David Vale, Rick van Mook and Caco Teixiera’s site pioneered interactive panoramic audio.
Although Google Street View map technologies have enabled internet users to plop themselves on any street around the world and get a visual sense of a place, they can't hear the trickle of a fountain, the melody of a busking musician or the honking of a departing ferryboat. Sound City Project aims to rectify that. The yearlong passion project of Firstborn associate creative director David Vale, Sound City is powered by a custom-made audio tool that Vale and his two co-creators devised. The so-called “soundhead,” made from a 3-D printer, records 360 degrees of audio from a Zoom H6 recorder connected to four Countryman B3 omnidirectional microphones—adorned with plastic ears. On the website, the 3-D sound is paired with panoramic photos from landmarks in six different cities, including New York City; San Francisco; Bergen, Flam and Oslo, Norway; and Stockholm, Sweden. When a user explores the panoramic photo, the audio track also changes to reflect the direction of the viewer. Each recording site was handpicked for its aural interest. “We wanted more than just the ‘urban’ white noise that you would expect,” Vale says. “Users can experience a range of sounds, from Times Square on a weekend to a moving train in the middle of a small village in Norway.” To ease the loading time on such complex audio files, Vale and his team chopped the files into five parts and loaded them one by one, then stitched them together with the Web Audio API. Each city features eight photo-and-audio panoramas. The site garnered almost 500,000 pageviews in its first month. “It was great to see everyone talking about their favorite locations and their reasons why,” Vale says.