Murmur is a grassroots memory and audio archive project that began in Toronto and has since spread to other cities in Canada and around the world. The technology is simple and it relies on the now ubiquitous cell phone. Murmur records stories about neighbourhoods from long-term residences and then installs an Ear Sign where the story takes place. When you come across a Murmur Ear you call the number on the sign and then enter a code to hear the story.
In the early days they used clandestine methods to attach their “Ears” to telephone poles in the dark of the night, quietly inserting traces of the city’s past into today’s landscapes. Soon they found you draw less attention installing the signs in day light and that most cities and local Business Improvement Associations (BIAs) support and even fund their work. In recent years their local accomplishments led to international attention and they have been adding cities from around the world, including Edinburgh and São Paulo, to their list of completed projects.
This project, however, is particularly important in its hometown, Toronto, as the city does not have a history museum. The city recently launched a virtual online museum, but until the city constructs a physical location for this museum, I’d rather go for a nice walk and learn about a neighborhood from people’s stories. At this time Murmur has recorded stories about eight of Toronto great neighbourhoods, from the Junction in the West to Little India in the east. Most of the recordings are memories from residents, unfiltered by academic or public historians. In other cases, like Fort York, where the history goes well beyond living memory, Murmur recorded interviews with the city archaeologist and Fort York employees.
In Vancouver, where you do have a museum, there is only one Murmur neighbourhood at the moment: Chinatown. For readers in Vancouver, I suggest you watch out for the Murmur Ears the next time you are in Chinatown and take the time to listen to a few stories. If you like what you hear, maybe you should lobby your city councillors and local BIAs to fund Murmur to add a few of the wonderful neighbourhoods highlighted on the Daily Gumboot during the lead up to the Olympics.
If you don’t have a Murmur neighbourhood nearby or you are among the minority of humans who don’t have a cell phone, but do have high-speed internet, you can explore a neighbourhood’s stories through the Murmur websites. They have developed a distinctive map style to host their stories and a simple mouse click allows you to listen to a whole range of stories from the comfort of your computer chair.