Sound mapping latest exhibit at NAISA in South River

New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) in South River has a new exhibit where participants contribute sound data to the display and with the help of an app can also view socio-economic information in the area where the sounds are heard.

The exhibit is called Borderline and was created by Jessica Thompson, who is an Associate Professor of Hybrid Media at the University of Waterloo and Director of the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business.

Thompson began thinking about Borderline in 2014 and with a federal government grant and a project team, she implemented the concept in 2017.

Thompson wanted to know how to measure social changes in cities and hit on the notion that by mapping sounds with the things that make the sounds, it gave people “a richer understanding of what's going on in cities”.

The project team developed the phone app which uses algorithms to identify sounds and then the person can map the sounds.

However the app also reveals socio-economic data according to where you are at that point in time. The data includes information like how many renters compared to homeowners there are when you're walking about and population counts. The app uses sound recordings from a free database and the algorithm attempts to identify what sound is being transmitted in the area.

At the local level, Darren Copeland, NAISA's Artistic Director, says a person can walk around in the Almaguin Highlands and as long as their phone has the app, the device detects the sound and the algorithm identifies it.

“So if a car is going by, it guesses 'car' and you can confirm whether this was the correct sound”, Copeland said.

He adds the app can also provide socio-economic data for the area.

Copeland has mini maps and different coloured pins for people to record the sounds in their communities. They then bring back the pin-covered map to NAISA that shows what type of sounds were heard and where. He forwards this information to Thompson who adds this data to the app.

The types of sounds the app is able to identify are vehicles, people talking, tools like equipment and natural sounds.

Copeland says his mini maps cover more than a dozen communities in the Almaguin region including Sundridge, South River, Powassan, Burk's Falls and Magnetawan. He says as more people record sounds in their neighbourhoods it helps train the artificial intelligence about the types of sounds that there are in Almaguin.

Copeland says the artificial intelligence is very accurate at identifying urban sounds but not as precise with rural sounds.

“For example if it hears a bird, it will only say 'bird' but can't identify what species of bird”, he said. “But other natural sounds like crickets, it identifies with no problem”.

Copeland says a number of residents have been mapping the sounds they hear and he says it comes as no surprise that most of the pins are centred on Highway 124 indicating plenty of motor vehicle traffic.

Considering the time of year, Copeland says many natural sounds have disappeared but he says when spring and summer return next year, so will the sounds and that will give people a chance to take part in the exhibit.

Copeland adds the phone app also gives tourists, and residents, information about the area.

The downloadable app is free from the app store for iOS users.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget