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?

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/