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Aerial View of a Field

Audio Walks

Flocks of Birds

I love birds and I love walking. I often bring a microphone on casual walks. You never know what special aural scene you might discover. On neighborhood walks in Evanston, Illinois, I especially enjoy hearing the vocalizations and interactions of birds. However, this is often interrupted by a loud truck passing by, or a lawn mower, or leaf blower. I wondered if I could record the birds and then recast individual vocalizations in a setting without intrusive machines, and also influence the interactions around the little dramas that play out between them. And with that, allow the free movement and proximity of the listener to make the listening experience more intimate and immersive. 



One can approach this in many ways - with technologies large or small, from theatrical to personal. When we heard about Echoes, we thought it could be a wonderful way to achieve personal listening, but also ground the experience with place. Echoes’ geo-activated mobile apps, which support Ambisonic spatial audio, allow the immersive placement of aural theater in real locations for non-intrusive, personal listening. They deliver many public audio walks across a broad range of genre and location. . 


Lurie Garden

So, back to birds. Where would be a natural setting to situate bird dramas? Honestly, I think birds are wonderful everywhere. But for a public location, would a great public garden work? The Lurie Garden with its central, downtown Chicago location and its cultivation of a native but diverse collection of plants, seemed a wonderful place to try this. The video below shows how we’ve mapped 23 bird flocks to the Garden. 

Echoes Mobile App

The Echoes Mobile App is available in the App Store and Google Play. Many audio walks are available there by browsing titles, geographic area, or current proximity to the user.

Blue jay painting; Echoes audio walk cover

Imaginary Flocks of Lurie Garden contains a network of seven pieces or "Echoes", laid over the Garden, each hosting all, but featuring specific bird species. These pieces are displayed geographically in Echoes, as seen in the next figure. Echoes also displays your current location and which zone you are currently in, if any. When in Autoplay, each zone's audio is activated when entering that zone. When not in Autoplay, you may also select zones from a list view as seen in the 2nd figure, regardless of whether you are geographically present or not.

Ambisonic Audio Implementation

This video shows the the 23 flocks of birds laid across the Lurie Garden. A green bounding box is optionally displayed around each flock. Each flock is of a specific species - Cardinal, Robin, Crow, Blackbird, Woodpecker, or Wren. Each has specific vocalizations, influenced by their individual nature and how they react to other birds in their vicinity. These reactions are defined by their species and the current attitude of the other birds they encounter. The "player" in this video shows the location and orientation of a virtual 1st Order Ambisonic "microphone", implemented by Resonance Audio in Unity. The result is intended to be both a natural sounding and musically interesting soundscape.  

The color-coded base map is from Lurie Garden. All of the bird artwork is taken from Teresa Parod's Midwestern Birds mural 

The birds in this walk, the recordings of their vocalizations, and the dramas of their interactions will evolve and improve over time, as does the flora of the Lurie Garden.

See also: Augmented Reality version of Midwestern Birds in Earful Vision

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