Virtual Soundwalk: Paper Boat

By Yona Ngo + Ami Mehta

“Whatever Floats Your Boat”

Have you ever imagined what it might look, sound, and feel like to experience the city as an inanimate object?

What if streetscapes were peripheral and waterways more central?

What if street noise could be drowned out by lapping waves?

What if you could be floating on water instead of walking on land (or riding the subway)?

Far from the ferry, but what if you were a paper boat floating through the Hudson or East River in New York City…

Dreamy, Right? Try Paper Boat Here

Yona and I drew inspiration from our encounters with rivers and created a virtual soundwalk from the perspective of a paper boat. The walk follows the course of a paper boat buoying along a river, with an ear and an eye on the changing landscapes and cityscapes surrounding it.

The virtual soundwalk begins miles away from New York City, up the Hudson River which flows from north to south, originating in the Adirondack Mountains and ending in New York Harbor. Did you know the Hudson River Estuary stretches across 315 miles? That would be a long virtual soundwalk. This is a condensed version (including about 6 minutes of audio, on loop).

The objects and sounds reflect the journey from north to south, moving through nature to the built environment – ranging from larger lakes and horses galloping in fields upstate to urban parks, playgrounds, and trains.

How to Float (Instructions)

1 Click on the “Try Paper Boat Here” link above to be directed to the game. It will open in a new tab.

2 Wear headphones, it will sound better!

3 Use your mouse or directional arrow keys to navigate the scene – look around! If you get sick of the water, check out the sky.

4 Explore the banks of the river. You will hear different sounds depending on your location. Do you notice how the sounds change as the paper boat transitions through the river? What objects do you notice around you? What do you want to interact with?

5 For those who are prone to sea sickness, try to avoid bumping into the driftwood logs (your paper boat will get stuck)! Also, don’t go chasing waterfalls (the scene loops once you reach “the end”)!

6 Enjoy the ride? Wish you could be a paper boat now? What did you think? Leave a comment!

Process & Notes

Brainstorming + Inspiration

Yona arrived in NYC recently and was captivated by the sights and sounds of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Ami lives two blocks from the East River and is a big fan of the ferry. We had an initial brainstorming session and decided it would be fun to explore this concept from the POV of an inanimate object, and “Paper Boat” was born.

Yona listening to the sounds of the pier
A pathway in Transmitter Park where crickets can be heard in abundance

Mapping, Walking + Researching

We mapped the length of the Hudson River and used its geographic starting and ending points as the arc for our virtual soundwalk. We also walked around and researched our references (sounds and sights) to create a shortlist of digital assets we could make.

Yona using a Zoom recorder to capture the sounds of Brooklyn Bridge Park

Listening + Recording

We used Zoom H4N recorders to capture sounds around Brooklyn Bridge Park (Yona) and Transmitter Park/ Newtown Barge Park (Ami). We then uploaded and shared our recordings, along with any documentation, and began work on editing the files separately.

Ami using a Zoom recorder near the East River at Newtown Barge Park in Greenpoint

Editing + Rendering in Adobe Audition and Unity

Ami used Adobe Audition to edit the audio samples (a mix of collected and found sounds from freesound.org). The 3D objects were created in Unity (or downloaded from the Unity Asset Store) by Yona. Major thanks to Lucas Wozniak at ITP for all his help with Unity!

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