A couple of times in the past I have referred here to my use of the radio aporee map. Aporee is going to feature in my plans for Shetland Wool Week, and so I wanted to provide some context: to talk about what the radio aporee map is; how I use it; and why it is A. amazing and B. pertinent to Shetland Wool Week!
So, just what is aporee?
Udo Noll created the radio aporee map in 2006. It’s an online global soundmap which connects sound recordings with places. It is a collaborative project to which anyone with internet access and the ability to create a digital sound recording may contribute. The idea is to upload and locate sound recordings at the specific sites where they were recorded. A few factoids: the map contains close to 20,000 recordings, contributed by a globally dispersed community of about 1,000 contributors, and receives 25,000 – 50,000 visitors/listeners per month, situated all over the world.
When you visit the map online, it looks like this: a satellite view of the Earth covered in red dots which denote locations at which sounds have been recorded and uploaded. You can zoom into the map and listen to the recordings, making a virtual, sonic journey all over the world with your ears. Alternatively, you can tune into the radio aporee stream, which plays the map, and sometimes recognises you, and begins to play sounds near to your listening location!
Anyone who has toured the globe via web mapping services like Google Maps and OpenStreetMap already understands the vicarious pleasure of imagined journeying enabled by online cartography… but there is something specifically pleasing about clicking on the red dots and being able to get some impression of what it sounds like on the ground there as you scroll. I especially like that many of the recordings are several minutes long, so that there is a real sense of spending time in each location, as you listen.
To contribute a sound, you just locate the exact spot where your recording was made, and click on the map. Then you are given a wee box to fill out, where you can write about the sound, the equipment you used to record the sound, when and where it was recorded, etc. The large number of people who have been regularly contributing to the map since 2006 in this way means that there are thousands of sounds to hear and thousands of little stories to read about those thousands of sounds. You can lose hours reading and listening…
It’s a very rich resource for anyone who wants to think about the connections between sounds and places, and what I find really wonderful is that most of the folks involved in some way with the discourse around sounds and places are using the map. I really enjoy being able to listen to what colleagues and buddies in soundworld are recording; I guess in some ways it’s like Ravelry for phonographers? Where on Ravelry we share what it is that we are knitting or crocheting, on aporee, we share our sonic projects…
I use the map in several ways.
Earlier this year I made two trips to Brussels; during the first trip (March) I made many field recordings with my fantastic friend and comrade, Valeria Merlini, and we co-led a Ford&Merlini workshop with students from RITS, exploring creative field recording techniques for investigating the sonic character of Brussels. During the second trip, (June) we performed together at the opening night of the Tuned City festival, sharing our sounds along with a script we had co-written, designed to welcome newcomers to the city and to introduce the festival audience to some of the sounds we had encountered in Brussels.
In March I found that every evening after teaching, it was really useful to upload all the sounds I had recorded earlier that day to aporee. The work of going through my files, locating and writing about them all, etc., helped me to get to grips with Brussels as a place both sonically and geographically. It was helpful to keep exploring the aporee map, and searching for the precise traffic light which had made the amazing clicking sound, or exactly the tree under which I had stood and listened with surprise to a parakeet. The shape and sound of Brussels has been encoded in my imagination in a very interesting way through this combined use of my own field recording equipment with and the aporee map.
I also listened a lot to aporee in the months before traveling to Brussels, because I found that this helped me to form an imaginative connection with a place to which I had never physically been. This also alerted me to many specific features of the Brussels soundscape which I perhaps would not have been able to perceive without the local perspective offered by residents of the city uploading to the map. Flavien Gillié in particular has recorded and uploaded an extraordinary number of recordings to aporee, and his detailed survey makes for very rich listening… through his recordings I discovered the pretty sound that the traffic lights make; the deserted quietitude of Haren; and the sonic texture of tram and metro travel which are integral to everyday life in Brussels.
Building on these uses of aporee as a mapping and research tool, Valeria and I incorporated the radio aporee map into our performance on the opening night of the Tuned City festival. (Thanks to Mark Stanley for the superb photograph!)
We both felt this would be a good way to lead the audience around the sites associated with the festival, and to show how the sounds we had recorded were connected with physical places.
So that is how I use the radio aporee map.
How is it amazing? Well the radio aporee soundmap is completely free to use; it is a superb tool for organising your sounds in relation to the sites where they were recorded; it allows recordists to hear each other’s work; and it is a brilliant resource for any projects which are exploring relationships between places and sounds. These are just some of the ways in which aporee is amazing! Aporee is additionally very responsibly managed for an online project; all of the sounds and the data associated with the map are backed-up on Internet Archive, which ensures a longevity and permanence that is rare and precious in the NOW-obsessed culture of the online world.
However for me perhaps the best thing about the radio aporee map is the particular culture of listening and sharing which it facilitates. There is something Utopian about a site which is a shared resource, where people go to hear each other’s recordings and share their sounds, where there is always space for newcomers, which is genuinely collectively authored, and which is a longterm, un-hurried endeavor. There is no deadline, no social-media-mania, no advertising, no commissioner, no funding, and no sponsor for the project, all of which give it a beautiful flavour and simplicity. Udo takes a modest backseat role as the creator and moderator of this special online space, describing himself as “the housekeeper”, and maintaining the rules and focus for the site politely from his online HQ. I love working with aporee; the emails which arrive neatly in my inbox, telling me where and what has been recorded around the world; the little notes I receive when people take the time to comment on one of my recordings; and the ever-delightful spectacle of my sound recordings playing on the map in situ with their little red dots beaming away in cyberspace.
If you search under “user projects” you can find an incomplete project I am assembling on aporee called “KNITSONIK“. This is the start of an attempt to catalogue all of the sounds which I have recorded which relate to the wool industry. So far on the map the sounds I have placed are mostly from Cumbria, Sussex and Cornwall, however I have recordings from plenty of other locations around the globe which I shall be uploading to aporee in coming months, including all the sounds I recorded in Shetland. Using sound recordings to link wool with specific places is very important to me; in working in this way I hope to highlight the connections between this wonderful textile and the locations where it physically comes from on the Earth.
That’s all great, but what has this got to do with Shetland Wool Week?
There are few places where the connections between wool and place are as evident and celebrated as in Shetland, which makes recording woolly sounds there very easy! For my presentation at Shetland Wool Week – “Listening to Shetland Wool” – I am giving a relaxed lecture-performance during which I will present some of my sound recordings. However for those of you who wanted to “Listen to Shetland Wool” but perhaps can’t physically make it to that event, all of my recorded sounds will appear on aporee during Wool Week with a few appearing there between now and then, if you know where to look! The good news is this: if you knit with Shetland Wool, you can get some sense of where it comes from by browsing aporee and downloading my sounds to your ipod/mp3 player/laptop!
If you like this idea, please bookmark aporee, because without Udo’s work in building this extraordinary resource, it would be much harder for me to connect my sounds from Shetland with the specific places where they were recorded, and to be able to share them with you in such a nice way.
(Observant readers may notice that Udo sports a Harris Tweed jacket and a Wovember brooch!)