On May 30: Interview (in Dutch) by Tracy Metz during her monthly Talkshow ‘Stadsleven’ (Citylife) featuring the theme ‘Hidden City’.
My talk is about the sonic aspects of China’s immense globalization. Start Interview: 1h15m10
‘Sound is Sight’ is my audiovisual blog that I wrote for the website of ‘Stadsleven’ (for english go to page 2). Take your earphone and listen here to the streetlife of Amsterdam 2016, Chengdu China 1986 and 2015.
Sound is Sight:
audiovisual blog by Cilia Erens for Tracy Metz’ monthly Talkshow ‘Stadsleven’
in The Balie Amsterdam
a real ‘ear opener’
Every year since 2003 first-year students at the Dutch Film Academy listen to the Mr. Visser Square next door, as part of my lecture ‘Audible Space’. For ten minutes they sit there, blindfolded, in their folding chairs. When the ten minutes are up they take off their blindfolds and return to the classroom. They count the number of audible spaces they pass through on the way, both outside and inside, spaces that can only be counted once they are perceived. Standing in a silent huddle we listen to the lift ascending in the lift shaft, the sounds of our coats touching, suppressed laughter, the creaking floor boards beneath our feet, a collective silence. Once inside the classroom in an explosion of chatter, students tell of their initial fears that motor cycles might drive over their toes, about the rattle of rickety bikes and ticking traffic lights, about how hitherto hidden aspects of life are revealing themselves by means of sound. For most of the 1000 students who have gone through the folding-chair-and-blindfold experience those ten minutes have been a true ‘ear opener’.
My background is in city planning and I like to listen to cities. I listen to the human city when I listen to the small-scale sounds of the Nieuwmarkt area, to the musical city when I cycle across the Weesperplein amid the car tyres rumbling over the tram tracks. I have started to call these sound patterns Random Rythms’. These urban noises sometimes make me fall silent. They are always there but go unnoticed by many.
Globalisation in China caught in sound
In China too I came across aspects of ‘the hidden city’. For my sound research project ‘Time Lapse China 1986-2015, I went back to the places I recorded during my first visit some 29 years earlier. This time I used a special, three-dimensional recording technique to capture the sounds of these Chinese cities which have experienced massive and exponential growth in a very short time.
Again I found myself standing on a curb in Chengdu, a city with a population of 100,000 in 1986, now a metropole and home to millions. I returned to the same main street, close to Central Square, with its towering statue of Mao. I could hear the immense white noise of the city produced by low-frequency combustion motors in the massive flow of traffic, the uniform sound of globalisation.
Gone is the complete upper layer of bike bells all ringing at the same time, lost in time, tucked away in the subconscious memories of millions of Chinese over 30. That is how fast things have changed. Listening to Chengdu in 1986 now is like being transported back in time.
At the same time I discovered something else, another hidden aspect of urban China. The fact that many cars were electric, just like most of the motor cycles and scooters which, no matter their age, had to be adapted by law, only became evident in the silent side-streets of the city. There I could hear tyres traversing asphalt, conversations between a driver and his pillion passenger, the screeching of brakes. Suddenly, street life in all its variations sounded clear, as if ‘holes’ were appearing in the traffic noise.
So what will lie hidden in the sound of urban China in the near future? A busy zooming of drones and helicopters over streets crowded with e-traffic? I can’t wait to go back and listen to the changes and record them in 3D sound.
© Cilia Erens 2016