When exploring a new place, a new city, a new part of your own city… you face a moment of anticipation, of anxiety. It is a moment of possibility. It is a moment where anything can happen.
The moment you arrive to that place you immediately start defining that place, that entity, that brand. It is defined through the interpretation of cues you get from it, through the previously acquired knowledge and through all the previous places and brands you have encountered. That moment of definition with a city of course takes much longer than trying to define a building, a brand experience or a more contained public area. A city is layers. It divulges itself slowly, progressively with the experiences which one acquires. Each of us understands these layers through the framework that is familiar to them, easy for them to understand. Thus creating an individual painting that this experience represents. Collectively becoming an awe striking mosaic of colours and experiences.
But these experiences are not flat nor are they two dimensional. They are sensory and sensual. It is a complete emersion of all the sense that help define that experience. This experience can alter with the proportion of senses involved every time you go through that experience and how differently they get engaged at each time.
I personally experience a city through sound and music. With a multitude of notes which creates a unique harmony. Even through its definition this harmony changes with the vagrant moods.
New York runs to the tunes of improv jazz.. blended with the songs of troubadour singers like tom waits and leonard cohen
the metro chugs rhythmically, over, every, section, of, the, rails chug, chug, chug… punctuating the thoughts, penetrating the core, merging with your own heart. then comes the beeping of the trucks. non constant beep rising stringent above all others. the opening and closing of storefronts. the calling out of vendors in the village market. the chatter of people. people constantly talking, humming. through that comes a laugh. loud. contagious. short. new yorks sound is fueled by the sounds of people. of its people. a unique blend of everyone from around the world. New York speak is a mixture of all languages and accents and dialects. the surprise comes when nature joins the melody and a chirping sound of a bird takes over the space in little pocket parks. or the buzzing of the fireflies in the twilight of central park. or the seagulls screeching around the edges of the island.
Paris on the other hand is more melodious. paris sounds like the accordion that is so ubiquitous along its Seine. Paris sounds of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. Blend that with Aznavour and Brassens. Add a bit of Renaud, Goldman, Johnny, Pagny, Zaza etc etc etc. maybe summing it up Paris sounds like the restos du coeur. The brain child of Coluche has basically embodied the sound of Paris. It is distinctive and it is blended. When you are walking along the streets, into the small alleys and hidden paths, you don’t walk, but you glide, you float swept by the harmony and the melody. It is mute but it makes you sing. It makes you dance with the ambulances, with their distinctive sirens, counting the steps of your valse musette, and with the accordionists, violinists, cellists in the metro and the edge of the Seine.
Going to the old world of the middle east we head to Cairo where the sound is very very different. The sound of Cairo is punctuated five times a day by the call to prayer of the Mouazzins. Even though that is a call you hear in every muslim city around the world, the Mouazzins of Cairo are very distinctive. It is intense, it is personal. It is monotonous. It is penetrating. In one of the most inhabited cities of the world this call to prayer sounds more akin to a personal conversation between the Mouazzin and God. If you listen you can hear the answer in the moments, in the seconds of silence. This is actually the same characteristic you have of all the sounds of Cairo. They sound like individual conversations, call, songs that blend together in a uniform idiosyncratic conversation between the city and it’s inhabitants. It is a thick sound that is feels immersive, permeating. Cairo is not only about the religious harmonies. It’s vernacular sounds are just as omnipresent and engaging. The sounds of the flukas on the nile blaring pop music and neon light. the call of vendors. the honking. the incessant honking and cursing in the dense traffic. Even the honking is linguistic, with significance to each type of honk. the sound of the souks, the clicking of tea glasses….Om Kolthom and Abel Haleem, Amr Diab and many other embody the sound of Cairo. It is a sound that is melancholic, sad, languorous, yet energetic, old and makes you want to move your hips, strengthen your step as you walk to the steps of a balady, local peasant dance.
Each city has a sound. Each city has a voice in which it expresses itself. It is a interspersion of all different tones and notes unique to a city, it is one of its defining factors. Sometimes it misses a beat. Sometimes it raises it’s voice in protest. Most of the time it sings in celebration of life.