Friday, September 30, 2005

Tallest Standards

The launch of my installation went well this morning. We had about 100 guests, from government officials to school children and loads of media people, and all seemed to make a connection with the work.

I was happy that many were also inspired enough to want to progress onto some sort of next stage. The local radio station for example want to broadcast the piece and combine it with an interview with myself and others who have experienced the installation; also, one of the directors in the television company wants to introduce the work to his American media contacts, so who knows where this could lead....

There has also been some talk about using the installation as a catalyst for discussions with urban designers with relation to the acoustic design of the city's future development. And, finally, there is a desire for the installation to take up permanent status in one of the city's museums as it is felt that the piece speaks so powerfully for Chongqing.

As I said in my pre-launch speech this morning, this city has perhaps the most exciting soundscape of any that I have so far visited. This is not only because of the wide variation of sounds but also because there is still enough space (acoustic and physical) for the sounds to exist and to be heard. However, Chongqing is developing at a rapid pace and so is in a crucial period in relation to the developmental decisions that have to be made and their effect on how the city sounds. It therefore remains to be seen (and heard) what the future Chongqing will sound like. My hope is that my work here will be able to play some part in influencing these right decisions to be made.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Line Dancing

With my sound installation now complete and waiting for tomorrow's launch I thought I would relax this evening in the People's Square. As this is accessed by ascending steps from road level and then descending again the place is one of the few areas in the city relatively free from the sound of traffic.

In early evening the People's Square lies almost empty, but as darkness descends the place transforms from a place built for the people to a place used by the people. The whole area is about the size of three football pitches and is tiled in marble and granite stone, and so as the place fills up sounds from one end can be heard from the other.

At around seven o’ clock a giant television screen comes to life and plays distorted sounds to its many viewers who sit on the ground to enjoy an evening’s viewing. Elsewhere, children train for Kung Fu and people gradually enter the square and walk around limbering up for the next event....

Slowly the crowds form into groups and at 8pm, dramatically, the space is filled with recorded music piped from giant loudspeakers located around the square. These groups then expand into huge line dancing or Tai Chi classes who either work with the music supplied or use their own which they play through portable PA systems. These all work together to produce a rather bizarre musical backdrop with the western influenced piped dance music mixing with the more traditional choices of the other classes.

As the evening progresses, the various group activities come to a finish and others such as ballroom dancing take their place until at the end of the evening the majority are watching the few left going. Just after 9.30pm the piped music stops with a rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne' and suddenly it's the sound of goodbyes and crickets whilst the remaining few finish their dancing in 'silence'.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Scattered throughout Chongqing are various parks of different shapes and sizes. Although they offer visual solace from the busy city, their design often does not offer the audio equivalent. In my mind this creates an interesting juxtaposition of these two colliding worlds. The parks are, for the most, designed to be picturesque and are quite traditional in their set-out, harkening back to older times. However, at the same time as the eyes take in this old-world view the ears are greeted with the urban noise of modern city life, with vehicles and construction being the loudest culprits.

The best time to visit therefore is when the city is quieter, i.e. at dawn and through the night, and both of these times have their own particular soundscape, such as the chirping crickets and croaking frogs which can be clearly heard when darkness falls.

At the break of day, the park is alive with the sound of birds, of which there seem to be few varieties. Then one-by-one people can be heard shuffling in their sandals as they quietly wander in, find a secluded spot, and do some sort of gentle Tai Chi type exercise. Around the same time the park cleaners arrive to clear the paths and complement the early morning soundtrack with slow regular sweeps. This soothing collection of sounds doesn’t last for long though as before long some sort of industrial machine starts up, and the city’s sounds take over.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New for Old

A common response to my work is people’s realisation that many of the sounds that they are fond of are in fact dying out. When people think about it they realise that their favourite sounds, for example, because of their musicality or of childhood memories, already have their alternatives and are becoming scarce. It’s not so much then that sounds are disappearing without trace but that they are being replaced.

Over the last few weeks Chongqing has provided many visual metaphors for this phenomenon as the city is undergoing a rapid change programme in preparation for October’s ‘Asian Pacific Cities Summit’. In just one day last week all the street-name signs were replaced by newer bilingual versions, and then within hours the old signs were collected, probably never to be seen again.
One of my favourite hawkers in the city is the recycler. With the aid of a megaphone he wanders the streets calling out for old televisions, computers, air conditioners and loudspeakers; some also collect plastic bottles and cardboard. I feel an affinity with this trade as in a way I see myself as a recycler of sounds: I go out with my recording gear, collect, and then recycIe them into installation form. As a result I have thought about seeing what would happen if I too went out with a looping megaphone requesting people to bring me their old sounds….

Monday, September 26, 2005

Musical Pathways

Perhaps the quietest place in Chongqing is a place called Ciqikou. This is an ancient town with a history of more than 1,000 years that has kept its traditional feel. The main thoroughfare suffers from being a bit touristy, but as soon as one diverts to the back alleys, the noise level drops considerably, and one is treated to a more gentle soundscape. Here the sounds are of nature, quiet domestic life, the occasional hawker and the shuffling sandals of someone passing on their way. Everything seems more relaxed and, in turn, the sounds seem more musical. The hawkers in the city centre, for example, shout out their wares; here their advertising sounds more like phrases of a song.

Today has been a very un-Ciqikou experience for me as I have been working hectically all day in the installation space dealing with one event after another. Still, in the end I did manage to set out all that I aimed to achieve, even though it took a good few hours extra. Tomorrow’s an early start again. My aim is to finish installing a day early and then it will be time for me to visit those musical pathways again.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


There’s always the sound of some work being done in this city. In the centre it’s the far reaching sounds of construction; in the lanes it’s the smaller sounds of domestic industry: the most common being various forms of haberdashery, cobbling, shoe cleaning, butchery and key cutting.

With the exception of key cutting, all these sounds are human generated and as such have their own rhythms and play against each other – from the ‘tap-tap’ of the cobbler to the soft whirr of the treadle sewing machine. All these smaller sounds dissolve into the soundscape as they sporadically start and stop and travel no further to round the next corner. It’s the same for the market traders – although they continually shout out their wares, their voices do not actually carry too far. As one climbs the steps, however, from the harbour area to the commercial centre it is the metallic clang and grind of the building industry that gradually impose their presence. Although not always visible, these sounds travel to places where they don’t physically belong.

There is also something else with these sounds. Some have the feeling of ‘permanence’, like they have always been there, in some form or other; whilst others sound much more of-the-moment, and soon-to-be-passing. Thankfully it is the louder sounds whose urgency implies that they will soon be moving on….

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Perhaps my favourite place for sitting down and listening is on the steps of Chaotianmen harbour of an evening. At that time it is bustling with life and, in fact, it can be difficult to find somewhere to sit. Amongst the crowds are families, friends young and old, business colleagues fresh from work, and so on - all there to simply soak up the atmosphere.

My preference is to sit on the bottom steps next to the water, listening to the occasional lap of the Yangtze in balance with the evening's busy ambience. Further up the steps is full of conversation and the sound of children playing interspersed with the occasional passing hawker selling everything from cigarettes to boat trips along the river. Closer to the top there's more movement with people walking from one end to the other. This is also where temporary fairground type games are set up - the most popular being to shoot at a big piece of board covered with inflated balloons. Again, sounds of hawkers, laughter (and popping).

By the end of this week the museum should be completed and so the sounds of building will leave the harbour area, at least for the time being. They are already much less intense than when I first visited. The end of the week also sees the opening of my installation, and so on Monday I will move into the gallery space to set the work up. If all goes well I hope to take advantage of its proximity to the harbour steps and return to soak up some more of this wonderful atmosphere!

Friday, September 23, 2005

In Search of Silence

The city never turns off. There is always the continual whirr of what I guess are extractor fans. Their flat-line broadband noise is almost indiscernible during the day what with the traffic noise and general hubbub of city life; however, at night and especially early morning, they can be easily heard acting as a sort of acoustic blanket covering up the detail of the quietest sounds.

For rest from this continual noise one has to escape to the lanes as even the 'natural' world offered by the parks suffers from our modern day infatuation with noise producing technology: mainly traffic or the hum from buildings close by. In the lanes, the best bet is to find a courtyard, however whilst they might be free from air-conditioning humming, these places, of course, are not silent - they have their own sound worlds….

Thursday, September 22, 2005


The girls employed to stand on either side of the entrance of the various fashion boutiques simply shout. Most other shops make use of loudspeakers to either pump music onto the streets or announce what they are selling. It is the megaphone, however, which for me makes the most significant contribution. It is used by a wide variation of people - from the elderly blind couple who busk in Jiao Chang Kou to almost all the smaller shops as well as many market traders.

In most cases the megaphone's internal memory chip is employed to record a short message which is then looped when playback is operated, each loop being separated by a quick double click. This repetition of the recorded announcement highlights the musicality of the Mandarin accent and so a walk down a street filled with small shops, with all the loops gradually going in and out of phase, is like walking through an early Steve Reich composition.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Stick Men

All around Chongqing, but especially in the area incorporating the city centre and harbour, are Chongqing's famous porters. For 2 Yuan they will carry whatever needs to be transported and deliver it using only their bamboo carrying pole and some rope. Sometimes the variation of what they're carrying, as well as what the weight must be, almost beggars belief. Even all my installation audio equipment arrived this way this afternoon: hanging from rope attached to either end of a bamboo pole.

Apparently, Chongqing is alone in having its own culture of stick carrying porters, and therefore their sonic contribution is important in terms of any understanding of the city's soundscape. My experience is that this contribution is threefold. First, is the calling for a porter, and this is the phrase "bang bang", so if there's something to be carried then all one has to do is call. Second, is a sound that has been frequently mentioned in the project's sound description submissions, and that is the rhythmic chants uttered by the porters to help with and co-ordinate their carrying, especially if the job in hand requires a group of them. And, finally, my favourite is the sound produced in between jobs when they sometimes drag their pole behind them. On this occasion one can hear the hollowness of the bamboo, whether it is cracked or not, and also the make-up of the surface it is in contact with.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


With just over a week to go before everything needs to be completed it's exciting to see all the various components of the installation beginning to come together. As well as creating the work I have also been involved in the decision making process regarding every aspect of the design of the exhibition space. Of course, this has been interesting but it has also been very time consuming. Now, however, the results all our planning is becoming evident.

Over the weekend the false walls required to separate the installation area have been erected and yesterday have been painted. Today l have been working on what will become the visual element for the installation, converting the sound descriptions contributed from the general public into a suitable format to be installed over the weekend. If all goes to plan, tomorrow will see the arrival of all the audio equipment.

This air of anticipation is not just confined to my installation. As the museum itself is nearing completion so the work needing to be done changes. Likewise, downtown the short, sharp sounds of construction are moving onto other areas and the centre is regaining a calmer ambience and consequently it is now easier to hear the detail in the sounds of the life of this amazing city.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Hot Pot

Connected with my installation are various outreach projects encouraging the Chongqingese to think about their sonic environment. Through posters, internet, the media, university seminars and schools workshops young and old have been invited to submit descriptions of their favourite sounds. These have then be used to inform my creative process – specifically, which sounds are most in the minds of the local people and therefore I might work with, and also the language they use to describe what they hear and this is also contributing to the accompanying text based visual element.

A series of regularly quoted sounds are connected with the hot pot restaurant, which one writer summed up as “the music of life” - from the bubbling in the pot, through to the accompanying sounds of sounds of laughter, ‘hua cian’ and heated discussion.

The dish is actually served throughout China although it originated in Chongqing and it is here where it is at its spiciest. The meal consists of a bowl of boiling soup filled with chillies into which pieces of food are put until cooked. As you might expect from such a cuisine, the hot pot restaurants are filled with the raucous sounds of excited exclamations, and so perhaps it is not surprising that the dish has become integral to an understanding of the city’s very identity.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Endangered Sounds

As technology is becoming more used, the sounds associated with purely manual work are gradually being replaced. In many cases this also results in the loss of a direct relationship between work activity and sound produced.

For example, on the street the grinding of spices is done by hand. The sound produced is quiet and intimate: when the grinder speeds up or slows down, so do the resulting sounds; when there is a pause to refill, so the sound pauses. In contrast, the supermarket uses a machine that emits an intense whine like a dentist's drill and can be heard all over the shop.

Another endangered sound is the ‘twang’ of the cotton bouncer. In wintertime people take the cotton filling of their duvets to the cotton bouncer to get them re-fluffed and rejuvenated. The cotton is first put onto a working surface and then brought to life by the vibration of the taut string of a berimbao-type sounding instrument. This too, however, is gradually being replaced by the machine alternative and so soon another musically sounding aspect of the workplace will disappear.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Buses are an essential part of China's travel network and as the cheapest form of public transport they are usually busy and hence filled with many conversations in the local dialect. Like the taxis they are numerous and also old and their diesel engines can be heard struggling to climb the hills in the slow moving traffic. Unlike the taxis, they lack air conditioning, and so all the windows are open and one travels with the noise of the other traffic.

With a squeal of the brakes the bus stops at each designated place followed by the sharp hiss of the hydraulic doors. At this point the driver shouts the name of the location, unless there is a bus conductor in which case then s/he takes this role. If there’s a crowd at the bus stop the conductor will also shout out the window or the open door to inform them of the journey’s destination. Usually this is done by voice alone, though I have seen some conductors also use megaphones. With another hiss of the doors, punctuated by a closing ‘thunk’, the engine noise increases and the next part of the journey begins.

With all this activity, one could be forgiven for thinking that no more sounds were needed; however, this is not the case with the newer buses, which boast a television or two blaring out a harsh unrelated environment and adding confusion to what was an already packed, yet coherent sonic picture.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Words of Encouragement

In contrast to the rest of the city, Chongqing’s electrically powered monorail trains run smoothly and quietly, moving with ease from one station to the next. The two city centre stations, unlike the others, are underground and so the trip down the escalator has the effect of gradually fading out the ground level noise but replacing it with the acoustic characteristics of a new environment made mostly of marble and glass.

On the station platform, however, one is woken from this underground sterile world as there are large flat screen monitors every ten metres blaring out the local television station, complete with adverts. On board, there are more television screens above each door continually playing adverts, but thankfully these are silent.

On the platforms and in the trains the recorded announcements are by a well known female radio presenter. Each message is first in Mandarin and then in English. As well as announcing the station names she offers advice on how to leave the train as well as encouraging passengers to act out the traditional virtues of the Chinese people.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


When it rains here, it pours, and the city is cleared of its usual traffic of pedestrian shoppers. Life still goes on however, although with an adjusted soundscape. With the streets cleared as people take shelter, the lack of action provides space for the discerning of other sounds which normally have to compete with the business of a crowded city centre.

The metal wheeled trolleys seem louder as the clatter of their wheels over the paving can be heard to reverberate around the central square. Sandals too sound different when they become saturated with water: they no longer shuffle but squelch. For passing vehicles, the fizz of the wet car tyres on tarmac takes precedence over the engine noise. From the buildings, heavy drips of rain water fall and play never ending complicated rhythms as the water hits the ground. Gushing overflow pipes produce a hard spattering sound as the water hits the concrete below, the only relief being when a passing umbrella momentarily passes underneath, breaking the flow and producing a dramatic drum roll type effect.

And then, of course, there are the cries of the umbrella sellers. As soon as it rains, out they come offering a new sound world of the dull crackle of the rain on the fabric above and the magnified reflections of the sounds at feet level, as well as portable shelter for only 20 Yuan. (= £1.37 = $2.47 or 20 bus trips, 4 taxi rides, two small meals…).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Eel Fresco

Chongqing is full of unsupposing places to eat, and there seems to be no end to them as I investigate the myriad of lanes throughout the city. These eateries rarely consist of more than one room and often extend onto the open street. As all the food is cooked fresh, a meal in such a place is accompanied by the sounds of the kitchen.

In these alleyways the sounds often appear more intimate anyway as their volume is increased by the reflection offered by the closely knit architecture as well as being played against a quieter backdrop, and so the careful listener will notice much which is not audible in the bigger restaurants in the city.

Sounds such as the soft wet slap of meat being turned over on a wooden chopping board or the gentle swipe of the carving knife through the joint provide a contrast to the scraping out of the wooden rice barrel to make room for the next batch. The generally faster chopping of different vegetables being cut in different ways also add variation to the accompanying soundtrack.

Not all these sounds are necessarily welcome when eating, however: my last two meals have been accompanied by the methodical chop and scrape of the butcher’s knife as it is cut through the throats of live eels as they are prepared for the next meal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Trolleys are used in abundance throughout the city for the transportation of goods and come in a range of sizes. The largest are cart size that one would expect a horse to be pulling except the job is done by a man, often with helpers pushing from behind. Other versions are the size of wheelbarrows, and like the larger versions run on what looks like old fashioned rubber tyre bicycle wheels.

lt is the smaller trolleys that make the most sound. The importance of their contribution to the Chongqing soundscape is down to the material construction of their wheels. Made of metal, they generate their own characteristic sound as they interact with the surface below them, and can be heard from afar as they approach and then as they trundle off into the distance. As much of the city centre is pedestrianised, the sound produced changes depending on the size and design of the tiled paving. Smaller tiles produce faster rhythms than large ones, whilst the sound on tarmac has a dense rain-like quality to it.

Monday, September 12, 2005


The car is a recent phenomenon in China and is still driven according to cycling rules, where it is acceptable to overtake on either side, hop up onto the pavement or take risky shortcuts.

About fifty percent of the vehicles in Chongqing are taxis and so they also have an influence on the general traffic flow. As they charge by distance travelled as opposed to journey time, it is in their interest to complete the journey as quickly as possible, and so they weave in and out of the traffic using their horns to make their presence known as if they were competing for fastest public service driver. lt can be an exhilarating ride and is well worth the fare in terms of excitement factor alone. Most surprisingly, all the cars seem to be free from dents.

To hear the city before the morning build up of traffic one must be out on the streets before 6:30am. At that time the main traffic sound is just an occasional engine and accompanying klaxon, but within an hour this builds up to a noisy backdrop that continues in intensity until around 10pm, when over the next four hours it reduces to its occasionally sounding status.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


All over the city food related sounds contribute to the score of everyday life - from the hubbub of the huge indoor markets to the tiny tearing of wood when disposable chopsticks are separated.

Apart from the supermarkets, food is mainly purchased from individual traders who either set their produce out wherever they have set up or carry it around, usually in baskets that hang from either end of a thick bamboo stick. Whichever method is used their presence is made known by shouting out of their wares, and often in competition with the other sellers near by.

The toffee seller doesn't use his voice and yet his presence can be heard from the largest distance. He carries his produce as one slab which he breaks off using a special hammer and chisel and he uses these tools to tap out a two-tone rhythm of the name of what he is selling.

There is much eating out to be done in Chongqing, and one doesn't have to travel far before the sound of cooking food informs the listener what might be being served around the corner. The easiest to identify are perhaps the gentle white-noise roar of the dim sum (dumpling) steamer and, of course, the sizzle and scrape of the wok. My favourite though is the gentle 'chink' of china in the quieter of the teahouses that are scattered across the city offering peaceful recluse.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Walking The Bird

Perhaps the pet that makes the most significant sonic contribution to city life is the song bird. They can be heard early in the morning emanating from the grouped towers of flats when people wake and remove the cage covers. (In fact, the flat balconies look a little like cages themselves). For bird cacophony, the place to be is the morning bird market where an assortment of foods, cages and song birds can be purchased.

My favourite encounter of the feathered kind so far though has to be at Pi Pa Shan Park. It appears that is more common to take your pet songbird from the home for some exercise rather than, say, the dog, and on this occasion it is vocal exercise. Their owners find a comfortable spot and, with the aid of a long pole, hang the caged bird from a branch of a tree and then sit close by and listen to their prized possession.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Meeting Points

Chongqing city is at the meeting point of two large rivers: the river Jialing to the north and the Yangtze to the south. Where they meet is at Chaotianmen harbour - the most eastern tip of the Yuzhong district. This is also where one dis/embarks from/on the various cruise ships travelling the river.

Some of these vessels sleep 400 or more passengers as well staff, and so have a significant audible as well as visible presence as they contribute a range of sounds: from their funnel blasts as they leave or depart port to their continual engine noise, which resonates as a low D providing the harmonic context for everything else.... On the bigger ships there is sometimes a small military band to welcome the passengers to Chongqing. Surprisingly, the music sounds tinny and distant from the harbour’s edge, unlike the thick sounding funnel blasts which I can hear easily from my hotel apartment on the 27th floor in the city centre.

Overlooking the harbour is the soon-to-be completed 'Planning and Development Museum', which is where my installation is to open at the end of this month. It's a long way from being completed however, and so they are working on it 24 hours a day. This means that whatever time one visits, the harbour soundscape is punctuated by the sharp sounds of construction. lt's interesting to think that we are working to the same deadline, though thankfully not the same schedule (not yet anyway).

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mah Jong Heaven

In this city at least, the locals use their recreation time playing card games, chess, ‘mah jong’ (dominoes) or their version of the popular ‘scissors-paper-stone’ game, known locally as ‘hua cian’. A walk down the alleyways in the evening therefore is peppered with the sounds of cards or chess pieces slapping on tables, the shuffling of ‘mah jong’ pieces, or the shouts of the ‘hua cian’ game (which are often accompanied by a drinking forfeit). With the exception of ‘hua cian’ most of these recreational pastimes are quiet enough activities although at times they do become heated.

I’ve been trying to record some ‘mah jong’ shuffling for about a week now, but have been finding it difficult to get close enough to a game without being seen to intrude. Imagine my delight therefore when upon sitting down in a quiet enclosure for lunch I was joined on either side by two tables of earnest ‘mah jong’ players….

I think in every case I have experienced so far, these games have been played by adults. The young appear to favour computer games, which they play either at home or in the growing number of shops full of computer consoles expressly for that purpose and which spill a newer, multilayered, digital sound into the already congested Chongqing soundscape.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


As the city quietens down at night it is possible to hear the space as the details of how the sound ricochets from one building to another becomes more apparent.

Although the streets remain fairly crowded (and the shops open) until late, things begin to quieten down from around ten. First of all the shops close, turning off their different musics that normally broadcast onto the street, and around the same time any audio visual advertising is either turned off or, at least, has the sound turned down. Next is the turn of the buses, which stop their services around 10.30pm helping to further cut down on the background noise.

With much of the continuous daytime noise stopped, it is the turn of the shorter sounds, such as footsteps, occasional taxi klaxons, and the hammering coming from the road workers and building developers who will be working throughout the night. From this time, until when it all begins again the following morning, these sounds are give their own reverb as they bounce round the town.

All this ambient white noise presents me with various recording challenges. lt's not that the sounds that I want to record can't be heard - it's that all the background noise masks the detail. As well as this, as l layer my various recordings to structure my composition it is unhelpful if l am also accumulating an accompanying (and increasing) noise track, and so to get round this I carefully record, edit and clean each sound; however, this is not a quick job.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Mystery Sound

Normally, first thing in the morning (and before the big shops open at eight), the city's open spaces are used by the locals for their morning exercise - from badminton to Tai Chi.

The Tai Chi groups often provide their own soundtracks, played on accompanying portable CD players, and playing gentle traditional folk music. If one stands in the right place it is possible to hear all these recordings blend into one pentatonic blur.

Because of the heavy rain this morning the centre square it was not filled as normal with people using the space, and so other sounds were apparent that are so quiet they are normally disguised by the background ambient noise. One sound in particular caught my interest: a sort of distant fanfare played twice at 7:10am, and then again at 7:30am. So far, everyone I have asked doesn't know what the sound could be, but I am sure I will eventually find out....

Monday, September 05, 2005


The traditional footwear of the Chinese is sandals and these have their own particular sound as their wearers slide their feet along the ground as they make their way. The pace is often slow, perhaps because it's difficult to run with sandals, perhaps because the wearers are tired.

In the city, however, more people wear shoes. This replaces the lazy drawn-out sound of the slip-on with the shorter tap of the shoe. In fact, in the centre, people are more fashionable generally as they buy in to the lifestyle offered to them by all the 'trendy' shops.

Of course, with the change of footwear also comes the lifestyle that accompanies it. The adverts here use the imagery of the cool and fast. It does seem to be that the more one looks like the people on the adverts, the quicker the tempo of walking.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Religious Sounds

Scattered throughout the city are temples for worship. They all seem to have the same architectural form in as much as they possess an outer gate (where the admission fee is collected), a pathway with stalls selling religious artefacts leading to an inner courtyard, and then the main temple for group worship with smaller grottos for more individual reflections.

In this inner area the sounds from the city are masked by the architecture, and so the area provides a solace from the bustle of the outside world; however, religion has its own sounds....

Here, the main sonic feature is the bell, and in the larger temples these range in size depending on their religious function (and with an appropriate price attached). If this instrument was chosen originally for its sustaining quality then this seems to have been lost through repetition. Today, as the temple goers have the bell struck they quickly move on rather than wait for the sound to completely die away.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Located throughout the city are various keep-fit 'play areas'. Instead of swings and roundabouts for the young, these are brightly coloured metallic contraptions for exercising the arms, legs and back, and used by all ages. This exercise machines all appear to be in good condition - probably they are polished and serviced regularly, as seems to be the case for most public objects - but occasionally you do find the squeaky one....

Apart from that, the exercise comes from the layout of the city: Chongqing is known as the “Mountain City” and there are steps everywhere. It is said that the climbing up and down of the mountain steps every day gives the locals a good physique. These factors contribute to the city’s sonic identity: from sandals slapping on stone as people descend the steps to the fact that the place is not easy to cycle round, and so (unusually for China) there are very few bicycles here, but many more motor vehicles.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I'm finding it an interesting puzzle to ponder which sounds to record for eventual use in my sound installation. Which sounds, for example, best sum up the Chongqing soundscape, and for how long might this be true? So much of the sound (in volume) currently is coming from developmental work, such as: road works, pavement laying, building and refurbishment. Surprisingly, as so little machinery is used for this work, the result is sonically more rich than the more usual drone of heavy power tools used in other countries.

There is an immediate purpose to all of this: from 11th -14th October Chongqing is to host the Asian Pacific Cities Summit. This is a major coup for the city as delegates from at least 96 foreign cities will descend on the city for this event focusing on the harmonious development of city, humankind and nature – at least that what it says in the advertising blurb.

So as I work on my installation, collecting, editing and manipulating sounds, Chongqing is working day and night in preparation of its own big event. My question is: what will the city sound like after this hugh development project is complete? I am therefore trying to listen through these pre-summit sounds and pay attention to what lies underneath. Not that the city’s development will cease completely after Oct 10th - I understand, for example, that the building of an art gallery has been scheduled for later on in the year, overlooking the harbour….

Thursday, September 01, 2005


Public adverts that use sound as well as moving image are becoming more common in developed areas. There's a new cinema screen style advertising board, for example, opposite the Jie Fangbei clocktower broadcasting speech and music as well as cinematic advertisements over the sound of roadworks, traffic, shops blaring their muzak(s) and general city centre hubbub. The overall soundscape is a confusing mixture of human, mechanical and digitally produced sounds mostly connected with the development of the city centre and the selling of goods.

Amazingly enough, these sounds don't seem to travel that far - probably because of all the buildings. (Sound doesn't travel well round corners). Although still audible, their intensity is quickly lost when one escapes the blare of 21st century life by exploring the many twisting lanes for which this city is famous. There the sounds are quieter and connected with home life and independent traders against a backdrop of distant modern city noise.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Autumn Tigers

This first day has mostly been concerned with the sorting out of various technical details such as choosing the best loudspeakers for the sound installation and sorting out internet access for my hotel apartment.

On this visit I am based in the centre of the yuzhong district, of which its London equivalent would probably be Piccadilly Circus/Oxford Street. Needless to say, the area is awash with sound, but not just from shoppers and motor vehicles. Almost everywhere you look there is major development in operation - pavements are being resurfaced, buildings are being built and even a new subway entrance appears to be being dug out. And, these sounds literally surround those walking around the city centre - from the splitting of stones at foot level to the cicada-type sound of a pneumatic drill appearing to emanate from the top of a skyscraper.

l was told that the weather has been rather cool lately (by Chinese standards) and from today it is expected to get hotter. Apparently, mini hot seasons of 10-12 days at the end of the summer are not uncommon and are referred to as 'autumn tigers'.