Soundscapes of Carleton Construction

The following map is my final project for my Digital Humanities course work. This interactive map is a simple soundscape of construction at Carleton University from the mid 2000s to the present day. The sounds of construction constitute a large aspect of my experience at Carleton. From library construction, parking garages, residences, etc. Carleton students have heard it all. Using the school’s newspaper, the Charlatan, I looked at perceptions of construction noise on different parts of campus throughout the years. I went to each major point of construction on campus, past and present, and just listened. I meditated on the environment. I recorded the decibel readings in different places to understand how sound travels throughout campus based on topography.

In a sense, then, most of the work was spent doing an ‘ethnography’ of sound. I had a colleague yell from different points to see how loud sound was in different areas. I took that data and used Gephi, a network visualization software, to plot each node. The edges (blue lines) here are created by the intensity of sound from one node to another, to gain a sense of sound and place: the thicker the line, the more intense the noise between the two nodes (from my experience, of course). I then geo-rectified each coordinate in Gephi, exported the file as a KML and overlayed it onto Google Earth so it would retain its position regardless of zooming. I then added contextual links to Charlatan articles in specific┬ánodes. Certain places which might be considered quiet were loud (such as during library construction inside of the building). Sound, then, is perceived differently. In loud areas, construction noise might not be considered loud at all, but in quiet areas pierced by aberrations of loud banging noises, sound may be much more ‘assaulting’ to one’s ears.

Thus this project allowed me to explore ideas of sound: certain sounds which may seem positive to some may be negative to others. A student trying to study for a midterm may abhor the constant shearing of a saws-all. But a construction manager may hear that as the sound of good work and progress in their project.

I will not deny that my project is problematic. For instance, it completely skips over discussions of deafness and ableism. However, it has allowed me to define key problem areas in my research and to begin to understand the complex reality of sound.

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