Walking Score

What is public sound? The church bells and the call to prayer from a mosque? Radio waves in the ether? The sirens of a police car? The Department of Public Sound commissioned researchers to investigate sound in the public domain. 


How do you experience the city without sight? Wearing blinded goggles, Smets went out with blind Rotterdammers; on a dinner date, a subway ride, a trip to the market. The cacophony of elevator music, traffic noise, air conditioners and alarm systems make the city a dizzying mess that has a very disorienting effect on your mood. Until it starts to rain. Then you hear the tapping of the rain on the street, bicycles riding through the puddles, rain falling from the leaves. The city acoustically comes alive. This lesson led to the research question “What Rotterdam sounds like?”


With this question Smets went into the Afrikaanderwijk and found many stories. City sounds, like smells, evoke intimate memories. The bombing of the city in 1940, church bells chiming on Sunday mornings, the ship horns to signal that father is coming home, the cell phone which brought personal conversation into the open. Sounds change with the spirit of the times. In Rotterdam, built on marshy ground, the sound of the pile foundation had always been part of the city’s symphony. Today’s piles are equipped with silencers, so the noise has disappeared. At the time of the survey, there was also a fierce debate over whether the mosque may call for prayer. 

The findings in the neighbourhood were presented at a dinner where everyone wore headphones. The sounds of the plates, cutlery, glasses, chairs and napkins were captured with contact microphones. Sound artist Gerben Kokmeijer turned the world upside down by amplifying the ticking dishes and chittering mouths. With each course, a personal story was told about public sound in the neighbourhood. 

Walking score

For the publication COM.POST #12 Melle Smets created a Walking score of the Afrikaanderwijk. This score is a reflection of a walking tour with Peter Altena.

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Location Rotterdam

Period 2011

Commisioned by The Player, for the program Department of Public Sound
In collaboration with Urban guide: Peter Altena , Sound design: Gerben Kokmeijer, Lecture: Kees Went, Designer prosthesis: Elske Revelman de Vries