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Entries in soundscape (4)


Collective Signal: The Air Raid Siren Swan Song

Once in a while, someone tells you about a project that they’re still working on, but tickles the imagination in such a way that you can’t stop thinking about it, and you strongly hope it’ll happen. I spoke with Angela de Weijer, a Dutch sound artist, educator and cultural producer. In her work, she triggers the listener’s imagination and brings the audience out-of-the-ordinary experiences.

Photo by Sas Schilten.

Angela’s Collective Signal is such a “imagination-tickling” project, but it needs some context.

In the Netherlands where I live, there’s an air raid system that consists of 4300 sirens nationwide. These were put in place in 1952 because of the Cold War, and renewed in 1993. The Dutch are very familiar with their sound, as the system is tested every first Monday of the month, throughout the year. Here’s what they sound like:

But now, the government is planning to decommission the system, probably by 2020. As a result, Eindhoven-based sound artist Angela de Weijer is creating a swan song for the whole system. Her lifelong fascination with the system has led her to take on a project that’s already been going on for about two years, and will at least last two more years.

Angela is working together with the original maintenance engineers as well as the government to realise a composition for this nationwide system. Imagine: a composition that can be heard nationwide. Played over around four thousand “speakers”. To be heard by approximately 17 million people. In a lot of places you would be able to hear more than one siren at the same time. The sound from a siren would bounce off of buildings, forests, et cetera. The sounds meet the sound of another siren, mix, and create a unique mix of timbres everywhere in the Netherlands. Here’s an impression of what that will be like:

Shots and editing: Timo de Kruijf

Photo by Sas Schilten.

A grand work that celebrates an almost obsolete technology and through sound totally reshapes our surroundings, even if it’s just for a few minutes. We will post follow-ups to this article as the project unfolds.


Great Animal Orchestra

Bernie Krause is an American musician and soundscape ecologist. He has been recording, researching and archiving soundscapes for over 40 years.
Recently I was at the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMa). Part of the Cartier Foundation’s exhibition which is on, is “Great Animal Orchestra” by Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists.
It celebrates the work of Krause’s work, adding a simple but fitting and room-filling spectrogram to the recorded soundscapes, emerging the listener in sound, and being able to recognise the animals with visual cues. Here’s a 360-degrees video, if your browser can play that:
The idea is quite simple, but the soundscapes are compelling and diverse. While it can sometimes be hard to get an audience interested in sound-based works in a museum, United Visual Artists did a great job of adding a simple visual counterpart to keep those who aren’t used to only listen to sound, interested.
If you want to know more about the work of Bernie Krause, I suggest watching this TED Talk about “The voice of the natural world”.
As Krause states in this talk: “…while a picture might be worth a thousand words, a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures”.

Vertical Studies at Sonic Acts

The theme for this year’s biannual Sonic Acts festival (23-26 February, Amsterdam) is “The Noise of Being”. The festival generally focuses on contemporary and historical developments within art, music, science and technology. Over the last decade, the festival’s focus has shifted more and more from the universe to planet earth. This edition, it hits a little closer to home, speculating on the strange and anxious state of being human.
One of the commissioned works this year is the collaboration between Espen Sommer Eide and Signe Lidén. The two have worked together in the past during Sonic Acts’ Dark Ecology programme, recreating the historic soundscapes of the Russian settlement Nikel in the work “Altitude and History”. Through working with the local communities, they brought back the sound of wood being chopped, the lighting of the morning stoves, the sounds of animals and birds in the forest, which has since been burnt away. Vertical Studies builds upon this work.
For Vertical Studies, they reimagined the beautiful water tower in the Dutch settlement Sint Jansklooster into a vertical field-lab, where Eide and Lidén are introducing their ongoing investigations into connections between sound, history, wind and weather. For this, they use several specially constructed instruments, created for the recording and playback of sounds in the vertical dimension. By recording sounds using instruments with strings resonating with certain wind speeds, they created an archive of sounds of wind at various heights.
By using this material in the 46m high water tower, they are able to let the audience experience the effect of sounds at different altitudes in different ways, creating a kind of concert hall for vertically recorded sound. It’s quite the trip from Amsterdam (a 1.5 hour bus drive), but the building alone is already worth it, and to hear the ongoing research of Eide and Lidén in this unique space is quite the experience. It can take quite some time to get used to the space- I kept slowly going up and down the stairs, trying to find the right position to be able to fully take in all of the interventions in the space, which is logical with a piece in a new context like this. The artists use various ways of making the space resonate beautifully: by using glass resonators and very physical low resonating tones, they create a very diegetic work consisting of their archive of sounds. While the piece is about using the sounds recorded at different heights, the piece is also very much about the beautiful architecture of the water tower itself.
“Vertical Studies” can be visited during the upcoming Sonic Acts festival, which is from the 23rd until the 26th of February in Amsterdam. The excursion leaves on the 23rd from Amsterdam, at 12PM and 02PM. The installation in the water tower can also be visited on 4, 11, 18 and 25 February. Have a look at the website for more information.

Chatty Maps

Since I’ve been interested in the influence of urban sound on our everyday life, I’ve come across lots of different projects and angles of looking or mapping the problem.
Chatty Maps particularly caught my interest. While most projects rely on great amounts of fieldwork, Chatty Maps makes use of social media data to construct sound maps. A very interesting approach.
Daniele Quercia and his collegues of Bell Labs in Cambridge, England analysed words that describe sound on social media to be able to give information on what the urban soundscape is like. Using a statistical analysis of peoples reactions to different sorts of urban sound, they drew up four broad categories: chaotic, calm, monotonous and vibrant. This way one can start to see what the city sounds like. The beaches in Barcelona are an ocean of calm and nature, for example, while there’s a lot more construction and traffic going on in the center of London.
This way they can start to map out the sounds in London, Madrid, New York, and Barcelona, and they hope to be able to inform the creation of restorative experiences in our increasingly urbanized world. Get an insight in the urban soundscapes of these cities on the website of Chatty Maps, or read the full paper for more information.