Audio Navigation of Information Space

At Siggraph 95 we shared a set of audio tools recently-developed for generating listening environments in cyberspace. We assisted other members of Interactive Communities to generate sounds to help locate them in cyberspace and to describe their projects. By providing sound synthesis software and expertise we encouraged the creation and use of auditory signatures to identify sites on the Interactive Communities network. An auditory signature is a symbolic, interactive mini-scenario in sound, descriptive of the content and activity on a network node.

To travel in cyberspace we provided an interactive graphic representation of the exhibit space, accompanied by 3-D sound. With this map one could "walk around" a visualization of the Interactive Communities exhibit space and hear sonic representations of activities occurring at nodes and neighborhoods. Data coming over LAN from participating exhibits represented content and activity at the exhibits. Algorithms that synthesize sounds created auditory signals using data received from the exhibits. Sounds were created in software and rendered in real-time using the NCSA Sound Server, a unique sound synthesis software environment. The behavior of the sounds tells the story of what is going on at one or more exhibits as you "walk" past them in cyberspace. As visitors walk from neighborhood to neighborhood, the audio ambiance changes, reflecting the characteristic differences of the exhibits in each neighborhood.

As an example we provide a prototype of an application under development, entitled "Earthsound." Using the mouse you travel through geographical and cultural regions and hear their sounds. Our current example provides a glimpse of African popular music from the period roughly 1955-1970. These examples were originally produced and recorded on the African continent. In addition to traditional African musics these examples show the influences of musical styles from American dance bands to country and western. (Recorded examples courtesy of Original Music, Inc.)

With these project we intend to bring the cyberspace and computer graphics communities a few steps closer to using sound in a personalized and interactive application. We encourage visual artists and designers to include sound composition early in the creative process, and we look forward to the day when mainstream desktop computers are packaged with audio as well as graphical rendering engines.

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