Sonic City

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Sonic City explored mobile interaction and wearable technology for generating music in everyday life. The Sonic City prototype created electronic music based on sensing bodily and local factors. Input from sensors measuring context and actions is mapped to the audio processing of live local sound in real time. An extensible plug-and-play version of the prototype was developed for testing in the city, and further iterations were refined and tested. Sonic City generates a personal soundscape produced by a combination of physical movement, local activity, and urban ambiance. Encounters, events, architectures, (mis)behaviors – all become means of interacting with, or ‘playing’ the city. Our intention was to break out of traditional forms of music creation and listening, enhancing personal expression and encouraging new uses of the urban landscape.

The project developed through a series of experimental design methods. Early on, ethnographic observations involved ‘staking-out’ specific urban sites and ‘stalking’ pedestrians. This revealed new dimensions of familiar things and sparked imagination about how sequences of actions, events, and ambiances could be designed as a composition. User experience scenarios were generated, based on interviews with practitioners of the urban sport ‘parkour’, in which we sketched and tested different sonic qualities and interaction variables. As a kind of ‘wearable usability lab’, a plug-and-play version of the system was developed as a jacket. In a series of urban experiments, players were able to ‘try on’ the system in real time, reconfiguring the experience as we collected feedback and observed changes in their use of the urban landscape. Further concepts for the form of Sonic City were developed with students in textile and fashion design.

Image (above)
(2) Video still of tests with the wearable prototype, (2) in-situ reconfiguration by participants recorded on the wearable, and (3) documentation of early, urban stake-out methods that informed sensor selection and composition design. All images by myself with the project team as listed on the website (link below).

My role
Together with Lalya Gaye, I was co-initiator of and a principle researcher in Sonic City. The project was inspired in part by my MA(RCA) project Nomadic Audio. The technology platform used in Sonic City was based on Smart-Its, a project which also partially funded my participation in Sonic City. My focus in the project was the development of design and prototyping methods, and the wearable jacket was developed by Margot Jacobs and myself. The concepts and methods developed in Sonic City became part of our ongoing work within the Public Play Spaces platform.

Sonic City project team: Lalya Gaye (Viktoria Institute), Margot Jacobs and Ramia Mazé (Interactive Institute), Daniel Skoglund (8Tunnel2), Magnus Johansson and Sara Lerén (IT University Göteborg).

More about the project

See also

/ Projects / Public Play Spaces

/ Projects / Smart-Its

/ Projects / student and freelance projects / Nomadic Audio

/ Teaching / Ljud, MA/MFA course, Göteborg University.

/ Teaching / Ubiquitous Computing, MSc course, IT University Göteborg.

/ Teaching / Thesis projects / Johansson, M., 'Designing with Culture in Mind', MSc in Interaction Design, 2004.

/ Teaching / Thesis projects / Lerén, S., 'How to evaluate Sonic City', MSc in Cognitive Science, 2003.

/ Publications / Mazé, R. (2007) Occupying Time.

/ Publications / Mazé, R. (2010) ‘RE: Thinking Sustainability’, in D. Keyson and S. Jin (eds), Designing for Sustainable Living & Working.

/ Publications / Mazé, R., and Redström, J. (2005) ‘Form and the Computational Object’.

/ Publications / Mazé, R., and Redström, J. (2004) ‘Form and the Computational Object’.

/ Publications / Gaye, L., and Mazé, R. (2003) ‘Sonic City’.

/ Publications / Gaye, L., Mazé, R., and Holmquist, L.E. (2003) ‘Sonic City’.

/ Publications / Mazé, R., and Jacobs, M. (2003) ‘Sonic City: Prototyping a wearable experience’.

/ Publications / Gaye, L., Holmquist, L.E., and Mazé, R. (2002) ‘Sonic City’.