The Journal Gazette
Thursday, August 02, 2018 1:00 am

App ties sounds, historic locations

Musician's creation uses GPS for walks


Making his way through Lindenwood Cemetery in November 2016, musician Kurt Roembke was inspired by the sites he saw.

In his mind, he was composing musical pieces that matched the scenery, and he wanted to create something that would pair the two together.

That's when the creator of Space Owl! Productions thought of SoundWalk, an app using GPS to pair different locations with different audio sounds.

“That's where I got the idea of specializing the music, so that way when people walked through the space, those specific pieces would play,” Roembke said.

This year, the idea would lead him to create a sound installation for Little Turtle Memorial Park in Fort Wayne, but Roembke was clueless when it came to app development. He only understood basic GPS technology.

He tried to have someone else develop the app, but the process had taken over a year. Instead, he taught himself how to code.

Around February, Roembke was chosen for Artlink 212, a place at the gallery where artists can develop their projects and work with a mentor.

One of the first projects on SoundWalk will be an experience at Little Turtle Memorial Park, east of Spy Run Avenue at Lawton Place. The memorial is the site of the final resting place for Chief Little Turtle.

Artlink Contemporary Galleries received $2,500 from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for the Little Turtle Memorial project.

Twelve other projects in Indiana were chosen for the Quick Impact Placebased Grant, which funds placemaking and transformational projects that spark community-wide conversations.

Roembke collaborated with George Ironstrack, assistant director of the Myaamia Center of Miami University and a member of the Miami tribe of Oklahoma, to include stories of the Myaamiaki tribe (also known as the Miami tribe) in SoundWalk. 

Inspired by historical blog posts written by Ironstrack, he wanted to create a podcast for the posts. However, due to the amount of work needed for the project, it fell through. 

Once Roembke came up with the idea for SoundWalk, he approached Ironstrack again – this time with a more bite-sized project where many more Myaamiaki could be involved.

While the Myaamiaki thought the idea of a historical documentary sounded great, the tribe wanted to do something contemporary, because they constantly struggle with only being viewed as a historical person.

Ironstrack said he hopes the everyday stories shared by members of the tribe will create an awareness.

“We're a contemporary living people, so we're not trapped or defined by that past. We're not stuck in a chrysalis, frozen in time,” Ironstrack said.

“We have a living, vibrant community today that's doing lots of interesting things in the Fort Wayne community today as Myaamia people.”

Once the app is released, its function is simple. The app can be downloaded from either Android or Apple marketplaces.

There will be a set amount of experiences, or locations, for the user to choose.

Once the user is in the specified location, all they have to do is turn on the app, put headphones in and start their walk.

The audio content for each location will be different, ranging from narrative stories, music or abstract audio.

As for the experience, the app is intended to be 100 percent hands-off, so users will pay attention to the scenery that is directly paired with the sound.

“I don't want to re-create the Pokémon Go zombies walking around,” Roembke said. 

Roembke is currently scheduled to have a release of the app in October for the Indiana Arts Homecoming at the Arts United campus.

There, he would have a booth and a demo for guests to download and be the first to use the app.

The Little Turtle Memorial experience will also be launched in October or November.

Roembke hopes to reach outside Fort Wayne and possibly take some of the Fort Wayne experiences in the app to larger cities, since some of the pieces don't necessarily need to interact with a certain space.

With the power of GPS, he can collaborate with artists all over the country to create their own SoundWalks.

“I'm interested in doing things where people have something they want to say to get people to think, but also, I'm developing some fun narrative pieces that are more entertaining,” Roembke said. “I'd love to hear from people to hear what they'd be interested in making.”

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