Lee Theatre On Realising Sonic Unity

For everyone who wonders at where the name came from, Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay was once one of the premier performing venues in Hong Kong. Demolished in the 1990s, the Beaux-Art theatre was replaced with an office building and a shopping centre, becoming what we see today.

Apart from its history, what is special about Lee Theatre is perhaps its design of one floor one store. Each floor is occupied entirely by one shop, making spacious consumption experiences possible and allowing each brand to develop its individuality. Not only can they put a multitude of products on display and demonstrate amply what it can offer to customers, they can ensure customers are immersed in an environment completely tailored to their effort to urge purchase. Without the immediate presence of any other shops or rival brands, the store can create unity in the environment and a congruent, brand-specific setting for customers to linger. The sonic environment would likewise be in agreement across different areas on the same floor. Without coming into contact with a different background music, the store’s own music dominates and becomes more effective by having no offset from other prominent sources.

Do you think Lee Theatre’s one floor one store is a clever design to achieve what is mentioned in Harmonising Indoor Soundscape of Shopping Malls? Or do you want to see variety across a single floor?

Lan Fong Yuen: Speed over Peace

Popularity of Hong Kong-style diners, or cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) endures for decades in Hong Kong because they meet the locals’ relentless demand for fast service and an eclectic and affordable menu. Are cha chaan teng places you go to when you want to grab a quick lunch? If yes, you may probably have heard of Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園). Opened since 1952, Lan Fong Yuen is one of oldest and most famous cha chaan teng in Hong Kong. It is said to be the inventor of the classic local beverage “silk stockings milk tea” (絲襪奶茶) and renowned for their delicious pork chop bun. As its business flourished, it expanded by having outlets, one of which is at Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan.

Shun Tak Centre plays two roles: it is a mall and a transportation hub with ferry services to and from Macau and China. Therefore, eateries at Shun Tak take in a lot traveller daily who either want a bite before departure or are hungry after arrival. It must be particularly so for Lan Fong Yuen which has become a symbol of Hong Kong culture and regarded as a must-eat for tourists. Given the fact that commuters make the majority of diners at Shun Tak and commuters desire speed, eateries at Shun Tak would inevitably be fast-paced. How would an environment being fast-paced affect its soundscape? In Lan Fong Yuen, it was noisy and the sonic environment is dominated by the voices of waiters taking order and customers chatting about gambling in casino or businessmen busy talking with his clients. The waiters’ tone might sound authoritative and rude to some customers, which may impart tension to the restaurant soundscape. Given the amount of sounds going on incessantly, you may not want to stay for a little longer after finishing your meal.

Cha chaan teng thrives on its high efficiency and it is the place to go for people who have a hectic day or lifestyle who want food fast and almost instant. Diners do not usually expect a pleasant environment where nice chats and some relaxing can take place. If the place is too noisy for you to want to stay longer, it is probably what they want because customers keep coming in and diners had better not loiter.

TamJai SamGor: Spice It Up!

Think of food heavily flavoured or fragrant with spice. What sound would you associate with spicy food? Specifically, what sound would you associate with the popular rice noodle chain TamJai SamGor (譚仔三哥).

TamJai’s dominantly red décor give us a hint about what it specializes at: spicy mixian. Mixian (米線) is a type of rice noodle from the Yunnan Province of China. Most noted for its “Hot & Numbing Soup Mixian”, the mixian specialist offers up to nine different degrees of spiciness to choose from for those who want to challenge their taste buds. A successful brand, TamJai SamGor in Citywalk 2 is moderately busy. Although the voices of waitresses taking orders are clearly audible, the eatery is not too noisy. Background music is not heard, probably eclipsed by human voices. However, the lack of it presents an opportunity for the brand to step up its spice game.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have discovered that certain types of music – those with fast beats, distorted notes and high-pitched sounds – can enhance the sensation of heat from chili peppers. Apart from setting the mood for diners, music can serve as what the researchers call “sonic seasoning”. Do you think it is a good idea for TamJai SamGor to play those types of music in its restaurants?

Reference: Music Makes Curries Taste 10pc Spicier, Scientists Find

 

The Century-Old Rattle of “Ding-Ding” Trams

There is one voice chiming along this city’s busy roads well over a hundred years. You may have taken it for granted because it has always been here ever since you were born. Listen hard and listen appreciatively for the “ding-ding” bell of trams.

In service since 1904, trams are one of the earliest forms of public transport in the metropolis. They run along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island, offering the cheapest mode of public transport on the island. Trams in Hong Kong have not only been a form of commuter transport for 113 years, but also a major tourist attraction and one of the most environmentally friendly ways of travelling in Hong Kong. They have been very much a part of the Hong Kong culture, landscape, and even soundscape. As a time-honoured tradition, tram drivers use a double bell to warn pedestrians of the vehicles’ approach. The constant noisy chiming along the way led the locals dub them “Ding Ding”, highlighting the distinctiveness of their auditory aspect. Compared with the car horn sound modern vehicles are using, trams’ ding ding sound, while performing the same function of warn pedestrians of the vehicle’s approach, is much less harsh and stressful to the ears. It gives rise to the question whether alternatives to car horns can be adopted to make the city sound more pleasant. In fact, researchers in Seoul have found that car horns resembling duck quacks was a better idea: they would still manage to alert people while being less irritating.

To you and many people, it must have seemed strange and incongruous to see the slow, clunky, old-fashioned tram “ding-ding” its way through the fast-paced, highly-urbanized Hong Kong. Its “ding-ding” sound alerts passers-by to the tram’s coming and tells a story of extraordinary survival through the development of modern public transport, including a vast MTR system, with a perseverance not unlike Hong Kong people.

Reference: If it quacks like a duck … will a car horn be less annoying?

What is Soundscape?

You may know the word landscape. A landscape includes the broad view of everything you can see around you (e.g. trees and rivers when you go hiking). You may also hear bird cries and rivers flowing. These elements make up a soundscape i.e. an auditory landscape. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines soundscape as acoustic environment as perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people, in context. In simpler terms, soundscape refers to the component sounds of an environment.

Since a soundscape may comprise a host of different sounds, they may not fit or even clash with each other, giving rise to disharmony, especially in cities where man-made sounds and noise dominate the scene. In view of this, soundscape design aims to make sounds or noise, which are perceived to be inevitable, more in harmony with the pertinent environment. For instance, water sounds from a fountain in a park may help mask the undesirable vehicle noise nearby. Regarding how to harmonize a soundscape, professionals engaged in the field have different opinions and focuses. For city planners, they may want to control noise and meet objective noise standards; for sonic artists, they may want to factor in an emotional dimension in their soundscape planning.

Does your neighbourhood have a harmonious soundscape?

ifc Mall: High-end Shopping Destination, First-rate Soundscape?

A prominent landmark on Hong Kong Island, the International Finance Centre (branded as “ifc”) stands proudly at the Central waterfront. The complex comprises some of the most exclusive office space in Hong Kong, the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel, as well as a leading destination for high-end shopping: ifc mall.

During busy hours when people hurry to arrive at offices and hurry back home after work, the sound of fast-paced walking and high heels clicking on floor are especially prominent. We may all hear classical music playing at a mall but seldom do we listen to it. Yet when we do listen, the background music at ifc is not constantly heard. It may get uneven when background music is heard louder at some spots while not at all perceivable at other locations. It may not matter much as reported by mall-goers of what they perceive within their awareness. However, little noticed as it may, it may sound glaring when the classical music at the background clashes with music of entirely different genres from some stores, such as the rock music played by a Hi-Fi store in the mall.

There may be other aspects of the sonic environment in neglect. The sound of trolleys clashing at Citysuper contrasts glaringly with the relative quiet of the cosmetic stores nearby. The passages in ifc are wider compared to a lot of shopping malls in Hong Kong, hence intensifying the reflection of sound. Pleasant sound magnified will contribute to the likeability of ifc’s sonic environment; unwanted sound amplified will reinforce its undesirability.

Do you think ifc’s soundscape lives up to its expectations of being a high-end mall?

PMQ: A Breath of Fresh Air Amongst Malls in HK

Original campus of Queen’s College and rebuilt in the 50s as Police Married Quarters, PMQ (元創方) in Central is now a hub for creative and design industries. Geographically, although PMQ is only 3 minutes away from the entertainment zone SoHo, music from bars and restaurants is blocked by the buildings along Aberdeen Street and PMQ is tucked away from the hustle and bustle. Architecturally, it exemplifies the modern style commonly found after World War II, characterised by a functional and pragmatic approach on elevations and interior layout, with minimum decoration. Its semi-open design has set PMQ apart from most malls in Hong Kong.

An inclusive soundscape – The semi-open setting of PMQ enables natural ventilation as well as the penetration of sounds from the surroundings. While wind (instead of air conditioning) caresses your hair, it carries with it sounds wafting from different locations inside and near PMQ: traffic sound from Aberdeen Street where PMQ is situated, sound of kitchen utensils clashing from a cooking studio, shrieks of a coffee machine in motion from a café, and laughs of children from a design studio.

Incorporating nature – PMQ introduces natural sounds into the complex by including a small garden named Plateau, harmonising man-made sounds mentioned above. Plateau on the 4th floor is perhaps the most outstanding feature of PMQ. They are landscaped open spaces which connect the two main blocks of PMQ. The greenery space has created a natural habitat for birds and insects, bringing liveliness and diverseness to the sonic environment.

PMQ’s semi-open design enables sound to reach a wider audience. Sounds heard from different spots tell a different story. Each sound perceived promises an experience for you to discover. Contextualising sounds make our experiences of PMQ more complete.

Yum Cha with The Lively Soundscape of Chinese Restaurant

A melting pot of Eastern and Western characteristics, Hong Kong is thronged with restaurants gratifying your palate with a diversity of flavours. The unlimited variety of food in every class has given Hong Kong the reputable labels of “Gourmet Paradise” and “World’s Fair of Food”. With Chinese being the most predominant cultural group in Hong Kong, Chinese food forms the backbone of dine-out scenes. Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong are adored by locals and tourists alike.

Everyone having been to a Chinese restaurant must have noted how loud and noisy the place can be. Yum Cha is usually a happy and boisterous occasion, when family and friends gather to sip tea and eat dim sum. It has been measured that the noise level at various Chinese Restaurants ranged from 66.4 to 79.7 dB(A). It is the mingled sound of eating utensils colliding, food being chewed and devoured, diners’ hearty laughs and animated chatting, and announcement of dishes being served. Although it is hardly gentle to the ears, people usually stay long in a Chinese restaurant. Being noisy accords with most people’s conceptions or expectations of Chinese restaurants and diners usually get used to the volume after some time.

Imagine the restaurant noise is much cut down, how do you think the Chinese dining experience will be altered?

Reference: “A Comparative Study of Noise Levels in Hong Kong” by Environmental Protection Department

Harmonising Indoor Soundscape of Shopping Malls

Soundscape falls on deaf ears – Growing up in Hong Kong, you may have often heard the metropolis is described as a shopping paradise. Malls in Hong Kong are plentiful and varied, they come in all shapes and sizes, promising and offering something for everyone. For many tourists visiting the city, shopping is at the top of the must-do list. For locals, shopping is one of the most popular social activities which malls are one of the most frequented hang out indoor locations. You shop in a mall; you dine, chill out with friends in a mall; you take photos with mall decoration; but can you recall the soundscape of any mall you have been to? If you struggle with the recalling, it may point out the common fact that people seldom hear a mall.

To hear is part of the experience – Being in a mall is an experience. It is an experience contributed by your senses, including sight, hearing, and smell. Soundscape refers to the component sounds of an environment, or elements in a sonic environment. You see a variety of products in shop windows and they stimulate your sight; you smell the perfume suffused in the mall with every breath you take. Have you ever paid attention to what you hear in a shopping mall? What do you expect or want to hear in a mall?

Consensus on a soundscape – Each mall-goer may prefer or expect a particular sonic environment, which may be at odds with what the shop owners and mall managers want customers are to perceive. How to make the soundscape favourable to everyone when various stakeholders have different considerations or prioritisation in mind? While malls define themselves by varied soundscape, you may not be aware of what they are trying to do to you.

The Century-Old Rhythm of The City’s Daily Life

Victoria Harbour is perhaps one of the most often featured landmarks of Hong Kong in postcards. Long famous for its spectacular views, the harbour is a major tourist attraction of Hong Kong. There is no better way to take in Hong Kong’s iconic harbour sights by boarding the Star Ferry

Ferrying Since 1888 – The Star Ferry is a passenger ferry service operator founded in 1888. Its principal routes carry passengers across Victoria Harbour, between Central in Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. Its ferry crossings at Victoria Harbour are acclaimed as an important part of the commute system between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and essential journeys for visitors. The National Geographic Traveler named the ferry crossing as one of 50 places of a lifetime. The ferry ride is also well known as one of the world’s best value-for-money sightseeing trips.

Sounds of the Star Ferry – Serving Hong Kong for more than a century, sounds belonging to and characteristic of the Star Ferry is as familiar to the locals as home: the loud bell sounds announcing the drop of the upper and lower gangways, the rush of passengers when boarding, sounds of bow wave and engine amid the sea waves, the two-inch-thick mooring rope tightening around the bollard, the rush of passengers when unboarding. Sailing back and forth across Victoria Harbour carrying over 70,000 passengers a day, sounds of the Star Ferry are the rhythm of the city’s daily life and a soundmark of Hong Kong. They signify the dawn of a new day for this city and the homeward bound when the day ends, the city retiring to rest.

Before the demolition of the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier in 2006, honking of the Star Ferry went hand in hand with the bell chiming of the pier’s clock tower, together constituting the soundscape of the waterfront. Now, only the sounds of the Star Ferry made it through history. While the Star Ferry bridges the distance across Victoria Harbour every day, its sounds bridge the century gap of Hong Kong then and now. Car honking is always considered an urban nuisance but with the honking of the Star Ferry, it is recalled with fondness by the locals who deem it special and iconic. It begs the question what makes a sound a soundmark; what makes a sound endearing to a city.