Friday, January 05, 2007

Walking Tour Guides

There are several outfits out there now doing audio narratives that have leapt from the museum-gallery trope into walking guides for actual neighborhoods and historic locations. I've found some interesting ideas at work in this evolving part of the audio creative spectrum. More will surely come, as iPods abound, production costs are low (you just need a digital recorder and some decent walking shoes) and one does not need to get releases to enter and talk about a location.

The firms iJourneys, Soundwalk, and Audissey seem prominent at this writing. iJouneys producer Elyse Weiner, who got a nice little write-up in the NYT last month, has created some concise and simply produced walking tours of the major tourist locations in Europe (the Forum in Rome, The west bank neighborhood in Paris, etc.) The .mp3 files done by AudisseyGuides are more "produced", even to the point of adding background music and the sounds of footsteps as you walk about the location. They've covered the touristy parts of six or so American cities. Titles by Soundwalk (also marketed on the web by are also highly produced, like movie soundtracks. They have covered 14 neighborhoods in NYC alone, and even have a Louvre-based talk using extensive clips from the DaVinci Code movie. As the user walks from one "station" to the next, they get the narration spoon-fed to them. Objects, views and stories are strung along the walk. I find the latter two product lines to be way over-produced, to my taste anyway. After all, if you are "there", you ought to be able to hear what's really going on around you, not some dopey music score.

These guides are typically downloaded right off the internet and retail for 14 to 20 dollars. Given the low production & distribution cost, this may be a decent way for well-traveled producers to make a buck. There are a zillion locations that could be aided by this technology; think of all the state parks and minor historic locations out there that could be opened up by informative or even dramatic narratives. Of course .mp3 players are inherently individual--at least for now.

The medium is well suited to the flaneur, but what about the touring couple or the small group? Later, we may see some way of cueing local .mp3 players to synch up from station to station on a tour, so a group of walkers could take it in together. In an earlier posting, I mused about place-sensitive media, triggered by GPS cues that could pace the narrative to the walker's random moves. Could get interesting.

This meme could find its way to industrial producers. Why not do an audio tour of the company's headquarters facility for new employees, or a more detailed tour of the production line to orient the workers to specifics of their new jobs?

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