jerusalem people jerusalem people jerusalem people jerusalem people jerusalem people

Soundscape Jerusalem
Lecture and workshop
Jerusalem Academy of Music & Dance, Hebrew University, Givat Ram Campus
sponsored by the Goethe Institut, Jerusalem, Israel.
Nov 8-19, 1999

The focus of this project was to introduce students to soundscape composition and to the ecological consciousness that is integral to this work and out of which it originally sprang. Listening sessions, recording trips, soundwalks, discussions, editing and mixing of recorded materials were all grounded in the concepts outlined below.

Each sound or soundscape has its own meanings and expressions. It has something to say about us and our society, about our listening and soundmaking habits. As a result, a city like Jerusalem will have a very different soundscape than Vancouver or London or Cape Town.

The portability of sound recording equipment allows us to record any soundscape. The widely available audio technology makes it possible for more people than ever to reproduce these sounds, process them and compose with them. All sounds can become part of a soundscape composition. The activity of "sketching" a city's acoustic image with the use of recorded sounds has fascinated many composers and audio artists around the world for the last ten to twenty years. It has become a new forum for "speaking" about place and environment. Cities like Madrid, Brasilia, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Tokyo, New Delhi and Buenos Aires have been "portrayed" in this way.

If based in a genuine concern for the acoustic environment, these "portraits" expand listeners' horizon towards the soundscape and raise consciousness about its quality. They also may raise questions such as: how do we listen and behave acoustically in everyday life; how can we acquire a "sense of place" and belonging from our soundscapes; are there ways to design liveable soundscapes in our often unliveable urban environments? At the same time they can also offer an artistic interpretation of a city soundscape and present a city as a "sounding" place.

Soundscape Jerusalem threw up interesting questions because of the city's complex historical and political situation. Although relatively peaceful at the time, underlying tensions could always be sensed, particularly by an outsider like me who had never lived in such a politically charged environment. In Old Jerusalem with its four different Quarters (Jewish, Moslem, Christian and Armenian), the different religions and cultures were clearly audible in the soundscape. Churchbells, Muezzins, Armenian Orthodox and Jewish Chants side-by-side could potentially be perceived as dangerous or beautiful sounds, depending on whether they were heard with welcoming or hostile ears.

Within the very short time span of a week, the participating students made a valiant attempt to create a short sound work from the sounds that they recorded in their city. Starting from scratch - learning about soundscape concepts and listening, recording sounds, selecting, editing, processing, mixing - most students managed to come up with a completed short composition. Some students chose to make their recordings in the modern, commercial part of Jerusalem and some chose to participate in the combined listening/recording walk from the Mount of Olives into the Arabic Quarters of Old Jerusalem (see map). Interestingly enough most of the latter students had never set foot into that area of their city. As a result this project posed a double challenge: not only were they exposed to a totally new concept of compositional work, but also they ended up working with recordings from a Jerusalem entirely foreign to them.

The concept of acoustic ecology takes on a specifically cultural, political meaning here. How does the soundscape express the proximity of varying religions, cultures and political histories? Does the soundscape make audible the balances and imbalances that result from this situation? Old Jerusalem in particular is a town of many layers. This is literally visible in its architecture where layer upon built layer has raised today's city several meters above the original ground. The actual desert soil is far away from one's feet and natural vegetation is sparse. At the same time, this same age-old architecture with its narrow alley ways protects inhabitants from motorized traffic. All this is audible in the soundscape: there is an almost complete absence of both natural sounds and traffic noise. Human sounds (from inhabitants and tourists) dominate, footsteps and voices reverberating off stone walls. Music and radio is broadcast from a multitude of shops into the narrow alley ways. And above all, the sounds from churches, mosques and synagogues, send out regular reminders of their all-encompassing religious presence.

View Map of Soundwalk

Top of Page
jerusalem people jerusalem people jerusalem people jerusalem people