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The Sounding City


Admission Requirements

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an honours elective in the Honours College programme. There are limited spots available for second-year and third-year non honours students. Admission will be based on motivation.


Sound surrounds and envelops us, whether we are indoors or out, at work or at play, in cities or in the country. We hear voices, vehicles, birds, wind in trees, machinery, footsteps, raindrops, telephones, the hum and beeps of our electronics, dogs barking, streets musicians. Sound is always present, and our ears are always switched on, even when we are asleep.

Sound is one of the most significant, yet least-discussed aspects of public spaces in urban environments. Architects, engineers, and urban planners invariably stress the visual and tactile aspects of urban environments but often pay less or no attention to the aural consequences of their interventions; sound is often considered to be an inevitable by-product.

With the Honours Academy course The Sounding City we aim to increase the attention to the role of sound, sound design, and sounding art in urban spaces. We consider sound both as an epistemological tool and as an aesthetical instrument. First, through sound we can learn a lot about the social, political, ethical, and economic forces that are operative in a certain space: who/what is producing the sound? Who is controlling it? Which sounds are dominant? Through sound spaces are claimed and occupied but also challenged and contested. Second, sonic interventions - e.g. by sound artists - can make these forces visible but also transform them, for example to improve the overall quality and ambiance of a space.

From its start the course will combine a strong theoretical and a challenging practical track. The content is a hybrid of knowledge transmission, critical reflection, and the development of practical skills challenging students to create sounding art themselves.

Course Objectives

Students will:

  • develop awareness regarding the role and creation of sound, sound design and sounding art in public spaces;

  • study how sounds in general and sounding art in particular contribute to the general atmosphere of a public urban space: what is the social, political, and ethical role sound plays in public spaces;

  • study the influence of sound, how it changes our behaviour and transforms the function of a space;

  • develop a critical discourse towards, and reflections on, everyday urban soundscapes - their features as well as the way they are used and experienced;

  • create a basic understanding of what sound is and can be;

  • develop a hands-on relationship with sound in public space, both by recording, editing, and composing sound.


10 April (17:00 – 19:00h)
17 April (17:00 – 19:00h)
24 April (17:00 – 19:00h)
1 May (17:00 – 19:00h)
8 May (17:00 – 19:00h)
15 May (17:00 – 19:00h)
22 May (17:00 – 19:00h)
29 May (17:00 – 19:00h)
5 June (17:00 – 2100h)


Old Observatory, Leiden. Room c005.


Session 1: Introduction on Soundscapes and Acoustic Environments
Session 2: On Soundmapping and Field Recordings
Session 3: Recomposing the City (Guest Lecture)
Session 4: On Sonic Ambiences
Session 5: On Sound and the Social (Guest Lecture)
Session 6: On Soundwalks
Session 7: On Sonic Interventions
Session 8: Practical Work
Session 9: On Sounds and the Historical City & Practical Work

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • 10 lectures/seminars of 2 hours

  • Practical work (field recordings, postproduction): 40 hours

  • Soundwalk: 3 hours

  • Prep work for lectures/seminars: 4 hours per week

  • Assignments: 3 hours per week

Assessment Method

  • Seminar Assignments (weekly): 40%

  • Field recordings, composition: 25%

  • Sonic Diary: 25%

  • Performance in class: 10%

Students can only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

Please note: Attendance is compulsory.

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading List

  • Murray Schafer, R. (1977). The Soundscape

  • LaBelle, B. (2006). Background Noise

  • Kang, J. and B. Schulte-Fortkamp (2016). Soundscape and the Built Environment

  • Lacey, J. (2016). Sonic Rupture


Enrolling in this course is possible from Tuesday November 6th until Thursday November 15th 23.59 hrs through the Honours Academy, via this link. It is not necessary to register in uSis.


Prof.dr. M.A. Cobussen E.F. van der Heide MMA