The Observer this week takes a look at the sounds of cities.
“For some,” we read, “living in a city is a loud, unpleasant babble of intrusive noise. For others it is a soundscape of calming tones that lift the spirits and brighten the day. Now a £1m, three-year research project is building a database of noises that people say improve their environment. It will translate those findings into design principles to help architects create sweeter-sounding cities.”
Wonderfully, the leader of the study “is looking for members of the public to take part in mass ‘sound walks’ through cities or in laboratory listening tests, where the team will use MRI scanners to measure participants’ brain activity as they are played a variety of urban noises.”
They will thus develop an artificial soundtrack for the urban future.
Some of the “surprisingly agreeable” sounds discovered thus far include “car tyres on wet, bumpy asphalt, the distant roar of a motorway flyover, the rumble of an overground train and the thud of heavy bass heard on the street outside a nightclub.”
We even read that the sounds of “skateboarders practising in underground car parks” are considered “kind to the ear.”
As part of his auditory interest in urban design, then, the leader of the study wants “to see more water features and sound-generating sculptures next to busy roads,” and he wants to use buildings and trees “to scatter, deaden or reflect sound.”
The entirety of city space could thus be instrumentalized – literally made more musical.
However, I’m curious how this study will deal with different moral and/or cultural expectations for urban noise. The sounds of neighbors having sex, for instance, and those who voyeuristically listen-in: should you play copulatory noises through hidden speakers in the downtown park? Thus calming a certain segment of the population?
What about the Muslim call to prayer?
And could your city someday start a season-long program, inviting sonic grandmasters to come in once a month and play new sounds for the whole metropolis, resoundtracking highways and civic infrastructure, giving the sewers a tune, adding audio to everything?
Or is that just called a radio DJ?