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Machinery, traffic and other people make our existence loud as hell – but can we use technology to retune the urban world?
I have heard the future, and it sounds like dog food sliding slowly out of a can. In Terminator 2, that’s the sound the film-makers used when the liquid T-1000 walked straight through the bars of a prison cell.
Should you live long enough to get your own Tie fighter, you will (according to Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt) be tooling around emitting the sound of a “drastically altered elephant bellow”. Perhaps more than any other professionals – well, certainly more than those who don’t spend their office hours pulling chickens apart in front of a microphone – these designers have considered what cities might sound like in years to come.
Privately, we sound-design our lives more and more. City streets are like silent discos, with everyone lost in their own headphone-driven mix. But beyond that lies the shared urban environment – a neglected mashup that also needs designing. In a world where we are increasingly given the chance to customise our output, how do you orchestrate a planet where a Gangnam ringtone collides with the sound of a 1970s camera shutter from a smartphone, in a tube station resonating with Vivaldi to deter loitering, while the guy next to you shout-announces to some remotely interested party that he is “About to get on the tube! I said The! Tube! … “? What is the future sound of cities?