Locative, Mobile and Public Sound

Behrendt (2012) recognizes that ‘locative’ media are usually reliant on the visual to determine our sense and perception of space. [1] Our focus on the visual aspect of these media, neglects auditory space perception, which is “productive for focusing on the very activity of engaging with mobile media and the urban context at once, the multi sensory, embodied, spatio-temporal experience of the urban journey or encounter” (Behrendt 2012: 289, emphasis in original). Behrendt (2012) importantly draws our attention in recognizing how everyday within the digital city, our construction of space, communications and information gathering is a combination of both visual and auditory sensory mediation. The immersive nature of sound is invisible, intangible and yet (especially once experienced through headphones) an all-encompassing experience. Beherndt argues that we “need to consider how immersion works in locative media, where we are both ‘here’ and ‘there’ in hybrid spaces” (2012:288).

Bull (2004; 2007) examines this relationship in the context of the Apple Ipod, and argues that the IPod “universalizes the privatization of public space, and it is a largely auditory privatization” (2007:4). Such ‘hybrid spaces’ it could be argued are more ‘immersive’ with the inclusion of an auditory element. To explore, I attempted to produce a locative sound for a running route via a locative mobile sound application sonicmaps.org, which proved unsuccessful.

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(Sonicmaps.org located sound maps)

After various failed attempts over a number of days to familiarize myself with the visually simple, but user-unfriendly application, many hours trawling through the website reading and watching tutorials, and asking more technologically savvy friends if they had any idea, (all I/we managed was to upload a link via Dropbox to my ‘sounds’ on a map), my ‘locative sound’ experience via this application was non-existent and so too my dwindling motivation for my run. The process of creating a file via dropbox and copying a ‘link’ in which to upload sound, seemed overly laborious, and not possible via only your mobile device which in itself seemed to void the whole function of the application.

Giving up on Sonic Maps I returned to my well-trusted Ipod for my moral and motivational support. Selecting various ‘soundscapes’; specific albums which evoked memories, and physical motivations (spurred by fast paced music), I created my own ‘auditory bubble’ and ‘individual reality’. I was transformed from my current location of Sevenoaks (Kent), to my childhood, to running routes in Melbourne, and even to wistfully looking forward to upcoming holidays planned, all through the various music albums in which I was immersed. If one album finished I immediately began another, I ensured I had constant ‘mediated company’ (2007:6), craving the ‘feelings, desires and auditory memories’ (Bull 2007:3) evoked through the music.

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(No music via my smart phone accompanied my run)

“In the head and mind of the IPod user the spaces of culture have been redrawn into a largely private and mobile auditory worship” (Bull 2007: 2-3)

My perception of the park was reduced completely to the visual, with my emotions, communications, information and knowledge of my space mediated through my auditory soundscape. My ‘sensory gating’ (2007:7) ensured I did not hear the birds in the trees, the wind or the trees rustling, I was in a completely privatised auditory world, with my music as my soundtrack. I ‘controlled and managed my environment’ through my IPod usage (2007:4); if I felt like saying hello to passers-by this could only be achieved by removing my headphones. If I felt too tired to do so I kept my headphones in, a ‘distancing mechanism’ (2007:14), where ‘silence equaled exclusion’ (Bauman 2003), ‘legitimising’ (on face value) my unfriendliness, in my ‘sonorous envelope’ (2007:4) I could not hear passers-by nor could they hear my soundscape. I was a silent presence, privatised yet personally empowered (2007:5), whilst simultaneously excluded from the public communicative space.


[1] For example, Facebook ‘check in’ function, Googleplaces, Foursquare, and augmented reality applications such as Layar. Through building and developing online localized community networks through such applications as Foursquare (Humphreys & Liao 2013), or maintaining existing social networks through Facebook ‘check ins’ for example.


Behrendt, F. (2012) The Sound of Locative Media. Convergence: The International Journal of research into New Media Technologies, 18(3): 283-295.

Bull, M. (2007) Sound Moves, iPod culture and urban experience: an introduction. In: Sound Moves: iPod Culture and Urban Experience. Oxford: Routledge: 1-11.

Humphreys, L. & Liao, T., 2013. Foursquare and the parochialization of public space. First Monday, 18(11). Available at: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4966 [Accessed February 7, 2014].


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