Listening Soundscape Study
In the midst of a global pandemic, countries and cities have become literal ghost towns. Once flustered with sounds from human activities, this has now been overtaken from the subtle industrial, mechanical, and natural environment sounds. On Friday, March 27, 2020, the 5th day of the official lockdown in the UK, I used my one daily activity of walking around the city of Belfast and quickly recorded various local or touristic points of interest with aid of VisitBelfast’s visitor map. Each of the soundscapes lasts two minutes because of the strict lockdown measurements set by the government, only allowing us to be outside for limited periods of time for essential grocery shopping, a daily activity, work, or health-related. Once the quarantine and lockdown have been officially lifted, there will be an additional soundscape recording to compare and reflect the changes in these areas.
For this project, the points of interest are (Hyperlinked to Wikipedia Pages):
Please listen with headphones to enhance the auditory experience.
On the left you have the 5th day of the lockdown, on the right will be during or after the lockdown is lifted
Part 1 – March 27, 2020
(5th day of UK lockdown)
Part 2 – July 4, 2020 + August 28, 2020
(5~6 months of lockdown / restrictions)
Albert Memorial Clock
The leaning clock of Belfast which would have passers from the Lagan River or the City Centre, had very few people completing their government issued daily activity. There was more cars and buses then there were people.
As droplets of rain began falling from the sky, I was across the street watching as people (tourists or locals) were enjoying a cold beverage outdoors at a local pub. This time was different, the servers were extra careful nearing customers, the distance between people seemed irregular, and there were moments of nervousness when people stepped too close to one another. Yet, in spirit, it seemed like everyone was trying to return to a normal routine. It was also my first time hearing the Albert Memorial Clock bells ring, right at the moment when the rain intensified.
Looking at the Spirit of Belfast, you will know you’re at a local stop for shopping. Most of the times there will be a performer or musician in this circle, grabbing the attention of shoppers, there will be your fast walkers, your slow walkers, those who zoom past you with their bicycle. On this day, nothing. Only a few instances of signs of civilization.
In the middle of a large crossing point for shoppers, it seems as if the idea has been to try to return things to normal in our daily lives. However, looking around you see some frightened by the current epidemic — wearing masks continuously outdoors, others removing after exiting a store and others have them stowed away in their jacket or bag. There are also the Belfast posters of “Stay Safe – Please Wash Your Hands” or “Distance”, this has become another indication of a change from the lockdown, ways of keeping everyone safe. Months ago, when the lockdown began, this area had a large difference in sonic characteristics, as people have returned there is a returning sound of congestion by our human presence, we fill the gaps between the industrial and natural sound environment generated in these types of places.
Belfast City Hall
A starting point for locals and tourists, it points us in different directions to go. Whether that is for shopping, drinking, grabbing a quick snack, or finding local tours. Yet, the only thing that truly remains is the scheduled buses that pass in front of the City Hall, and the one lady who feeds a group of seagulls in front of the Burger King.
I have been conducting these recordings as an observer however sometimes my kindliness gets the better of me to help someone out. In this situation, I disregarded all the measures I have put in place to protect myself from the spread of Covid-19 and wanted to help a tourist capture his time in front of Belfast City Hall. Only after did I realize what I had done and cleaned my hands and equipment. Naturally, we are beings of interaction and I have not interacted with strangers in close to 5 months, it felt needed to help, to feel human again. It also changes my overall project from not only being observation but interactive audio soundscape journalism.
The gentle and soothing paradise of Belfast seemed unchanged, while there would more people on a Friday afternoon. Nature always stood above any of the sounds us humans would generate in this magnificent playground.
My proximity to Botanic Gardens allows me to take multiple walks through the park, it is a wonderful place to change scenery after constantly looking at the walls of my apartment. There are always people in and out of the park, either coming to take a stroll, or passing through to get to another destination. Whereas as a few months ago, this place was deserted and the sounds of nature and wildlife thrived, has now blended with human sounds once again. It is nice to see and hear people trying to find normality in their lives again.
A rare occasion to witness a Friday afternoon with the entire Commercial Court empty. This popular location usually gathers groups of locals and tourists to a begin their weekend festivities. Even looking into some of the bars, they still had their St. Patrick decorations up.
Another transitional recording from being observational to interactive with locals who were asking me (a guy with a recorder, dressed for warmth, tripods, and wires) about the information on the bars in the area. I did find it amusing talking with the couple and also confusing when half of the area’s bars were open (later to find out only bars that served food can reopen). It is bizarre to compare one half of the area to another; this area usually thrives with foot and taxi traffic since it is one of the highlights of the city. It shows that we are not at a point where anything is returning to normal any time soon. Also, worth mentioning, this was the first weekend that bars and pubs were allowed to reopen (note: only that served food), so surprising to see that there were still people heading out for the night.
Great Victoria Street
One of the busier streets of Belfast, surrounded by the bus station, Europa Hotel, Opera theatre, and Crown Liquor Salon reflects how life just stopped, for everyone. However, while most things are bordered and shut down there is always a local squabble at the nearby Tesco Express.
Next to the Europa Hotel, there is the Belfast Bus Station for local and distance commute around the island. Multiple times people were going in and out, either leaving/returning from work, a weekend trip, or just heading home from the city. People are trying to find the normal in their lives, certain areas have reopened, and others remain closed. People and vehicle traffic have retaken the sound of the city, masking the clarity of intricate sonic activities that were occurring throughout the lockdown. It begs to ask, what are we missing every day when we put ourselves everywhere?
Queen’s University Belfast
A Friday afternoon with no students circling around the campus has left a void in Queen’s quarter, such as being in the middle of an open desert and seeing no signs of life for great distances.
Not much has changed with Queen’s University Belfast, they have opened their front doors again for limited access to the Graduate School and Library. There is some staff working around the building, but not much other information that I would know of. Standing in front of the building you can see warning signs of keeping your distance and to protect yourself. The harsh winds throwing around a metal object in the distance generated this odd feeling that our return to the city is creating a lot more energy in the environment, that we are trying to find our place again amidst the aftermath of the lockdown. We are trying to figure out what this new normal will be like, will it clash or be embraced.
Usually a crossroad from the University campus to the City centre, yet very few people walking about, going to local markets for their essentials. This recording also reflects the lonesomeness in the city, the lady with the luggage, either traveling with her recently purchased items or heading to the bus centre to leave the city.
I learned that they call this junction the “Golden Mile” due to the amount of the surrounding working-class areas, connection to main streets, and the percentage of restaurants or pubs connected to it. Perhaps this is why it felt uneasy when I began the recordings in March and there was no one around because everyone was told to be home and this area would usually have a larger number of the population surrounding or walking about. Returning to this spot after all these months felt like almost nothing had happened, that we just skipped 6-months of lockdown and everyone returned to what they were doing before that. Traffic, people, restaurants, pubs, they were all there and functioning again. I could not tell in this particular moment that anything had happened to Belfast.
The gigantic cathedral with the park across the street is silenced. No one in sight, only the wind and birds passing by.
Standing in the local park across the cathedral brought on new perspectives, I was able to stand in the middle of this giant circle area listening to people at different points in the park. There were kids somewhere in far back that were just hanging out together, to my left two men who were discussing something quite important, workers leaving the office, and even some guests for a local hotel to my right. This one spot generated multiple sonic activities as if we weren’t just in lockdown for almost three months. People just went back to what they were doing, as almost nothing happened.
A hidden gem between buildings and stores, having local bars and pubs that will have your locals or tourist wondering about trying to figure out where they may be within the city. Or just a casual shortcut between streets, to get to one place just a little quicker. This have been overtaken by the noise of generators and there is no longer any drunken chatter in these passages.
Quite an awkward moment when you’re standing with your recording equipment near one of the entry points to the bars in the alley. There was live music that then switched to streaming music, people walking in and out of the alley, trying to say silly things into the microphone, the few odd stares, and I wanted to keep my distance. I just let the recorder pick up all these different sound interactions that evolved in this tiny narrow space.
1– COVID-19 Sound Map
A miniature version version of Project 1: COVID-19_Belfast City has now been included on Prof. Pete Stollery’s COVID-19 Sound Map. These are 30s clips recorded in different parts of the world.
Prof. Pete Stollery is a Professor of Composition and Electroacoustic Music at University of Aberdeen in Scotland, UK.
2- Cities and Memory
This sound map is part of Cities and Memory is a global field recording & sound art work that presents both the present reality of a place and an alternative, reimagined sound world – remixing the world, one sound at at time.
Scroll to Northern Ireland and you will see all 10 files I have recorded.
4- Science + Media Museum Present: Sounds of my quarantine
To celebrate the #WorldListeningDay on 18th July 2020, the Science and Media Museum has launched a collaborative map of the sounds of quarantine! Share with us what you have been listening to in lockdown: what sounds have kept you in touch, cheered you up, calmed you down, made you think, brought back memories, inspired you for the future? You can can share on the map audio files, pictures, videos, YouTube/Soundcloud links, and any other web content!
Scroll to Northern Ireland and you will see all 10 files I have recorded.
4- Radio Aporee – Soundscapes in the Pandemic:
The platform radio aporee is online since about 2000, the project radio aporee ::: maps has started 2006. it is a global soundmap dedicated to field recording, phonography and the art of listening. it connects sound recordings to its places of origin, in order to create a sonic cartography, publicly accessible as a collaborative project. It contains recordings from numerous urban, rural and natural environments, disclosing their complex shape and sonic conditions, as well as the different perceptions, practices and artistic perspectives of its many contributors. this makes it a valuable resource for art, education and research projects, and for your personal pleasure.
In addition to aspects of collecting, archiving and sound-mapping, the radio aporee platform also invokes experiments at the boundaries of different media and public space. within this notion, radio means both a technology in transition and a narrative. it constitutes a field whose qualities are connectivity, contiguity and exchange. concepts of transmitter/ receiver and performer/ listener may become transparent and reversible.