presentation by John Grzinich (US/EST)
While we constantly use our sense of hearing to perceive and navigate through the space around us, we rarely think of how sound can represent spatial experience and in turn, be used to create a visual map for guiding us through the unfamiliar. The aim of this project was to somewhat invert that paradigm and use sound as the basis for offering another perspective on the architectural and social conditions of urban space, both for the foreign visitor seeking cues to hidden aspects of the city and to the permanant resident, who’s familarity with Tallinn overlooks the potential of sonic experience to alter their daily view.
Undertaking such a task does not come without its challenges. The lack of examples of such a map in an analog form (in contrast to the growing plethora of “sound maps” online), meant that we had to invent our own approach for the entire process, from the collection sonified data and then the visualization of that data, to the layout and design of the map itself. For the initial phase we turned to a type of anthropological field work model of filling out forms with written descriptions and marks for relevant categories pertaining to the character and conditions of the sound or sonic effect. This often meant conducting numerous personal and group soundwalks about the city without a clear intent of exactly what we were “looking” for, with the hope that a possible soundmark would fall upon our ears. For this I am grateful to Carlo Cubero and his students at Tallinn University for taking up the task to explore the city in a new way to collect the necessary material. Next came the need to transform and shape the data of our auditory experiences into a usable form as some kind of “map”. Again, cartography of this type did not afford us many examples. While there are an increasing number of surveys on the sonic effects of urban spaces and studies on urban noise across Europe, translating auditory perceptual information into an commonly understandable visual language, still remains a formative science. For this we worked closely with Carsten Stabenow (who seeded the map idea in the May 2010 Tuned City pre-event) and Andreas Töpfer who patiently yet persistently guided us through the extensive discussions and debates of the sound map visualization workshop held at MoKS in April 2011. Without this crucial step it is certain our raw listening experinces would not be communicated in the elaborate but practical manner that you see.
Think of the Sound Map of Tallinn as your Tuned City companion. It is not intended to be a definitvie guide by which we can navigate the city so much as a frame by which one can enter the diverse spaces and life of Tallinn through a particular human sense, one that can disorient us as much as tune us into precisely where we are or isolate and even abuse us in the mediated battleground for our individual listening attention. The map then, serves as an introduction, and can illustrate for us just some of the potential situations in which sound plays an important role in the everyday drama that plays out in urban life. We hope, that those who use this map to seek out our initial findings, become more active listeners themselves and add their own observations and discoveries to what was started within this project.
John Grzinich, June 2011
appearance at Tuned City
Sounding the Local / 08.07.11