Urban Auscultation: Perceiving the Action of the Heart

New article by Shannon Mattern at Places Journal on urban soundscape and the importance of listening to the city nowadays.

“For months, the Covid-19 virus has passed from body to body around the world. Its corporeal work is silent, but it reshapes the soundscape wherever it goes. 1 Coughs and sneezes turn paranoid heads; ventilators whoosh in hospital rooms; streets go suddenly quiet, as people shelter inside. Kids home from school create a new daytime soundtrack, and neighbors gather on balconies in the evening, to sing together or applaud health workers. As physicians monitor the rattle of afflicted lungs, the rest of us listen for acoustic cues that our city is convalescing, that we’ve turned inward to prevent transmission.

These new sounds and silences are so affecting because cities have long been defined by their din: by the density and variety of human voices and animal sounds; the clamor of wheels on cobblestones; the mechanical clangs, electrical hums, and radio babble; the branded ringtones and anti-loitering alarms. Most hearing people are adept at interpreting the cacophony. We know which of the sounds within our radius need attention and which can be ignored. At times of crisis or change, our senses are heightened, recalibrated. As we adjust to new spatial confines, to an altered sense of time, we also retune our hearing. Seismologists, for instance, have registered the Covid-19 shutdowns as a quietness that helps them perceive tectonic movements.”

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