Thinking about Sounds: ‘Sounds of a City’

When thinking of everyday sounds, whether that be where one lives, works or takes leisure, the importance of sound is rarely considered in its role in creating and forging “individual or collective identity.”[1] David Garrioch examined the importance of sounds “as crucial sources of information in semiotic systems.” [2] The importance of such systems served to “convey news, helping people to locate themselves in time and space and making the point of an auditory community.”[3] Thus through this appreciation of sound we may deploy this thinking to the example given by Alain Corbin within the History of Bells in nineteenth century Europe. Garrioch employs this argument in order to examine how sounds again served as “signals, marks of local identity, as symbols of authority and resistance, hence sites of social and political struggle.”[4] This argument may be contrasted with how we think about urban spaces now. When thinking of sound within an urban city we may view the changing nature of sounds in the community. As for beyond its integral use in seventeenth and eighteenth century sound scapes as Garrioch has proposed, Antoine Pluche has made an argument to suggest that “sound calls us busy with the things they signify but they start to tire and annoy us when they are no longer signals of anything.”[5] When thinking of this argument in relation to urban spaces, we may suggest that the role of sound still plays a vital role in community albeit to a varied degree as well as to signify a growing array of signs in different geographic regions. As for example sound is still of vital importance within middle eastern urban cities such as for example within Morocco, witnessed with the daily call to prayer. Equally the argument may be applied to the signal which the sound of the tram warning systems evokes in the city of San Francisco for local residents. Thus through examining such places, this serves to show how the role of sound occupies an important role within communities across the globe, albeit varied.


Garrioch, David, “Sounds of the City: the Soundscape of Early Modern European Towns.” Urban History 30, no. 1 (2003): 5–25. doi:10.1017/S0963926803001019.

[1] David, Garrioch, “Sounds of the City: the Soundscape of Early Modern European Towns.” Urban History 30, no. 1 (2003),p.6.

[2] Ibid., p.5.

[3] Ibid., p.5.

[4] Ibid., p.6.

[5] Ibid., p.25.

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