How to create your own, not-so-silly, love song

They met on Tinder, and, in November 2016, had their first date at his apartment in Vanier.

They each have a child from a previous relationship and have taken them to such places as the Canadian Museum of History, the National Gallery, Upper Canada Village, the Plant Pool and Parc Omega.

More recently, they’ve been to Flora Hall and the Moon Room. They would often meet after he’d finished work, and she loved arriving to find him reading a book while he waited for her.

“Romance,” she reflected, “can just be the enchantment of otherwise boring tasks if you do them together.” Going to Farm Boy to get groceries or driving along Riverside Drive and the Vanier Parkway between their homes. “These things aren’t ‘occasions,’ but they involve many moments of affection and reflection.”

This anonymous couple’s love story is one of 10 that currently form Ottawa Love Stories, a nascent, evolving online project created by Carleton University master’s student Cassandra Marsillo, a Montreal expat studying Public History.

The venues of each story are plotted on Google maps, and the co-ordinates of those paths are fed by Marsillo into an app called Musicalgorithms, which creates a unique love song for each story. It is something of a map of the human heart laid over a map of the city.

“I love maps,” Marsillo says. “I wanted to create something interactive using maps, and I also wanted to do something with sound.”

Ottawa Love Stories was spun out of a guerrilla digital history class project for which students were asked to create a digital intervention in Ottawa. Marsillo was inspired by a 2016 Citizen story profiling Patricia and Garry (Bud) Robertson, an Ottawa couple who died 13 hours apart after 51 years of marriage.

“What was cool about Patricia and Bud’s story is that it was told through locations. The milestones of their life, like this is where they first lived together, this is the house where they moved and had their children, these are the cafes and Tim Hortons they always went to.

“So then I started plotting it.”

Marsillo didn’t use the Robertson’s story for her project. Instead, she reached out on the online trading site Bunz, offering to swap a song for a love story. She capped the number of stories at 10 because the school year was ending, but plans to gather and map more.

The songs created by the stories are not your typical love songs. Each harsh composition features a stabbing staccato on piano (the word “melody” might be too kind), two notes at a time: one for longitude, the other for latitude. There’s also a repetitive sameness to the songs, not surprising given that the co-ordinates for almost any site in Ottawa, save for out near Carp, begin with 45N and 75W. Marsillo says the people who submit their love stories are told in advance not to expect pretty or silly love songs.

“The songs are literally the GPS co-ordinates of the love story,” she says. “But you can listen to a song and know it’s an Ottawa song. If you did it in Vancouver, it would be quite different.

“They’re not love songs,” she adds, “but songs generated by love, and by this city. I think the people who submit their stories like having the song that I send back to them. At least no one has complained about how weird it sounds. They all seem very excited about it. I think they like them because they’re theirs. They can say, ‘This is my song.’”

Some of the stories submitted are rich with detail. Others are simply a list of locations without a story of any kind. Marsillo describes the project as a work-in-progress and hopes to fine-tune things. For example, each story currently on her site ( has its own map, while she concedes it might be more interesting to put them all on one map. Additionally, she’d like to find a way for the love story authors to plot their maps and create songs themselves.

“I just don’t know how to do that. I need to find someone who does.”

Last May, Marsillo hosted a Jane’s Walk tied to her project, sharing not just the stories of people’s first kisses, proposals, marriages and breakups, but also a new way to inhabit the city through the music its geography creates.

“People like having the songs and their stories online,” she says. “But what I’m interested in is kind of muddling that up a bit and having people interacting with the city and the stories in a different way. It’s a different way to experience the city you live in and the paths you walk down every day.

“My dream is to have the songs playing while you’re walking, so it would be an immersive experience of understanding your place in the city in a different way, in a sonic way.”

This story was brought to you by the letter L, for Love, and is part of a series of stories about Ottawa, one for each letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned — next in the series: M is for meteorites.

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