Mindful technology: Audio walks will change how you explore cities.

Here’s how audio walks bring treasured places to life (Case Study: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park).

Osage Orange tree in Prospect Park.

We’re on a mission to map culture and illuminate the history and human creativity that is constantly evolving and surrounding us. One of the coolest ways to do this? Audio walks.

The concept of an audio walk isn’t new. There are versions of them that were made for cassette tapes, CDs, and even for the Diamond Rio, an MP3 player that predated even the iPod. Similar to podcasts, the medium started out with a niche audience. While podcasts have recently become much more mainstream, audio walks have stayed niche. There’s a few reasons for this, but certainly not least of which is that the user experience benefits heavily from a custom mobile app to really make the audio walk transportive for a listener.

Going for an audio walk is a new way to explore the world and indulge our curiosity. We like to think of it as an interactive listener experience that adds an audio layer to the physical world, illuminating hidden stories all around us. Location-based audio has the potential to completely reimagine how we process our surroundings both old and new, bringing the past, present, and future of spaces to life simultaneously.

But we shouldn’t be the only voice telling these stories. That’s why we’re launching a Creator Tool that will allow all you audio producers and creatives to work with us, combining your unique perspectives with our location-based technology. Sign up for early access, and you’ll be one step closer to making audio magic.

“Immersive audio walks that explore the magic in the everyday… The walks are a blend of podcast storytelling and interactive treasure hunt… If you think you know what a guided tour experience is like, think again. The updated tech at Gesso provides a seamless immersive experience that lets you leave your phone in your pocket the entire time.” -Brooklyn Based

The panther statue near the 3rd street entrance of Prospect Park.
The panther statue near the 3rd street entrance of Prospect Park.

“I’d lived just a few blocks from the park for a few months, but hadn’t taken the time to truly dig in and explore all it has. Walking between the Panthers, I was struck by the way the park opens as you round the curve. It’s like you’ve suddenly entered the bloodstream of some living thing, bicyclists and strollers and rollerbladers all whizzing by. As I kept going, I just couldn’t get over how much there was to take in- rolling hills, gurgling streams, boulders galore, and architectural beauties.” That’s Rebecca Chaisson, Gesso’s audio producer who wrote and produced Pastoral Paradise, reflecting on her work and the potential she immediately saw in this specific route.

Part soundscape, part interactive podcast, part sonic love letter to this iconic Brooklyn green space, the audio walk provides a truly unique blend of audio and the physical landscape.

Although we call it a guided walk, it isn’t guided in the traditional sense that requires a tour guide telling you where to go. It’s “guided” because we’ve carefully crafted audio that is triggered based on your location at exactly the right moment, so you know when to keep left, when to look down at an engraved stone on your path, when to take a moment to appreciate the cultural significance of a tree in front of you, and so on.

We tell you where to go, but you explore at your own pace. Our audio plays whenever you reach the correct spot, an experience that adapts to each listener. “No one is there to usher you to the next spot- you walk when you’re ready to move on, and not before. The pause button is always there if you need it,” says Chaisson. All audio clips on our platform also include transcripts to make sure that our content is accessible in different forms.

Chaisson also believes that this type of technology is valuable for both locals and tourists, allowing for a special opportunity to see new and familiar surroundings through a unique, hyperaware lens. “I’ve always thought the solitude of the headphones allows for a little more of the wonder and magic that new spaces and stories can manifest, whether it’s your first time or fortieth down a given path,” she says. In a world where distractions are plenty when going from point A to point B, both locals and tourists often miss out on these magical in-between moments.

The exterior of Litchfield Villa, surrounded by greenery, at Prospect Park.
The exterior of Litchfield Villa, surrounded by greenery, at Prospect Park.

Location-based audio experiences like this one can be made with various themes in mind. In addition to the audio walk here in Prospect Park, we’ve taken a sociological look at hipsterism and explored the history behind local businesses in Williamsburg, celebrated the work of Emily Roebling by traveling back in time to the Brooklyn Bridge’s opening day, and traced the birth of punk from Greenwich Village to the East Village, but stories are not a finite resource. The spaces around us are constantly bursting with storytelling potential.

When it came to making Pastoral Paradise, Chaisson knew the first step was to focus on creating an ideal walking route. “There’s so much going on within those 526 acres that picking out stories first would have had listeners zigzagging across the entirety of the park. Once I’d charted out a path, I dug into the research process, trying to uncover those facets of park history that often remain untold,” she says. Then comes figuring out the timing between segments, finding landmarks and visual cues to include in the script to guide listeners, editing the script, recording voiceover, and incorporating sound design. “With something like the Prospect Park walk, I work hard to make sure I’m not adding sounds for sounds’ sake- the park has so many of its own sounds happening all the time that I feel it’s important to leave space for,” she says.

One of Chaisson’s favorite moments from the sound design phase of the Prospect Park audio walk was making the portion of the walk between the Boathouse and the Camperdown Elm. “That’s the segment where I took the most liberties with the sound design. I wanted to immerse listeners in the temporal as well as physical space of the park, letting them walk through all four seasons in just a few minutes.”

The boathouse and lake at Prospect Park.
The boathouse and lake at Prospect Park.

Listeners can sense the care that goes into the process, as users have shared remarks about how “lovingly crafted” and “impeccably executed” they find our special blend of physical space with location-based audio.

This is the type of technology we want to create and the type we want you to be a part of… technology that inspires, renews hope, sheds light on new perspectives, and encourages us to challenge our assumptions.

Oftentimes, it’s tempting to use technology in a manner that encourages passive behavior like scrolling through social media and increasing our screen time. However, there’s a lot of potential to focus our efforts into creating more mindful technology that’s present when it can be of value and then gone when we no longer need it, encouraging us to get out into the world and focus our attention elsewhere.

“All it takes is one push of one button and you’re off, and so is your phone. You can put your phone away in your pocket and forget about it. It’s an hour of intentional and intimate time between the listener and the story with tiny details brought to the fore in a way that makes even unmentioned details shine all the more,” says Chaisson.

Interested in creating your own location-based audio experience? Sign up for early access to Gesso’s Creator Tool so we can innovate together, blurring the line between what we physically experience in the world and what we can dream together through the power of audio.

Co-founder of Gesso, maker of audio walks through cities + museums. Follow for latest insights on audio, museum tech, travel, culture, and more. www.gesso.app

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