Influencing the exploration of public spaces via dynamically adapting musical soundtracks

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Music plays a vital role in accompanying all manner of our experiences. Soundtracks within films, performances and ceremonies can enhance a narrative, suggest emotional content and mark transitions, whilst in interactive computer games they drive our behaviours. The spread of mobile music technologies over recent decades, from the Sony Walkman to current smartphones, means that music is also increasingly embedded within peoples’ everyday activities [1] and that mobility and locality are common drivers of musical experience [5]. People now routinely select music to accompany physical activities such as jogging or cycling and share music through their favourite locations [6]. Increasingly musicians are seizing on locative technologies as a tool for creating new kinds of musical experiences where location is both a canvas for creation and a platform for presentation [9].

These trends reveal an interesting question of how composers might set about creating musical soundtracks to accompany mobile experiences. What principles might guide them to establish powerful mappings between music and spatial experience that enhance both? There are potentially multifaceted relationships at play here. On one hand a body of research has explored the facility of music to invoke strong emotional responses. At the other, research has shown that the spatial placement of sound can help drive fine-grained navigation [2, 3] and that humans physical actions synchronize in response to musical pulse [7], an effect utilized in sports and exercise routines [4]. This research occupies a place between these two poles: the relationship between musical structure and guided walking. This thesis explores the question of whether the structural elements of music (melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre and dynamics) might guide key aspects of spatial walking, such as cueing users when they are approaching, entering, engaging, departing and transitioning between new spatial regions or points of interest. Guided walking refers to directed walks, tours and even pervasive games. Should this relationship exist, composers would be able to create new soundtracks that gracefully mesh into the fabric of location based walking experiences.

The research methodology applied within this thesis combines a set of complementary approaches that engage with both the creators of, and audience for, locative soundtracks and mobile experiences: a quasi-experimental study to expose how walkers – when free of stimuli other than music – respond to adaptations of the structural elements contained within the music; an in the field study – at a cultural heritage site – that draws on an emerging methodology within Human-Computer Interaction, specifically the ‘design from within’ investigative design methodology, which involves the practitioner engaging in an extended process of self-reflection, audience interaction and iterative revision as both artist and researcher [8], and finally workshop(s) that further explore and evaluate the practitioners findings from the perspective of composers and creators of mobile experiences. The output of this research is to propose a set of recommendations to inform the composition of mobile soundtracks.

  1. Bull, M., Personal stereos and the aural reconfiguration of representational space, in Sally Munt (ed.) TechnoSpaces: inside the new media, London: Continuum,  2001
  2. Etter, R., & Specht, M., Melodious walkabout-implicit navigation with contextualized personal audio contents. In Adjunct proc. of the third international conference on pervasive computing, 191 (204) (2005)
  3. Holland, S., Morse, D. R. & Gedenryd, H., AudioGPS: Spatial audio navigation with a minimal attention interface. Personal Ubiquitous Computing, 6 (4) (2002), 253–259
  4. Karageorghis, C. I. & Terry, P. C., The psychological, psychophysical, and ergogenic effects of music in sport: A review and synthesis. In Bateman, A., Bale, J., (Ed(s)), Sporting sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music, 1 (2008), 13-36
  5. Schematic labs, SoundTracking: Share the soundtrack of your lives. http://soundtrackingblog. [Accessed 25th January 2012]
  6. Spotisquare, [Accessed 15th January 2012]
  7. Styns, F., Van Noorden, L., Moelants, D. and Leman, M., Walking on music. Human Movement Science, 26 (2007), 769-785
  8. Taylor, R., Schofield, G., Shearer, J., Wallace, J., Wright, P., Boulanger, P., & Olivier, P., Designing from within: humanaquarium. CHI 2011, 2011
  9. Tanaka, A., Visceral Mobile Music Systems. In: Adams, R., Gibson, S. and Arisona, S. M. (Eds.), DAW/IF 2006/2007, CCIS 7, pp. 155–170, 2008

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