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Sounds of Our City


Sounds are invisible and intangible, yet artists are able to capture them in fascinating works of sound art – art that uses sound as its medium or subject. That includes Toolbox Percussion’s upcoming sports-meets-music experience, which will take place at ArtisTree in August. Meanwhile, our city is also coming alive with all kinds of interesting urban sounds: blaring ferry horns, beeping traffic lights, bird calls in the park…Join us on an aural journey as we explore the sounds of our city through art.


Neighbourhood Sounds

From City Symphony (2021)

Made from recycled wood, City Symphony is a collection of sound sculptures that debuted at EAST Hong Kong. Also known fondly as “sound monsters”, the interactive installations were co-created by design and tech studio The Collective, eco-design studio KaCaMa Design Lab, woodwork artists from Screw Up Studio and independent music producer Edmund Leung. Each sculpture had a cute, distinctive appearance, but what made them extraordinary were the unique sounds they played.  


Listen carefully – you may recognise some of these sounds. Leung, who recorded the sounds in Quarry Bay, says, “When I explored the neighbourhood, an idea occurred to me: what if I could make sounds out of objects that had no sounds on their own?” That would explain how some of the “sound monsters” got their “voices” – sounds made from benches around the area, exercise machines at Quarry Bay Park and The Meeting dog sculptures at Taikoo Park, a garden just outside One Island East at Taikoo Place.


“When I tapped my hand on one of the dog sculptures, it produced the most interesting musical note,” he adds. “That was exactly what I was looking for. At that moment, the city became a gigantic instrument to me.”

Urban Noises

From ArtisTree Selects: Moving Pieces – Stay/Away (2019)


Entering the space of Stay/Away, Hook Dance Theatre’s multimedia production at ArtisTree, was like walking through a miniature version of Hong Kong. Integrating dance, installations, light and sound, the show featured kinetic objects that resembled lampposts, while the dancers and audience assumed the roles of city dwellers as they moved around the space.


But all of these weren’t complete without the music by German composer Dirk P. Haubrich. “Stay/Away is about urban claustrophobia, so it only seemed appropriate to use noises recorded in the city for the show,” he says. “You could hear sounds like construction work, traffic lights and ferry horns mixed in the soundscape. Through these unique sounds, I wanted to recreate my first impression of Hong Kong.”


The soundtrack worked together with other elements of the show to evoke our urban environment. As the kinetic objects gradually restricted the area and the music got more intense, the audience had no choice but to ask themselves: “Should I stay, or stay away from the limiting space?”

Music in Nature

From Chasing Sounds (2021)

Staged at the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Chasing Sounds by Impromptu Projects might just remind you that urban sounds don’t have to be cars and construction noises, they can also be the sounds of nature from the city’s parks. Designed as a surround-sound environment in the Gardens, it consisted of a bamboo scaffolding-inspired installation that hosted an outdoor music performance.


“The installation is an open cage with neither entrances nor exits, neither inside nor outside,” say co-founders and architects João Ó and Rita Machado. “These boundaries were blurred to give way to a continuous flow of engaging form, inviting visitors to freely navigate the space and discover the sounds produced by performers that were scattered throughout.”


The duo also worked with composer Charles Kwong, who wrote the original series of compositions, called Lifelike, for this project. “Lifelike mimics and responds to all the sounds in the gardens,” Kwong explains. “It’s about presenting nature in music, and presenting music in nature – the kind of nature displayed in man-made gardens. I wanted to explore this distorted state of nature and how humans attempt to tame, understand and preserve nature.”

Bird Calls, Household Objects and More

From 18 Scenes in a Cage (2018)

The century-old building of the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre became a colourful stage – and cage – for this performance by multidisciplinary artist GayBird Leung. Leung, whose sound installation was showcased at Art Basel Hong Kong 2022 (which was supported by Swire Properties for the 10th consecutive year), is known to experiment with media art, electronic music and other artforms to create new sound experiences; and 18 Scenes in a Cage was no exception.


Inspired by the birds and their cages in Hong Kong Park, the performance was a rich sound feast with both live and electronic music. During the first part of the show, the building acted as a “cage” with performers in different rooms playing instruments, imitating bird calls, and even singing underwater. “It was like a peek into different Hong Kong homes, like a building that houses all walks of life. That’s why I also used everyday household items like dishes and bowls as percussion instruments,” Leung says.


Throughout the performance, not only were sound effects like realistic bird calls heard from an instrument Leung created, but a visual experience also synchronised with the audio. “It’s a multimedia symphony,” he says, “Everything, including the videos, audio, performers’ movements and instrument designs, was all part of the orchestration.”


An interactive sound art experience is coming to ArtisTree this August – stay tuned!    

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