Walking through the square a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about the snippets of information/fabrications that you overhear as you walk through a city. Sounds approaching, passing and receding as you flâneurificate about town.

What’s a flâneur? Webster defines it simply as “an idle man-about-town,” one of those fin-de-siècle dandies who ambled through the crowds of European cities in search of bustle, gossip, and beauty.

In the tradition of literary flâneurs—Walt Whitman, Fran Lebowitz, Alfred Kazin, Joseph Mitchell, the Beastie Boys—Flâneurr seeks to scrutinize the city, to evoke the essence of the street. And to encourage flaneurial behavior, whether detached observation or decadent gadding about.

(from the flanifesto)

Over lunch I caught a few sounds as they passed with the butterfly net of my mobile phone. Relationships, stories of consumption, waste, car insurance costs. Tiny, tiny cogs in a big, big machine. An idea began to form.

Last night I was reading up on podcasting and enclosure tags.

And then this morning, rummaging through Anne Galloway’s del.icio.us inbox I found this site by Brian House:

__placing voices__

Voices of strangers heard in passing are key threads in the fabric of urban experience, subconsciously coloring our perception of a place. Yet such features are inherently unrepeatable, unique to every individual’s listening experience, and, unlike a photograph, the location of a recording is difficult to recognize. ‘Placing Voices’ is a mobile-sound-blog software which uses the built-in sound recording feature of mobile phones (which is optimized for voice) and MMS messaging to place these fragments on a web-accessible map of the city as they occur. The objective is to express a map in terms of these experiences, to restore some claim to my memory of physical spaces over the transient voices heard within them.

Note to self: move quicker.

The important move here that I – if left to my own devices to progress a similar project – might have missed, is the use of the map. Crucially, a hand-drawn map. I’m reminded of the cognitive mapping research by Moar.

This requires subjects to either produce a sketch map of the area of interest or estimate distances between key points, which the researcher can then use to build up a map representing their image of their area. This technique was used, for example, by Moar1 to show that housewives in Glasgow and in Cambridge had very different mental maps of the British Isles.


(from Applying Psychology in the Environment – apologies for the dodgy image, only had my phonecam to hand, click on it for the flickr notes)

Tha map of Manhattan on the placing voices site looks fairly accurate though and I’d be interested to know if Brian drew it from memory or traced/copied it. However, this assessment is based on my memory of Manhattan and I was only there once in 1994 for twelve hours, six of which I slept through, so who knows where the truth lies? I’m too lazy to Google for it let alone reach for the atlas on the shelf. Truth is the very last thing on the agenda here.

Eavesdropping on someone else’s links seem to be a perfectly fitting way to have discovered this site. I use the inbox option on del.icio.us and subscribe to a few peoples linklogs, subsequently/lazily subscribing to the net results myself with bloglines.com. I noticed recently that someone else is subscribed to my inbox too; gathering the links that I gather from others. This is both the height of laziness and super smart efficiency, but then that’s a pretty good definition of RSS as a whole.

1. Moar, I. (1978) Mental triangulation and the nature of internal representations of space.