What is a soundmark?

Is there any sound that reminds you of a particular place? For example, does the ding ding sound of trams remind you of Hong Kong? Would you think of London when you hear Big Ben chimes? If they do, those iconic sounds are soundmarks.

Derived from “landmark”, soundmark is a term used in Soundscape Studies to refer to a sound which is unique to an area or possesses qualities which make it specially regarded or noticed by the people in that community. A soundmark is highly symbolic because it evokes immediate association to the location upon being heard. Soundmarks, therefore, are of cultural and historical significance and merit preservation and protection.

Soundmark is not only a term found in Soundscape Studies. It has made its way into marketing and brand differentiation. Some luxury automobile brands develop their own engineering sounds in order to differentiate themselves from their peers and to give users a sense of superiority. Hence, soundmark gives characteristics to a place or a product. With uniqueness and individuality being much sought after by modern society, can you foresee how soundmark will develop in the near future?

 

Café Landmark: How to Nail the Optimum Sound Level

Nestled in Central, the financial heart of the city, Landmark is commonly known as a gathering place for well-heeled shoppers because it offers top-tier, opulent shopping and lifestyle experiences. For ladies taking a break from shopping and local office workers wanting a convenient business lunch, the upmarket mall offers international cuisine with an Asia-inspired refinement in its CAFÉ LANDMARK.

Devoting a large open area to CAFÉ LANDMARK on its first floor, Landmark foregrounds the restaurant’s central location. Some tables overlook the buzz of the shops below as the sun bathes the building with light through the high glass ceiling, aiming to evoke an illusion of a floating restaurant. Faint, soft, murmuring classical music is wafting through the air, the mall, at the dining scene, inducing a laidback atmosphere. Diners’ voices are low and controlled with clanking of cutlery occasionally heard. This seems a perfect sound environment according to a study published by the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology which determined that food tastes best to diners when classical music is softly played and there’s the presence of subtle background chatter. Apart from setting the mood and increasing the satisfaction of the diners’ taste buds, music serves to mask noise of the clinking of cutlery.

Being at a fancy restaurant like CAFÉ LANDMARK where a three-course meal for two persons can cost around HK$700, you expect nothing less from its food experience which includes an optimum sound level.

Reference: How Music Establishes Mood and Drives Restaurant Profits

Restaurant Sound – Share how you feel!

Have you ever been to restaurants that are too noisy to stay long? Are there any restaurants that you want to go again because of its harmonious sonic environment? The many sounds you heard in a restaurant constitute the soundscape of it. The subjective feelings you have towards the soundscape is the most interesting part to study. Sounds in restaurants may not be noticeable most of the time, yet sounds stealthily affect us in different ways.

Why Soundscape Matters? – Dining is part and parcel of everyday life for urban folks. Restaurants nowadays are not only places to eat but a matter of lifestyle. Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore are well developed cities that pursue better quality of life. We care about the setting of a restaurant or the quality of food but seldom talk about the sonic environment of a restaurant. The sonic environment of a restaurant sets the atmosphere and the mood for diners to enjoy food. It is as part of the dining experience as the dishes, décor and customer service. The many possibilities in making better soundscapes can bring us to a new world of dining out experience.

What Can You Help? – If you are interested to contribute in improving the sonic environment of restaurants, you are cordially invited to participate in the research project by National University of Singapore, Macao Polytechnic Institute and DingDingSound HK. We are sorting out the major components in creating desirable soundscape in restaurants. We need your comments on various restaurants. The following questionnaire will take you about 5 minutes to complete. You can rate any restaurants you have been to for several aspects. Your reply will be of paramount value to our research and future design of soundscape in restaurants. Thank you for your time and assistance. If you have any question/ feedback, please email at info@dingdingsound.com.

Chinese Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/2tsxcYz

English Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/2ubtcsv

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.

Nature Sound Maps: What Did the Nature Say?

Besides Sound Around You and London Sound Survey introduced in the previous blog post: Urban Sound MapsListen to Africa and Nature Sound Map are two another intriguing sound maps that are worth your attention. They specialize in mapping sounds of nature and wildlife as opposed to urban sounds.

The Listen to Africa expedition is a two-year journey by bicycle to record some of the sounds of Africa, from oral histories and music to soundscapes and wildlife. It targets sounds unique to Africa, such as the sounds of River Gambia in West Africa, and introduces them through blog posts with podcasts.

Details at: http://www.listentoafrica.com/audio/

Effort in archiving sounds of nature goes global in the project of Nature Sound Map, which brings to everyone recordings of natural soundscapes and individual species which are particularly interesting examples of sound in the animal kingdom. Many recordings in the collection are stereo recordings made with two microphones which capture sound in 360 degrees, offering to users a realistic representation of all the sounds in a particular habitat.

Details at: http://www.naturesoundmap.com/

Hong Kong Wet Markets: A Sensory Excess

While some people prefer buying groceries in the clean, comfortable and standardized supermarkets, many locals in Hong Kong venture into the outdoor, loud and vibrant wet markets because the prices are lower and the quality is higher.

A wet market (街市) is where fresh meat and produce are sold, distinguished from dry markets which sell durable goods such as cloth and electronics. Wet markets frequented by the locals are situated at Graham Street in Central, Tai Po Hui, Chun Yeung Street (春秧街) in North Point, and Bowrington Road in Wan Chai, to name but a few. You will find stalls selling a cornucopia of goods ranging from poultry, live fish, fresh meat, to fruits and vegetables.

Thriving Since Colonization – Wet markets have long been a feature of Hong Kong life. Before the British arrived in the 19th century, markets took place once or twice a week in towns like Tai Po. After colonization, daily street markets began to emerge. As Hong Kong Tourism Board put it, “Hong Kong’s multitude of wet markets are windows into a vivid and timeless world of food shopping that refuses to be extinguished by modern supermarkets.” Thus, sounds characteristic and distinctive of wet markets are soundmarks of Hong Kong.

At the Height of Activity – A wet market in full swing would make a spectacular soundscape because it is clamourous and overwhelming, if not raucous and chaotic. It is a sensory excess with a long list of actions taking place, for example, vendors of different stalls hollering, hawking their products; butchers chopping meat; vendors gutting and scaling fish; vendors and customers bargaining; shoppers bustling about looking for the best deal. More than anything, human voices are a prominent component in the sonic environment of a wet market. You may even notice a pattern in sounds heard at the wet markets at different times of the day. You may find domestic helpers engrossed in fast-paced chatting in the mornings and vendors crying out reduced prices at night when they are about to close their stalls. More often than not, a busy wet market is as much a visual feast as auditory overload.

Indoor Wet Markets – Some wet markets have retreated indoors into government-operated market buildings. Plans to redevelop have moved stalls indoors. A well-known example of indoor wet markets is Kowloon City Market which has as many as 581 stalls. While some indoor wet markets have air-conditioning, some mimic supermarkets and broadcast sales announcements. With the wet market being enclosed instead of exposed outdoors, what do you think would happen to its soundscape?

Urban Sound Maps: Hear the City’s Heartbeat

Sound maps may not be a well-known or popularized tool, eclipsed by its visual counterpart Google Maps and its kind. However, there are serious sound map projects underway.

Sound Around You is a research project from University of Salford which allows everyone to help build a sound map of the world using a mobile phone. To contribute, you may get the app isay for iPhone, iPad or iPod or use your own recorder to capture, comment on and upload your day-to-day sound environments. Your soundscapes and opinions will then be anonymously placed on the world map. This worldwide soundscape research project utilizes crowdsourcing to collect description of sounds perceived by people around the globe and have perception evaluated in scale, exemplifying collective endeavours in sound mapping.

Details at: http://www.soundaroundyou.com/

London Sound Survey is a growing collection of sound recordings of people, places and events in the capital of the United Kingdom. The survey divides London in a grid of squares and makes summary of its soundscape by plotting in outline the common or persistent sound types heard around London during the daytime. The recordings concern mainly the background atmospheres and incidental noises from all over London.

Details at: http://www.soundsurvey.org.uk/index.php/survey/soundmaps/