SOUNDINGS – An Open, Data-Rich Audio Archive for Sounds of Democracy

Sounds of Democracy

Soundings is designed for IWM by sound artist Mukul Patel, in close collaboration with Jan Gerber of, one of the developers of the underlying media archive software. Incorporating the democratic impulse in its deepest structure and design, the majority of material in Soundings, and the archive itself, will be published under a CC BY-NC-SA licence; itself is open source and includes a documented public API.

Soundings will be initially populated through:

  • four works commissioned by the IWM with Mukul Patel from four artist/activist groups. Each of these groups will be introduced in future blog posts.
  • responses to briefs, invitations and provocations to students and faculty associated with IWM and its partners 
  • public calls as part of media outreach

We anticipate that the content of the archive will include: field recordings from protests, music and sound art, vox pops and extended interviews, documents of democratic deliberation in action, dramatisations of democratic processes, short radio plays, conversations with digital assistants, recordings of automated call centre agents, etc.

Contributors to the archive upload audio files and add metadata via a simple visual interface that is accessible on mobile or desktop browsers. Anonymous submissions are permitted, but will be moderated to ensure relevance. To maintain the utility of the archive, content that is to be published must meet minimum requirements, for example, the spoken word must be tagged with a timecoded transcript and there are tools in the archive that facilitate such data entry.

A powerful feature of Soundings is the facility for multiple layers of time-based text annotation. Concretely, this allows transcription of spoken word in multiple languages, annotation of concurrent events, identification of speakers, etc. More generally, it opens up the possibility of parallel analyses from distinct disciplinary perspectives, potentially leading to novel interpretations.

Soundings functions as a sonic repository for the Sounds of Democracy podcast series, bringing together diverse voices, sounds and sonic practices from across sectors (particularly, beyond the academic) and territories (particularly, beyond Europe) that illuminate or relate to issues discussed. Appropriately for a project about democracy, Soundings enables public participation – anyone, anywhere may upload, browse and download freely, subject to content moderation and licence terms. Further, the archive will form the basis of a sound installation planned for later in 2021. And taking the broadest perspective, Soundings is envisaged as a general tool and resource for researchers and activists working with audio, an instrument with which to probe the concept of, and specific manifestation of, democracy.