When I was 10 I traveled to India, and I was mesmerised by the vibrant assembly of street sounds. Bright flashes of jiggling chimes coming from the women’s anklets, swishing sounds of women’s colourful Saris floating after them, and the jolly sounds of monkeys jumping and playfully hanging from buildings. Rickshaws horns, loud discussions and the entrance bell of temples _Ghanta sounds. But the most vivid memory I have is the echoes of a street performer, a snake charmer having a Cobra dancing to the tune of flute. It is not a picture that could be forgotten easily, when the snakes’ body becomes a vessel to carry the sounds of the flute, when the snake is resonating with the vibrations of the flute and resembling the sound in its movement. Now years later, as an architect and urban researcher, the questions are lingering, how are urban sounds, or the sounds that are within our living places, bound to vibrate through us? How the spatial sounds affect our moods and happiness?
Curious as ever, when I met Lark McIvor, musicologist and University of Edinburgh PhD researcher, neither of us could stop discussing sounds and places, and so the idea of this project was instigated. What if we could document the sounds of a happy place? How can we ask people with no background in music to express the sounds of a place that has made them happy?
Collective Sounds of Happy Places was a Digital Workshop, sponsored by the Festival of Creative Learning 2020. The Festival of Creative Learning is a series of programmes at The University of Edinburgh that has been at the forefront of encouraging Creative Learning through practice. This workshop aimed to help participants explore their happy places in the lockdown put in place for the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. During the workshop, participants from all across the world explored their respective happy places, breaking it down to its spatial features. Next, participants learnt and applied “Graphic notation” practices to the sounds they experienced in their chosen happy spaces, creating music scores. “Graphic notation” is a form of writing music apart from traditional notation. It is the representation of musical ideas using visual symbols and was employed to document people’s happy places during the lockdown and the sounds that are heard in those spatial settings. Following the workshop participants’ scores were sent to a team of musicians to be recorded and accordingly the collective sounds of happy places were brought to life through a music piece.
To explore participants’ happy places, watch the “Collective Sounds of Happy Places” video, that is composed of participant’ shared music scores, photos and videos of their happy places.
Participants were told to capture the sounds of their “Happy Place” during the Covid-19 lock down. It could have been a corner of their home or a nearby place they would pass during daily walks; no matter where it was, it was a place that has made them happy. In the end, all but one of the participants composed their happy places’ music scores based on nature and green spaces, which might not speak favourably of the architecture of our cities. For it seems all the facilities that architecture has provided for us, rather leave us with a hunger for wildlife. Andrea Palladio, one of the most influential renaissance architects, in his “Quattro libri dell’architettura” renders obtaining happiness as the reason cities were formed to begin with. Palladio explains,
“It being very probable, that man formerly lived by himself ; but afterwards, seeing he required the assistance of other men, to obtain those things that might make him happy, (if any happiness is to be found) naturally fought and loved the company of other men: whereupon of several houses, villages were formed, and then of many villages, cities, and in these public places and edifices were made.”Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books of Architecture. Edited by Isaac Ware. 1965 ed. Dover Publications, 1738. (see page 90)
After centuries of building and rebuilding cities, it is about time to gauge how fruitful were our efforts, and if the cities we are living in are making us happy.
Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books of Architecture. Edited by Isaac Ware. 1965 ed. Dover Publications, 1738.
About the Author
Negar Ebrahimi is an architect and a skilled consultant in spatial analysis with a Master of Science focused on Spatial Design: Architecture and Cities from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Prior to her studies at the Bartlett, she co-founded an architecture firm with a demonstrated history of working in the architecture & planning industry. Negar is completing a PhD in Architecture at the University of Edinburgh. She is passionate about promoting people’s wellbeing through architecture and urban design and her current research interests focus on the correlation between happiness and spatial design. When she isn’t working, you’ll find Negar reading Persian Poetry. That doesn’t tell you much, right? You’ll find more on her LinkedIn page https://www.linkedin.com/in/negar-ebrahimi/