Urban Sound Cultures – University of Copenhagen

Sound Research > Seminars > Urban Sound Cultures

24-25 August, 2009: Urban Sound Cultures
Cities have always been associated with the experience of noise. Paradoxically discourses about the sound of the city tend to focus on reduction of noise while disregarding investigations into the qualities of urban acoustics and the way they shape urban life worlds. As designed sound environments play a more and more dominant role in public space, approaches to urban auditory experience become increasingly relevant. Today acoustic design not only pertains to the shaping of physical and acoustical properties, but also to sonic interventions through speaker systems that build commercial or artistic, attractive or repellent, social or individualistic environments. Sound seems to be becoming a design factor. The seminar will focus on questions like which terminologies and methodologies are available for analyses of urban acoustics; and in what ways do these approaches relate to present or past notions of urban culture?


13.00 - 14.00 Guest: Catharina Dyrssen, Urban Sound Institute, Göteborg & Stockholm, and Chalmers Architecture, Göteborg: Composition as Interplay. Investigating Urban Space through Sound Art Projects.
With noise as the basic urban condition, and with a contemporary culture extensively based on music and images as modes of communication, one can speak of an increasing musicalisation of the urban environment. Sound plays an important role in the construction of public space, not only through the potential of transgressing physical borders, but also through constructions of meaning and social territories, and e.g. to support movement, rhythm and orientation within city space. Recognising urban sonic space as shifting, heterogeneous, emerging spaces generates questions about how architecture and sound art can be actively used in the investigation and formation of places and cities. The lecture addresses these issues through some works by Urban Sound Institute (USIT), a transdisciplinary art-based research group exploring urban sonic space by means of sound art projects, sound design and architecture. Focus is especially set on problems of ubiquity, coherence, seclusion, borders, scale, materiality, focal points, rhythm, repetition and timing as well as directionality, transience and composition as interplay.

14.30 - 15.10 Jacob Kreutzfeldt: Street Cries as a Paradigm for Urban Ritournelle.
Street cries, though rarely heard in North European cities today, testify to the ways in which audible practices give shape and structure to urban space. As paradigmatic for what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call ritournelle, the ritualized and stylized practice of street cries may point at the dynamics of space-making, through which the social and territorial construction of urban space take form. Drawing on a diverse material of historical Danish and contemporary Japanese street cries the article presents some considerations on the role of sound and noise not only as a qualification of a predominantly visual space, but as appropriation of social space. The inquiry will in turn question conceptions of urban sound environments as soundscapes, maintaining the stability of such environment, while suggesting the concept of acoustic territoriality as an alternative, emphasizing the dynamic and social character of auditory spatiality.

15.10 - 15.50 Nicolai Graakjær: Ambient Music in Commercial Settings - A Preliminary Mapping of a Field of Research.
No single distinctive feature defines the basic characteristics of music in retail spaces (Kassabian 2004) or as it shall be coined in the following ambient music in commercial settings (Graakjær & Jantzen 2009). But whether pre-existing or originally composed, what sets this kind of mediated sound structure apart from "ordinary music" is the fact that it is not intended for active listening, dancing or singing along.
     By way of a more specific introduction, ambient music in commercial settings is a supplementary, often unnoticed device enforced on the consumer. It functions as sonic architecture in that it binds elements together or establishes distinctions in space. Furthermore, this music is designed to fit into the shop's or the consumer's daily time schedule. It is programmed to modulate situational aspects of consumption: e.g. it has to relax shoppers when they are most stressed (in the late afternoon). Being unnoticed also implies being anonymous. This music diverts attention from its composer or origin towards the consumption setting. On location, it is hard to escape, precisely by being mass distributed and communicated. The overall effect at which this music is aiming is not the creation of strong, intense but relatively short-lived emotions but a balanced mood fit for the occasion. It is driven by an urge for mood enhancement and/or branding. Its effect is situational, relying of course on the individual consumer's predispositions, frame of mind and actual mood, on the social and cultural specificities of the targeted audience (taste, etc.) but also on the specifics of the actual setting and patterns of interaction herein.
     This presentation will make available a preliminary mapping of research on ambient music in commercial settings. As it turns out most research has been carried out within consumer and marketing studies and musicology. A range of research questions, methods and theories are represented and the presentation will attempt to provide an organized overview of these rather diverse research positions and aspirations. As conclusive remarks the presentation will outline future research initiatives.

16.20 - 17.20 Guest: Juliana Hodkinson: LISTENING AT THE CROSSROADS: some dramaturgical considerations on working with urban field recordings.
Over the past couple of years, I have been collecting samples of primarily urban field recordings, and building up a substantial sample library as a base for extending any given musical or site-specific instrumentarium. During this lecture, I will present some of the work resulting from this - including 'We'd just got back...', which uses recordings from the streets of Shanghai - and also talk about my reflections on potential clashes and solutions in an aesthetic project that includes both found sounds and musically shaped sonic events.


09.00 - 10.00 Guest: Michael Bull, Media and Film Studies, University of Sussex: iPod Culture and Urban Experience - Thinking Through a Western Epistemology of Sound.
Whilst my recent work, Sound Moves: iPod Culture and Urban Experience, was based upon a global study of mobile sound its epistemological base is centred primarily upon a Western understanding of sonic experience. This lecture will both articulate this 'Western premise' and question its applicability globally.

10.30 - 11.10 Morten Breinbjerg: Urban Culture: The Sound of Haunted Places.
"Haunted places are the only ones people can live in" Michel de Certeau writes in The Practice of Everyday Life and he continues: "this inverts the schema of the Panopticon". By haunted places de Certeau refers to the history of places, to traces and/or memories of what used to be. Such places are containers of knowledge - of spirits who remain silent or have been silenced. In my paper, I will describe sound art projects in which places, by the help of pervasive technologies, are again allowed to speak. I.e., projects that seek to release the spirits of places and enable listeners to experience the historic complexity of the environments they traverse. Not from the privileged position of the panopticon, but from positions within the environment itself. On this background my aim is to discuss, how we through sound can experience haunted places and the complexity of their history in a mediated context and how this connects to a contemporary culture of individually designed soundscapes.

11.10 - 11.50 Erik Steinskog: Hauntological Sounds: Dubstep and the Sounds of the City by Night.
The term hauntology, lifted from Jacques Derrida's discussions in Specters of Marx (1993), has obtained a life of its own. Today the term can be found broadly within the cultural sphere, being used to discuss different versions of temporality and being, both a temporality and a being inflected with a kind of looseness or indeterminacy. When ontology becomes hauntology, as it seems to do in Derrida's discussion, the past's presence in the present becomes crucial. At the same time does it become obvious that the past is never identical with what it used to be; the past changes, the ghostly or spectral is different and have a different kind of being or non-being in the current present. In this paper I am interested in hauntology as it plays itself out in music and sound, and I will discuss the sub-genre of dubstep as one of the places where such hauntological sounds might be found. In several dubstep tracks, most notably from Kode9 and Burial, different kinds of spectral beings might be heard within the mix, echoing as if bringing memories or other experiences. There is some kind of urban feel to it as well as a nocturnal dimension, and the paper will try to outline how these dimensions intersect.

11.50 - 12.30 Thomas Bjørnsten Kristensen: City Translations: Intermedial Amplification and Fictionalization of Urban Sound.
Ever since the emergence of the modern city - the metropolis - artists have been intensely engaged in describing, depicting and mediating the impressions connected to this complex phenomenon of modernity. In my paper I will discuss recent attempts to aesthetizise and transmit, specifically, the non-visual impulses and stimuli adhering to the cityscape of New York, as exemplified in the works of novelist Don DeLillo and media artist Stephen Vitiello. As a writer, DeLillo portrays and questions the meaning of dramatic urban scenes by means of multitudinous references to the sounds, tones, and noises present in modern, metropolitan life. In his novels the city appears and is described as a continuous flow and combination of sights and resonances, and DeLillo can thus be said to offer a number of interesting reflections on our basic modes of audible experience in these environments. Vitiello is occupied, as well, with the conditions of our perception in various municipal settings, focusing for instance on the habitual exclusion of certain aspects of city-generated sound. As an opposite strategy, Vitiello has experimented with the amplification of these ‘unwanted' sounds and vibrations, using them among other things as material for musical compositions.

13.30 - 14.30 Guest: Ida Winther: The Sounds of the 'Mobile' Matter.
This paper is based on an interactive observation study in a Danish youth club concerning the relationship between the mobile phone as object (materiality), and the space and the social setting the mobile phone is in. We are always potentially present with a mobile and, in spite of the minimal size of the object, it makes its presence known in both the private and public space through sound. As an object the mobile phone dominates both the social landscape and the soundscape. As a technological object, it has no intentions, but the social space changes and grows when everyone is hooked up to the physical and the virtual realm via the mobile. The mobile phone has changed from telecommunications to an ongoing mobile media. We see a kind of telemediated accessibility and closeness, but it can also be superficial and turn into telemediated distance. My assumption is that the mobile can be understood as both enlarging and enclosing the individual at one and the same time, and with this paper I want to focus on how "the sound of the mobile matter". I refer to Michel Bull, Erving Goffman, Murray R. Schafer.

14.45 - 15.25 Nina Gram: Soundscapes on the Move.
A walk through the city means a walk through several different sound milieus. Some places are dominated by traffic or machine noise, some are defined by the music coming from different stores, and yet others are characterised by human sounds like live music, conversation etc. These milieus have fluent boundaries and passing through them means a horizontal, continuous transition through different soundscapes. But what happens when users of mobile sound media such as the iPod creates another layer of sound through which the city is then perceived? Can this private sound space be understood as yet another soundscape? Is it an auditory place consisting of the listener's body and conscience? Or can it be understood as an abstract space through which the surrounding urban milieus are perceived? With these questions as point of departure my presentation will examine the terms soundscape, place, non-place and space in relation to the mobile soundscape and hereby illustrate the problems of defining this exact space.

15.25 - 16.05 Mads Krogh: Beat Street: Considering Hip Hop as Urban Music.
R&B, hip hop, modern soul, pop and strands of electronic dance music are frequently joined under the common headings of urban music, urban contemporary or simply urban. This tendency continues a long tradition in popular music for generic labelling by reference to locality, and it illustrates how associations between certain kinds of music and specific social and geographical environments feature in discourses on popular music, affecting experiences of the music in question even when far from the contexts, where locational associations were initially forged. In fact, we may talk about use of music in e.g. urban environments as involving a process of simultaneous de- and re-territorialization of both music and urban spaces. That is, music lends locational associations to its place of use, while this use simultaneously changes the web of locational meanings manifest in musical practice. I aim in this presentation to discus the process of reciprocal territorialization focussing on notions of hip hop as urban music.

16.20 - 17.00 Round up and discussion