Tracing Beijing

Research output: Non-textual formComposition

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Context and Research Aims

Tracing Beijing is a soundscape-based electroacoustic composition which investigates place–making and memory within the varied urban soundscapes of Beijing: the production and contestation of public space via contexts including the socio-political and historical, contemporary capital and globalisation, and contested urban renewal projects.

Methodology and Findings

The piece’s inception came during lengthy subway journeys punctuated by recorded announcements that situated and displaced; the British English accents of subway line 4 (Hong Kong joint-funded) and the American inflections of the financial district’s subway line 6 signal an obvious political economy, whilst other lines commemorate the former city walls. In the streets and parks, other spaces are defined and contested through sound. Chinese traditional music, suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, is publicly performed, though with resonances of the conflicts of the 1960s and 70s as elderly musicians who had to hide their instruments neighbouring former Red Guards singing Maoist hymns.

Beijing’s production of sonic space occurs in the narrow hutong laneways between traditional one-storey courtyard houses: side–street soundscapes which side–step the classical urban/rural divide of the classic Schafer-inspired hi–fi/low–fi typology; even the newer addition of medium-rise apartment buildings contributes a vertical definition to the soundscape without completely shrouding it in the masking noise of vehicular urbanism. Beijing is an aggregate of distinctly local spaces even amidst government initiatives to remodel this intimate megacity as a more typical, even generic, capital, with rebuilding, and even demolition, of hutong districts. ‘Tracing Beijing’ reflects an urban soundscape at the crossroads, embodying the tensions of its past even as it sometimes erases them in search of a brightly-lit, but perhaps sonically-faded, technocratic future.


'Tracing Beijing' premiered at Sounding Out the Space conference, Dublin. Also: International Music Week, Lüneberg (2018), New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (2020).
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDublin
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 4 Nov 2017


  • music
  • spatial
  • soundscape
  • multichannel
  • place–making
  • urban
  • Beijing
  • China
  • Asia


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