RTC Researcher Working on Podcast Series

Conor McCafferty, a PhD student in the RTC research group has recently been working with PLACE, the Built Environment Centre based in Belfast, as co-producer a podcast titled The Infinite City. Conor is currently working on his PhD thesis with Dr. Ouzounian and Dr. Lappin.

Each episode of The Infinite City focuses on one person who takes the listener on a journey through the city, revealing little-known histories, personal memories, and insights into how the city has been shaped. 

Amberlea Neely, Manager of PLACE, said:

“We’re delighted to be launching this new podcast, and we think it will be as interesting and informative for locals as it will be for those around the world who may know Belfast only by name. It’s a significant addition to our public programme, which is all about connecting people with place - and place with people. By rooting itself in first-person experiences of the city, it goes much further than just being a history of Belfast; it’s a detailed document of a complex place, and will offer insights to people across a range of backgrounds and interests.” 

Rebekah McCabe, co-producer of the podcast, said: 

“The podcast builds on a simple format that allows us to deal with a broad range of subject matters, from how Belfast is experienced by someone with vision impairment, to growing up in a mixed estate in the 1950s, to how subtle traces of the conflict are still evident around the city, if you know where to look.”

Conor McCafferty, co-producer of the podcast, said:

“We often think about cities as physical entities: buildings, streets, and the systems that keep the lights on and the water flowing. But a city like Belfast - indeed, any city - only makes sense when you start to listen to people’s stories. Every building and street, every nook and cranny in the urban environment, holds a story waiting to be told. That’s what we have been aiming for with The Infinite City, to build up layers of personal memories and experiences - to find the hidden stories that help us, and hopefully our listeners, to make sense of the place.”

The Infinite City is supported by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Arts & Business Northern Ireland.

Episode One of The Infinite City features a walk with the artist and writer Daniel Jewesbury exploring connections between art and commerce in the history of Belfast. The Infinite City is out now on all good podcast apps, and can also be streamed at placeni.org/theinfinitecity

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Dr Sarah Lappin speaks at AHRC Workshop

Dr Sarah Lappin was an invited speaker at the AHRC's The Next Generation Design Research Workshop held at the MAC Belfast, 23 April 2018.  The workshop explored the processes involved in applying for an AHRC grant. The event was aimed at researchers looking to secure their first AHRC funding grant and for other researchers interested in learning more about the funding schemes offered by the AHRC.

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Report on Acoustic Cities Study Day

ACOUSTIC CITIES STUDY DAY

report by Ruth Bernatek

2nd March 2018 | Faculty of Music, University of Oxford

The Acoustic Cities Study Day, hosted by the Faculty of Music, University of Oxford, and co-organised by Recomposing the City, Urban Rhythm Network, and Theatrum Mundi, brought together a diverse group of researchers, practitioners and artists, to critically explore relationships of sound to urban space, and the culture of cities.  Contributors and attendees alike battled through driving snow to engage with an ambitious programme that picked out four key themes: the city symphony; sound mapping and acoustic planning; urban rhythms; and situated sonic practice.  Our day concluded with an intimate roundtable titled ‘unresolved acoustics’.

Presentations, screenings and discussions departed from the premise that we should be more attentive, both in research and practice, to the acoustic legibility of our cities.  Architects, designers, urban planners and policymakers take great pains to construct both memorable and readable images of the cityscape, visually ordering our surroundings at the urban scale.  Yet, unless it is a noise we dislike, there is a tendency to neglect sound, despite even the most untrained ear being able to distinguish between spaces according to the sounds they produce.  Situated within a broader field of music and urban inquiry, in which sound is not assigned to only one discipline, Acoustic Cities thus set out to examine some of the discourses emerging from this very current topic. 

 Lizzie Thynne and Laura Marcus 

Lizzie Thynne and Laura Marcus 

THE NEW CITY SYMPHONY

After a warm welcome, we began in earnest with a brief introduction to the cinematic city symphonies of the 20th Century, given by Professor Laura Marcus, New College, Oxford.  Within this genre of avant-garde urban film, the modern city is rendered as protagonist; its architecture, activity and commerce witnessed and described through the pulsating rhythms and movement of metropolitan existence.  The skyscraper, lone pedestrian, motor car, arterial highway, pouring rain, surging crowd, shaped though experimental editorial treatment and organised, written and scored like a symphony.

A screening of the 5th and 6th ‘movements’ of Lizzie Thynne and Ed Hughes’ Brighton: Symphony of a City (2016) followed.  Commissioned for the 50th Brighton Festival, Thynne and Hughes’ original film and accompanying orchestral score is a rare example of a contemporary city symphony that echoes the documentary aesthetic and typical ‘day in the life’ structure of its earlier counterparts, specifically Ruttman and Meisel’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1926). 

In their presentations, Thynne and Hughes explained how they created tension between musical and visual textures, adopting non-narrative juxtaposition, mimicry and montage, whilst resisting simplistic associations between sound and image. Their portrait of Brighton in film tackled issues such as the privatisation of space, urban erasure, and difficult social commentary. I was particularly moved by the sustained shot of a rough sleeper, his flattened palm tenderly gesturing for small change, hand conducting an anonymous and unrelenting footfall of polished black shoes.  The splicing together of archival and contemporary footage of Brighton Rock Pool and Brighton Marina further critiqued the cyclical nature of planning in the city, and the needs of the commission to appeal to both local and wider audiences.  Amongst study day attendees, their approach raised questions about the role of sound and nostalgia, how the ‘symphony’ is understood as a unifying model, and inevitable frictions between the old and new ‘score’ for Brighton. 

RECOMPOSING THE CITY: SOUND MAPPING AND ACOUSTIC PLANNING

The second session took up the subject of sound mapping and acoustic planning.  Focusing on the lineage of two distinct models of mapping - noise mapping and sound mapping – Professor Gascia Ouzounian unpacked some of the reasons why sounds heard within the city are so strongly associated with the idea of impairment, and less so with meaningful and positive experiences. 

Though records exist as far back as Pliny, who commented on the negative impact of noise generated by cataracts of the Nile, it was the industrialisation of cities during the early 20th century, coupled with the professionalization of acoustics that most effectively ‘built sound out’ of the urban realm.  In practice today, the emphasis remains fixed on measurable, quantifiable aspects of sound, and urban informatics legislate increasingly ‘sense-less’ environments.  Yet the relegation of sound to regulation risks limiting beneficial experiences for the citizen of the acoustic city. 

Against a trajectory of sonic sanitisation in the professional sphere, both Ouzounian and Dr Lola San Martin’s presentations highlighted a willingness amongst citizens to engage with sound in the built environment as more than a merely unwanted element or bi-product.  Strong evidence is provided by online participatory sound mapping projects, which have experienced something of a boom lately; Mapa Sonoru, London Sound Survey and the Montréal Sound Map were all mentioned.  Pinpointing individual audible landmarks that collectively (re)compose the complex acoustic profiles of different communities can reveal what we want to listen to, and how we identify with sounds - explored through multilingualism, geography, the landscape or our sonic imagination - that we consider to be of value.  Might there also be a genuine fear of losing certain sounds from our everyday soundscapes? Vitally necessary questions must be asked:  who is the acoustic city for?  Whose environment are we protecting?  

Connor McCafferty interrogated the techniques of sound mapping further, concentrating on how interdisciplinary, participatory methods go beyond normative urban analysis, and feed into pedagogy and design practices.  However, he also drew our attention to some of the problems of web-based sound mapping, including issues of access, authorship, failures of responsibility to participants (for example from loss of data) and lack of critical rubrics for interpretation.

This panel showed, amongst other things, that educators, architectural practitioners, policy and planning professionals, share an element of uncertainty about how to deal with the acoustics of the city.  Promisingly, a growing number of artistic projects and initiatives across different cities are deliberately building sound back into urban and architectural spaces.  These projects, Dr Sarah Lappin insisted, reframe sound as an essential element of place-making, mobility, creativity and connectivity.  SAFARI 7 (2009) by SCAPE studio, was just one example given, that demonstrated how acoustic biodiversity fostered creative, positive interactions between people, built environment, flora and fauna of the city in ways useful both to practitioners, but also inhabitants.

 Sarah Lappin, Lola San Martin, Gascia Ouzounian and Ruth Bernatek

Sarah Lappin, Lola San Martin, Gascia Ouzounian and Ruth Bernatek

 Dr Matilde Meireles and Conor McCafferty 

Dr Matilde Meireles and Conor McCafferty 

URBAN RHYTHMS: THREE CITIES

The urban rhythms of a discordant and avant-garde 20th century Paris, operatic production in post-WWII Venice, and the sonic publics of twenty-first century London were all put under scrutiny by Dr Lola San Martin, Dr Harriet Boyd-Bennett, and Chrissy Stirling respectively.  Each of the papers challenged accepted methods adopted by scholars to investigate the complex musical networks of particular cities, at particular historical moments. However, it was the final paper, ‘Voice Memos from the Dance Floor’ that confrontationally and persuasively argued for sound itself to be recognised as a valid research output.  If we want to enhance our understanding of the city, its sonic texture and our urban soundscapes this is both crucial and urgent.  The ‘voice memos’ played back to us during the session raised numerous questions, such as where and how do we locate practice-led research within current discourse?  What is the artistic as well as scholarly potential for this kind of research? How can we effectively mobilise platforms that foreground sound as a rigorous research output?  In my opinion, sound as output in musicological, architectural and urban research is absolutely necessary.

 Christabel Stirling

Christabel Stirling

SOUND ARTISTS IN CONVERSATION

Positioning the work of sound artists in direct dialogue with architects and planners is one prospective method for generating fresh perspectives on the acoustic city, as well as developing new criteria for the sound of a place. 

Dr Katarzyna Krakowiak, sound artist, architecture researcher and current artist in residence at St John’s College Oxford, joined Professor Keith Obadike, sound artist & researcher in new media in conversation with Professor Jason Stanyek.  We weaved through a number of works by both artists, notably Krakowiak’s architectural ‘listening system’ for the 13th Venice Biennale’s Polish Pavilion, Making the Walls Quake (2013) and the Obadikes’ app-based sound work Compass Song (ongoing and based in New York’s Times Square district).  Stanyek’s novel one-word prompts such as ‘skin’, ‘sound’, ‘art’, ‘structure’ and ‘politics’, encouraged a more poetic discussion.

Sound is already a space, it is texture, it is also density.

Art will make you cry and break your heart.

A state of alarm can be caused by silence.

Structure provides layers, syntax.

Overload the system,

Exceed the limits.

 Keith Obadike, Katarzyna Krakowiak, and Jason Stanyek

Keith Obadike, Katarzyna Krakowiak, and Jason Stanyek

THEATRUM MUNDI: UNRESOLVED ACOUSTICS

The final, perhaps most intimate session of the day began with a conversation between Richard Sennett and John Bingham-Hall, that focused on two ideas within their current research at Theatrum Mundi: the notion of adjacency, and cultural infrastructure in an urban setting.

Adjacency was discussed in terms of the unresolved aspects of spaces, which, in turn relate to particular, dynamic urban forms.  Within the context of sound (as with dance) a condition of adjacency is akin to an ‘open relationship’, between non-integrated sonic, kinetic and spatial aspects.  Adjacency can be considered to underpin a certain ‘authentic’ characteristic acoustic of a place.  At the same time, adjacency suggests a malleable transgressive quality, or openness to change.

Cultural infrastructure was more speculatively propositioned as a potential means to move past a simply visual reading of value in a place, as a framework that embraces other material qualities, such as sound, or a good acoustic.  Specifically, cultural infrastructure provides the means for certain forms of action to occur.  In theory, it is the ability to learn from one another in a way that takes difference into account.  For example, in an urban context, a thriving community in one city might work ‘because people don’t mind sitting outside, and in another it works because people like to sit on street corners.’  Moving the centre of attention away from the end product (desired acoustic) to its means of action (cultural infrastructure) opens up the possibility for a sonic urbanism developed around a language of value based on the acoustic qualities of space, beyond a noise issue.

In relation to both adjacency and cultural infrastructure, we debated the idea that any given place might possess an acoustic ‘authenticity’ that is connected to a particular fixed ‘original’ story of a place.  An authentic (rooted) ‘sense of place’ is problematic.  How does it allow, for example, new waves of immigration? How does it account for the potential for mobility?  On the flip side, great swathes of our cities are packaged up and sold as silent movies, in all their exquisite, noiseless, architectural detail.  However, both Sennett and Bingham-Hall were clear in their stance that what we need is to open a city up, open it up sonically to complexity – which means that things are contradictory – that they don’t fit. 

So, we moved from authenticity to honesty, to the relationship between the score and architecture, and finally out of Denis Arnold Hall - some for a glass of wine, others to face the blizzard outside and journey home, but all left with much to think about.

 John Bingham-Hall and Richard Sennett

John Bingham-Hall and Richard Sennett

Urban Sound and the Politics of Memory

Urban Sound and the Politics of Memory is a networking and exchange visit to Beirut organised in partnership between the research groups Recomposing the City and Theatrum Mundi.

Can the past be heard in the acoustic ecology of a city? Do the echoes of the past resonate within musical culture, sonic art, and the sounds of public life in streets and buildings? If so, how do practitioners process memory by reshaping the sounds of the city into new forms? During this week long visit we will facilitate opportunities for exchange between practitioners and researchers from Lebanon and the UK, to share understanding of the ways sound art imagines and is shaped by histories inscribed into the fabric of the city. We intend to assemble a small group of musicians, sound artists, urbanists, architects and scholars that will work together to exchange knowledge and practice through a series of activities over 3 days.

UK participants:

  • Gascia Ouzounian, University of Oxford / Recomposing the City
  • Richard Sennett, London School of Economics / Theatrum Mundi
  • John Bingham-Hall, Theatrum Mundi
  • Christabel Stirling, University of Oxford
  • Merijn Royaards, Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
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The Sound-Considered City Launched

On the 19th February, we launched our new publication at Belfast City Hall. We thoroughly enjoyed the event, and thank everybody who came for your support.

The occasion was elevated by fantastic presentations from Dr. Ken Sterrett (City Reparo), Adam Turkington (Seedhead Arts) and Richard Dougherty (Hall McKnight Architects). 

Photo Credit: Conan McIvor 

To download a pdf of The Sound-Considered City click here.

To watch news coverage of the event click here.

 

RTC Present Research at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

RTC's Dr Sarah Lappin and Dr Rachel O'Grady were delighted to present their latest research at the Northern Ireland Assembly's Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS).

The Assembly’s Research and Information Service (RaISe) jointly delivers KESS with the Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB – co-founder 2011), Ulster University (Ulster - 2012) and The Open University (OU – 2013).  It is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, formally partnering a legislative arm of government – the Assembly - with academia.  Aiming to promote evidence-led policy and law-making, KESS provides a forum in which academics present their research findings in a straightforward format, on issues that are relevant to governance in Northern Ireland.  It seeks to bring those findings to the attention of key participants and decision-makers, including MLAs, the wider public sector and others, in a “safe space” that encourages discussion, fosters improved understanding and seeks to enable opportunities for more in-depth engagement in future.  (Source: niassembly.gov.uk) 

Sarah and Rachel presented at the session alongside Prof. Keith Attenborough of the Open University who delivered a fascinating presentation Acoustics for STEM and STEAM.

For more information click here.

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Going Ahead! Acoustic Cities Study Day

We look forward to welcoming you to the Acoustic Cities Study Day tomorrow, Friday 2 March, 9.30 AM - 5.30 PM in the Faculty of Music, University of Oxford.

We are going ahead with the event despite weather / travel disruptions.

More information on the symposium here: http://recomposingthecity.org/symposia/

Acoustic Cities Study Day

The interdisciplinary research groups Recomposing the CityUrban Rhythms Network, and Theatrum Mundi will co-host a Study Day on Acoustic Cities in the Faculty of Music, University of Oxford.

The Study Day will be devoted to exploring a wide variety of issues and practices related to urban sound: city symphonies, acoustic architectures, the politics of sound and noise mapping, intersections between sound art and urban design, sound and pedagogy in architecture and urban studies, and the challenges of acoustic planning, among other pertinent issues.

Registration:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/acoustic-cities-study-day-tickets-42691602733

Schedulehttp://recomposingthecity.org/symposia/

We are grateful to the AHRC, the Faculty of Music at the University of Oxford, and the TORCH Centre for Research in the Humanities at Oxford for their support of this day.

Conor McCafferty and Elen Flügge present at 'So What?'

RTC's PhD researchers Elen and Conor have been invited to present at PLACE's So What? series on the 13th February in Belfast. The title of the presentation is Exploring Urban Space in Belfast Through Sound. The idea of So What? is to showcase the range of research in architecture and urban planning going on in Northern Ireland.

Find out more about the So What? series here.

 Still from the  HEAR YOUS:LISTEN UP  interventions, Culture Night 2017.  Dr. John D'Arcy, Queen's University Belfast.

Still from the HEAR YOUS:LISTEN UP interventions, Culture Night 2017.  Dr. John D'Arcy, Queen's University Belfast.

Sarah Lappin presents new RTC publication at AIARG Conference

The 7th annual conference of the AIARG (All Ireland Architecture Research Group) took place on 25th-26th January. The conference, named Res Publica explored the relationship between architecture and the public realm. As part of this exploration, Dr Lappin presented our new publication The Sound-Considered City as part of her talk 'Sound Art and the Making of Public Urban Space'.

 AIARG Conference Image by Rebecca-Jane McConnell

AIARG Conference Image by Rebecca-Jane McConnell

The Sound-Considered City - Launch: Speakers Confirmed

We are delighted to confirm that we will have three guest speakers at the launch of our new publication The Sound-Considered City on the 19th February:

The event will take place in the Reception Room in Belfast City Hall on Monday 19th February 2018 from 4pm to 5pm. Drinks and light refreshments will be served.

Please RVSP and direct any questions to recomposingthecity@gmail.com.

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Public CoLab

On 8 January 2018, RTC's Dr Sarah Lappin and sound artist and composer Dr Matilde Meireles offered advice on design and sound elements of the student proposals for Public CoLab.  

Public CoLab, led by Dr Nuala Flood with Niek Turner and Dr Jasna Mariotti is a live project that harnesses the skills, talents and creativity of the architecture students at Queen's University Belfast. It directs them towards a pressing and pertinent issue facing the people of Derry-Londonderry. The project has been developed in collaboration with a riverfront regeneration initiative called Our Future Foyle. It aims to understand the negative connotations associated with the River Foyle and promote a greater sense of health and wellbeing along its banks. It was commissioned and initiated by the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and implemented by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, London. 

The architecture students have designed a number of interactive installations to bring vitality and joy to this part of the city. These interventions provide a place to pause and enjoy the landscape and, also, to showcase the output of one of two creative local enterprises. The first is a musical composition that reflects the River Foyle and the second is a number of 3D prints created as part of Remake, Reimagine Replay - a national lottery funded project that invites the children of Northern Ireland to reinterpret items for the regions museums using 3D printing technologies. A number of the installations, designed by the QUB students, will be built and tested in-situ in late April 2018. The Derry/Londonderry based Fablab will play a key role in the manufacturing process and they have worked closely with the students for the duration of the project.

 Image: Proposed interventions created by stage 1 students, QUB, 2017-2018

Image: Proposed interventions created by stage 1 students, QUB, 2017-2018

Dr Ouzounian and Dr Lappin to present at Northern Ireland Assembly's KESS

On 28 February 2018, Dr Lappin and Dr Ouzounian will present the findings of RTC to date at the Northern Ireland Assembly's Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS).  The event, which occurs throughout the year, allows academics and researchers to present their work to elected officials, policy makers and civil servants.  The session on 28 Feburary will feature work of scholars on the topics of "People and surroundings -- impacts of sound."

New Issue of Evental Aesthetics on Sound Art and Environment

Update on Urban Sound Workshops

In September 2016, RTC conducted several workshops with planners, councillors and professionals to better understand the ways in which the sonic environment can be better considered at early stages of urban design projects in Belfast. We were overwhelmed by the interest in our workshops from all areas of planning and urban design and the primary conclusion drawn was that designers and decision-makers alike are calling for sound to be recognised as a key factor in any successful urban setting.

Workshop attendees included:

  • Ards and North Down Borough Council
  • Belfast City Council -- Planning and Environment; City & Neighbourhood Services Department
  • Belfast Harbour Commissioners 
  • Belfast Healthy Cities
  • Belfast Tourism
  • City Reparo Lobbying Group
  • Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs
  • Healthy Ageing Strategic Partnership, Belfast Health Development Unit
  • Hogarth Group, Landscape Architects
  • Ciaran Mackel Architect
  • Mid Ulster District Council
  • Optimised Environments Consultants
  • Peter Lloyd Associates Acousticians

Since these workshops, RTC have met with key decision-makers in planning and tourism in NI, some of whom asked us to pursue further research to inform their work. As a result, RTC prepared a briefing paper for Belfast City Council describing how acoustic considerations will directly affect the objectives set out in NI’s Local Development Plans.

Thanks to the Urban Sound workshops, our attention has been drawn to several planned urban projects in Northern Ireland that we hope to enhance through advising careful consideration of the sonic environment. For example, research into three scales of sound art installation in urban areas was supplied to Pier Morrow at Belfast Tourism. RTC has applied to present information to the Northern Ireland Assembly in Autumn 2017 as part of the Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series (KESS). KESS is annually delivered by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Research and Information Service (RaISe) and local university partners: Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Ulster University (Ulster) and The Open University (OU).

Advice Note

RTC is currently finalising the first draft of a Planning Advice Note. This work is based upon extensive research across Europe, and informed by the workshops held by RTC in Belfast last September. We have carried out a detailed analysis of particularly impactful advice notes from around the UK and the EU.

Consultation sessions will be held shortly with planners, council officers, and professionals in the built environment before the Advice Note is issued. It will set forth RTC’s primary concerns and will include a variety of international examples of sound art installations that have impacted on a number of key factors as identified by the new Belfast Area Plan including:

  • shared space
  • ageing populations
  • sustainable development
  • tourism
  • connectivity

For this reason, the RTC project is currently one of the possible Impact Case Studies for REF UA16 for QUB Architecture and Planning.