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A map in the form of a list

Although at the outset of our inquiry we were intuitively drawn towards exploring sound perception among the deaf population and we understood that deaf people do not live in silence1. The aim of the two experimentations described below was therefore to establish a mental image of the sound environment of deaf and hard of hearing persons. Students from the Al Amal school took part in a questionnaire in February, and a sound recording project in the city of Sharjah in April 2013.

Although these situations borrow their methods from research strategies employed in the social sciences, the results lay no claim to providing scientifically analyzable data. For instance, it was impossible to precisely determine each participant’s degree of deafness, and it proved difficult to collect as many responses from female students as from their male peers. Moreover, the group under study is not representative of the deaf population at large, not even at the United Arab Emirates level, for the Al Amal student body is made up of young people from across the Middle East.

Contrary to the impression the title may give, this page does not feature any sound recordings for the recordings level out the volumes and tonal qualities of the phenomena making them seem very mundane. Using listing and analysis to describe these sonic objects seemed to us the most effective mode of representation.

The questionnaire

We carried out an initial questionnaire with the Al Amal students to identify the most salient elements in their sound environment. Here is a summary of their responses (the numbers indicate the number of occurrences)

Image courtesy of the Sharjah Art Foundation.

TRANSPORTATIONS
bus, cars and motorcycle's motor (16)
ambulance and police car's sirene (8)
airplanes's motor (7)
car's beeping (3)
train (3)
car's breaks (1)
bicycle (1)

Image courtesy of the Sharjah Art Foundation.

MUSIC
drums (17)
organ and piano (9)
subwoofer and the "sound of shaking" (8)
dance music in car and disco (4)
string instruments (oud, rababah) (3)
whistling (1)
buggle (1)
wooden flute (1)
radio (1)

Image courtesy of the Sharjah Biennale, Sharjah Art Foundation.

AMBIANCES
call for prayer (10)
water and the waves of the sea (4)
school's bell (4)
cheers of crowd football game (3)
air conditionner (1)
dubai mall (1)
people talking in worksite (1)
street full of people (1)
lawn mower (1)
kids (1)

Untitled, from 'Presence' by Lamya Gargash, 2007. Image courtesy of the Sharjah Art Foundation.

HOUSE
washing machine (3)
vacuum cleaner (3)
door being pushed (1)
phone ringing (1)
popcorn (1)

ANIMALS
birds (6)
dog (3)
rooster (2)
cat's purrs (1)

The most frequently cited element was transportation. The students mainly referred to their perceptions of the motor’s vibrations when using a mode of transport, as Sharjah is a city where all travel is motorized. Some students also told us they have powerful subwoofers fitted in their cars in order to accentuate the resonances — on a more domestic level, the purring of a cat can fulfill a similar function. The internal combustion engine in itself symbolizes the entire history of industrialization, from the mass production of automobiles through to the oil market. The motor — the primary factor of urban noise pollution — produces the soundtrack to the modern capitalist age. Now that electric self-driving cars are sketching out new urban configurations, the soundtrack of the future will be produced by the gentle gliding of rubber on asphalt. Just like vintage car collectors who try to find the original body color of a 1967 Corvette as much as the sound of a V8 engine, we can imagine deaf individuals seeking out certain vintage cars for their sound-box-like potential. A student who engaged in this particular form of car tuning culture explained how he orders drinks from the driver’s seat using his horn to reproduce the melodic curve of the word ‘tea’ or ‘coffee’.

Music is chosen for the vibrations it produces. Musical preferences are thus oriented towards music composed from isolated or accumulated single sounds, as with some hip-hop and techno music (we are referring especially to Snoop Doggy Dogg here, one of the West Coast hip-hop artists whose music videos are full of throbbing cars). This mode of composition is a pervasive feature of minimalist music, where the repetition and superposition of simple motifs are a way of playing with the listener’s modes of attention. At an embryonic level, these are the principles Tarek Atoui and Inigo Wilkins explored and experimented with in their workshop. Percussion instruments, which the students were familiar with through music initiation workshops, were also frequently cited and their popularity among the students also points to a preference for vibratory instruments and devices. Several mentioned the pulsation of shoe heels when we discussed percussion instruments. This spurred us to organize for the students to meet with several drummers who were giving a performance in March 2013.

The call to prayer is one of the more surprising answers we received, for although they recur throughout the day, the volume and tonality of these calls are no higher than other surrounding everyday sounds. When we questioned the students about this response, they told us the call to prayer produced pleasant sensations. Even though they do not hear it they know that it exists and that it has a positive effect on the community of believers.

In this mental soundscape, there is a continuity between real and virtual sounds: some sounds manifest themselves through stimuli directly perceived by the body such as vibrations or high-volume sounds (sirens) and others through indirect visual data, such as the observation of certain actions carried out by people (children in the mall; and one student told us he could tell whether a site was silent or not by observing the birds). Finally, other sounds are part of the world yet are not perceived, such as the call to prayer. The presence of such virtualities in the perception of sound explains among other things the difficulty in disassociating sound and image, as testified by the students’ exchange with the drummers. The perception of vibrations is far-ranging, going from pulsation to continuous and stretched-out sounds, on a sound spectrum that goes well beyond simple low-pitch frequencies2. Many of the students are highly sensitive to the acoustics of a space: they know that their perceptions of a space will be different depending on whether it contains tiled flooring, curtains, glass windows or plastic surfaces.

Vibrations are associated with pleasure and the sensation of moving and dancing. For example, one student told us he likes to go to nightclubs in Dubai, remove his hearing aid and get up close to the loudspeakers. The main negative experience tended to develop when “things get noisy”. Noise is not associated with volume but with the multiplication of sonic sources, creating disorientation. The students told us they enjoyed gauging the distance between a sound-producing object and themselves. One student, for instance, regularly goes to stand on a subway platform to sense, with his feet, when the train will arrive. Most of the students perceive alarm sirens but do not enjoy them as they find them startling.

Many students say they try to use their hearing aids as little as possible. They are able to sense sound without using their hearing aid, and feel less agitated when they find themselves in a noisy situation.

Keth Doane
Cycling Sensations - Reacting to the Environment in Motion (4:08), 2009
A testimony by Keth Doane, reunion Coordinator Assistant at Gallaudet University.

The recordings

On April 22nd and 23rd, during the think tank set up with the Tacet researchers, Wendy Jacob and Hasan Hujairi pursued this sound mapping project by inviting each student to choose sounds to collect. Here is the list of the students’ trajectories in the city:

PATH #1 (April 22nd, 2013)

16:15, Calligraphy Courtyard : Call to prayer (heard by one student)3
16:16, Heritage Museum Courtyard : Wagon being pulled4
16:17, Street : Sound of a car
16:30, Street : Big Bus Sound
16:37, Playground : Swingset5
16:39, Playground : Shoes scraping against ground

PATH #2 (April 22nd, 2013)

16:17, Heritage Museum Courtyard : Wagon being pulled
16:20, Street : Sound of a car
16:25, Street : Truck
16:30, Street : Sound of many cars
16:32, Street : Big Bus Sound
16:49, Sidestreet : Air conditioner6

PATH #3 (April 22nd, 2013)

16:17, Museum Courtyard : Wagon being pulled
16:19, Museum Courtyard : Sweeping (heard by one student) 7
16:30, Street : Big Bus Sound
N/A, Street : Car Motor
N/A, Sidestreet : Footsteps
16:42, Sidestreet : Stomping

PATH #4 (April 23nd, 2013)

15:51, Calligraphy Courtyard : Call to prayer
15:53, Street : Car sound, strong and fast
15:57, Street near Roundabout : Car Truck, sound of a beep
16:05, N/A : N/A
16:07, Street : Exhaust Fan8
16:08, Street : Police Car Sound (sirens)
16:10, Street : Knocking on Wood
16:12, Playground : Spinning Seat Moving (Merry-go-Round)
16:14, Playground : Slide
16:16, Playground : Swingset
16:20, Street : Rolling a bottle of water
16:22, Street : Shaking a tree9
16:24, Sara Mall : Automatic Door
16:25, Sara Mall : Knocking on Door
16:27, Sara Mall : Going up stairs (escalator)
16:29, Sara Mall : Escalator Belt
16:30, Sara Mall : Going down stairs
16:30, Sara Mall : Knocking on Pipe
16:32, Sara Mall : Knocking on Window
16:37, Street : Pouring Water into hand
16:39, Street : Bus Sound
16:40, Playground : "high" (referring to kids screaming)
16:43, Playground : Children Screaming "Hello" - loud sound
16:47, Playground : Swinging Chair (swingset)

PATH #5 (April 23nd, 2013)

15:52, Calligraphy Courtyard : Call to prayer
15:54, Calligraphy Courtyard : Shoes
15:55, Street : Wind
15:56, Street : Sound of speech
16:00, Street : Beep-beep, truck warning (referring to truck horn)
16:05, Street : Exhaust Fan
16:07, Street : Motor Bike
16:08, Street : Police Car Sound (sirens)
16:11, Street : Knock-knock on wood
16:13, Playground : Spinning Seat Moving (Merry-go-Round)
16:16, Playground : Slide
16:17, Playground : Swingset
16:20, Playground : Rolling a bottle of water
16:21, Playground : Shaking a tree
16:23, Playground : Dropping a rock on the ground10
16:24, Sara Mall : Automatic Door
16:25, Sara Mall : Opening/Closing Wooden Door
16:26, Sara Mall : Going up stairs (escalator)
16:27, Sara Mall : Garbage Bin (knocking)
16:28, Sara Mall : Escalator Belt
16:28, Sara Mall : Plastic Sound
16:29, Sara Mall : Elevator Door
16:30, Sara Mall : Children's toys11

PATH #6 (April 23nd, 2013)

15:53, Calligraphy Courtyard : Call to prayer
15:58, Street : Footsteps
15:59, Street : Cars
16:02, Roundabout : Pigeons (scaring them off)
16:03, Street : *Car (truck) beep-beep (honking)

16:06, Street : Passing paper
16:07, Outside Restaurant : Exhaust Fan
16:10, Street : Sound of the police (i.e., police siren)
16:14, Street : Knocking on the Wall
16:16, Playground : Spinning Seat Moving (Merry-go-Round)
16:20, Playground : Slide
16:21, Playground : Swingset
16:23, Playground : Rolling a bottle of water
16:24, Playground : Trees moving in the wind
16:26, Playground : Dropping a rock on the ground
16:28, Sara Mall : Automatic Door
16:30, Sara Mall : Knocking on Door
16:31, Sara Mall : Going up stairs (escalator)
16:33, Sara Mall : Escalator Belt
16:35, Sara Mall : Elevator Door
16:44, Playground : Sweeping a rough ground
16:45, Playground : Bicycle wheel (bicycle laying on its side)
16:46, Playground : Children Screaming "Hello" - loud sound
16:48, Playground : Swingset

Again, the virtual experience of sounds was very marked here: often students would record a sound because they thought the object was a sonic one (the doors of an elevator, the wheel of a stationed bicycle) while other sounds were perceived directly (like the siren of a police car). The recordings made during this second experiment were then diffused on a vibratory device made up of balloons and traducers. This enabled the students to feel the vibrations of the sounds they had recorded.

Vibrations, anticipation, virtualities

Despite their inaccurate character, these two phases of the inquiry enabled us to apprehend in a more precise manner the way in which deaf and hard of hearing individuals perceive sound. Firstly, regarding certain students, we might speak of a “culture of vibration”12, for they share a set of conventions and practices that make up a group identity. Further, a great share of attention is focused on anticipating the (often visual) indirect signs of a sonic activity, for it is principally these signs that enable the students to understand an environment. A third dimension of listening is tied to these virtualities or potential sounds, which cannot be identified through indirect signs but whose existence in nonetheless known.

These three dimensions firstly demonstrate a reconfiguration of all the senses in the deaf-world context. Bassem Abdel Ghaffar explained to us that the senses function like an ecosystem: when one sense is altered, the whole is reconfigured. Although it can be useful to consider each sense in isolation, it precludes us from understanding listening in a way not exclusively bound to hearing. This is the point in our inquiry at which we decided to reflect on “the multimodality of listening”, a perspective in which the senses are apprehended as complementary.

The main thread of this article, the question of virtualities, offers a particularly useful approach. Indeed, Steve Goodman was already pointing to a form of virtuality through his concept of unsound which refers “among other things, to ‘that which is not yet audible’, to ‘sonic virtuality’ and to ‘the nexus of imperceptible vibration’.” Accepting physical phenomena that are potential yet not detectable by human beings helps to develop a disposition particularly useful for apprehending complexity, by attributing less credit to the analysis of each sighted element.

Text

  • Grégory Castéra, from the data collected with Hasan Hujairi, Wendy Jacob, Sandra Terdjman

Images

  • Tarek Atoui
  • Bassem Abdel Ghaffar
  • Hasan Hujairi
  • Wendy Jacob
  • Al Amal Students

Video

  • Keth Doane

is the co-director and co-founder of Council. From 2010-12 he served as co-director of Les Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, where he conducted various research projects on knowledge production within artistic practices, giving rise to publishing projects, events, and exhibitions. Since 2007, he has co-authored L’Encyclopédie de la parole (Encyclopedia of the Spoken Word), a collaborative inquiry into the formal properties of speech. In 2010, he initiated Ecologies, a program focused on the creation of tools for the representation of art as an ecology (awarded the Hors les Murs grant by the Institut Français in 2013). Grégory is regularly invited to write, give talks and workshop on curating research, to advise institutions and to curate shows (Betonsalon, Wiels, T2G, Centre Pompidou).
He holds a Bachelor degree in Economics (University of Tours) and a Masters in Design and Implementation of Cultural Projects (Sorbonne, Paris 1).

lives in Bahrain and Seoul and has developed a musical practice inspired by these two locations.

designed a vibrating floor used in Waves & Signs, a conference program on seismic communication held at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. It is no doubt the most accomplished project to date dealing with sound perception among deaf persons. Her other works, Ceiling (1991), Doorway (1991), Column (1990) and Doorknob (1992), offer an exploration of perception through architecture.

is co-founder of Kadist Art Foundation - a private foundation based in Paris and San Francisco, dedicated to supporting contemporary art. From 2006 to 2012, as artistic programme director at Kadist Art Foundation (Paris), she developed a residency programme for international artists and curators, overseeing the production of a series of works, films, performances and exhibitions. Presently, she serves as advisor for the Kadist Art Foundation on collection acquisition, production and dissemination.
She holds a Bachelor degree in Art History (Sorbonne, Paris), a Masters in Creative Curating (Goldsmiths College, London) and has participated in the experimentation in art and politics programme run by Bruno Latour (Science Po – Institute of Political Studies, Paris).

develops a structural approach to sound art which goes beyond the performance context. His processual and collaborative projects include composing sound works and making musical instruments. On and from Tarab (begun in 2011) brings together a group of musicians who revisit tarab, which designates both the traditional music form and the effect the music produces on the listener. Within (begun in 2009) is an in situ project on the city of Sharjah, which includes work with the Al Amal School for Deaf Students. Dahlem Session (begun in 2013) involves making new instruments based on music played with traditional instruments of unknown origin.

is a special education expert and neurology researcher. His research focuses on mirror neurons. The French Wikipedia article describes mirror neurons as “a neuron that fires both when an individual (human or animal) performs an action and when the individual observes another individual (especially of the same species) perform the same action, or even when they imagine such an action, hence the use of the term mirror.” His research brought him to engage with the deaf community, to learn sign language, and teach at the Al Almal School for Deaf Students in Sharjah.

lives in Bahrain and Seoul and has developed a musical practice inspired by these two locations.

designed a vibrating floor used in Waves & Signs, a conference program on seismic communication held at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. It is no doubt the most accomplished project to date dealing with sound perception among deaf persons. Her other works, Ceiling (1991), Doorway (1991), Column (1990) and Doorknob (1992), offer an exploration of perception through architecture.

(Khaled Hafez, Wiss'am Taher) hail from Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, the Sultanate of Oman, but rarely from the Emirates. They invent a hybrid sign language inspired by these different cultures.

—ARTICLE: Soundscape
—ARTICLE: Drumming
—ARTICLE: Signs and sounds

is a sign language translator and coordinated the establishment of the exhibition "History Through Deaf Eyes" at SLCC.

— ARTICLE: Soundscape
More information: Center for Audio Visual Studies

Image : one of the students recording the sound of an empty bottle. All the images of this article were shot by Wendy Jacob.

is the co-director and co-founder of Council. From 2010-12 he served as co-director of Les Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, where he conducted various research projects on knowledge production within artistic practices, giving rise to publishing projects, events, and exhibitions. Since 2007, he has co-authored L’Encyclopédie de la parole (Encyclopedia of the Spoken Word), a collaborative inquiry into the formal properties of speech. In 2010, he initiated Ecologies, a program focused on the creation of tools for the representation of art as an ecology (awarded the Hors les Murs grant by the Institut Français in 2013). Grégory is regularly invited to write, give talks and workshop on curating research, to advise institutions and to curate shows (Betonsalon, Wiels, T2G, Centre Pompidou).
He holds a Bachelor degree in Economics (University of Tours) and a Masters in Design and Implementation of Cultural Projects (Sorbonne, Paris 1).

lives in Bahrain and Seoul and has developed a musical practice inspired by these two locations.

designed a vibrating floor used in Waves & Signs, a conference program on seismic communication held at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. It is no doubt the most accomplished project to date dealing with sound perception among deaf persons. Her other works, Ceiling (1991), Doorway (1991), Column (1990) and Doorknob (1992), offer an exploration of perception through architecture.

is co-founder of Kadist Art Foundation - a private foundation based in Paris and San Francisco, dedicated to supporting contemporary art. From 2006 to 2012, as artistic programme director at Kadist Art Foundation (Paris), she developed a residency programme for international artists and curators, overseeing the production of a series of works, films, performances and exhibitions. Presently, she serves as advisor for the Kadist Art Foundation on collection acquisition, production and dissemination.
She holds a Bachelor degree in Art History (Sorbonne, Paris), a Masters in Creative Curating (Goldsmiths College, London) and has participated in the experimentation in art and politics programme run by Bruno Latour (Science Po – Institute of Political Studies, Paris).

develops a structural approach to sound art which goes beyond the performance context. His processual and collaborative projects include composing sound works and making musical instruments. On and from Tarab (begun in 2011) brings together a group of musicians who revisit tarab, which designates both the traditional music form and the effect the music produces on the listener. Within (begun in 2009) is an in situ project on the city of Sharjah, which includes work with the Al Amal School for Deaf Students. Dahlem Session (begun in 2013) involves making new instruments based on music played with traditional instruments of unknown origin.

is a special education expert and neurology researcher. His research focuses on mirror neurons. The French Wikipedia article describes mirror neurons as “a neuron that fires both when an individual (human or animal) performs an action and when the individual observes another individual (especially of the same species) perform the same action, or even when they imagine such an action, hence the use of the term mirror.” His research brought him to engage with the deaf community, to learn sign language, and teach at the Al Almal School for Deaf Students in Sharjah.

lives in Bahrain and Seoul and has developed a musical practice inspired by these two locations.

designed a vibrating floor used in Waves & Signs, a conference program on seismic communication held at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. It is no doubt the most accomplished project to date dealing with sound perception among deaf persons. Her other works, Ceiling (1991), Doorway (1991), Column (1990) and Doorknob (1992), offer an exploration of perception through architecture.

(Khaled Hafez, Wiss'am Taher) hail from Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, the Sultanate of Oman, but rarely from the Emirates. They invent a hybrid sign language inspired by these different cultures.

—ARTICLE: Soundscape
—ARTICLE: Drumming
—ARTICLE: Signs and sounds

is a sign language translator and coordinated the establishment of the exhibition "History Through Deaf Eyes" at SLCC.

— ARTICLE: Soundscape
More information: Center for Audio Visual Studies

designed a vibrating floor used in Waves & Signs, a conference program on seismic communication held at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. It is no doubt the most accomplished project to date dealing with sound perception among deaf persons. Her other works, Ceiling (1991), Doorway (1991), Column (1990) and Doorknob (1992), offer an exploration of perception through architecture.

1. As Fini Straubinger relays in the 1971 film Land of Silence and Darkness, she perceives droning and buzzing sounds — her life is anything but silent. In his talk “Deaf Ways: Extending Sensory Reach,” Ben Bahan also discusses these presuppositions by looking at how deaf people are represented in film. When we met artist Aaron Williamson, he told us: “I am less interested in vibration than in the notions of silence and noise. (…) For me, there isn’t any silence.”
2. In this interview, sound engineer Benoît Gilg discusses the different frequencies perceived by the various body parts, going from the most high-pitched (for hair) to the most low-pitched (for bones) — illustrated by a frequency scale for each organ, created by artist Caitlin Berrigan.
3. Untitled, from 'Presence' by Lamya Gargash, 2007. Image courtesy of the Sharjah Art Foundation.
4. Image courtesy of the Sharjah Biennale, Sharjah Art Foundation.
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6. Image courtesy of the Sharjah Art Foundation.
7. Image courtesy of the Sharjah Art Foundation.
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