Sound and the City

Ubiquitous but often ignored, urban sounds shape our experience of the city in rich and profound ways. Voices of strangers, traffic noise, the din construction, the hum and buzz of thousands of people moving simultaneously, a bird chirping on a nearby wire: our cities are awash in an intricately layered three dimensional soundscape, an urban analog to what Frank Zappa famously called “sculpture in the air.”

How do these sounds impact our experience of the city? Do we just tune them out with headphones in favor of a personal soundtrack to accompany our visual experience? How do urban sounds affect how we move, the way we feel, how we related to one another? What, in other words, is the psychogeography of the urban soundscape?

To explore these questions, the “Sound and the City” exhibition brings together a range of practitioners, from a variety of backgrounds and at different stages in their career. Terry Berlier’s Acoustic Locator reminds us of pre-digital technologies for sound location. Nathan Lynch’s History Walks is a device that can resonate the city itself to produce sounds. The City Suite: 4 Small Pieces by Shane Myrbeck and Emily Shisko explores the possibilities of using sound to present information through “data sonification.” Carlo Sturken, David Landon and Paris Yuan’s Gathering reveals relationships between environments and acoustics and the human experience. Tim Kopra’s Listening Station invites visitors out of the gallery to explore the sound experience at specific sites in the city around SPUR. Composer Nat Stookey’s Junkestra creates an original orchestral composition using instruments made from cast off urban materials. MoreLab’s Urban Ear provides the opportunity for visitors to listen to the city outside of the Urban Center in real time.

In building a frame around the experience of urban sounds from this range of artistic media and conceptual positions, the “Sound and the City” exhibition seeks to connect visitors to this important aspect of the urban experience and change the way we listen to our city.

We encourage you to explore the city with open ears. There is so much to hear.


“Sound and the City” was funded by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (YBCBD).

  • Date: November 2015 - June 2016
  • Client: SPUR
  • Location: San Francisco, CA

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