Listening to Oikos

The Making of Soundtrackcity’s Home Expedition Guide, Homing inside out

Abstract: Sharon Stewart is one of the contributors to Homing inside out: A listening guide for home quarantine, which is produced in collaboration between Soundtrackcity, Stichting The Mystifiers, and STEIM Foundation Amsterdam. This contribution discusses how a sense of home is established through the sounds we hear and make, day after day. Relationships are drawn between the Covid-19 semi-lockdowns and regulations, the work of Soundtrackcity, and the work of sound artist Elise ’t Hart. This is followed by a listen—as told during an online meeting of Walk Listen Create—into the process of developing the idea for this do-it-yourself home listening guide. The piece concludes with statements made by the individual contributors in response to the question of how listening might contribute to a (unique) relationship to home.

Keywords: oikos, lockdown, soundscape, home, listening guide


What does home sound like to you? This might resonate differently within you to the question: What does your house sound like right now?

With the first question, layers of memories and auralisations1 (aural imaginings) might arise. Some might be linked to dwellings within which you have stayed for a shorter or longer time, the home of a relative, or even a temporary dwelling place filled with the sounds of familiar voices and routines. Perhaps the question fills you with sadness or apprehension as harsh voices or painful silences echo once again. Or, perhaps you have or are experiencing periods of homelessness or nomadic existence,2 and your inner ears search for the sounds and resonances that mean you are safe to rest within the gentle hum of a certain stability or familiarity.

What does home sound like to you? Memories that arise for me are the serenades of frogs in a decorative pond in Pasadena, California, that I am told delighted me, but whose exact song I can no longer remember. The sounds of 1970s cars, broad-seated, rocking me to sleep. Long evenings in North Georgia, balmy, drenched in the chirping of crickets. The garage door opening, early each morning, and the rev of my dad’s eighties Honda motorcycle leaving for work. The sound of Disney soundtracks on the LP player. The intense, terrifying stillness of being home alone, all senses on full alert. The laughter of cousins and the sing-song Alabama drawl of my grandmother, Sweet Nannie. The sound of the Fajr Adhan before sunrise each morning, emanating from the sky-blue King Abdullah I Mosque, right across the street from my apartment in Amman.

The wildly enthusiastic birds of Arnhem, shattering the air before sunrise each morning as spring turns into summer. The characteristic footfall of various family members, running up or down the steps. The turn of the key, swing of the door and thump of bags and jackets thrown onto the floor, followed by someone opening the fridge. The leaking of multiple Microsoft Teams meeting voices from the adjacent room, punctuated by the thumping of feet on the floor above my head by a video gamer who is taking a break between online classes during partial lockdown. The stop and start of flurried ticks of fingertips on the keyboard. And the sound of my sister playing piano, me playing piano, my students and other teachers playing piano in home after home after home after home.

How does sound construct the home? It is clear that human architecture and the sounds that enliven them are entangled if one considers the likely acoustically driven motivations for cave markings and drawings,3 the reverberations that mimic the voice of the quetzal4 at the Temple of Kukulcan5 at Chichén Itzá on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula; the temples at the ancient Maya city of Palenque6 in Mexico; the reverberations of sacred buildings,7 such as cathedrals,8 temples9 and mosques;10 and the meticulously designed modern Western concert hall.11 Every sound contains the information of the resonant and reverberant space in which it is heard, the corporeal structure of the listener’s own hearing system, and the imprint of the material producing it in its waveform.

How does this inform our relationship with home, most likely one of the most modifiable—in terms of floor and wall coverings, but possibly also structurally—architectural structures that an individual inhabits? Perhaps one might think of one’s home less as an architectural structure housing sounds and more as a fluid site of movement and sound. In his upcoming Epub Everyday Sounds and Sonic Materialism, Marcel Cobussen approaches the site of the room ‘as an active agent rather than a given frame or a fixed form’ […] whose ‘existence unfolds and evolves over the course of time […]. Domestic spaces, the human and nonhuman bodies present in those spaces, and the homey soundscape converge into an assemblage and mutual dependence of architecture, materials, and sounds, unfolding in the immanent cohabitation of all these agents.’ In other words, it is through cohabitation and auditory engagement that ‘the acoustic space takes shape.’12

In a recent Studium Generale podcast—Sounding Places / Listening Places, #2a Urban and Domestic Listenings: Peter Cusack and Elise ’t Hart (2021)—Joep Christenhusz presents the work of sound artist Elise ’t Hart. In the last half of the podcast (from 30m 53s), you can hear the account of how ’t Hart initiated the Institute for Domestic Sound (Instituut voor Huisgeluid), which has developed into an extensive archive of sounds from our households. Listening to this podcast and the work of ’t Hart, including sounds from her Lockdown Archive (Lockdown Archief), can give you a deeper sense of how sound constructs our homes and the feeling of being at home.

Moving from this more general discussion of the shaping of the home through sound toward the story of the making of this do-it-yourself home listening guide, I turn to the primary initiator, Soundtrackcity. My first contact with Soundtrackcity took place in July of 2013, when I enjoyed, with my Journal of Sonic Studies13 editorial team colleagues, the Rotterdam soundwalk by Lee Patterson, entitled ‘Of steel and water, the city tunes itself.’ With headphones and a small iPod player, I experienced the expanded reality of a mediated soundwalk. The magic, for me and many others, lies in the expanded listening both during and after such a walk. Suddenly ambient sounds are no longer easily filtered out; they capture one’s attention and the imagination; they might mean something, yet otherwise.

In March 2020, in a gesture of generosity and solidarity with those staying at home during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Soundtrackcity released their entire collection of soundwalks for online enjoyment. And my last live experience walking on the streets with Soundtrackcity took place in February 2019, with Urban Sound Lab’s listening walk through the Diamantbuurt in Amsterdam, a collective walk with headphones on, listening to the stories told by residents of the sounds of their neighborhood, the Diamantbuurt.14

As you might have noticed from these two stories, in a process of evolution from their original focus on soundwalks, ‘[s]ince 2009, Soundtrackcity has developed from a curatorial collective into an artistic research platform that focuses on the social, political and cultural-social meaning of sound in cities. In collaboration with city residents and professionals from different fields, Soundtrackcity develops unique projects to test new research methods and collectively put into practice new ways of listening to the city.’15 You can look up some of their current community projects at: Sonic West, Crowdsourcing Mr. Visserplein and Urban Sound Lab.

On May 4, 2020, I was invited via email by Michiel Huijsman to contribute to ‘a sort of do-it-yourself home expedition based on the concept of the luisterwandeling [literally: listening walk] of Urban Sound Lab from Soundtrackcity.’ Instead of creating one way of listening, they were inviting various makers or professionals to share their perspectives on listening in order to ‘create different listening worlds.’16 This was inspired by both the listening guide for the Sarphatipark as well as the restraints and variations we were experiencing due to Covid-19 regulations. Given the periodic (semi-)lockdowns and sporadic individual or family states of quarantine, some of us were experiencing unprecedented stretches of aloneness, while others were engulfed within the constant activity of a full home with very little chance of escape.

The following story has been gleaned from an online meet-up with Soundtrackcity, moderated by Andrew Stuck and hosted on the Walk Listen Create: Home of walking performers platform. You can watch the entire meeting and take part in performing a couple of scores on YouTube here:

As the repercussions of the Covid-19 regulations were becoming evident in 2020, Renate Zentschnig, Michiel Huijsman and Vivian Mac Gillavry were invited by Guy Wood to an online discussion with a handful of artists and people working in the cultural sector. Guy had been exploring collaborations between the former art institution STEIM—with their studio for technology and electronic music making—and his stichting or foundation in Amsterdam, called The Mystifiers, an inclusive orchestra/collective, who bring awareness and visibility to issues related to homelessness in collaboration with partnered organisations and service providers within the homeless care sector in the Netherlands.

The Mystifiers had developed a multimedia performance ‘Slow Down Amsterdam,’ whose final series of live performances became impossible to present during lockdown.17 During the course of this discussion, which was originally about creating another soundwalk, the idea arose of creating a listening guide for listening in the home. While the Sarphatipark listening guide had approached listening to the soundscape in a sort of Cagean way, as if the environmental sounds are music(al material), their online discussion led them to choose an approach toward listening as a way of establishing a connection to your environment, your small world, or even sound as a way of performing. The final publication was actually made possible by STEIM, who provided funds for the making of the guide.18

So, finally, I turn toward an invitation to you, right now, to download Homing inside out—a listening guide for home quarantine and to get started on a do-it-yourself exploration of your own home, organised under the themes: Embodied listening by Sharon Stewart; Listening to yourself by Vivian Mac Gillavry; Listening within by Michiel Huijsman; and Sounds to create by Guy Wood.

When I asked the authors to share with us how they think listening can provide a person with a (unique) relationship to home, they responded as follows:

The moment I started paying attention to the sounds of my home, it became clear to me that this is just as important as, for example, its looks. It must also sound like home! For me, that involves knowing the sounds that your home makes: the melody of the washing machine or doorbell, but also the sound your table makes when you put down your drink or the squeaky sound of opening up your cupboard door. My contribution to the booklet focuses on the inner voice perspective, and I tried to link the scores to certain spots in your house. Hopefully making people more aware of the sounds in their homes. (Vivian Mac Gillavry, private communication, June 21, 2021)

Listening, when allowed its own space and time to really exist, can bring a deep and profound relationship to the place you call ‘home.’ It creates a conscious and subconscious chain of emotional memory and unique personalised experiences. Developing this inner tuning and submersion into the ‘home’ space provides us with core growth on a human level, creating a kind of resilience and tool kit to connect with spaces that may not be ‘home.’ In contributing to the Homing inside out listening guide, I tried to bring my experience of the home as a sonic, playful and musical space and to encourage others (musicians or not) to also experiment and play with their environment as a way to stimulate a sense of deep listening. (Guy Wood, private communication, June 24, 2021)

As a child of emigrants, my early childhood was marked by the constant need to adjust to new places, new people, new languages and new homes. I remember going to at least seven primary schools, spread across different countries on different continents, which was fun and exciting. Yet, at the same time it was a recurring exercise in leaving everything behind. So for me, the concept of home was never a stable one. At the same time I have very vivid and fond memories of places in which I felt at home, and in my experience listening does play a great part in the creation of this feeling or bond. The relationship to home is personal, and in a way it is more than only a relationship: it is the disappearance of boundaries between yourself and the world. What better way to accomplish this than by listening? Listening back into my childhood, memories arise. I come home from playing outside on the vast slope of the mountain. It is summertime, and the sounds of insects are ubiquitous and almost deafening; the grass is longer than me, and everything emits its own special fragrance. Altogether, it smells familiar. When I enter our house, it is suddenly very cool and quiet, soothing qualities that seem to emanate from the giant rock that takes up almost half of the space of the only room of this house. The rock inhabits the house, and we are welcomed by it. I feel at home. Now, 50 years later, I wonder if the rock still lives inside there … (Michiel Huijsman, private communication, June 28, 2021).

For me, home is a place where you can laugh, fight, nap, dream, play, try to find privacy and negotiate daily routines with your homemates as well as your neighbours. Developing a more aware relationship with my sonic environment in the home has given me a sense of agency, to feel deeply which sounds nourish me and to set healthy boundaries to nurture those sounds and protect myself from sounds that drain or harm me. It has also helped me to understand how we are all listening with each other, understanding that everything around me is listening to me as well, and that I have a response-ability to listen with others in this shared sonic space. My ‘Embodied listening’ scores are inspired by the Deep Listening® practice and written for those who listen in all ways, both with the anatomical ear and auditory centers of the brain and otherwise. As I write on page four of the Homing inside out guide: ‘Embodied listening is also—and in many cases especially—practised by those whose ears function non-typically, and there is much to learn from those of us who have learned to listen in other ways.’

What does your house sound like right now?

Whether you dive into Homing inside out or not, I truly hope you enjoy each moment you have to explore and create your home through listening and sounding.


With a big thanks to Soundtrackcity, The Mystifiers, STEIM and Walk Listen Create

Sharon Stewart

Sharon Stewart studied at the Utrecht School of the Arts, Faculty of Music, and the Royal Conservatoire, The Hague. She has a private piano practice in Arnhem, creates (electroacoustic) sound works and installations, serves as Associate Editor of the Journal of Sonic Studies, and is currently an independent researcher for the Professorship Theory in the Arts at ArtEZ University of the Arts in the Netherlands. She was introduced to Deep Listening® by founder Pauline Oliveros, IONE, and Heloise Gold and is currently a core teacher for the online programme offered by the Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Bibliography

Bibliography

References

A term coined by architect Mendel Kleiner and used by composer, writer, and humanitarian Pauline Oliveros when ‘referring to inner sound and sounding, or sounds and sounding perceived subjectively through inner listening.’ Pauline Oliveros, ‘Auralizing in the Sonosphere: Vocabulary for Inner Sound and Sounding,’ in: Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992-2009 (Kingston: Deep Listening Publications, 2010), pp. 22-25, p. 22.

Kevin Toksöz Fairbairn, ‘Space, Sound, and the Home(less),’ Journal of Sonic Studies 21 (2021), n.p.

Petter Snekkestad, ‘The Cave and Church in Tomba Emmanuelle. Some Notes on the Ritual Use of Room Acoustics,’ Journal of Sonic Studies 15 (2017), n.p.

Article in website Atlas Obscura. (n.d.). ‘Chichen Itza Chirp.’

numlockoff. Chichen Itza : Sound of Bird and Snake [Video]. YouTube. (7 December 2008).

Article in website National Geographic, Ker Than. ‘Ancient Maya Temples Were Giant Loudspeakers?’ (18 December 2010).

Dorothea Baumann & Christina Niederstätter, ‘Acoustics in Sacred Buildings,’ Building Types Online (Berlin: Birkhäuser, 2016).

A. Alonso, R. Suárez, and J.J. Sendra, ‘Virtual reconstruction of indoor acoustics in cathedrals: The case of the Cathedral of Granada’, Build. Simul. 10 (2017), pp. 431–446.

Dongxu Zhang, Chunxiao Kong, Mei Zhang & Qi Meng, ‘Courtyard Sound Field Characteristics by Bell Sounds in Han Chinese Buddhist Temples,’ Applied Sciences, 10 (2020), No. 4, p. 1279.

Özgül Yılmaz Karaman & Neslihan Onat Güzel, ‘Acoustical Properties of Contemporary Mosques: Case Study of ‘Bedirye Tiryaki Mencik Mosque’, Manisa,’ YBL Journal of Built Environment 5 (2017), No. 1, 14-30.

Trevor J. Cox & Peter D'Antonio, ‘Engineering art: the science of concert hall acoustics,’ Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 28 (2003), No. 2, pp. 119-129.

Marcel Cobussen, Everyday Sounds and Sonic Materialism, forthcoming (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2022). Page numbers as yet unknown.

Interestingly enough, and certainly a sign of the collective experience of Covid-19 regulations, the most recent issue of the Journal of Sonic Studies, number 21, is ‘Sound at Home 1: Territory, Materiality and the Extension of Home.’

The Diamantbuurt (Diamond Neighbourhood) of Amsterdam was built in the Amsterdam School style in the 1920s. It was the site of the Asscher Diamond Cuttery, which employed many craftsmen from the Jewish community, while their families resided in blocks with arbeiderspaleizen (worker’s palaces). See ‘Diamantbuurt’ in the JoodsAmsterdam website.

Taken the About page of the Soundtrackcity website and translated from Dutch into English by the author. ‘Soundtrackcity heeft zich sinds 2009 ontwikkeld van curatorencollectief tot artistiek onderzoeksbureau dat zich richt op de sociale, politieke en cultureel-maatschappelijke betekenis van geluid in steden. In samenwerking met stadsbewoners en professionals uit verschillende vakgebieden ontwikkelt Soundtrackcity unieke projecten om nieuwe onderzoeksmethoden uit te testen en gezamenlijk nieuwe manieren van luisteren naar de stad in praktijk te brengen. De actuele buurtprojecten zijn: Sonic West, Crowdsourcing Mr. Visserplein en Urban Sound Lab.’

Personal email correspondence between the author and Michiel Huijsman.

Listen to Guy Wood from 17m 41s to 18m 31s: Walk Listen Create, Online meet-up with Soundtrackcity: Creating a DIY home-expedition guide in listening [Video], YouTube (February 3, 2021).

Listen to Renate Zentschnig & Michiel Huijsman from 8m 5s to 18m 31s: Walk Listen Create, Online meet-up with Soundtrackcity: Creating a DIY home-expedition guide in listening [Video], YouTube (February 3, 2021).