The whole notion of surveillance yields understandably mixed emotions, for in addition to the countervailing impulses toward fear (“I’m being watched”) and comfort (“They’re being watched”), there is a third, less knee-jerk response: an allure akin to curiosity, a curiosity stoked by promise.
Something especially enticing hovers around locative data. The inherent promise of geo-coded sound suggests that we’ll be able to experience a place like it is some sort of sonic Rashomon. We’ll be able to hear the place from all angles — inside and out, noon and midnight, distant past and present, at peace and during unrest.
A few weeks back, I got to talking with Wired staff writer Alexis Madrigal, all about quotidian sound and the history of energy, and shortly thereafter received a note from him about a new little online enterprise he’d subsequently kick-started: hearthisworld.tumblr.com. In an initial post titled “The Sound of Places in Time,” Madrigal discusses the enticing quality of a “sound map,” especially one that unfolds as time progresses. Hence his adoption of the iPhone app AudioBoo (and of its attendant website, audioboo.fm) to try to get people to record the real world and to share their found sounds.
Madrigal has proposed tagging these sounds with “HTW” (for “HearThisWorld”), as well as offshoots thereof, associated with various assignments he’s begun posting at twitter.com/hearthisworld, like “HTWcommute” for sounds heard when you’re headed home, and “HTWohm” for mechanical noises caught at the office. Initial responses include San Francisco public transportation (MP3); Liverpool public transportation (MP3); a toothbrush (MP3); the library in Berkeley, California (MP3); and one that I’ve contributed myself: the rhythm of a ceiling fan in my office, a sound that I think would make an excellent generative-music beat (MP3).
Check out the HTW-tagged sounds at audioboo.fm.