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Sound and the City

Sound and the City

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Published by Abdullah AlBayyari
cultural studies
cultural studies

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Abdullah AlBayyari on Jun 21, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Sound and the City
Introduction 2Acoustic Ecology, Locality 2Why talk about noise? 4Noise Pollution? 6City and Periphary? 10The Relational Sound Field 12How can we work with sound? 13Light vs Sound in Public Spaces 20Acoustic Architecture 21Against Soundscape 23
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IntroductionAt the beginning of the twentieth century, Luigi Russolo predicted, on behalf of the Italian Futurists, that ‘the motors and machines of our industrial cities willone day be consciously attuned, so that every factory will be transformed into anintoxicating orchestra of noises’ (Tisdall and Bozzolla 1977: 15). Perhaps this istrue, but at present such an acoustically harmonious city seems far off. At thispoint, though, the beauty of city and industry was recognised and even idolised bythe Modernist project and since then a minority strain of artistic practice hasexplored its sounds, sights, materials and movements. Now, ‘more than 50% of us live in cities and, according to the United Nations, this number is set to rise by2050’ (Tate Modern 2007). The city, therefore, is no longer a fetish of Modernists and Industrialists but a necessary reality for the future of all humanity.This essay aims, as a part of a wider movement to understand cities and as acontribution to debates in the strand of contemporary music dealing with thesounds of the real world, to explore ways that sound behaves and can be dealtwith in the city. London will provide a focus for this study as direct personalexperience is an important method in studying one’s own habitat. Obviously,different issues may arise when studying the newly burgeoning mega-cities of theSouthern Hemisphere, but questions raised here about the relevancy of publicarts policy may be taken as pertinent to their more haphazard development. Thecentre of this essay is urbanity, but the freedom to approach this wide issuethough sound and related media is opened by practices such as phonography andsound art which are usually taken to come under the umbrella term of ‘contemporary music’.Acoustic Ecology, Locality.Initially, several concepts need to be introduced. Whilst I will not aim to providean in-depth reading of locality I do require it here to make sense as a socio-
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geographic site which holds in varying levels memories, security, sustenance,culture and a sense of place for its inhabitants and users. Relating to Londonspecifically, locality can perhaps be defined by the ‘town’ or ‘village’ centres thathave become encompassed by the sprawl. Schools, colleges or universities maycome to be at the centre of an imagined sphere of locality or the boundaries of music and fashion subcultures such as those of Camden, Notting Hill andShoreditch may actually come to delineate a geographical area. Historically, forexample in traditional Chinese culture as described by Lucie Rault, bells werechimed so that their sphere of acoustic influence could demarcate a sociallycoherent zone (Rault 2000: 140). Whilst in London the ‘Bells of Bow’ haveceased to be used as the benchmark for a true Londoner the Mayor of London’sNoise Team still propose using the audibility of Big Ben’s chiming to assess noisepollution. However, with such high levels and variety of noise in London we mustwork harder to sonically define local cohesion. Another concept then, that of acoustic ecology or soundscape study, is invoked in order to study, highlight andwork with ‘a specificity of sound in which location and listening intersect’ (LaBelle197). LaBelle has provided a comprehensive description of academic and artisticapproaches in this wide field:
‘Locality of sound is of paramount concern for the study of environmental sound, or what acoustic ecology has deemed the “soundscape.” It promotes active listening,environmental awareness and cultural practice sensitive to questions of place, and location-oriented musical education. While pinpointing local sound as a powerful presence affecting the human condition…………acoustic ecology, in turn, expandslocality to global proportions. Whereas sound installation……works with locational sound….acoustic ecology situates local sound in relation to…the entire field of sound’ (LaBelle 2006: 197).
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