How much do the sounds around you affect your mood? How much do you need to modify a city’s soundscape to give measurable positive benefit to its citizens? This project will explore how wanted and unwanted sounds in the city can be mapped, its effects on people’s wellbeing and how communities can be built up around a series of artistic and sonic interventions tackling this issue. We are particularly inspired by the recent changes in sonic characteristics of Bristol, especially in the first lockdown when whole roads and areas went quiet due to the lack of traffic, allowing quieter sounds to emerge.

Much like air quality, the sounds of our cities have been shown to affect our wellbeing and health (Source: WHO, Defra). We’ll explore using citizen science to observe existing soundscapes and capture individuals’ perceptions. This will build public engagement and highlight the issue of noise pollution in the city. We’ll use the engagement to modify and reduce the issue through interventions of sonic art installations, both building instruments to play the city and equipping buildings to become instruments.

Our project has three distinct phases. Mapping the soundscapes of Bristol, Building Instruments and creating a Sonic Trail. Through each of these phases, we will be raising research questions around the central topic of “how to live well with the sounds of the city”.

Mapping Soundscapes:  We will be engaging with the public to help map soundscapes around the city. Which areas of the city sound great? Which area’s sounds have a negative impact on your mood? This phase will be primarily achieved through questionnaires and creative ‘probes’ allowing us to build up a picture of sound around the city. The map will provide the starting point in the second phase by highlighting potential areas of interest.

Building Instruments:  We modulate the sounds of the city through site-specific art interventions, essentially “building instruments for buildings” which will be designed in artist-led online workshops. The instruments may make sound either passively, for example using wind or actively, using a speaker, depending on the location. The main method for exploration is to use soundscape design technique of ‘sound masking’ and transplanting sounds likely to be pleasurable around the city, say taking the sound of lapping water from the harbourside and placing it next to a busy road. The instruments form an intervention to change the soundscape of the space it inhabits and the emotions it provokes.

Sonic Trail:  The project’s goal is to create a sound walk for Bristol Open Doors 2021, currently planned to be held in September. The sound walk will use the established Hidden Bristol audio tour app as a platform. The outcomes of this project aim to benefit the communities, the urban design industry, whilst exploring new areas of playable city interaction. The Sonic Trail expands and builds on the places identified in the Mapping phase to archive the changes in soundscape.

The Building Instruments Team

We are an interdisciplinary team consisting of members from academic and industry.

Josh Taylor

Project Lead

Jameson Musyoki


Pete Bennett

Instrument Builder

Szabina Orosz

Qualitative Researcher

Ainol Azizol

Sonic Researcher

Sonic Artists

Three sonic artists joined our team and brought their own unique perspective to uncovering hidden sounds and looking at the future soundscapes of Bristol’s harbourside. Their work is featured in our sound walk along Bristol Harbourside.

Kathy Hinde

Sonic Artist

Dan Pollard

Sonic Artist

Dave Meckin

Sonic Artist