Icons 1423866171 discovery sound mapping2 Sound Mapping

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Mapping sounds is a way of placing sound recordings on a map to record and socially evaluate sounds of environments. It means listening to and recording the audial experience of space in a place. You can quietly listen to the sound of a grove of trees in the wind. You can hear a train whistle across the countryside. You can listen to birds chirping at a bird feeder. Each of the examples represents sound experiences. Some sound experiences are pleasant. Other sound experiences are unpleasant. Sometimes our pleasure is because of our need for silence or need for sound to feel alive. Sometimes a sound is painfully too loud or too jarring like the pop of a balloon or an unexpected siren. Mapping sounds in a room makes us more aware of our spatial experience. It helps us make choices about how to enliven the experience and sets the mood of a room. Connecting sounds to maps builds an audial landscape for others to explore and understand. It raises awareness of the importance of sound to our sonic perceptions of space and place.

Activity 1 – Sound Quality Mapping

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Scientists record the quantity of sounds- their frequency and intensity, artists, acousticians, engineers, and designers study the quality of sounds. Choose a space that you can visit a few times. You will want to take a mobile microphone and a recording device and lined paper and colored markers. Create a color chart of different colors to represent pleasant to unpleasant sounds (or more pleasant and less pleasant). First just list the sounds you hear and then evaluate them. Sort the sounds into pleasant and less pleasant and assign them colors. Order the sounds, pleasant to unpleasant, from best to worst. Returning to your site, take a black and white copy of a Google Map view and using your color code write the names of the sounds directly on your map in the location that they occurred. Change the size of the words to reflect smaller noises and larger noises.

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Activity 2 – Sound Rooms

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In this exercise, you will walk through different rooms in your house or school to capture their ‘sounds’. You can choose a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom, or any room that you can access and spend time listening to and making recordings. You will need a recording device like a tape recorder, video camera, computer or smart phone. Record short segments of all of the sounds that the room you choose can make. These might include turning on lights, radios, TVs, computers, microwaves, dishwashers. It may include the sound of a running refrigerator, vacuum, hair dryer or shower or bath. Look and listen closely to all sounds possible, and all sounds generated. Create a sound recording of these sounds and using the free app record the frequency and intensity of the sounds.

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Activity 3 – Create a Neighborhood Sound Map

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Now that you are a becoming a sound detective, you can create a sound map of your neighborhood. What sounds are where? What sounds do you identify with at the bus stop? At he corner park? On the schoolyard? Outside of the store? What are the sounds of your town? Listen and see what you can hear. Now that you are a sound recording artist collect and consider sounds that contribute to the character of your community. Now that you have considered noises, go back to your chart and make a new chart that orders the sounds, pleasant and unpleasant, from worst to best. This list will serve as your color-coding as you map the sounds in your city. Look at these sound maps of Sydney, New Orleans and Toronto for ideas of what people are recording.
Sydney History Soundtracks
Open Sound New Orleans
Toronto Sound Map
Using Google Maps, you can make a sound map of your city. You can record and ‘pin’ sound files at different places around your community. Point by point record sounds and place them on a map of your neighborhood using soundscape.

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Activity 4 – Sounds of Nature

Can you find a place that only has sounds of nature? Is it a place where you can hear the wind blowing in the trees or the grass? Is it by a shore where the sound of the waves or an occasional seagull calls out? Can you capture the sound of an insect crawling in the dirt, a lizard across a rock, or a worm wiggling? Can you capture birds singing? Can you hear owls hooting and coyotes howling? Take a look at animal bioacoustics and see how artists and sound technicians are recording the sounds of our natural world. Listen to and record nature and upload a sound file!

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Activity 5 – Make a noise map of your city

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After the sensitivity of seeking sounds in the natural environment, finding sources of sounds in the built environment should seem must easier. From lawn mowers to and leaf blowers there seems to be a lot more noise in the day to day to day rush of people moving things and going places. Bikes, motorbikes, cars, buses, and trucks move loudly on the land and airplanes, and helicopters vibrate and jet across our skies. Honking and screeching, buzzing and sounding alarm, pounding and sawing, digging and building…what sounds does your city make? Make a soundscape for the place you live.


  • Why might sound mapping change the way we interact with built and natural worlds?
  • Some sounds are
  • Which is louder, a bird singing or a motorcycle?
  • Would you prefer to live on a loud street or a quiet street?
  • Are humans louder than living things in nature?
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