Reviewed February 2017
Josh Meyer, Knowledge Manager
MyCity, MySounds (2015) is a mobile app developed in-house by ZKM | Institute for Music and Acoustics as a tool for capturing, exploring, and sharing the sound characteristics of a city. By harnessing the audio recording and mapping service features of a smartphone, users are invited to capture sounds in precise locations to create sound maps, audio walks, and other interactive sound caching works.
The Institute for Music and Acoustics is part of ZKM | Center for Art and Media (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie), which was established as a museum in 1989 by its local government in Karlsruhe, Germany, as a center for uniting artistic concepts with future-oriented technologies. The institution is characterized by its global reach in collections, exhibitions, research and educational programming. MyCity, MySounds was recently featured in the museum’s 2015-16 exhibition entitled GLOBALE: Program. In 2016, The New York Times cited ZKM | Center for Art and Media in The Best Art of 2016 for its retrospective on American artist Lynn Hershman Leeson.
This no-cost app is primarily aimed toward sound artists and enthusiasts as a social platform for sharing their works associated with soundscapes or component sounds of an environment. The Institute frequently invites sound artists to contribute special works to the platform, and leverages the app as a virtual dimension for museum patrons to further appreciate “tonal arrangement of public space.” Sound artists today may already be familiar with other free mobile device app resources available for layering geo-spatial context in their performances. Apps such as AudioMobile, for example, allow users to record audio with file-embedded pictures and GPS coordinates. For sound enthusiasts who seek to explore and contribute to bodies of work, applications like Record the Earth and Sound around You provide useful tools for combining the art of sound mapping with crowdsourcing and social media activities. A major advantage to the reviewed app is its promotional qualities for sound artists in particular, as users can upload their works in the same library as professionals exhibiting work at ZKM | Center for Art and Media.
The MyCity, MySounds app performs as advertised on its website, but does require extended set up for those outside of European geographies. User participation begins with installation on an iOs or Android-compatible device. After creating a user account, one gains full access to the app to browse community submitted audio walks, capture sounds, or download maps. It is important to note that while this app utilizes the smartphone’s GPS, one must also use the developer’s preloaded maps in order to create audio walks. As a German-based app, the Android app comes preloaded with only six European city maps, none of them covering this reviewer’s Philadelphia USA region. (While the app instructions on GooglePlay provide a contact email to request map additions, several email requests over a two week period went unanswered for this reviewer.) Users outside of the current mapping network can still download available maps to browse the audio works of the community, but cannot individually contribute until their geography is represented. However, apart from the main activity of sharing soundscapes, the process of capturing sounds and tagging with metadata and imagery is very intuitive. Basic fields such as title, description, tags, and GPS coordinates become useful descriptors for searching and discovery in the main search interface. An embedded camera button allows the user to connect images to records seamlessly. Overall, this resource is very easy to navigate and clearly compartmentalizes the available activities through drop-down menus and truncation mechanisms.
As a tool that aims to unite artistic concepts with future-oriented technologies, the MyCity, MySounds app is a commendable institutional resource for elevating the creativity of collaborating sound artists. This is evidenced by over 300 user submissions from professional sound artists in Europe, integration with exhibits at the Center for Art and Media, as well as an engaged user base. Until the geographic offerings of the app expand beyond currently represented cities, sound artists and enthusiasts seeking other options in portability, customization, or research might explore the alternatives listed above.