sotonDH Small Grants: Painting a City with Sounds – An Audio Portrait of Southampton

Composing in the digital studio, I find objects from my surroundings to create virtual ʻinstrumentsʼ from urban and rural sources, machine and human. They are combined, transformed, augmented.

Audio Portrait of a City is a an aural snapshot of a place in a time, the largest project of its kind anywhere. Using spoken word and field recordings, I am building a sonic snapshot of a year in Southampton, a vast soundscape stretching across the entire city. Although invisible it is ever present, different at every location.

The soundmap is almost a physical object: listeners enter and investigate at will, as though inside an enormous live performance, stopping to savour a place and its unique sonic identity, as though between the very sources of sound themselves.

We are simultaneously building it in two forms: one you can walk inside and an online archive, using the Google Maps API.

To walk inside a piece of music you need an Android phone with noTours software, the sound maps we have generated and all the audio files themselves. Then you simply go to the place, click play and start to walk inside the composition.

Composing like this is about using a particular space, integrating with it, reflecting it and its sounds back into the musical world you are constructing.  The real ambient noise of the place is blended, transformed and transposed.

The composition and the space become harder to tell apart and the distinction matters less because, instead of apparently encountering a “work”, the listener is engaged with their whole sense of sound, absorbing and entering into their surroundings and the sonic layers of a place.

Listening to a composition this way has never been possible before – reality is distorted and augmented at once, heightening our awareness of the sounds around us and of the music situated within it. Sounds of varying, complementary or contrasted character are placed alongside each other or overlapped or in concentric circles. What the listener hears is part-chance and part-determined, according to their position and the moment of transition from one zone to its overlap with another.

The collaboration started in June 2012, with generous support from Digital Humanities and the Department of Music and is expected to take several months to complete.

We are now collecting material and planning the enormous composite map that will spread across the parks and open spaces of the city, to be unrolled in stages over the coming months.

If you would agree to be interviewed or would like to contribute found sounds, original songs, poetry or prose or help in any other way we would love to hear from you, please get in touch!

Benjamin Mawson

Virtual Performance Development: 4-D Music