City tourism: Sound-hearing soon enhancing Sight-seeing?


What are the sounds usually associated with a city? The irritating ones issued from cars hooting, tyres screeching, trams rumbling, from air-conditioning units humming relentlessly? From ambulances swishing by with sirens amplified by the Doppler effect that hurts our eardrums and sets our minds on alert? When embarking on a trip to a busy metropolis, an undistinguishable concoction of man-made noise will have to be tolerated as an inevitable part of the package. Positive connotations are asking for more pleasant experiences, though.

Conquering an urban jungle by mapping it out via the typical sounds it exudes, is an idea temporarily put into practice in Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam during an “ambient marketing” campaign: from interactive audio billboards, the “Sounds of the City” could be tapped by means of a personal headphone plugged into jacks directly embedded in the “neighbourhoods” of choice.

Sounds of the City billboards evoking great interest.

Sounds of the City billboards evoking great interest…

Window and microphone: Some sounds are far too private to be shared. :-)

… but some sounds are far too private to be shared. :-)

An audio database for urban explorations

The characteristics the individual neighbourhood in a city may hold in stock is what really intrigues our senses: foreign tongues spoken imply broadband diversity, local produce puffered by market vendors freshness, laughing children happiness, ringing church-bells and droning organ music peace and ceremony. Accordion players seducing passers-by into improvised Tango moves epitomise a zest for life we would like to have a share in. And when the vivid chatter from local restaurant gardens lures us over to randomly sample what might vociferously be sizzling in an iron wok, a mutual win-win situation is established.

This video „Sounds of the City“ perfectly illustrates the options given. It has been created by the Paris-based agency Rosapark for Thalys, the Belgian railway company as a component of a marketing concept. For the billboards, thousands of „sound identities“ were captured in Paris (1460), Brussels (1889) and Amsterdam (1352):

The „Sounds of the City“ ambient marketing protagonists

Thalys operates high-speed trains linking four countries: Belgium, France, The Netherlands and Germany. Founded in 1996, its „multicultural rail service“ has seen more than 100 million passengers. WiFi on board was introduced as early as in 2008 and the management system ERTMS – specialising in products compatible with the European railway signalisation norm ERTMS/ETCS – promises long-term efficiency. Their red trains travel from Paris to Brussels in 1 hour 22 minutes, to Cologne and Amsterdam in approx. three hours and a quarter.

Rosapark founders Jean-Francis-Sacco, Gilles Fichteberg and Jean-Patrick Chiquiar consider themselves „healthy paranoiacs“ – permanently on alert and constantly questioning their achievements in an ever-changing world.
„Pedestrians were invited to plug in with their personal headphones and start exploring. Headphones are often used to block out a city. With (…) Sounds of the City, they were an opportunity to rediscover one.“

The billboard containing the sounds of Paris is still active in a Thalys lounge in Paris.

Video and images are by courtesy of ©Thalys/Rosapark

All images are screenshots taken from the video.