The Future of Geotagged Audio

geotagging example

For my inaugural post to this blog, I’d like to write about something I’ve been thinking about lately, and hopefully begin a discussion on it. Namely, what to make of geotagged audio samples and recordings. In case you’re not familiar with the term, geotagging is the practice of assigning geographic coordinates to a piece of media like a recording or photo as a form of metadata. In one incarnation, such as on the Freesound project, geotagged samples are layered over Google maps, allowing one to zoom in on any spot on the planet and potentially find samples tagged to specific geographic locations. As numerous startups and one very large corporation (beginning with a ‘G’ and ending with ‘oogle’) have realized, the commercial potential of geotagging is huge. But we hear less about its scientific potential and, of importance here, its aesthetic potential.

Scientifically, geotagged audio has potential in areas such as the environmental sciences. As one example, imagine taking annual recordings of a section of forest over many years, studying the variations or declines in population of certain bird species via their prominence in the recordings. This has likely already been done, but then imagine putting those incremental recordings into the public sphere via an application like Google Earth.

Of course, as an artist, I am primarily interested in the aesthetic potential of this technology. Currently on Freesound (and hopefully soon on Google Earth too), one can navigate around a map of the world, looking for and listening to geotagged samples, downloading them if one is interested in using them further. However, once the geotagged sample is downloaded and separated from its coordinates, it becomes just another field recording without any accompanying data. For a geotagged sample or recording to be of value compositionally â�� as a geotagged sample tied to a specific place and not just an anonymous field recording â�� the metadata must be maintained for compositional use. This is where we apparently reach the edge of current development: tools for working compositionally with geotagged sounds off of a network have not really been developed. There is a multitude of approaches to using this type of material, from composers interested in ecoacoustics to installationists wanting to tap ‘global’ recordings in some improvisatory way. What I’m getting at here is the need for a discussion (hopefully to take place below), about the aesthetic and technical issues surrounding geotagged audio, and tools that composers/artists would like to see available for making the best of this material.

If you were to make use of geotagged audio, what would you use it for? What kind of interfaces into a geotagged audio database would interest you?