Roland Cahen


Topophony as new form of sound art

Topophony literally means a place of sound, in other words sound spaces, which can be real, virtual or augmented. For example, in real life, sound sources are distributed around us: some are fixed, other are mobile. As listeners, we evolve in a space and constantly mix the sources that surround us. That experience is what we call sound navigation.

When transposing this experience to a virtual world or a video-game, a certain number of questions arise, such as how to represent these sound sources: are they continuous or triggered, punctual or grouped, etc.?

In most actual editing tools for interactive sound source distribution, the sound sources are punctual. We are with other kinds of architectures in order to create more complex and composed topophonies. We also use ground organization, Sound Level of Detail, continuous variations, different shape surfaces, orientations and sensors to enrich the scenario and the user’s experience.

The aim of the Topophonie research project which was developed between 2009 and 2012 at ENSCi les Ateliers with our partners LIMSI/CNRS, Ircam, Orbe, UserStudio and Navidis was to explore new paradigms and methods of navigation in audio-graphic clusters.

Among the various projects and applications developed within Topophonie, Orbe (Xavier Boissarie) Ircam (Diemo Shcwarz and Norbert Schnell) and ENSCI (Roland Cahen) have developped “Topophonie de l’eau”, also called “Topophonie mobile” which proposes an audio augmented navigation in the “Parc de Belleville” (Paris-France).

Topophonie de l’eau’ settles a poetic soundscape in a location of the urban space in order to modify the visitor’s perception and reading. This soundscape complies with the topography and the functions of place. The piece invites visitors to an exploratory wandering and to perceive hidden dimensions of a familiar urban space. ‘Topophonie de l’eau’ works in Belleville Square in Paris. A free app for accessing the experience can be freely downloaded from the app store under the name ‘topophonie’.

The slopes of Belleville in Paris evoke the sinuous water up to the names of the streets: rue des Cascades, street gutters, rue de la Duée. Two realities overlap in this area: a mineral surface and a liquid invisible space, consisting of springs and underground aqueducts.

‘Topophonie de l’eau’ proposes to raise this liquid space up to the surface by staging a spatialised navigable soundscape. Visitors wander freely in liquid auditory streams, can go down or against the current, altering the sound. Sensations of gravity due to the slope combine with sound expression.

Water runs down the steep slopes, stagnates in ponds and rushes into the openings, trickles down the slopes. This soundscape is heard throughout visitors’ ambulation.

Through their movements visitors disrupt the flows, create eddies and whirlpools. The device is conceived for smartphones and programmed with Unity software, enriched by components developed within the framework of the Topophonie project: The PointCloud is a structure of data defining a detailed sound map, as well as the sound IAE library developed by Ircam, which generates infinite textures of lively water sounds, from a reduced corpus of water samples. In addition, the device modifies the sound behaviour according to various terrain parameters, such as gradient, stream size, direction and speed of the visitor’s movement in the stream, etc. As the sound generation is dynamic it changes all the time along the ambulation, just as if one was walking along a real stream.

‘Topophonie de l’eau’ displays three sound grounds: distant, intermediate and close. The produced soundscape offers a polyphonic and immersive experience. Equipped with an open audio headset, the visitor perceives a mix of outdoor sounds and those generated by the application. A cartographic interface indicates the visitor’s position as well as the perimeter of the experience.

The users feedbacks of “topophonie de l’eau” shows the importance of Augmented Reality Audio as a new paradigm in auditory experience and allows to imagine new artistic objects and contents, but also brings many questions. Beyond the technical issues the authoring tools and the design of such experiences are one of the most challenging question. Topophony creation is strongly related with users experience and therefore depend on the context and circumstances. Architecture and composition, activation modalities, access to contents, guiding and navigation, interactivity and users inputs, interactions and sharing between users, locative media edition are some of the main points we would like to discuss.

We believe that topophony is a new art form that is searching for it’s marks. We are looking for new opportunities to explore new scenarios and challenges.

Topohonie de l’eau is winner of the Grand Prix de l’Innovation de la Ville de Paris Mention Design

Presentation: Symposium Locative Media and Sound Art_Presentation Roland Cahen_Topophonie as a New Form of Sound Art


More info:

Credits & partners

Diffusion Orbe
Partner IRCAM, ENSCI-les Ateliers, LIMSI, Navidis, User Studio

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