Sounds beyond cities- Column Gerald Brugman

How well do you know the city? In Stadsleven ‘Hidden City’ we’ll show the hidden city, unknown stories and we’ll use all our senses to explore the city. Gerald Brugman, Annabelle van Beusekom, Monica-Paula Ciovica and Nicole de Groot of the Research Master Urban Studies wrote this column about the visual homogeneity of cities around the world due to globalisation. Do they also start to sound alike? 

Reading instruction: This column contains multiple soundscapes of different cities. Can you guess which sound belongs to which city? And what about the photographs?

“Sound provides an often-ignored element of our conceptualization of the urban fabric.” (Atkinson, 2007)

Experiencing the city

How do we experience the modern city today? We may come across once lively historic buildings, now decrepit being towered over by shinier behemoth structures that rise high above into the sky, scraping a new landscape. We may see cars and bikes flashing through the streets, and sights of people marching to their agenda, or in stasis, lining the streets on cafe terraces. But what happens when we unplug from the notion that the image is worth a thousand words, and instead tap into the urban experience that is afforded by the sounds that accompany these sights, that so often go unheard?

A city’s voice

A city is complex, organic; a living organism with its forms, rhythms, and patterns—-interwoven amidst these is its voice. A voice which seems to have been washed over and muted by busy sights and busier minds, as we make our way through the city plugged into our devices. But hushed though it may be, its vibrations continue, a key role to the life of the city. The sounds of a city can tell us much about the urban spaces that we move through in our daily lives. Listening to sounds can unveil an untapped experience of the city.

Homogenized space

Cities are becoming more deeply rooted in a culture of globalization. This has resulted in the construction of urban spaces that, while located in different cities across the globe, increasingly look-a-like. But when we include sounds in analyzing these scenes, can we then still argue for this increasing homogenization?

The metro

An example of such an urban space is a public transit system. Millions of citizens in cities around the globe rely on the metro for their daily commute. Although, metro systems have their own distinct design language – think art-nouveau in Paris and Helvetica in New York City – these spaces also have a very similar format. How strong is their visual distinctiveness? And if we are not able to visually distinguish them, can sound help us to define in which metro we are?

The ambient soundscape of a city is made up of a shifting metropolitan fabric, which may guide us in our experience of the urban, thus highlighting an invisible yet relevant area of inquiry. It allows us to explore a different process through which globalization and consumption materialize in cities. By not only including the appearance of the urban space, but also its sounds, we can ask ourselves about the degree of the spatial transformations that are triggered by globalization.

Sounds beyond Cities

The installation ‘Sounds beyond Cities’ presents an amalgam of six moments in time, in world cities like Amsterdam, Milan, Paris, New York, Berlin, and Tehran. Each story evokes a mood of time and place. A quintet strings together tales of urban angst, languages, and continents that span across time zones. Through sounds, new doors of analysis are opened to examine the transformation of public space and everyday life. The soundscape ambients that make up this installation allows viewers to collectively tap into familiar realms with a new, rare experience that takes us a step back as we begin listening to the way cities pulsate, transform around us, and perhaps also in some ways transform us.

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Do you wanna know if you guessed the cities and sounds right? Find out at the exhibition!

Sounds beyond Cities is an interactive, compact exhibition curated by the graduate students of the Research Master’s Urban Studies (University of Amsterdam). It is part of the symposium Consuming the City 2016. On June 6th, a lecture is organized in Pakhuis de Zwijger, together with the screening of the documentary FOODSTRUCTION and a preview of the exhibition. 

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