully open up a new and refreshed way of listening to the world. Following the event, I would encourage people to continue to interact with Echo Location by uploading sounds ‘on the fly’ using audioboo on their smartphone.
The board were very engaged with the task, and also debated many aspects of the project and this kind of approach to making work and involving other people in the process. I learnt a lot from this experience, and it was an extremely stimulating afternoon, and has really helped me think about how to develop the project and shape future participatory events. Mike (on the board) said it was like contributing to my sketch book as I shape the piece of work.
It was a bit of a shame that it rained, but everyone was happy to carry on, and the sun did eventually come out again.
I’m really looking forward to the next Bedford, Echo Location event, which will be in July, to coincide with the Busking Festival.