One of the presentations of yesterday morning was “Citygram One: Visualizing Urban Acoustic Ecology” [find the abstract online], by Alex Marse, who is a graduate research assitant for Citygram, a research project that focuses on “visualizing acoustic ecology and computationally inferring meaningful information such as emotion and mood”. Alex is also a graduate student at Georgia State University in Atlana, USA, and one of the international student assistants here at #dh2012. We had a quick chat with Alex today, seating outside the building, and listening to Hamburg’s noise! So, here we share three questions for Alex about Citygram and his work:

Q. You are a graduate student, pursuing a M.M. in Music Composition with a focus on Music Techology and Computer Music. How does your own research project relates to Citygram?

A. I haven’t started writing my MA thesis yet, but I would like to research in the field of recognition of animals sounds, like sounds of birds and whales. There are of course research projects going on in this area, and a great reference is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in the University of Cornell, in New York State, and although they are more concerned with protecting the environment and the health of birds, it has a lot to do with Citygram, because the techniques are the same, and the kind of sound data we could have with Citygram could also subsidize environmental issues, as noise pollution control. So, I would like to address questions like these in my own research, bird call recognition, animal sound recognition, and other sound data related to animals that could help observe how animals behave, their life conditions, whether they are endangered or not. For now I have been studing music composition, but from next semester on I will be more envolved with music technology and will have time to dedicate to the sound of animals.

Q. Alex, you mentioned how cameras are everywhere in the cities, and Citygram being aware of the importance of privacy protection, for example Citygram prevents human speech of being understandable. What other issues could come up from the relation between capturing urban sounds and surveillance?

A. Yes, there are cameras all over the city, and they are mainly used to prevent crimes. But Citygram doesn’t want to go in that area, and the project is not associated to any governmental agency, so we are not providing and we don’t plan on provinding the unscrambled conversations for that purposes. On the other hand, I think it would be great to know what people talk about in certain areas of the city, what exactly they are saying, what words are used. That would be great cartographic data! But some people don’t want their speech or conversartions to be recorded, and the privacy issue comes up. So we are not able to do that, and we like to respect that. But personally I don’t mind having my own voice recorded, I don’t feel I am being surveilled if I am not doing anything ilegal.

Q. When it comes to poly-sensory cartographic data, what other sensory data, apart from sound, Citygram plans on bringing to the project, maybe on a latter estage?

A. I think it would be great to have data about electromagnetic fields in the urban space. Cell phone towers and electronic devices that emit electromagnetic waves are everywhere, and it is passing through our bodies and the spaces we are in, and it would be great to measure that, incorporate it to cartographic data, and see if it tells us anything about certain areas of the cities. We could also analyze humidity, temperature and other avisual energies, that could provide information about a city’s hot spots, number of people, number of cars. And we can do a lot with sound alone. We could count how many cars are passing in a street just by analyzing sound, or try to make noise pollution better by detecting the causes of noise pollution. Sounds are cool!!!

Thanks for sharing your love for sounds with us Alex! And let’s enjoy the buzz of Digital Humanists in Hamburg!

(kcd)