Mapping New Orleans By Sound Some sounds you'll only hear in New Orleans. Independent producers Jacob Brancasi and Heather Booth are charting the city by sound for Open Sound New Orleans, an interactive audio project.
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Mapping New Orleans By Sound

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Mapping New Orleans By Sound

Mapping New Orleans By Sound

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Many of the sounds of New Orleans are well known. The jazz of Louis Armstrong…

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: And the hip-hop of Lil' Wayne…

(Soundbite of song, "Got Money")

LIL' WAYNE (Musician): (Singing) Got money…

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Got money.

LIL' WAYNE: (Singing) And you know it.

HANSEN: Then there are the lesser-known sounds.

(Soundbite of tap dancing)

HANSEN: That was the sound of a tap dancer in the French Quarter. It came from the Web site The site is part of a project that aims to archive the sounds of the city.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: That's a brass band playing a super Sunday. I'm looking at the site now as I sit in the studio. The directors of the project, Jacob Brancasi and Heather Booth are at member station WWNO in New Orleans to tell us more about the project. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. JACOB BRANCASI (Co-Director, Hi, Liane.

Ms. HEATHER BOOTH (Co-Director, Thanks for having us.

HANSEN: This is very exciting. It looks like a Google map and then there are all these little icons all over the place. How is the Web site organized?

Ms. BOOTH: Well, Liane, what you're looking at is what we call a sound map of the city of New Orleans. And those icons represent voices, ambient sounds, and music and what we call soundmarks, which are sort of landmarks of sound.

HANSEN: How did you put this landmark of sounds together?

Mr. BRANCASI: Well, it's a community media project. And so we encouraged the people of our city to record the sounds and voices and to upload them to the sound map. And we loan equipment and do training to people to help make that happen.

HANSEN: Why did you decide to organize the city sounds like this?

Ms. BOOTH: The three categories of voices, ambient and music just seemed to be pretty natural ways to divide up all of the recordings that we've gotten from contributors. We decided to organize them geographically because people tend to want to hear the things that happen in their own neighborhood or on their own beaten path.

So, it's an accessible way for people to access the recordings that people have contributed.

HANSEN: This is such a different way to understand a city. I mean, I'm not seeing photos, it's mostly sounds. Why did you want to use sounds to document the city?

Mr. BRANCASI: Well, New Orleans is really a sound-rich city. Everybody does a lot of their living outdoors and we hear a lot. The fruit man, the ice cream man, the second line.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BOOTH: The brass band is what we call the main line, and people run out of their houses and follow them and dance and just spend time together. And those people that are following the band are what we call the second line, but it's also just what we call, sort of, the whole event.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. BOOTH: You often hear it when you're in your house and it just sometimes pulls you right out of your house. You just have to go running out behind it.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) All I do…

HANSEN: I see you've also collected some of the sounds into themed tags. There's a tag for food, one for Mardi Gras. But you also have one called pirate and another one named smelly. I mean, how many different sounds make up a city like New Orleans?

Mr. BRANCASI: We don't know yet, but we're hoping that people continue to contribute to the point where they feel that the map really represents the city well.

Ms. BOOTH: Yeah, and people can tag sounds however you like. So, what you're seeing is how people have chosen to sort of succinctly describe their recordings. But there are also tags that might seem a little more boring on their face, like businesses. And even those have some really great recordings in them.

HANSEN: Give us an example.

Mr. BRANCASI: Well, if you click the businesses tag, you should see an interview with Ed Buckner, Pie Man, that was contributed by Eavestroughs.

Mr. ED BUCKNER: Since 19, I figure 1980, I've been walking the neighborhoods selling pies, saying fresh hot pies, get 'em while they're hot. Apple, pecan, lemon meringue and sweet potato pies. Get 'em while they're hot, 'cause they're hot when you get them. And we would walk through the projects and everything selling those pies.

Well, you know, if you holler fresh hot pies, I might work on your nerves and you might decide let me buy a pie from this man so he can go about his business.

Mr. BRANCASI: Ed's selling pies, but he's not only selling pies, he's participating in his city's culture by sort of chanting this way.

HANSEN: So how is that indicative of New Orleans?

Ms. BOOTH: I think it's about collaboration. So, you know, Ed comes out and he does his thing and people come out of their houses and they buy a pie. And just like the second line pulls you out of your house and, you know, the band has to play really well and you have to get in line and dance for it to all work well, you know, it's a collaboration. And there's a lot of instances of that in New Orleans.

HANSEN: What do you hope visitors will get from your site that they might not understand about New Orleans from other kinds of Web sites about the city?

Mr. BRANCASI: Well, one of our favorite aspects about the project is learning new things from what people contribute. And we hope that anyone who visits the site does the same. Fourteen-year-old Kadijah Garner(ph) gave us a vocabulary lesson. Here, she explains the T.

Ms. KADIJAH GARNER: The T is, like, information, what's going on - today's news, something like that, but it's more it is with your friends. It's not like news that's really going around the world. It's like your classroom or your neighborhood.

I tell my sister about what happened at school or something. She will tell me about what happened at her school or what happened with my cousins. You know, I'll be, like, let me give you the T right quick. 'Cause the T, it sounds better, like, the T. Let me give you the topic of the day.

Mr. BRANCASI: If you visit the site, you can listen to the other words in Kadijah's vocabulary lesson. It's just one example of the way people share personal experiences and offer local knowledge on the site.

Ms. BOOTH: You know, we really feel like none of the recordings speak entirely to what New Orleans is. But if you go and listen to enough of them, you can start to get a real sense of the city.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: That's the sound of the Steamboat Natchez Calliope, and it was contributed by Chris Wilker(ph). Heather Booth and Jacob Brancasi are the directors of the project. They were also our tour guides through the Web site today, and they joined us from member station WWNO in New Orleans. Thank you, Heather.

Ms. BOOTH: Thanks, Liane.

HANSEN: Thank you, Jacob.

Mr. BRANCASI: Thanks for having us.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You can listen to more sounds from the city at And to learn about Maker's Quest, our summer multimedia project, go to

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