Sound maps of New York (Images by Chatty Maps)

The urban aural landscape has a huge impact on our lives—from the roar of traffic and clatter of jackhammer, to the groove of music and lullaby of birdsong. These maps roll that information together to let you explore how cities around the world sound.

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Created by researchers Daniele Quercia, Luca Maria Aiello, Rossano Schifanella, and Francesco Aletta, the images are part of a project called Chatty Maps. The maps—which currently cover London, Barcelona, Madrid, New York, and Boston—were created by mining Flickr for geo-tagged images that were also tagged as containing sound-related words. The list of sound-related words was itself taken from tags used on Freesound, which is a massive public repository of audio samples.

Sound map of London

The team built algorithms to sift through thousands of photographs, looking for trends and co-occurrences of words. That allowed them to build what they call an “urban sound dictionary,” where types of sound are mapped out across the city. They’ve then simplified things by grouping the words into five main categories. Those are visualized on the maps: Transport (red) nature & animals (green), human (blue), music (yellow), and mechanical (grey).

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You can see see the results in these images and explore the maps online here. Click on a street and you can see the mix of sound: Maybe there’s nature and human voices close to parks; music and human shouting along a strip of bars; and just the roar of traffic on busy roads.

They’re not just pretty, though. The researchers have also been able to study the links between the sounds captured in the maps with emotions and perceptions. Again, they mined these details from the tags of the pictures.

Close-up map of New York City, showing just transport and nature sounds.

They found that human-related sounds (like laughing and talking) seem to be associated mostly with joy or surprise; traffic and mechanical sounds with anger or fear; household or religious sounds (such as flushing toilets or organ playing) with trust; and musical sounds with joy, sadness, or a bit of both.

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The maps are fascinating to explore. Go take a look.

[Chatty Maps]