[S]ynthesizer. Developing upon a cartophonic understanding and interpretation of green space

"The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers."   Matsuo Bash

What it is about

In a world where the emphasis on visual data is ever-growing, our project’s main aim is to contribute to the small but growing field of cartophony; exploring sonic methods for the mapping of spatial environments [1, 2]. In the context of the Mapping Project’s collaboration with Munich’s Pfennigparade, we pay special attention to the sense of listening as an under-explored means of communicating spatial information. Taking the perspective of visually-impaired people as our starting point, our result is an app, [S]ynthesizer, which synthesizes topological, spatial features into sound.

How we built it

The app was built merging several creative- and tech-based tools and sources, namely:
- Geo-information: OpenStreetMap
- Sound/voice composition: Ableton, Audacity, TTSMP3.com, freesound.org
- Software coding/programming: ReactNative, Expo

Spatial data was selected from OpenStreetMap to map specific test areas, with in-built mobile geo-tech (e.g. GPS and phone orientation) utilized to create a user-centered spatial experience. Sound typology attribution was mainly adopted from previous studies [2]. Specific sound samples were collected from field-recordings and Ableton plug-in libraries.

Challenges we ran into

As studies on sound typology are limited, assigning sounds to inanimate features was a challenge. Issues with mobile phone compatibility and GPS accuracy made it difficult to further spatially represent our sounds. We often modified ideas; trying sound looping, L/R sound, etc.

What we're proud of

The creative process has been really cool, seeing how ideas work in practice, overcoming the challenges with new ideas, ultimately trying to present a different way of ‘seeing’ the world. It is exhausting but incredibly liberating to step outside of the conventional boundaries of cartography, to develop a new language, and to research a topic that is still largely homogeneous and underdeveloped.

What we learned

Through this project we learned to question our initial assumptions and preconceptions in order to enhance the project itself, along with sound production/design (Ableton), time constraints, learning through creative process with trial and error pattern.

What's next

There are several aspects that could be developed upon:
- exploring sound typologies through user-experience (be creative!)
- formalizing and sharing of the reached propositions
- generalize and automatize the mapping process (link it to OpenStreetMap?)
- extend the nature of the considered objects.


[1] Thulin, S. (2018). Sound maps matter: expanding cartophony. Social & Cultural Geography, 19(2), 192-210.
[2] Adhitya, S. (2017). Representation. In S. Adhitya (Ed.), Musical Cities: Listening to Urban Design and Planning. (DGO-Digital original, pp. 47–60). UCL Press.
Melissa Ernstberger
Luka Laval

12th intake
Juliane Cron, M.Sc.
cartophony, sound typology, sonic landscapes, visually impaired
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