Sound portraits of the city 

Together with the artist Victoria Demidova. 

Exploration of the soundscape of three central places of Moscow: Teatralnaya square, Bolshaya Dmitrovka street, Sukharevskaya square. 

3 spectrograms with sounds. 

The project was a part of the exhibition “Moscowmorphosys” in the Museum of Moscow, 2019. Curator: Alexander Chernavsky.

Sound portrait of the city. Natalia Drachinskaya

Sound is an integral part of urban space. The city dweller, being constantly in the acoustic hum of space, develops sound immunity, which cuts off excess sound information from the field of perception. Man shares two concepts: sound and noise. Noise is something annoying, undesirable, and sound is an information unit that makes sense and requires analysis. This separation itself occurs almost automatically, and each person has his own border between sound and noise. 

 It is impossible to imagine yourself in a space in which there are no sounds at all. So, for example, the composer John Cage set up an experiment — he ended up in a special soundproof room and heard two noises: the first was produced by his circulatory system, the second — by his nervous system. “These sounds will last until I die, ” the composer summed up. Sound is life. 

 The focus of this project is the sound environment of the city or soundscape (soundscape) in three districts of the capital: Sukharevskaya Square, Teatralnaya Square, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street. It is believed that the term “soundscape” was introduced into scientific discourse by the Canadian composer Raymond Murray Schafer. He divided the sounds of the urban space into hi-fi — the sounds of nature, “suburban sounds”, those sounds that have an orderly character and are reproduced only at certain moments, such as birds singing at certain times of the day, and lo-fi — a continuous sound background. 

According to Schafer, there are significant sound phenomena in the acoustic space of the city, for example, unique or dominant sounds. The composer ordered significant sounds into a certain system: basic sounds (keynote sounds), warning sounds (signals) sounds inherent in a particular place (soundmarks). 

Sound portrait of the city. Natalia Drachinskaya

The method of binary oppositions is also used to analyze the sound landscape of the city (in particular, it was applied by M. B. Chubukova in the process of analyzing the features of the sound environment of the Arbat district of Moscow). The method is based on seven pairs of oppositions: 

1) the degree of sound prevalence (dominant / subordinate); 

2) the nature of the sound (linguistic / non-linguistic); 

3) origin of sound (man-made / natural); 

4) sound dynamism (movement / rest); 

5) subjectivity of sound: anthropogenic / non-anthropogenic; 

6) location of sound in urban scenography (background / event); 

7) “friendliness” of the sound (friendly / unfriendly). 

Taking into account both of these methodological approaches to studying the soundscape of urban space, the artists set the goal of immersing themselves in the soundscape of the above three places, spending some time in them, listening to the noises and sounds and identifying some of the soundmarks inherent in these places. Immersion in the sounds of each of the three places took place during the day and evening. 

The found soundmarks reflect the character of each place and coincide with the perception of the places by the authors: a combination of tension (proximity to the Sklifosovsky Institute) and serenity (square and old courtyards) on Sukharevskaya Square; the piercing and unevenly straying sound of Bolshaya Dmitrovka, in which there is both an ambitious excitement before an unknown future and a bitter regret for the past and the lost; the noble buzz of opera and ballet lovers on Theater Square. 

The end result of the project is not only audio recording of soundmarks, but also their visualization in spectrogram format. Thus, the specific sounds of a particular place can be not only heard, but also seen. Artists act on the actual territory of sound visualization, using vision as an additional sense organ for perception and analysis of the sound portrait of selected locations. The perception of sound through two channels — visual and auditory — will allow the viewer to apply these methods to analyze what he heard and see, to think about the personal perception of the sound landscape of the city, the individual “sound-to-noise” threshold, which in essence boils down to one important and finely tuned element — the will person.

Bolshaya Dmitrovka street

Sukharevskaya square