Soundscapes of the Urban Past: Staged Sound as Mediated Cultural Heritage


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Title Soundscapes of the Urban Past: Staged Sound as Mediated Cultural Heritage
Period 04 / 2008 - 03 / 2013
Status Current
Research number OND1331734
Data Supplier NWO


This program focuses on the urban past in terms of its sounds, and on how the dramatization of these sounds has articulated changing identities of both the city and its inhabitants between 1875 and 2000. The program starts out from the observation that we do not have direct access to the soundscapes, or sonic environments, of the urban past. Apart from a few occasional anthropological recordings, we only have knowledge of these soundscapes through the staging of sound in historical texts, radio plays and films: our mediated cultural heritage of sound. Studying this cultural heritage, however, opens up a unique entrance into the changing representation of cities and its inhabitants. The city, with its high population density, has been the locus of clashes over sound between inhabitants, which vary from conflicts about bells to debates about traffic noise and amplified music. These clashes expressed the cultural meanings these sounds had to city dwellers, as well as their views on the character of urban life (dynamic, alienating) and their position in it. In radio plays and films, the sonic representation of cities has even been partially canonized. This program's scholarly aim is therefore to study dramatizations of sound in historical documents, radio plays and films'as mediated cultural heritage' in order to enhance our understanding of the continuity and change in representations of the city, notably Amsterdam, Berlin and London. Its societal aim is to enable museums to enrich their presentation of the cultural history of urban life, from visually oriented exhibits to more auditory ones, and to clarify contemporary clashes over city sounds through comparison with historical ones.

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