Starting on October 26th, the Detroit Mobile Audio Tour will enable participants to go to a handful of interesting places in Detroit and use their phones to listen to the story behind those places.  You could call it a place-based audio project or an exercise in location-based storytelling – but no matter what you call it, the Detroit Mobile Audio Tour is not the first project of this kind. We owe credit, at least in part, to the museum audio tour, and those that have taken that model to the next level.

The projects featured here all have found ways to help listeners engage with audio stories that are linked to a physical spot.  A lot of times these projects take users out into the real world – in a neighborhood, on a corner, at a historic site. Participants can use iPods, cell phones or Smart phones to hear stories about where they are.  These projects often help participants create audio content that is then tied to a particular place.  For example, participants may be able to leave place-related voicemail messages, which will then be tagged to a spot on a map or associated with a place.

As the Detroit Mobile Audio Tour project has shifted from an idea to a work-in-progress, we’ve been studying the place-based storytelling projects that have come before us. We encourage you to take a look at them and think about how they work. Maybe they will inspire you to create your own project.

Audissey Guides

Audissey Guides is a company that bills what they do as “the evolution of paper guidebooks.”  Using mp3 audio files which you can download from the internet to your iPod or phone, Audissey Guides leads you through city walking tours.  With the aid of a map that you print from a pdf, a local narrator accompanied by ambient sounds and music, guides you to places “off the beaten path.”  Our favorite thing?  Their tours are totally free!  Go to their website by clicking here.  Or read the blog article,  How to Make an Audio Tour: Ten Tips from Audissey Guide Pioneer Rob Pyles.

Block of Time: O’ Farrell Street

This is a project that centers around a section of O’ Farrell Street in San Francisco.  True audio stories from the past and present were pin-pointed to spots on this street.  Each story was marked by a water jug with a red balloon tied to it.  Passer-byers could call a phone number listed near each jug to listen to the story “tied” to it.  This project launched as part of a one day festival but the audio is still listenable online by clicking on a google map.  Read a blog post about the project by going here.  Or listen to an interview we did with the creator of this project, Krissy Clark, by going here.

Hackney Hear

Hackney Hear is essentially a Smartphone App that triggers gps-tagged audio.  As a user walks around the London borough of Hackney they hear stories from local residents, musicians and writers. The App is free. You can check out their website by going here.  Or watch a video that helps explain the App by going here.  This is a project of the Hackney Podcast.

Hear Here

This project is collecting stories about the people and places of the Bay Area.  People who want to participate can share their story by recording a message on the Hear Here website using SoundCloud technology.  Producers then follow-up with that person and send out someone with professional recording equipment to capture the story.  Some participants are also scouted in person from the public library.  No matter where the stories come from, they all end up on an interactive online map of the Bay Area.  To listen to the audio you click on pins directly on the map.  No pop-up window, no going to a new page – the audio is right there!  To see what I mean, check out their map by going here.

Passing Stranger: The East Village Poetry Walk

This project is a narrated themed audio tour about poetry in the East Village.  The tour contains site-specific poetry, interviews with poets, archival recordings and music.  Participants are encouraged to download one long audio file and head to a starting point in the East Village.  The audio guides them through the neighborhood and lasts over an hour long.  If someone is unable to go to the East Village, they can click on an interactive online map to hear each of the pieces.  A cool feature is that if you listen to a piece of tour audio online, you get to watch a video recording taken from the perspective of a person actually on the tour.  It’s just one continuous shot taken from a tripod and facing where you would have faced on the tour.  Go to the website by clicking here.

The Place + Memory Project

This project uses people’s memories and stories to recreate places that no longer exist. Participants create a wiki post of the place they remember by writing and adding photos, videos, and audio.  Participants are encouraged to add audio content by leaving a “memory message” about the place they remember.  They can do that by calling 1-888-910-2555 (in fact YOU can do that by calling that number).  Visit the project’s website by clicking here.  Or watch the video below for a tour of how to use the site:


One more thing, the project’s creators, members of an organization called Big Shed, created a spin off project called, I kid you not, the “Poop + Memory Project.”  Intrigued?  You should be.  The crowd-sourced project has stopped taking submissions but you can listen to the content they acquired by going here.

The Sammamish River Story Line

In this project, the public was invited to go to a river trail in the Seattle area, find spots on a map, and use their cell phones to listen to stories about people who live and work near those spots on the trail.  They could do this by essentially calling into a voicemail system.  Participants were also invited to share their own stories by leaving a voicemail message which will eventually end up online.  The project was available to the public for just over a month.  A hand-drawn map was posted on websites to give people a general idea of where to find these story spots. On the trail itself, stories were marked by lawn signs, stuck in the ground. To read about the project click here. To see a Facebook event invite for this project click here.

StoryCorps: Hear and There

This project is based around audio nuggets from the StoryCorps archives.  (StoryCorps, if you’re not familiar, captures American oral histories, mostly from people with a relationship – friends, family, co-workers – interviewing each other.)  The audio used all had ties to New York’s Lower Eastside.  This audio was then geo-tagged and made available to people using an iPhone App called Getting Closer.  Using the App, you could wander around the Lower East Side and stories would start to play as you neared the locations they were geo-tagged to. Unfortunately the App is not currently  working, but the audio from the StoryCorps: Hear and There project is still available online.  Find out more by going here.  Or listen to an interview we did with the creator of this project, Krissy Clark, by going here.

Talk to the Station

Talk to the Station gives participants a chance to share what they would like to see happen to what is arguably Detroit’s most notorious abandoned building, Michigan Central Station.  (Michigan Central Station, for the record, is one of the locations that will be featured on the Detroit Mobile Audio Tour.)  While standing in front of the station, a banner tied to a fence prompts visitors to call a phone number and leave a voicemail about their idea for what the station become.  Visitors can also text ideas, write them in online, or upload photos.  Check out the project’s website by clicking here.

What awesome place-based project did we forget?  Leave a comment below or tell us about it by emailing detroitaudiotour@gmail.com.

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