Sound plays an important role in defining the cities and the places we live in. Whether it is the familiar sounds of drilling, sirens, traffic or vendors peddling their wares, we all subconsciously identify with the phonic details of each city or neighbourhood we frequent or live in.
For Kyler B, it goes beyond that. His documentation of ambient soundscapes has allowed global citizens to relive or gain a better insight into the cities and environments across the world.
On his YouTube Channel, Nomadic Ambience, visitors can go on a virtual trip to experience a number of audio-visual escapes in gorgeous 4K. This includes highlights such as strolling around the streets of New York City in the rain, experiencing The Bund in China at night, and wandering through busy Shibuya, Tokyo.
The channel created by the traveller and photographer has already amassed over 500,000 subscribers since his first upload just over three years ago. Kyler’s videos are not just beautifully shot but they also provide viewers with audio signatures of the cities and places he has visited over the years, giving them an insight into how he personally experiences
Caption: Kyler's videos on YouTube are a feast for both the eyes and ears.
Documenting Phonic Soundscapes
Kyler reveals his love of ambient sounds and binaural soundscapes stems from a few different areas, but predominantly it was sparked by his love of travelling and dealing with insomnia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) for most of his life.
“I have always had trouble sleeping at night and focusing during the day due to distractions, but early on I just decided to live with it,” he relates. “It wasn’t until later in life that I discovered the art of ASMR and ambient recordings and used it to relax. If you search ASMR on YouTube, you may find many strange things, but for me, it felt like I discovered gold; I found the sensitive sounds so relaxing.”
A few years later, Kyler thought it would be a cool idea to do sound recordings in the places that he has travelled to. “Whether it was a cafe in France, or a cityscape in NYC, I wanted to help people experience the world through its natural sound at high quality. That’s pretty much how the channel was born.”
Caption: The recordings of city sounds offer ASMR to listeners.
According to Kyler, when he first set out, he admitted to not having experience with video or audio. However, he eventually began to use his knowledge of photography to help make that transition.
“I also took countless hours of online tutorials to gather as much knowledge as I could. That said, when I put out my first video, I knew the quality was very bad, But I knew I would improve as I kept creating. Honestly, I’m still learning to this day.”
Getting To Know A City
Kyler reveals that he spends weeks and sometimes months in a city to put a recording together. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it is just for the filming, but also to really discover and explore the city including its languages, culture and to also meet new people.”
However, the duration of filming itself differs according to the genre he shoots and records. “If it’s a video or a walk through a city – that usually can be done in one take,” he reveals. “So, it really only takes the length of the video itself to shoot, and another day to edit and upload.”
Caption: Capturing each video can be a rather huge challenge, with different various aspects to get right.
He does however admit that sunrise, cityscape, and landscape recordings prove to be a bit more challenging. “Sometimes during sunrise, you may only get about 45 minutes of good lighting. But if I want to make a three-hour video, I will sometimes shoot the same location over three or more days. With cityscapes, these videos are also very long and take many days to film as camera batteries die, sensors overheat from extensive recordings and memory cards fill.”
Exhausted batteries and SD cards aren’t the main challenges though, as Kyler admits that his biggest hurdle is to ultimately produce the best quality video and sounds at the same time. “Sometimes I find a beautiful place, but it’s overrun with loud tourists or situated next to a loud highway. Or the reverse is when I go at night because the sound is cleaner, but it’s too dark to really film anything.”
He admits that his time spent documenting the sounds and sights of the city inevitably reveal various insights to its persona. Kyler cites Tokyo as an example, with a population of nine million compared to New York’s eight million. However, the Japanese capital says Kyler, is much quieter in general compared to the Big Apple.
A Virtual Experience
When asked why his ambient recordings resonate so well with his listeners, Kyler believes that it is largely due to it the fact it sounds natural.
“There’s no vlogger on camera talking to you for 80% of the video, or music overlaid on top of my videos – it’s just pure and natural sound. I think it’s a different way of experiencing the world virtually.”
Kyler says that recording cityscapes remains his favourite. “I really love it because each city has its own unique sound. Tokyo sounds totally different from Barcelona, which sounds completely different from Downtown LA. When you listen to these sounds, you can pick up the small details that make each city very unique. Whether it’s how silent parts of Tokyo can actually be, the motorbikes echoing through the streets of Barcelona, or the subway running under the New York streets.”
Of all the cities he has visited though, he admits that New York holds a special place in his heart. “That city just has so much amazing energy. It’s insane,” he enthuses. “When I listen to cityscapes of NYC at night and although it sounds like chaos, it makes me feel as if I’m in a cinematic movie.”
According to Kyler, throughout his travels in Asia, he personally found Bangkok, Thailand to have the most unique sound. “That city is so active with music, people and plenty of loud motorbikes rolling through the streets,” he explains. That said, he also adds that he found significant differentiating factors between Asian cities and Western ones.
“Mostly, the main differences lie in the lack of influence by western culture, in Asian cities,” he elaborates. “It’s not so much about the way people dress or anything like that, but more of the subtle things. Like how people greet you, how they handle awkward situations, and body language. I found in Japan most people wait for the crosswalk to tell them to walk, even on a small road as opposed to NYC where as long as there are no cars coming people will still walk.”
Despite amassing an incredible collection of recordings, Kyler says that he foresees the sounds of cities to change dramatically following the pandemic:
“I think it is inevitable. Even in the comments of some of my older videos, for example, New York City, people have left comments about how close people are standing or how they are not wearing masks. But they don’t realise that the video was uploaded over a year ago when times were different,” he explains. “I think it will be a while before some of these cities sound the same again.”
For now, though, despite the changing landscape of the world and the new norm, we are fortunate to have Kyler’s recordings to remind us of how things were not too long ago.
Perhaps in the near future, it will go back to how it was before, just like how Kyler has documented them these past few years.
Cover Image: Courtesy of Kyler B
Writer | Richard Augustin
Two decades in journalism but Richard believes he has barely scraped the surface in the field. He loves the scent of a good story and the art of storytelling, two elements that constantly fuel his passion for writing.