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Listening Through Technology: An Interactive Sound Walk for a Suburb in Shenzhen

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Design, User Experience, and Usability (HCII 2023)


“Take A Step” is a sound walk that consists of a web-based user interface that the audience opens up on their phone, and with which they control the sound design that they hear on their headphones as they walk through and around the historic “Dawan Shiju” site in the Pingshan suburb of Shenzhen. The sound walk was made by four undergraduate students from the SUSTech School of Design (Shenzhen) in close collaboration with the instructor and co-instructor and was publicly presented at the UABB Biennale in Shenzhen in 2022. With this paper, the authors, who are also the project leaders, analyze specific modalities of interaction with a socio-cultural site through the designing of a digital media experience. They describe this modality as listening through technology and show how it can raise the user’s awareness of the social, cultural, and mediatic specifics of the thematized site – not only on this given site, but in any other listening situation in the everyday as users may potentially carry the gained knowledge elsewhere. This paper puts forward the notion of technological listening as a complex modality happening in between reality and fiction, and in between the actual and the virtual. Listening to an environment through technology, the authors argue, is a method that accounts for the always multidimensional social, cultural, as well as sonic characteristics of a given site.

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  1. 1.

    “Perhaps soundwalking can be a step towards enhancing our chances of survival … Or can simply be fun” [6, p. 7].

  2. 2.

    Note that also Hildegard Westerkamp uses the term “fun” when relating to the practice of sound walking [6, p. 7].

  3. 3.

    “Dawan Shiju” is the literal transcription of the Chinese 大万世居, and it literally means “residence for thousands of generations”. There are several translations of the name. The curators of the UABB Biennale translated it as “Dawanshiju”; on site, in the now turned museum, it has been translated as “Wanshi Habitat”; yet on the local government website called “Shenzhen Archives”, it is called “Dawan Ancestral Residence”. For legibility and consistency, we decided to call it “Dawan Shiju” in this paper.

  4. 4.

    “Zhong Lihe (1915–60) is arguably Taiwan’s most important native writer of the early post-Japanese period. His position on the margins of Chinese culture was determined by his birth and first thirty years of life in Japanese Taiwan and, further, by his membership in the Hakka minority” [24, p. 155].

  5. 5.

    In 1845, the term “Hakka” for the first time showed up in an official report by the Hong Kong government. Before that, Hakka people have been called differently, for instance, Kih, ka, kea jin people, kheh, Hoklo, Hok-ha, Kheh-kia. Most of these terms were based on different pronunciations of the word “Hakka” [28].

  6. 6.

    “Since the seventeenth century, and particularly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Hakka people also emigrated to Taiwan, Malaysia, and other regions of Southeast Asia, and as far as South Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe, the Caribbean, and North and South America” [26, pp. 4–5].


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We want to thank the four students who developed, realized, and presented the sound walk “Take a Step” at the UABB Biennale in Shenzhen in the fall and winter of 2022: Tang Zilu, Deng Hexin, Sheng Yue, and Li Xian. We are also grateful to the curatorial team of the Pingshan UABB Biennale of Shenzhen for inviting us and other SUSTech School of Design members to produce new work for their exhibition. Thanks to members of the SUSTech School of Design for supporting the research and production of the sound walks. Thanks to research assistant Qu Hanyu. Thanks to the residents in Pingshan who were willing to talk to us.

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Correspondence to Marcel Zaes Sagesser .

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Sagesser, M.Z., Xu, B. (2023). Listening Through Technology: An Interactive Sound Walk for a Suburb in Shenzhen. In: Marcus, A., Rosenzweig, E., Soares, M.M. (eds) Design, User Experience, and Usability. HCII 2023. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 14031. Springer, Cham.

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