Posted May 6th 2015 at 12:06 pm by
in Listening to the City

Sense the City through Sound

long street friday nightLong Street in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo Credit: Flickr/jaded one

The sonic world is regularly overlooked; especially in cities you learn to block out an array of sounds. If you don’t, on a good day you may end up overwhelmed. On a bad day, a headache may ensue. It is no wonder then that over time, city sounds become easy to ignore, rarely making it to the fore. But, as CoLab Radio contributors Wendy Hsu, Steven Kemper, and Jessica Blickley, three sound scholars, shared in their series on listening to the city, deep listening can reveal hidden social, political and economic dynamics that go beyond what is easily understood about a place. Soundwalks, in situ interviews about and through sound, are one way of engaging in this type of deep listening.

CoLab Radio is teaming up with Wendy, Steven and Jessica, to invite anyone who is interested in this methodology as a way to sense and explore the social dynamics in their city, to participate in a sound walk of a street in their neighborhood and to share it on CoLab Radio.

Here is how to participate:

1. Choose a main street. You can choose any main street, one you traverse to get home or one that you have little familiarity with. Just make sure you choose a street that you can walk on.

2. Listen closely to the sounds on-site. Slow down and listen carefully to all the sounds on the street. Where are the sounds coming from? What feelings do the sounds evoke? How do the sounds interact with one another? If opportunities arise, talk to the community (ex. a passersby, a resident, and/or a business owner) about the sounds. Ask them what they think about the sounds. How do they feel about the sounds? Do they consider the sounds as unwanted noise? If you don’t want to talk to anyone, note your own reactions and responses to these questions.

3. Capture a 2-minute recording of sounds on that street. Choose a site on the street, where you can stand to make your recording. You can use the voice memo or other recording app on your phone, a fancy recorder, or even your laptop. Use whatever you have access to. Note the street address, intersection, or lat-long values of your recording site.

4. Take at least 3-4 pictures. Capture a wide shot that shows the various sound layers at the point on the street where you made your recording. Like this:

LAListens Boyle Heights Public Sound Layers Annotated

Also take at least 2 or 3 close up pictures that exemplify where sound is coming from. Here are some examples:

Examples of Close Ups

5. Listen to the recording a few times using headphones. Do you hear anything on the recording that you didn’t hear in person? Do you hear a volume disparity between sound sources? How do the sounds tell you about the local history, culture, and economy? What else can you learn about the place through listening?

6. Write 250 to 500 words describing your soundwalk and the information you gathered above. Your description should include:

  • The location of your street (street address/intersection, neighborhood, city & country)
  • You or others’ reactions to the sounds
  • Anything you learned about the place through listening

Email your post, including your sound file and your pictures (as separate files, not embedded into your post) to Nse at colabradio@mit.edu with the subject line “Sound Walk in _________. Fill in the name of your town and country.

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