Sound Map Studio at the Brownlow Hub

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From this Thursday — Saturday (18th — 20th August 2016), I’ll be based in the Brownlow Community Hub, continuing my sound mapping of spaces around Craigavon as part of the Capturing Craigavon project.

In this research project I am exploring different mapping strategies to find distinctive aspects of the sound environment in the new town.

I’m interested to hear about the different routes people take through the town on the black paths, and special places that people like to visit. The sound map will catalogue everyday sounds and people’s connections to them – from birdsong, wildlife and natural sounds to the sounds of machines, vehicles and music played in public.

I’ll be listening to the stories already gathered for Capturing Craigavon, and I’m also keen to talk to more people who live in the area. All are welcome to come along to the Hub to discuss the project or contribute. (I will also have some recording equipment and you can feel free to use it to make your own recordings, too.)

Drop in on Thursday, Friday or Saturday: I will be around from 11am — 5pm each day.

If you need more info, or you have any questions, get in touch with me by email at: cmccafferty06 [AT] qub.ac.uk

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Upcoming: NECS conference, Potsdam, July 2016

This week, I’ve been preparing my paper for the NECS conference, which takes place in late July in Potsdam, Germany. The NECS is the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies, and their conference is huge, with over one hundred panels and events stretching across five days (http://necs.org/conference/programme-2/programme/).

I’m speaking as part of a panel called Sound, Space and Time: Sonic Connectivities in Static and Moving Image Media, alongside Jennifer O’Meara (Maynooth University), Rahma Khazam (Independent) and Stewart Collinson (University of Lincoln). Thanks to Dr. Nessa Johnston of Edge Hill University for putting the panel together.

My paper is titled “Collective urban digital witnessing through participatory online sound mapping”. I’ll be exploring the idea of field recording as mediated witnessing of urban space. Firstly, I will review some existing sound map projects as digital witnessing of urban space and architecture. I will also introduce some of the ongoing fieldwork I’m doing, and my methods for inviting people to participate in collective “witnessing” of sound.

Witnessing is a useful term to use to unpack participatory sound mapping. The figure of the earwitness is already an important one in the context of sound studies (see Schafer (1994/1977) for practical examples, mainly based on historical literature and see also Birdsall (2012), pp. 11-12, for a good critical introduction to earwitnessing). Meanwhile, in the context of spatialised media on the geoweb, notions of citizen journalism and collectivity have evolved in recent years – see Mortensen (2015) on “connective witnessing”, for example. I am interested in how these undercurrents can be harnessed to explore people’s experience of their everyday urban spaces.

On the off-chance you’re at a loose end in Potsdam on Friday 29th July between 11am and 1pm, do come along!

References

Birdsall, Carolyn (2012). Nazi Soundscapes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mortensen, Mette (2015). “Connective witnessing: Reconfiguring the relationship between the individual and the collective,” Information, Communication & Society, 18(11), pp. 1393-1406.

Schafer, R Murray (1977/1994). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Inner Traditions/Bear.

The creative work of acoustic cartography

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Recording at the Craigavon Lakes, making visual reminders: my recording setup; a map for location; a compass for coordinates. The main photograph shows the setting.

I almost missed my now weekly Friday blog post. (“Thank goodness you remembered!” I can hear the two of you exclaim.) The sun, incredibly, has not stopped shining the past few weeks in Belfast. This is a big deal here, where grey skies are the usual order of the day.

Below, just another few quick thoughts in terms of the fieldwork projects I’m working on. These are some ideas I’m encountering as the fieldwork progresses; I’m interested in exploring not only my own practice but also how the participants in my fieldwork (artists, local residents, architects or planners) engage with sound mapping…

***

I’ve been thinking of the fieldwork as a way to explore the creative work (see fn. 1) of acoustic cartography. How do we map encounters with sound? That is to say, what kinds of work does it involve?

The notion of cartography as a labour intensive process (or anything involving work whatsoever) is a curious thought today. Not much more than twenty years ago, maps were still individual artifacts (or commodities), made at the hand of a cartographer – who was still a recognisable figure with a

Now, through our live engagement with new spatial media (fn. 2), we continuously create new layers of cartographic data based on the places we go, the things we do, and how we interact with these places and things.

Yet the creative work of acoustic cartography goes, to some degree, against the grain of everyday pervasive mobile networking. Unlike automated cartographic data creation, which the user might not even notice (while carrying a smartphone, for example, your every move can be automatically tracked), the production of acoustic cartography can be broken down into particular, intentional phases, all based around the practice of audio recording in the field.

The basis of acoustic cartography in field recording implies attentiveness to the immediate environment: the spatial boundaries we map are determined by whatever is in range of the recordist’s ears, extended or filtered by their audio recording equipment, no more or less.

This level of attentiveness, whether in listening walks or through recordings, demands time, since the events being witnessed unfold in real time. If the intention is to listen again, critically, after an initial recording phase – then this too takes time, given the level of detail and density to be witnessed in any sound environment.

Just a fragment for now – more on this in due course…

Footnotes

  1. After reading Patrick McHaffie on the labour processes of cartography (see McHaffie 1995), I’ve been thinking about how re-investing cartography with the notion of labour might be useful in my research. McHaffie was talking particularly about the changing nature of cartographic labour as GIS became more widespread in the mid-1990s, before the widespread access to mapping which came about after the explosion of webmapping a few years later
  2. The term new spatial media, coined by geographers Sarah Elwood and Agnieszka Leszczynski nicely characterises the contemporary engagement with maps and mapping: for them, new spatial media are the “…mediums, or channels, that enable, extend, or enhance our ability to interact with and create geographic information online” (2013, p. 544).

References

  • McHaffie, Patrick (1995). “Manufacturing metaphors: Public cartography, the market and Democracy”, in Ground Truth: The Social Implications of Geographic Information Systems, edited by John Pickles. New York: Guilford Press, 1995.
  • Elwood, Sarah and Agnieszka Leszczynski (2013). “New spatial media, new knowledge politics,” in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 38, 544-559.

Thoughts after the QUB / UCD Architecture & Planning Conference

Thanks to Sean Cullen and his colleagues in Architecture and Planning at Queen’s and UCD for an enjoyable PhD conference on Tuesday. Something like 25 or 30 PhD students from both universities presented, and topics ranged from rights and engagement (public interest in planning and participation in architecture), to technical studies (materials and typologies), to architecture and arts (film and photography), and beyond to philosophy in architecture.

Speaking as part of the “Mapping Space” panel, to a room of mainly architects and planners, I talked about my research to date and how it intersects with urban, spatial and architectural research.

For context, I introduced what I call “cartographies of urban sound”: the various ways artists and researchers have taken account of urban sound and noise using maps — using traditional cartography, GIS and new spatial media. I then introduced the “massively-open” online sound maps I have been researching.

I introduced two of the key research questions I am working towards answering:

  • Firstly, an epistemological question: What kinds of knowledge do sound maps produce?
  • And, secondly, a technical, spatial analysis question: How do we determine appropriate scales of analysis in sound mapping?

I also introduced my fieldwork projects and talked in a bit more detail about the work I’ve started in Craigavon. For now, the fieldwork there has been my own personal mapping, and I am working to open this up to a participatory process.

There was an interesting discussion afterwards.

One of the attendees asked who benefits: how will the research be useful for architects or architecture? I don’t know if I articulated this well on the day, but it’s certainly something I have been thinking a lot about. There are several potential useful outcomes, but mainly I’d like my research to describe strategies for making “hidden” layers of sound more accessible in architectural contexts through sound mapping.

Related to this was a question about mapping and “spatial agency”. In my fieldwork, by opening and exploring participatory mapping processes, I am exploring how multifaceted layers of mapped environmental sound become created and shared. This kind of creative and analytical process has normally been technocratic in nature and limited to the professional communities in urban development (architects, urban designers, planners, city authorities, acousticians). Sound maps elicit participation from the “users” of urban spaces and buildings: as well as paying attention to the creative activities involved in sound mapping, my research focuses on how the knowledge generated might be shared more broadly in urban development contexts.

There was a question to all the presenters in my session about mapping and value judgements. This is an important consideration for my project too. While there are several instances of sound maps that seek to classify sound environments in terms of their quality (and there is a whole body of research around personal and affective responses to soundscapes), the remarkable thing about many of the co-created online sound maps I research is that they do not invite binary good/bad judgements. Commentary tends to be neutral – though this, too, should make us think carefully about the kinds of questions being asked of participants and the potential applications of sound map materials.

Plenty more to think about on all those lines of questioning.

Red face, black paths

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Recording in a square close to Marlborough House – part of my Capturing Craigavon fieldwork.

Work in progress (I) – Capturing Craigavon

The sun did indeed continue to shine when I made a field trip to Craigavon last Saturday – to the point that I got badly sunburnt while cycling out in the open all day. Red face aside, it was a perfect day for exploring the city and making some field recordings.

The lakes and the city park are incredible assets. But the unique sense of place really comes from cycling around the black paths in Brownlow (Brownlow was the first of two planned sectors, but the only one to be built – Mandeville, to the west, is still mostly open fields, as indeed is a surprising amount of Brownlow, in fact). The sonic calm and clarity of the environments along the black paths in particular is remarkable, and it seems much less troubled by traffic noise than most “urban” places. With mature trees, ivy and other kinds of greenery, these places provided a feeling of summer shade which was really special.

As expected, the trip raised a lot of questions for me. I went on a relatively unplanned wander, and tried to take in as much of the place as I could. When I trace out my journey, I’ll see where I’ve missed and try to figure out why. When it comes to continuing the fieldwork, I’m thinking about how my individual experience will inform my work with local residents – what am I missing? How do they experience the sound of Craigavon? More on this as the project progresses.

 I made ten recordings at points all over the new city, and a few extra written notes when the wind was making recording a bit tricky. I’m just organising all the material now but for now here’s a short excerpt from one of the recordings, made on a black path in Legahory.

Work in progress (II) – Sound map datasets

I’ll be sharing some datasets relating to sound maps here on the blog soon. I’ve been gathering data and links to sound maps as the main focus of the first half of my research, all building towards a critical analysis of sound map projects. I’ll be presenting a bit about that at the Ambiances, Tomorrow conference in Greece this September. More info in due course.

Work in progress (III) – QUB / UCD conference next week

Right this moment, I’m working on a presentation for a joint QUB/UCD Architecture PhD conference, which is happening next Tuesday in the Graduate School at Queen’s. I’ll be giving a general overview of my research and some of the themes that are emerging.

I’ll also briefly introduce my fieldwork projects at the conference. These range from a response to an urban development framework consultation (Linen Quarter, central Belfast) to an architectural education live project (Street Society, North Belfast) to an urban historical research project (Capturing Craigavon) to a public engagement process in an urban development in Halmstad, Sweden (Sound @ Nissan). More on all that to follow.

Some things that caught my attention this week

  • The Guardian: It was intriguing to note that the Barcelona superblocks concept “was first outlined in 1987, after noise mapping revealed that levels were too high”.
  • If I were in London on 1st June, I would surely be at this talk by Ian Rawes with bells on.
  • The artist Sven Anderson has a new project underway in Bray, County Wicklow, in partnership with the Mermaid Arts Centre. The Office for Common Sound is ongoing in May and June.

 

Fieldwork: Capturing (the sound of) Craigavon

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What was to become Craigavon, sketched out in the early 1960s by Geoffrey Copcutt. Image via @CapturCraigavon on Twitter.

 

Long time, no blog update! Nearly a year in fact. But I’ve been keeping busy. Of which, more soon.

A quick update for now though: I’m going on a sound mapping expedition to Craigavon tomorrow. It’s my first time returning to the new city since working on the PLACE Urban Design Academy, way back in the mists of time (2014). It’s nice to be working again on a PLACE project, though this time in a different capacity: Craigavon is one of my PhD fieldwork sites, under the aegis of PLACE’s Capturing Craigavon project, which explores the new town’s history and future from “the perspective of those most intimately entangled with the place” (McCabe 2015, p. 6).

Overall, in this fieldwork project, I am interested in identifying the sound spaces that are particular to the town — through my own exploration using field recording and, just as importantly, through conversation and recordings with local people. Tomorrow, as the first step in this mapping phase, I’m taking my bike on the train and going on a fairly unstructured adventure around the city. I’ll make some recordings and try to identify some of the local sonic spaces and their characteristics. Later this summer, I’ll be making a number of return visits to work with local people on the project.

After all the initial research, conversation and recording, I’ll be working on integrating what we find from this study with the Capturing Craigavon web mapping platform. (Their map is worth a look already to see the lovely survey of Craigavon’s development through time, drawn by Aoife McGee, alongside stories from local people, architects and planners who were involved in its development.) Sound maps tend to exist as standalone projects, so integrating this sound mapping work with an already-existing mapping platform should provide a nice design challenge.

References

  • McCabe, Rebekah (ed.), 2015. Creating Craigavon. Belfast: PLACE.

New Dun Laoghaire sound map

It’s always exciting to see new sound maps emerge, and the latest is quite close to home for me, only down the road in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin.

A Sound Map of Dún Laoghaire, by Anthony Kelly and David Stalling
A Sound Map of Dún Laoghaire, by Anthony Kelly and David Stalling

A Soundmap of Dún Laoghaire is a project by Anthony Kelly and David Stalling, with coding by Carlos Añazco.It uses Google Maps for its base map and stylistically is quite similar to Montréal Sound Map and the Belfast Sound Map. An interesting difference is in their approach to collecting contributions: rather than provide open access, they work with guest recordists to contribute to the archives. Recordings are organised by a number of categories, including “folk histories” and a “sound journal”, as well as the more general field recordings.

Link: A Soundmap of Dún Laoghaire

Classifying sound maps

(Incomplete) list of sound map types with examples
(Incomplete) list of sound map types with examples

One of the things I presented at ONCA on Tuesday night was this classification of types of sound maps. I originally produced this way back when I’d first collected a decent sample of sound maps for my database, but I thought it would be useful for people in the audience who hadn’t encountered sound maps before.

I’m interested in seeing how sound mapping practices converge or diverge, and whether this depends for instance on the background of the producers (e.g. artists, field recordists, institutions, enthusiasts…) This is also a first step towards clarifying terminologies, given the fact that there are a few competing terms in use for similar and related projects (sound map, audio map, listening map)

You’ll notice the last category is titled “…?”. I still have a lot to do to start making this list more representative and useful, so it’s very much a work in progress.

Thoughts after Sound and the Urban Environment – ONCA, Brighton

I was grateful for the opportunity to present the beginnings of my research to an audience of complete strangers in Brighton this week. The Sound and the Urban Environment symposium on 2 June was part of a wider programme organised by Conall Gleeson at the University of Brighton in collaboration with the ONCA Gallery (a unique space focusing on ecology and art). The accompanying sound installation/exhibition included something like 20 sound works by a wide range of artists.

At the symposium on Tuesday night I joined six other researchers in the field of sound and urbanism. There was a lively mix of people with backgrounds in art, architecture, local government & planning, noise control and more. I gave a presentation titled Urban Acoustic Cartography: Sound mapping as a tool for participatory urban analysis and pedagogy, which I used to describe the approach I’m taking in my research and outline some of the early findings.

Since starting the research in October 2014, this was really my first chance to speak to an audience outside Queen’s about it. I found it slightly nerve-wracking beforehand, but ultimately it was really rewarding and useful. Some general thoughts:

  • Talking in public about work you’ve been drafting for ages is a great way to put it to the test. Also, for this presentation I dusted off a lot of material I hadn’t touched for a few months and found connections I hadn’t been expecting with more recent thoughts.
  • This event made me conscious of the need to put things out there more often to see what people make of it. (Of course I must stress my supervisors have been absolutely fantastic with helping me refine my work as I settle in to the research, but it’s also good to hear other takes, especially from people outside the academic setting.) My friend Pip Shea has an interesting take on this “beta” approach, in a field guide titled Co-Creating Knowledge Online, which you can read more about here.
  • This need to “speak to the community” is all the more important for me in my research, since my primary research materials (over one hundred sound maps) consist of sound recordings, images and text created by hundreds if not thousands of other people around the world. While I am planning to make the sound map database public in due course, that involves a process of data collection (ongoing) and design (yet to begin) which will take some time. Speaking to sound map producers and participants more often in the meantime can only help I think.
  • I came away from the event feeling very lucky to be part of such a dynamic, wide-ranging field. Artists, scientists, architects, activists, policy-makers – all have useful and unique contributions to the challenging questions around sound and cities.
  • On a related note, to me it seems crucial that the field is kept open. Though there are welcome moves towards standardisation (through training of acoustic planners, for example) one of the strengths of research around urban sound is the diversity of approach. Perhaps this is true more from a sonic arts standpoint: In many practices of sound art the desire is not to control sound but rather to submit to it, using radically open listening practices, and seeing where it leads us…

At ONCA we had an audience of probably 30-40 people, a mix of academics, artists and those just generally interested, making for a nice variety. There were four presentations aside from mine, from Dr Frauke Berehndt (Lecturer in Media Studies, University of Brighton); Lisa Lavia (Noise Abatement Society) and Dr Harry Witchel (Brighton and Sussex Medical School); Dr Linda O’Keeffe (Lecturer in Sound Studies, Lancaster University; also Editor of the excellent Interference Journal); and Glenn Davidson (artist) and Mike Fedeski (architect). You can find more about the other presenters on the event website.

My own presentation looked at three areas:

  • Mapping sound maps: a whistle-stop tour of the 117 sound maps we’ve gathered so far for a database. This will form the basis of a critical review of sound maps, seeking useful points of dialogue with architecture and planning.
  • Listening and the urban environment: here, I gave some time to ideas around social listening in urban environments, drawing from a range of fields, including theories and writings by people like Peter Zumthor, David Toop, Pauline Oliveros and Klaske Havik.
  • Towards my research methodology: this final part focused on the work I’m developing in terms of critical review of sound maps, workshops with built environment professionals and initial ideas about an “urban sound pedagogy”

This event was a good opportunity to survey what I’ve been doing and put it out to the community. Big thanks to Conall for the invite.

PS: I gained a lot of momentum by giving the presentation, so I’m keen that it doesn’t drop. With that in mind, I’ll use this blog in a similar way to update my progress for anyone interested, giving more detail on my work in the coming weeks and months. All thoughts and ideas welcome!