Locative, Mobile and Public Sound

Isolated, fragmented and atomised the urban citizen can be a stranger in a crowd and congregate without meeting. Church bells used to mediatise a social order, now public sound is used to envelop the individual user by ‘engulf(ing) the spatial’ (Bull in Bassett, p.349). From changing the car radio, to fast-forwarding a Walkman and now downloading mobile content, personal technologies are used to recodify space; re-aestheticise everyday experience through a process of negation; and filter stimuli by investing in an economy of sustained attention. (Bassett, 2003).

Michael Bull (aka Professor iPod), studies the use of audio to mediate urban space in order to foster mood and experience. He argues that technology has the potential to be emancipatory, providing “oases of meaning through a featureless desert” (Bull, 2007:17). This consumption of media acts as an effective substitute for a sense of connectivity (Bull, 2007:5) but comes at the price of privatisation; distancing users from the proximity of others, ‘warming’ the individual’s mediated experience but ‘cooling’ the physical space for others.

This dialectic of power, control and freedom is challenged by the smartphone, according to Bassett (2003). It is at once emancipatory, facilitating communication in multiple socially produced spaces, yet at the same time limiting by compelling the user to be ‘always on’ and accountable to social solicitation. Sonicmaps is an example where the urban consumer can re-codify space by producing location specific audio content. Users can download site specific content, walking as remixing (Behrendt, 2012) a narrative from pre-curated sound. As yet, this app seems limited by its interface (see field notes). Bluebrain produced an example of a locative album which highlights the potential of immersive sound away from a tiny screen and clunky menu.

Behrendt mentions the exclusive nature of the branded technology, app and location. Debord in Bull discusses the atomisation of the individual and the weakening of the collective bonds between urban citizens and Bassett discusses the necessary fetishisation of mobiles as an enhancement of urban life.

“I am lost in the crowd, I am anonymous. In my phone, in my space, I matter.” (Bassett, p.350)




BASSETT, C. (2003). How Many Movements? In M. Bull & L. Back (Eds.), The Auditory Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg: 343-355

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: 1-23.


field notes week 7

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