The ‘Sounds of the City’ workshops played a central role in the development of the project. Specifically targeted at groups of young people and elderly members of the community, these workshops aimed primarily at raising awareness of everyday sound, past and present. By facilitating an engagement with sound through personal and community experience, the project exposes key aspects of life in Belfast.
As the workshop sessions developed, a number of themes and recurring elements began to emerge. These became a framework for the design of an exhibition which aims to externalize and present publically a range of experiences of the city through sound.
Sounds of the City was developed around two community centres in Belfast: Tar Isteach and Dee Street Community Centre. Workshops at Tar Isteach community center took place over a period of six weekly sessions each lasting an hour. Tar Isteach is a community-based organization in North Belfast that focuses on working with ex-republican prisoners, their families and the wider local community. Outside of these workshops participants were interviewed, set exercises and invited to make field recordings both independently and along with members of the team from Sonic Arts Research Centre. Participants from the community consisted of Tar Isteach’s youth worker, two elderly members of the community and a group of teenagers from the local area, ranging in age from thirteen to seventeen.
Dee Street Community Center is located in East Belfast, bringing together a diverse range of community members. The center organizes various classes, outings and activities, supplies access to computers, and acts as a base from which local residents can interact and socialize with one another. ‘Sounds of the City’ workshops took place here over a period of five sessions, conducted with elderly members of the community and a group of local teenagers. The first workshop combined both generations, while others specifically engaged with each. These sessions consisted of interviews, listening exercises, instrument building and sound documentation in order to supply material for exhibition. The group was also interviewed and invited to participate in field recording sessions outside of workshop hours.
The workshops employed a variety of methods, ranging from activities derived from acoustic ecology and soundscape studies to exploratory sessions in instrument building. Recordings and exercises focused on developing listening strategies and documenting auditory events and experience in the local area. Interviews centered upon sound memories and past soundscapes of Belfast, inevitably branching out into explorations of the cities history from personal perspectives. In addition to sound recording, textual and graphic methods of representing a soundscape were explored with a view to better articulate the experience of listening.