Sonifying the city

Sonification would be an interesting approach for my project. Here are a few good references:

  • CITY SYMPHONIES: “Electric cars are increasingly using synthesised sounds in order to mimic the recognisable noise of the internal combustion engine. I explore an alternative in which the sound that the cars generate changes according to its relationship to other road users and the environment.”
  • Sonata for the Unaware, by Alexander Chen, who also did Conductor.
  • Ambient Addition by Noah Vawter: “(Download) (6MB QuickTime .mov, 3:15)

    Ambient Addition is a Walkman with binaural microphones. A tiny Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip analyzes the microphone’s sound and superimposes a layer of harmony and rhythm on top of the listener’s world. ”

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Subway networks

I would like to see a combination of this realtime London subway map and this piece that turns the NYC subway into an interactive string instrument.

Conductor: from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.

Song Lines is an album by Tom Johnson’s Shark that based on the Barcelona subway system. I wonder if the title is related to Bruce Chatwin’s ‘The Songlines’ novel that was recommended to me by Carlos. The book describes how Aboriginal songs functioned as a kind of GPS: they could find their way by singing ancient songs.

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The map is not the territory

The map is not the territory. This statement is very relevant to my project, but I only found out today that this is an Alfred Korzybski quote. I came across it in Evgeny Morozov’s piece on Tim O’Reilly. The first time I heard about Korzybski a couple of years ago was when I was doing my thesis on William S. Burroughs, on whom he had a huge influence. Korzybski was a pretty weird guy, but he had some interesting thoughts about language.

Relationship with my project: language is also a kind of map. Language influences how we perceive the world. Just like maps are never a one to one representation of reality, the same goes for language.

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Subjective cartographies

We often think of maps as objective representations of geography. I would argue that objective maps are impossible: they always involve subjectivity. Take for example the classic Mercator world map: it shows the world from a European-centric point of view. Maps are an expression of political power, and at the same time they are a way to reinforce it.

Google Maps is quickly becoming our new default map. What does it mean when a company from Silicon Valley is behind our standard representation of place? These kind of theoretical questions are important, but the focus of this project will be the development of alternatives to Google Maps.

The Mercator projection is not the only way to create a map. For example: the equal-area projection faithfully represents the proportions of continents and shows how big Africa actually is. We need similar alternatives to Google Maps; alternatives that will never show us the “real” place, but that will each reveal something special about a place.

These alternatives can take on different forms. Here are two initial explorations I did:

  • The ‘35 days in NYC’ project is an experiment in finding more interesting ways to visualize GPS data.
  • The Barcelona metro travel time map shows the city from the point of view of a subway station. Distances on the map represent time instead of physical distance, and the standard map is deformed according to travel times.
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