Signal the Unheard City at the Resonate Festival

The text here is the rough copy of the Unheard City presentation at the Sampling Sounds of Coventry’s Future at Common Ground as part of the Resonate Festival. The project is supported by The University of Warwick Institute for Engagement and the WIE City of Culture Programme and the Warwick-Monash Alliance Catalyst Project Creating the Possible.

During the Sampling Sounds of the Future project, we have undertaken various walks to collect and sample sounds. While we were walking, I used an Android app that was developed to listen to the digital city and to record samples from random points every few seconds along with a recorder to capture sounds.

The apps on the phones are listening to the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) signals using a technique called passive scanning. Connected devices – such as speakers, watches, fitness trackers – broadcast their presence. The sounds that you are currently listening to are being generated by the available signals in the room. The Unheard City project explores ways of using sound, such as soundscapes and sonification, using non-speech sound to represent data.

In this first work, the captured sounds are overlaid onto cuttings of sounds recorded from around those locations to create a simple soundscape. Here we are hearing the two worlds to understand the change of rhythm. These works are more for interpretation and thinking about how these words overlap. In part we sample the city to create samples…

Signals in a Walk

The Canley Brook Sampled Sonification is taken from the end of the walk coming back to Warwick University through the wood. We cannot escape signals in the glades.

The Music Mile Sampled Sonification is drawn from the walk has its samples drawn from near to Far Go and Gosford Park.

Both walks to take place in Coventry but in very different areas. The Canley Brooks soundscape is taken from place where it meets Warwick University in a nature park. The everyday rhythms of birds and trees are offset by the samples of the captured signals. The sounds from the Music Mile walk cover different styles of urban setting that come to life with a different set of signals. Then higher tones are linked to smart homes or wearable devices with the lower ones linked to other technologies such as till equipment.


As part of the cityscape, we are often told that these machines connecting us to other services. In one very real sense these devices are connected, but in another the sampled data suggests that not all connections are open or available. In the next sonification, the samples with the two tones show a connection is possible, but a duller tone if it offers no connection. The sonification creates multiple, interacting rhythms that hint at worlds that we might, or might not, be able to interact with.

In the final work, running on the phone at the back, the app is listening to the samples and reporting them in near real time. The app takes samples every few seconds and reacts in sound to each bit of data. Rather than using visual representation, a simple tone is produced each time a signal is detected – the beeps that you hear. In this edition of the app, the focus is on the rhythms generated by the detections. The faster the rhythm, the more devices. The rhythms are uneven and only respond when the device transmits a potential connection. It is used to think about the world as it happens. Unlike the other app, it makes a sound to respond to the data that it hears in the same vein as a Geiger counter as a response, perhaps feedback, to the signalled environment that it hears.

This project looks at the same sound data but represents it in different ways. We sample data and then we create samples from the data. It is useful to begin thinking about the future, who is making it and why.

This is rough as I ended up ad libbing slightly on stage to reflect the environment around me. The data, existing sonifications and processing are all on the website. As to this project? Well, I hope that it might continue next year but I am about to get into writing my thesis so everything is being delayed.

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