Sound mapping in Chinatown

Ever since completing UBC’s Asian Canadian Film Production class this past semester, I’ve been itching to start a new digital media project. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for different projects that I can pursue. It was only yesterday when I finally figured out what I wanted to do: a sound mapping project of Vancouver Chinatown.

I drew inspiration from a couple of people. First, from my friend Cassandra, who recently created a podcast on the changing landscape of food in Chinatown. In her podcast, sound played a significant role in conveying different feelings, such as the “hot and noisy” (熱鬧) atmosphere in Chinatown. Second, I drew inspiration from Max Ritts, a graduate student from the UBC Geography department. Max co-taught my Environment & Sustainability class, where I was able to learn more about his acoustic mapping research. Using recording devices called Song Meters, Max assisted the Gitga’at Nation in mapping out the acoustic profile of their territory, in order to better understand the influence of the growing tanker traffic on the local ecology.

Sound can be easily taken for granted. How does sound shape the way we experience and navigate through different places? What kinds of sounds can be discovered that we didn’t pay attention to before? These are the questions I hope to explore in undertaking this project.

There are several reasons why I am grounding this project in the context of Chinatown. First, I’m working with hua foundation (whose office is located in Chinatown) this summer, meaning that I’ll be spending a large part of my week in the area. Second, with all the activities (e.g., condo development, community organizing, etc.) that are happening in this area, I’m curious to hear what the sound profile is like/how that may be changing. Third, I hope that this project will encourage others to engage with what’s going on in Chinatown, such as by going for a sound walk of their own.

What would this project look like? Basically, I want to capture short clips of different sounds in Chinatown, be it the bubbling of water in fishmongers, or the wooden clacking of sounds of an abacus in a dry herbal store. These clips will be embedded into an online map, where you can click different points to see what sounds can be found in that location. Hopefully, others will share clips of their own and contribute to the sound mapping of Chinatown. Thinking further down the line, perhaps a new sound map can be made on a yearly basis, to facilitate a comparison of how the soundscape of Chinatown may be changing.

I’m excited to start this project! If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to share them down below. Stay tuned for more updates!

6 thoughts on “Sound mapping in Chinatown

  1. Alejandro Yoshizawa (@alyoshizawa) says:

    Awesome idea! Glad to have been a small part of its inspiration 🙂

    The tech nerd in me is interested in these “Song Meters”. They kinda look custom made to me. Do you know if they in fact were or if you can actually buy these somewhere? They would need insane battery life I think! And be weather proof. For your proposed project standard equipment could probably do! Stereo mic(s) might be a good start? Oh, and a folding chair haha.


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