Composition | Sound art | Field recording


Sounds of The City

Pedro Rebelo, Rui Chaves, Matilde Meireles and Aonghus McEvoy

Community project / Site-specific exhibition / Research

The MAC, Belfast, Northern Ireland

April–June 2012

Dee Street Community Centre (East Belfast), Tar Isteach Community Centre (North Belfast)

Sounds of the City was a large-scale community project and exhibition commissioned by the Metropolitan Arts Centre (MAC) and led by artists from the Sonic Arts Research Centre (SARC), Queen’s University Belfast. Over a four-month period, the artists worked together on a weekly basis with two intergenerational groups in Belfast with the aim of addressing specific sound qualities of places, events and stories.

Themes that surfaced from this process constitute the basis for the exhibition which promotes listening as a form of intersecting daily life, identity and memory. Five installations were presented in various spaces throughout the building.

Belfast Sound Map

The Belfast Sound Map is a platform for community engagement aiming to capture everyday sounds that characterise the soundscape of the city. Throughout the exhibition, the sound map developed to include hundreds of recordings associated with places, events and routes through the city. Continuous playback and display invites listeners to experience this growing communal reflection upon sound experiences in the city.

The Belfast Sound Map Map is an open resource platform that aims at engaging local communities in capturing everyday sound and hence characterise the soundscape of the city. We encouraged not only the submission of sound recordings, but also other forms of experiencing and registering sound, such as text or image. The overall design of this platform facilitates this multiplicity of approaches, while also allowing participants to create their own projects. These are presented as separate, individual layers of recordings within the map. The user/listener is also invited to explore the map in various ways, including an autoplay mode which creates a sequence composed of different recordings.

The Walk Home

The sound of footsteps made by thousands of shipyard workers returning home evokes memories of Belfast’s industrial heritage. As the visitor entred the exhibition room, the sound of own footsteps becomes part of that iconic aspect of Belfast’s aural identity. The basis for this section of the exhibition was provided through interviews with elderly members of both communities, while younger participants reconstructed some of the audio material presented here.

Work / Home / Play

Hear the sound of Belfast through voices that describe personal experiences of work, home and play. Talking about sound reveals fragments of memories and histories filtered by personal experience and community life, bringing together personal experiences and common themes which emerged from the process. This was presented through a mixed media installation incorporating text and multichannel sound. Sound and text came together to display a wide range of experiences, from public to private, past to present.

Call for Work

The sounds of factory horns marked the life of workers in the numerous mills, factories and shipyards that dominated Belfast’s industry. As a ubiquitous element of Belfast’s soundscape, these sounds were a daily cue for the lives of communities across the city.

The horns were re-created in this exhibition and could be heard as a marking of time that resonates throughout the building. Elderly members of both communities, through interviews and listening exercises, guided the identification and reconstruction of this sound experience. This sound memory was common to all participants interviewed about Belfast city’s past; a defining soundmark of that time.

Five Places

The experience of place through sound engages communities in identifying locations that shape their everyday life. This led to an aural exploration in which the recording process reframed what a site means to an individual.

This was articulated in the exhibition through personal accounts, sound recordings and photography. Participants were invited to write and make audio recordings in order to supply material for this installation. The artists documented why participants chose each place, the experience of being and recording there, and gave a sense of the importance of each place to both the individual and their community.