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Symposium: Sound and the Urban Environment

2 June 2015
6:00 pm
8:00 pm

The event is now fully booked, we have started a waiting list so please register your details if you’d like to be notified if a booking becomes available. Many thanks, ONCA.

This symposium, organised by the University of Brighton, explores our auditory encounter with the urban environment and asks how we might plan for the soundscape of our futures cities, homes and dwellings. It asks in what ways can the soundscape and the practice of listening inform and make meaningful the experience of living within urban environments.

Do we need to revisit our relationship to the sound of cities? If so, what changes should be made?

What are the prevailing attitudes to sound?

What is the role of the artist and other professionals in considering alternative approaches to listening as well as helping to celebrate, re-imagine and regenerate the spaces, buildings and institutions of the urban soundscape?


Sonic, Digital, Public Spaces: NetPark

Dr Frauke Behrendt  discusses how sound and the digital occupy public spaces, drawing form her work developing the digital sculpture park NetPark, she highlights some of the issues of community and collective experience within a digital age. 

 Speaker: Dr Frauke  Behrendt, University of Brighton


The Nexus of Soundscape, Art, and Social Action

‘We must hear the acoustic environment as a musical composition and own responsibility for its composition.’ R Murray Schafer, The Soundscape and the Tuning of the World

In 2012 White Night and the Noise Abatement Society co-commissioned a series of sonic artworks produced especially for White Night, the city’s annual all night arts and cultural festival. The works were designed to provoke debate, challenge notions of sound in public spaces and initiate innovative explorations to help solve noise disturbance in urban environments. Working with Brighton & Hove City Council, Dr Harry Witchel of Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Driftwood Productions who filmed the event, and the EU COST Action on Soundscapes, the project was part of of White Night’s commitment to ‘new work’ and ‘new approaches’ through cultural solutions for wider social concerns. This talk focuses on the project’s groundbreaking commission West Street Story and the team’s subsequent work, including West Street Tunnel, combining arts and social action in a positive, non-judgmental form, promoting cohesion rather than entrenchment in established views.

Speakers:  Lisa Lavia , Managing Director, Noise Abatement Society

Dr Harry Witchel   Discipline Leader in Physiology, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Urban Acoustic Cartography: Sound mapping as a tool for participatory urban analysis and pedagogy

Sound mapping practices and projects have proliferated around the world in recent years. They offer a critical alternative to the emphasis on noise and noise pollution in current policy, scholarship and practice. Their multivalent character suggests new insights across disciplines: the study of urban sound; practices of (collaborative) sound art; sound in architectural and urban design practice; urban pedagogy and urban data and policy work.

This research forms part of the Recomposing the City research group at Queen’s University Belfast and has gathered an initial dataset of approximately 100 sound maps from around the world. This will lead, firstly, to a critical review of sound mapping practices to help to bring the field into dialogue with architecture and urban design discourse. This paper will chart a path through multiple creative, theoretical and technical fields to bring together disciplines of architecture, sonic arts and sound studies.

The paper goes on to outline a proposed methodology of participatory engagement: firstly with built environment professionals, exploring urban sound mapping in urban analytical terms; and secondly with young people, as a means of experiential learning “of the city” through the urban sound environment. These different case study subject groups are chosen to investigate potential applications of participatory sound mapping practices in both the professional context (for those working in design practice or policy environments) and the educational context (for young urban dwellers with no experience of design practice).

Speaker: Conor McCafferty is a researcher based in Belfast. He is currently pursuing a PhD titled The Acoustic Mapping of Cities, with the Recomposing the City research group at Queen’s University Belfast led by Dr. Sarah Lappin and Dr. Gascia Ouzounian. Prior to commencing his PhD, Conor worked for six years with PLACE, a not-for-profit architecture centre based in Belfast. 

The Socialisation of Sound

This paper looks to place sound within an urban social context, framing and contextualising it as an important part of research on space, place and spatial practices. The study of audio cultures, noise cultures, and the soundscape are explored in very different fields of research with very little overlap: ethnomusicology, communications, history and the physical sciences.   These all explore sound within society but in very different ways.  The result is that while there is a large field of research into sound, there is often a separation between sound as a physical and scientific object and the social meaning of sound. This paper examines a project, which mapped the soundscape of The Smithfield area of Dublin city (an urban regenerated space) over four years with 84 teenagers, 5 older adults and through a series of auto-ethnographic walks. It presents some key findings from this study. The paper will explore how theoretical positions on space and time have evolved including the evolvement of conceptual frameworks and theories of other spaces, ‘thirdspaces’ and ‘representational spaces’, which lay the foundations for the examination of the soundscape as a meaningful embodied and social experience.  The concept of non-place is interrogated, as it relates to the homogenization of public spaces. Lefebvre argues that the conflicts between the sciences and urban design arise when a space is divided into “logico-mathematical space on the one hand” and the “practico-sensory realm of social space” on the other (1974:15).   What occurs in the design of city spaces when the phenomenological is ignored, tamed or controlled through scientific management is abstract space.  Often the construction of urban space is shaped by more practical ideas, such as stylistic concerns, material use and aesthetics, as sensory information is relegated to the fields of subjectivity and interpretation, therefore useless in urban design.  The sensory space is seen as having to figure itself out after the fact.

 Speaker:  Dr Linda O Keeffe, Lecturer in Sound Studies, Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Art, Lancaster University. Editor of the Interference Journal, Vice president of the Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association


2 June 2015
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
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ONCA Gallery
14 St George's Place
Brighton, East Sussex BN1 4GB United Kingdom

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