SOUND AND THE CITY was created in response to the Chinese city of Chongqing in September 2005 after an invitation by The British Council to create a work for the opening of the cityís new Planning and Development museum.
The work was created in response to not only the sounds of the city itself but also an extensive community programme reaching out to the people of Chongqing. This request was for descriptions of the publicís favourite sounds and especially those that were unique to the city or helped to define it in some way. People from all walks of life contributed their descriptions, pointing Robert in the direction of what to record and how to organise the visual element. Attention was paid to how often sounds were mentioned as well as how they were described, and in this way an understanding was gained of not only how the city sounded but also how the sounds were perceived. These understandings informed how Robert worked with the sounds in a musical context as well as providing the material for the visual part of the installation.
The result is a four dimensional sound piece that visitors walk into and experience from within. As the visitor listens to the sounds moving around them they are also surrounded by the installationís visual element. This is composed of the submitted descriptions of the sounds that acoustically define Chongqing. These are written vertically in Chinese characters and hung side by side on the four gallery walls making an abstract connection with the City centreís skyline.
The ideal space for the installation is a room of about eight metres square, although owing to the flexibility of the piece it is possible for it to be housed in a smaller or larger space and one that is more rectangular shaped. The sound is played on four loudspeakers, one in each corner, and is controlled by a DVD player, so daily set up is very simple.
The work questions the musicality of our cities, not just Chongqing. As we are becoming more adept in describing where we live in terms of what we see, it asks whether it is time to also consider how we would like our cities to sound. As such, the work offers many opportunities for educational projects as well as novel ways for engaging with the wider public. Possibilities range from submissions of favourite sounds through to the creation of a response piece, made up of the sounds of the host town, for a comparison of the works.