Tracing Beijing

Research output: Non-textual formComposition

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Tracing Beijing is a soundscape composition which investigates place–making and memory (McCartney 2002) within a richly varied urban soundscape that is eclectic in its cultural practice, being influenced by a range of historical and contemporary cultural factors, including globalisation; c.f. (Cheung, 2016). The piece’s inception came as the artist’s mind drifted during lengthy subway journeys punctuated by the aforementioned subway announcements, at once place–making and creating non–places, as the wider frame of global capitalism’s influence is traced via the British English accents of subway line 4 (joint–funded by the Hong Kong’s MTR railway corporation) and the American English inflections of subway line 6 (traversing the financial district). In the streets and parks, other spaces were defined and contested. Chinese traditional music, suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, can once more be performed in public, but there is still a sense of a lost generation; the musicians performing it are frequently elderly, the traditions having often lost their cultural capital amongst the young. There is a sense of temporal displacement about these performative statements, with the battles of the 1960s and 70s never too far away. Former Red Guards create their own competing space, on one memorable occasion performing in the same temple park, further speaking to contemporary China’s postmodern crossroads. These types of semi–autonomous space occur too in the traditional narrow laneways between the one–storey courtyard houses which lent Beijing its traditional sprawl, resulting in side–street soundscapes which side–step the classical urban/rural divide of the classic Schafer–inspired hi–fi and low–fi soundscape typology (Schafer 1977). Even the juxtaposition of medium–rise apartment buildings contributing a vertical definition to the soundscape without shrouding it in the masking noise of vehicular–access urbanism. Beijing is an aggregate of distinctly local spaces, with the focus inevitably tending towards the conversations and laughter in the laneway and the street corner even amidst government initiatives to remodel and redefine this distinctively intimate megacity as a typical capital. 'Tracing Beijing' was premiered at Sounding Out the Space conference, Dublin Institute of Technology; also presented at International Musik Week, Lüneberg (2018).

Reference text: Cheung, K. (2016). What do the urban soundscapes of a city represent? Case studies in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Journal of Sonic Studies 12 (2016).

McCartney, A. (2002). "Circumscribed journeys through soundscape composition." Organised Sound 7, no. 1 (2002).

Schafer, M. (1977). The Tuning of the World, New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. Republished as The soundscape: Our sonic environment and the tuning of the world. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherTechnological University Dublin
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2017


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

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    Brian Bridges

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    Bridges, B. (Author). (2017). Tracing Beijing. Composition, Technological University Dublin.