Urban Soundscapes

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Urban Soundscapes: Exploring Sonic Environments, the Heartland Chapter

Proposed course for Yale-NUS Week 7.

Faculty: Jon He Jingyin, Humanities (Sonic Arts); Yi’En Cheng, Social Sciences (Urban Studies)

Course Description: This course explores the intersection between sound and urban environments. The city often evokes visualizations and maps that privilege the ocular ‘way of knowing’. Our experiences of urban environments are nevertheless profoundly sensuous and embodied. What happens when we tune in to the city differently? In this Week 7 on Urban Soundscapes (defined as the acoustic environments that are shaping and shaped by urban processes), we transform the Singapore city into an urban lab for exploring the auditory component of the city. In particular, we focus on heartlands to learn about how sound, music and noise are implicated in the spatial and temporal organization of urban spaces and cultures.

Using soundwalk (walk that directs energy on listening to the environment) as an experimental method, we enter a moment of praxis to immerse in, document, and re-produce urban soundscapes. We will embark on curated soundwalks in selected heartlands across Singapore, acquire techniques to harvest and re-create myriad sounds these places offer through mini assignments, and engage in go-along exploration of urban concepts and discourses. The week-long lab culminates with a showcase of student-led projects that resonate with the theme heartland soundscapes.

Course Objectives:

This Week 7 syllabus focuses on the interface between sonic arts and critical urbanism, as well as between theory and method. As such, students will:

  1. Inquire into the role of the auditory in understanding urban environments, thereby extending students’ knowledge and interest in topics such as digital media art, sonic cultures, urban sensorium, and urban ethnography.
  2. Acquire a working knowledge of researching sonic environments, such as techniques in audio-recording and analysis. Students begin to develop some basic field research skills that would prepare them for future courses and Capstone projects.
  3. Work independently and collaboratively throughout the course. By way of writing individual reflections and managing group assignments, students develop self-reflexivity, critical thinking, and practical competences in team-based projects.

Activities to be included in the itinerary:

  • Guest talks (on campus)
  • Studio training field techniques (on campus)
  • Training on soundwalk curation (Guest (tentative): Permagnus Lindborg, Mark Wong)
  • Field trips to Singapore urban sites offering distinctive sound/sonic cultures
  • Curated soundwalk: trail designed by faculty to orientate students)
  • Student-curated soundwalk: independent group walk by students to curate their own soundwalk project: including site selection, mapping, audio-recording etc.

Indicative Key Readings:

  • Low, K. 2015. The sensuous city: sensory methodologies in urban ethnographic research. Ethnography. 16(3): 295-312.
  • Butler, T. 2006. A walk of art: the potential of the soundwalk as practice in cultural geography. Social and Cultural Geography. 7(6): 889-908.
  • Wood, N., Duffy, M. and Smith, S. 2007. The art of doing (geographies of) music. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 25(5): 867-889.
  • Adams, M. et al. 2008. Soundwalking as methodology for understanding soundscapes. Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics. Available: http://usir.salford.ac.uk/2461/
  • Schafer, R. M. The Soundscape: Our sonic environment and the tuning of the world. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 1993.