Collecting Participatory Sound:
Questions Asked

Documentation from 2020 project

An important part of Real and Imaginary Places is collecting participatory sounds from contributors to expand the virtual sonic landscape and to collaborate in shared observations of soundscapes. In response to the pandemic, the fourth iteration explored collaborations exclusively remotely.

Participants joined the project and agreed to receive multiple email prompts throughout the week before a 24-hour virtual stream. In the email prompts, I provided recording instructions revolving around specific themes, concepts, or sound ideas. (A selection is listed below.) I requested the participants record with the high-quality .wav file format at 192kHz/24bit, but the parameters were not required if not possible.

I specified that all submissions would be integrated into the piece, and that I was not seeking completed musical works. People were provoked to become more aware of environmental sounds with prompts encouraging them to investigate their personal sound environment. A selection of email prompts for the project are documented below.

1. Sounds in the Past
My first question is about sounds in the past. What is a sound in the past that you will likely never hear again? When did you hear it? Is it meaningful to you? 
Is this sound shared, or something you experienced privately? Do you know where the sound came from/what produced it? Now, is there anything in your current experience that reminds you of this sound in some way? Please record it. You are free to choose duration, but please use the highest quality settings you can use. Phone or field recorder is suitable.  

2. The Sound of Water
Where is the closest body of water to you? It can be human-made or natural. Please listen and make a high-quality recording of the sound you find there. Duration of at least one minute, no limit.

3. Invisible Sounds
In film, the audience is often asked to imagine the source of a sound heard but produced offscreen. If you would like to go on a walk, go off your normal route and listen for a sound you cannot place.  If you are indoors, sit by a window at a time you would not usually take down time. Listen for a sound you cannot place. Record at the start of the activity and stop at the end. Once you are done, make a note of what you heard. Did you hear any invisible sounds?

4. Absence/Presence
Today's sound recording is about the concept of absence and presence. The past year has been an unusual collective experience. Many of us have been confined to our homes for extended periods of time, separated from our many shared spaces. Think about the state of absence and presence. Where do you feel most present? Where do you feel the most absent? Can we still clearly distinguish these two states? Has your relationship with your internal/home space and external/outdoor space changed significantly, or does it feel the same? Please take some time today to listen to your environment indoors. Is the outside world silent? What can you hear? Record notable sounds in your space throughout the day/night. No duration limit, and you can send multiple tracks.

5. Overpass/Underpass
Today's recording request is for the sound of an overpass or overbridge. What I specifically mean is are there any structures near you that bypass another road, to get you safely from point A to point B. This can be a train crossing or pedestrian bridge that goes above traffic. It can even be a pedestrian tunnel that goes under the road/rail crossing. Some public parks have these. If you can, please walk to a nearby overpass and make a recording. You can be on the overpass if there is a pedestrian pathway, or below it. Walk around the space and listen for interesting acoustic qualities. Record. Again, no duration limit. 

6. Lo-Fi/Hi-Fi
Composer and acoustic ecologist R. Murray Schafer's work on the soundscape touches on the concept of lo-fi/hi-fi sonic environments. How much noise pollution is around you? How far can you hear? Are the sounds of your spaces muddled by nature, traffic, airplanes, construction, voices? Are there moments in the day that are more pleasant/less pleasant or signal a warning of some kind? Can you hear close to silence? Have you noticed a change in these types of noises in the past year? Has there been a shift in the kinds of sounds you hear? Use these concepts as a guide to record at least ten minutes of sound.

© 2020-2021 C. Grado