Architecture and urban design have traditionally tended to focus on what we see rather than what we hear. When sound is taken into account, it tends to be viewed as a problem to be dealt with through noise control.
Reducing noise is certainly important, especially because the kind and level of noise people are exposed to in urban environments often reflects socio-economic inequalities. And noise can also have a damaging effect on ecosystems, for example by interfering in communication between different species of birds at certain frequencies.
But the Soncities project aims to go beyond the traditional focus on noise control, and to develop more creative approaches towards sound in urban environments. The project brings together specialists from different fields including sound theorists, urban sociologists, architects, urban designers and sound artists. It is also engaging local communities in several cities through field recordings, audio diaries and sonic mapping of neighbourhoods. New tools developed and tested through these collaborations are intended to help create more inclusive and enjoyable sonic environments.
In this episode in our series of podcasts featuring ERC grantees, we spoke with Gascia Ouzounian, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, about her work to develop a “new acoustic paradigm for cities”.
Sound scape is often treated as a kind of object: a set of sounds that can be heard, recorded, classified, and that make up urban sound environments. We approach sound scape in the opposite way, as a kind of production. How are people participating in the production of sound scape, or are being excluded from participating in it?”
“We experience our sonic environments with our entire body, and not just with the ear. Particularly in cities, where you have such a large range of infrasound and ultrasonic sounds. Even if we cannot hear them, they are there and they affect the ecology of a place. They make it impossible for certain species of birds to live in a place because they can no longer communicate in a certain frequency bandwidth.”
“When I am in London, I feel the vibrations of the subway, and those enormous sounds that it is creating, all that vibrating rumble of London. We want to not just ignore it or absorb it, but to do creative things with it.”
Gascia Ouzounian is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Oxford, where she directs the European Research Council-funded project ‘Sonorous Cities: Towards a Sonic Urbanism’ (SONCITIES). Ouzounian’s research is concerned with histories, technologies, and aesthetic philosophies of sound and space, a topic she most recently explored in the book Stereophonica: Sound and Space in Science, Technology, and the Arts (MIT Press). The SONCITIES project builds on over 10 years of collaborations with architects, urban designers, and sound artists, including through the research network Recomposing the City (co-directed with Sarah Lappin); the multimedia edition Acoustic Cities: London & Beirut; and the exhibition Scoring The City.