Laurence Cliffe

intermedia arts | creative technology | research through design

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Sonic Maps

Sonic Maps

A sonic map, which incorporates interactive spatialised audible locations, represents an advancement in the genre of sound mapping. Where, within sound maps, locations are tagged or marked with links to either external or embedded audio content relevant in some way to the specific location on a digital map, sonic maps contain spatialised audio sources which become component parts of an intuitive and explorative virtual location-based soundscape.

Proof of concept demo:


  • Spatialised sound sources aid exploration and facilitate access to the audio content (archival, or location-based) and the imparting of knowledge about either the location or content.
  • This could be an effective interface for audio archival content
  • Audio based interfaces (specifically AAR-based interfaces) should be considered as interfaces for audio archival content – audible interfaces for audio content
  • Audio interface elements should be considered as additional tools for digital map navigation and exploration and as an additional means of representing place.
  • A sonic map represents a development in sound-mapping practice
  • This approach, or similar, is generalisable across GUI navigation/ or learning and audio content based navigation solutions (city wide music festivals, gig and event listings etc.)?
  • A sonic map is able to represent and contextualise a location in ways text and image are unable to do so.
  • A sonic map presents us with a way of not only geographically locating remote and audible content but also a way for this contents’ reality to be extended into the listeners soundscape.
  • Pushes the boundaries of the sound map / traditional cartographic representation

Although this appears to be somewhat of a departure from my adopted theme of Audio Augmented Reality (AAR) and the related case studies to date, we can identify several characteristics within this small demonstration that also run through the other projects that have so far comprised by PhD research.

We undoubtedly hear within the sonic maps demonstration an audio augmentation taking place. We also hear something being augmented, a map, just as we do in the case of the audible artefact (Cliffe et al; 2019 & 2020). Within the sonic map, we hear an audio augmentation of a digital reality, rather than a real world physical realty, the digital map, more specifically the Google Map visual interface that we have come to rely upon for various navigation purposes across our personal computing devices, nevertheless represents, and is representative of, an everyday reality that has virtually rendered the paper-based map obsolete.

Additionally, we also hear evidence of how the interface’s augmentation with a layer of audio content could provide us with rich insights into potential features, facets and nuances of the location that would otherwise be difficult to represent through the interface’s traditional language of text and graphics. Such insights could include how exposed to the sea, wind and general weather conditions specific locations on the map are, how isolated and calm some locations may be, or the extent and reach of noise pollution from traffic and industry. In short, just as we see with the audible artefact, we witness the potentials of how the layer of audio augmentation can provide additional information otherwise missed or too difficult, or even impossible, to communicate through the interface’s traditional medium of communication; we hear AAR contextualising the object, digital and physical. With the audio augmentation of the museum or gallery based artefact we witness a materialisation of the object’s historical context, or it’s re-contextualisation. With the sonic map can we hear an environmental, geographical or cultural contextualisation of the represented location. Although, an accurate contemporary contextualisation would depend on the procurement of location-specific and relevant field recordings with which to augment the corresponding locations on the map, the use of other types of audio content can also offer useful insights into features of our augmented location. 

Possible generalisations and further work 

  • Audible GUIs for instruction / learning – as a general thing – study could confirm potential (future work)
  • Content based navigational aid (City wide music festivals would be one such example.)
  • Also could provide an interface for online (music) festival content in relation to geographically navigating remotely played/performed programmed content. – OxJam perhaps?
  • Part of a DIY festival kit?
  • Part of a create and share your own festival experience toolkit?
  • Part of a navigational interface (in combination with architectural/floor plan) for physical audio libraries/archives
  • Geographically located oral history interfacing
  • Applicable digital-based solution for Mapping the Symphonyproject
  • Lockdown-friendly studies and beyond?

There is no necessary requirement for the location to be one that exists in the real world, for example; fictional maps with audio content relating to fictional narratives could be explored; film, TV drama and literary locations and content could provide such contexts.

  • Data sonification? (weather based content)
  • Live content streaming
  • Resonance audio for increased spatialisation (omnitone issues)  – better spatialisation solutions??