Sound mapping is a method for displaying sound database entries over a map. They usually show a map with markers that indicates the geographical position. When these markers are clicked, the information in the entry is shown, which most of the times also includes a sound recording.
The popularization of these sites happened 10 years ago, around 2005, and since then various approaches to their usage appeared, and also many different websites, some of which still get web traffic today. This article series intends to portray some of those different approaches, exemplifying four different ways soundmaps relate to sound art. The articles are based on research on soundmap sites, interviews with some of their users and three managers: Paul Craenen (Klankatlas), Udo Noll (RadioAporee) and Flavien Gillié (BNA-BBOT). Some interesting excerpts of these interviews are presented in the end of each article.
Some websites focus on specific cities, regions or countries, while others are global and place no limitations on their coverage. Then there is the difference in types of sounds: there are soundmaps which focus on spoken word recordings and storytelling, others don’t allow it at all, focusing only on field recordings, or animal sounds, or sound art. There are also differences between the sourcing schemes: some are strictly curated, where few contributions are accepted, others are quite open but still require a manager to listen and authorize the publishing of any new entry, and yet others are fully automatic in a Wiki style, with any curation happening only after the publishing of a new entry.
While these differences could be quite easy to find out by visiting a few of those sites, by doing only that maybe one wouldn’t understand their real purpose: most soundmaps are part of some wider sound art project. These involve educational initiatives, workshops, field recording courses, sound design or sound art creation groups, development of support technology and software for soundwalks, bicycle routes and sound installations. In this article series, I argue that the different soundmaps and their different features can relate to the stage of sound art practice in which those projects position their soundmaps.
One conclusion taken from these interviews and analysis is that while there is not a lot of consensus on the usage of soundmaps, the sound art creation practices pursued by the people running the sites seem to be close to one another. As works of art, they are of course all very individual, but many similarities appear when researching the techniques and processes, such as the trends to make sound art interactive or GPS-based, the use of binaural recording, the creation of smartphone applications, the promotion of workshops, festivals and other events focused on education and awareness.
Fernando Silva (Media Culture Student, University of Maastricht) for Musica, Impulse Centre for Music.