It's hard to turn a deaf ear to the sounds of life in the city
If you accept my recent proposition about 'aural architecture', and imagine buildings that can be heard but not seen, you can quickly comprehend the impact this shift would have on design. Responding to a different sense would create a new architecture. Fashions for forms would become nonsensical as the ear replaced the eye in the assessment of the pleasures and disappointments of architecture. Think of the tricks that film directors play. I am thinking particularly of Jacques Tati's world, where architecture is the strange juxtaposition of sound and action, conveying the daily struggle as people interface with places.
Tati's film Playtime celebrated the delights and irritations of the 'sound' of architecture.
Clearly a building should be described as much for the satisfying click of a closing door as for the shape and finish of its ironmongery.
All cities have different sounds, depending on their orchestra of transport: trains, planes, cars, motorbikes, Vespas, tuk-tuks and the passing bass of the occasional mobile sound system. Through TV we are now familiar with the sirens of the world's emergency services. It was disconcerting to be comforted in New York by a wailing police car - for me that wail is the sound of my childhood and Saturday nights watching Kojak. Car noise is not, I contend, the problem; the real issue is the pumped-up volume of horns and sirens, encouraging abuse and rage.
The other nightmare of aural architecture comes from the escalating use of the recorded voice that, until a few years ago, was unique to the phone. Now, just as Tati warned us in Playtime, the disturbingly steady tonality and dumb bleating is ubiquitous. There is a book to be written on the aural bombardment that is now part of our daily experience. Precedent comes in the form of the once-fashionable novel Perfume, which highlighted the peculiarities of a world perceived through the olfactory sense. This came to mind following an evening of listening to the strangely familiar sounds of M Hulot's Holiday: the swinging door, the car horn and the voice, always just off-screen. Tati, a mime artist, was of course fascinated by sound. In one scene he pokes fun at the appalling noise (and, if you can hear it, information) offered by the railway announcer, which is sending holidaymakers scurrying from one wrong platform to another.
The following day, nearly half a century on, I was reminded of this as I experienced the aural assault that is transport. I became oblivious to the pleasures of the excellent architecture (including trains) of the Jubilee Line as recorded voice after recorded voice advised me that a train was approaching, that we were approaching, that doors were closing (we knew by the incessant bleep) and, yes, we had minded the gap. But it reached the high, or low, point at London Bridge. Whoever now runs the stations embarked upon some bland apology for delay, with regret at any inconvenience caused, but requesting that we stand back as the late train is now arriving.
All as usual, except that the identical recorded message being conveyed on the two adjacent platforms was two seconds out of synch and one voice was male, the other female.
This was an assault on the ear of such comic genius that I could only smile and jump on the train with the battery of mobile callers. As so often, there was a suited lunatic whose senses were so affronted he lambasted one quiet and considerate mobile-phone user. Fortunately the comic moment before ensured that the raging lunatic, for once, was not me;
unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, I was the one in receipt of abuse for aural assault by conversation on Nokia. Clearly there really is much for us all to talk about.