The battle here lies between data and the cohesion of person and place. The effect of the sound on the individual and the significance of the sound are lost. Some soundmaps use a tag system allowing the user to input keywords, however this system rarely produces an opinion; the keywords might be: "horns," "birds," rather than "annoying taxi horns" or "beautiful bird song."
A concern that must be addressed is the relationship between these contributions and the potential formation of recording cultures on these websites; a recording culture that is constantly produced and reiterated by the soundmaps. The more recordings that are submitted, the stronger the ‘norm’ that is produced. With every editorial decision and with every new addition, a set of rules is produced that dictates the appropriate recording methodology and praxis. As the recordings are made available to listen to, the type of recordings presented on the website will, in some way, define the type of recordings that are added. If this praxis is not studied, analysed and changed, the driving dominance of certain types of contributions to the soundmap risks becoming an inherent characteristic of online sound maps. In several sound maps only a few contributors create a large number of the recordings, and in many cases these are professionals or those with professional equipment. For example, the Montreal and NY Soundseeker maps both contain and encourage binaural recordings; the NY Soundseeker map states "many of the sounds of the NY Soundmap are binaural." Binaural recording signifies a professional approach to recording sound. The type of equipment and techniques used for this kind of recordings are expensive and usually specialized. Binaural recording is often considered to present the most realistic experience of the sound; it is, however, limited by accessibility both in how it is created and heard. To fully benefit from the sound of a binaural recording you need good quality headphones.
The addition of binaural recordings to online archives such as soundmaps is positive from an acoustical and historical perspective. However, their inclusion in open participatory soundmaps produces an acoustical VIP area, a specialists-only part of the map. The concern here is not that binaural recordings will damage soundmaps but that the growing professionalism of the soundmap will discourage new contributors or amateurs to contribute.
The map exists as an online resource for artists and researchers and presents the possibility of saving and storing large amounts of recordings in the same virtual space, a triumph of the online soundmap. Many soundmaps announce that they use a "Creative Commons Agreement" which allows the resubmission of sounds and the use and editing of sounds that have been submitted. Furthermore some maps, including the UK Soundmap , do not specify, upon submission, the responsibility or copyright status of the recordings once submitted. These agreements would allow professionals the freedom to submit without losing control of their work. The application of a Creative Commons Licence by several maps shows a concern for the creative property rights of those making the contributions. Despite this, many fail to explain the status of the Licence, which reflects the assumption that those submitting will already have knowledge of this copyright alternative.
The UK Soundmap’s recent blog (2 February 2011) encourages participants to invest in recording equipment.
This post outlines some ways in which you can make the transition from mono smartphone sound to high-quality stereo, with reference to what UK Soundmap contributors themselves have been doing.
Between smartphones and pocket-sized digital sound recorders lies the half-way house of the stereo mic which can be attached directly to an iPhone or iPod. They range in price from around £30 to £70 depending on their make and model. It's worth checking first to see if they're compatible with your phone. A small number of recordings on the UK Soundmap have been made this way, and they sound pretty good.
A digital sound recorder, however, offers greater versatility and quality. With one you'll be able to make recordings and then transfer them to your computer for editing. Intense competition among manufacturers in recent years has produced a slew of reasonably-priced and capable machines starting from as low as £120. The majority of the UK Soundmap’s non-smartphone recordings have been made with such machines [...]
[...] Making good-quality stereo recordings is an easy hobby to begin, and it can start at a cost comparable to that of a digital compact camera.
The number of people with mobile phones, smartphones and internet access is ever increasing, but in many countries, and certainly in the UK, all of these things are a representation of status. The newest technology and fastest internet connections are the most costly and are thus more easily afforded by the wealthy. I recently completed a project in one of the most deprived areas of England, Vauxhall in Liverpool, where several of the participants involved in the project only had internet access at work and did not have a personal email address, and at least two did not have internet access or an email address at all. £150 is a significant amount of money in areas where in 2008 1 in 3 people are on some form of government benefits and 55.7% of children are considered to be living in poverty, according to the government ward profile. Universal online access to an object does not make that object accessible to all. The economical commitment that is needed to have the internet at home and the additional technological requirements to upload and use smartphones are still a luxury beyond the reach of some. It is necessary to recognize that the technological foundation of the soundmap will exclude those with limited incomes and technological skills from participating in it. This group may only be a relatively small percentage of the population; however this economic gap poses the possibility of a privileged perspective of sound recordings being produced. The difference in types of sound may not be obvious at first, nevertheless there are sounds specific to certain domestic settings and not to others. Even more significantly, certain sounds can become normalised, and this normalisation changes listeners relationship to those sounds.
An illustration of this can be seen in the experiences of Mrs T who lived in the Welsh Streets Toxteth. One of the most common sound complaints in the UK is the sound of noisy neighbours. A primary issue in the CPO being placed upon Welsh Street homes, including that of Mrs T, is thickness of the wall. The council considers the walls of the terraced houses to be too thin and any new houses that the residents from the Welsh Streets move to would need to have much thicker, well-insulated walls. Mrs T had lived in the Welsh streets all of her life until the move. She was born there, and when she was married she moved two houses down from her parents. When her house was bombed during the Second World War she moved one road over. She sold her house to the council whilst under the CPO order and moved to one of the newly built properties. I asked Mrs T if she liked her new house, and she responded by telling me how nice it is to have a garden and a new kitchen. Then she reminisced over how things had changed: that she doesn’t see people anymore and that she cannot hear them anymore. She elaborated on this, saying,
I always used to hear the neighbours through the walls. I could hear them, and they could hear me. It made me feel safe knowing that someone would hear me if I fell or they would check on me if they couldn't hear me moving or I would check on them if I heard a thump or a scream.
The sound of people next door wasn’t something that annoyed Mrs T but something that comforted her. Another participant N from the Welsh Street project also recorded, through the wall, her neighbour making sounds. When I questioned her about the recording, she said "it’s the sound of community and sharing." Their relationship with the sounds of their neighbours differs greatly from the assumed norm of annoyance at neighbours who invade the private space domestic space of others.
Another example is that of S who lives one road over from the Welsh Streets. During a visit I made to her one day to deliver new batteries for her recorder, she told me about a sound she heard but which she failed to make a recording of, as she could never find her recorder when she needed it. The sound was of some young men who would regularly start fights at the entrance to the park close to her house. Several other people from the area recorded sirens and police helicopters that regularly circled the now-empty neighbours’ homes. These genres of sound are lacking in the soundmap’s vast catalogue.