Songlines, or Tracking Music’s Movement

We’re driving in the last foothills before the Sahara Desert starts in earnest. We were on this twisty stretch of asphalt only wide enough for one car. You had to pull onto the gravel shoulder to let the very occasional oncoming vehicle–mostly trucks and the old beige Mercedes that are the region’s taxis–pass you by.

We’d been listening to music on our stand-in car stereo, this little iPod-in-a-saucer-speaker thingie. “Night Windows” by the Weakerthans was playing.

As I sometimes do, I wondered if this was the first time that song had ever been played over this particular piece of terrain. Had anybody ever driven these 5.25 kilometres while John K. Samson sang:

Depluralize our casualties, drown the generals out in static
We turn and watch our city sprawl and send us signals in the glow
Of night windows

And then I thought about how most phones are also music players, and about the increasing appearance of GPS in mobile devices. And then I imagined a web service like Flickr’s maps.

Instead of recording where photos were taken, this service would capture where songs were played. And because songs happen in time, instead of captured moments, the site would display the paths that that music took over the Earth. Here’s how that might look:


You could build musical maps of trips, events or your entire life. This is a kind of a 21st variation on the songlines of Australian aboriginals (see also Bruce Chatwin’s wonderful book).

This seems like a natural add-on for or a similar music social network. Maybe somebody has already done this?


  1. I bet you could do this with the still invite-only Fire Eagle.

    1. get last x tracks played from with their timestamps
    2. get the last y places you’ve been to from Fire Eagle with their timestamps
    3. match up the timestamps, with allowance for date ranges (say 20 minutes before + 20 minutes after each location)
    4. display it on a map

    I haven’t been invited to Fire Eagle yet, otherwise I would have tried to build this already.

  2. Laughing at my convoluted way to solve this. (On the plus side, Fire Eagle is evidently still around.) Now there’s SoundTracking, an iPhone app that associates the music you hear with your location. Think Shazam with better sharing and a GPS but with a worse identification algorithm. At least if you know the song you can search for it.

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