Art in Public
BETWEEN INQUIRY & CONTROL
SVEN ANDERSON OUTLINES A PROJECT BASED ON EMBEDDING HIMSELF WITHIN DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL AS AN URBAN ACOUSTIC PLANNER / SOUND DESIGNER.
My project ‘Manual for Acoustic Planning and Urban Sound Design’ (MAP) is based on temporarily exploring the role of an urban acoustic planner / sound designer within Dublin City Council (DCC). The work that I am performing via this role is engaged with the potential of the city’s sound environment, focusing on urban design, planning and issues around public space.
I proposed MAP in response to DCC’s Per Cent for Art commissioning project ‘Interacting with the City’, launched in June 2012. At an information session Ruairi Ó Cuív, DCC’s Public Arts Manager, outlined DCC’s interest in proposals for projects that engaged with the diverse resources of the city council, not just in terms of locations and permissions, but also with respect to the range of skillsets, knowledge and people within the organsation.
MAP was a direct response to this suggestion – a proposal to embed myself within the council over the course of a year as an urban acoustic planner / sound designer. I was trying to shift the conversation about sound in public spaces from the project’s origins (as a ‘public art’ commission) to become an interface with different departments and control structures within the council. Rather than beginning with broader research and reducing it to a concise formal outcome, my goal was the exact opposite: to start with this simple gesture and then encourage it to expand into a field of processes that would extend beyond the boundaries of the commission; and to see how much influence it might exert on the council’s approach to sound in the public realm.
The core concept of MAP was very closely tied to my own practice as an artist working with sound, but also simultaneously linked to a broader collective legacy of endevour and enquiry – one that has fought to secure a tangential yet productive relationship with civic authorities for some time. The concept of the urban acoustic designer can be traced back to R M Schaffer’s book The Tuning of the World (1978), a formative text for the discipline of acoustic ecology. Within the same timeframe, Max Neuhaus (born 1939) and other first-generation sound artists sought to situate sound installations in public spaces, where they would be experienced in relation to the city instead of within the confines of the gallery.
The MAP project draws both from this history and the energy of the present. In recent times the discipline of sound studies has gained momentum in mainstream academia, and there is now a fairly dense body of work that has arisen from practice-based research exploring site-specific sound and the politics of listening. In addition to this, the relationship between the city and information and communication technologies suggests a multitude of hybrid architectural experiments that explore dynamic experiential forms within the event-space of the city.
At the outset of the project in March 2013, the responsibilities attached to the role that I had created for myself were quite challenging. DCC Arts Office initiated a series of meetings in which I introduced myself to senior staff in the planning and city architects’ departments, and to other staff whose roles were related to the themes of the project. Following this, I had to follow up connections on my own initiative in order to generate momentum to move the project forward. I’d proposed that I work at this job part-time, based in the planning department and also working from my studio when necessary. Following further research and presentations, I decided to set myself within The Studio, an innovation unit based in DCC’s Wood Quay head quarters. The Studio comprises a small multi-disciplinary group of individuals drawn from a range of council departments (1).
Reactions to my presence were generally positive but varied. After all, my project raised challenging ideas and questions, most significantly in the idea that the urban sound environment might be considered not as a negative set of conditions that ought to be suppressed – in terms of noise control policies – but as a positive element of the city that might suggest new forms of design. Likewise my role as an urban acoustic planner / sound designer implied that DCC should devote resources towards aspects of the city’s environment and experience that it wouldn’t ordinarily have claimed or acknowledged a significant responsibility towards.
In order to move my agenda forward and to embed the project within the council’s active workflow, I chose to adapt my approach and methodologies to complement DCC’s existing planning processes, public realm strategies and noise control policies. This approach seemed to generate authentic exchanges with the council, and MAP’s outcomes emerged from conversations and partnerships that developed over projects duration.
At the time of writing I’m working to complete the project’s most public outcomes: two urban sound installations that will be installed this August. The first is a (currently untitled) work sited in Smithfield Square, made in collaboration with the Light House Cinema; the second is Continuous Drift, sited in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, which I’ve been on with architect Sean Harrington. Continuous Drift will feature work by Bik Van der Pol, Karl Burke, Taylor Deupree, FM3, Russell Hart, Brandon Labelle, Slavek Kwi, Danny McCarthy, Dennis McNulty, Raqs Media Collective, Garrett Phelan, Sarah Pierce, Steve Roden, Dawn Scarfe, Jed Speare, Stalker/ON, Wolfgang Voigt, Mark Peter Wright and Miki Yui.
These semi-permanent public sound installations underscore a strategy based on provoking questions regarding the urban sound environment through public listening experiences. The works are integrated into the city on a scale that is both spatially and temporally legible in relation to the public realm. Given that these installations are traces of a larger project, their existence as ‘urban prototypes’ suggests a shared authorship between myself and Dublin City Council. I believe that between these explorations of the urban acoustic realm and DCC’s continuing efforts in relation to noise control policies lies a vast field of inquiry that could be the basis of serious future exploration into the potential for urban acoustic planning and design.
Alongside the installations, I also worked with DCC, the Goethe Institute and NCAD to present a series of symposiums entitled Between Noise and Silence: Listening for the City (2 April – 8 May), which explored, over the course of three events, the potential for sound art and the urban sound environment (2). Each session allowed a focused community of interested individuals to discuss the MAP project themes from various perspectives. There were presentations from both local and international artists, curators, architects, engineers, and researchers, with an opening presentation by German sound artist Christina Kubisch.
MAP has also benefitted from an international support network. It was first presented within the final conference of the ‘Soundscape of European Cities and Landscapes COST action’ in Merano (18 – 21 March 2013). I explored the project’s ties to a larger research framework that I am developing through the concept of ‘minor architecture’ in the paper Toward a Minor Architecture: Manual for Acoustic Planning at the Art in Public Space conference in Budapest (14 – 16 November 2013) (3). More recently I discussed the project at the ‘Recomposing the City’ conference in Belfast (8 May 2014). Throughout the year I scheduled research meetings to provide an interface between MAP and similar strands of work in Stockholm, Berlin and Brussels.
To me, some of the most significant demonstrations of the project’s impact have been subtle: seeing a post about the Listening for the City symposium appear on the Dublin City Architects’ blog; discussions regarding the maintenance of the sound installations that are currently being integrated into the city’s infrastructure; and longer-term conversations with the communities that will experience these installations. Currently I’m working to integrate MAP into the Planners Workbook, a document published by DCC’s planning department, which would mark a significant step towards ensuring the project’s legibility within the local authority frameworks.
Following through with the realities that this collaborative project continues to be a challenging but rewarding experience: from working with the public lighting department setting up the infrastructure for the installation in Smithfield Square to discussing MAP in relation to existing environmental noise action plans. While the project’s title implies that it might be possible to create a discrete ‘manual’ documenting its activities and manifestitations, I actually see the MAP commission as a potential preface and preview for an even larger body of work, both on my part and by Dublin City Council and other local authorities.
2. An overview of the symposia’s aims and each session’s focus can be found at map.minorarchitecture.org/listening-for-the-city/
3. “Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature 1975) describe minor literature as emerging from a minority culture expressed within or through a majority language … we might imagine the concept of a minor architecture with the same potential, in which alternative spatial practices … perform as parasites upon and within the fields of architecture and urban design …” – ref: map.minorarchitecture.org