Experiencing Istanbul’s ‘Everyday Sounds’

Experiencing Istanbul’s ‘Everyday Sounds’

Emrah Güler
Experiencing Istanbul’s ‘Everyday Sounds’ From the typical shouts of the simit sellers perched on their corners to the nostalgic carriages of the Prince’s Islands off Istanbul’s Marmara coast, Koç University’s Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (ANAMED) is offering its visitors a chance to explore the everyday sounds of Istanbul often lost to the listener through repetition or reflexive noise reduction.

“Everyday Sounds: Exploring Sound Through Daily Life” is a multi-layered exhibition and unique sensory experience focusing on the soundscapes of urban life, with some more obvious and others lost among the more popular ones like the sounds of the city’s trams or seagulls.

“An acoustic sound sculpture made up of speakers welcomes the visitors. Here, when you make a sound, another sound erupts from one of the speakers,” Cem Kozar and Işıl Ünal from PATTU, which realized the design and content development of the exhibition, told Hürriyet Daily News.

For “Inaudible,” an installation for “the sounds we no longer hear in everyday life,” Kozar and Ünal have deconstructed the sounds of everyday life into its components, like the sounds of a computer fan, an air-conditioner and traffic. “We wanted visitors to realize how much noise they are exposed to and how insensitive they have become to these sounds in everyday life,” they said.

The focus of the exhibition was the sounds of the city, so the installations were designed accordingly. “We wanted to take different perspectives to reflect urban sounds,” they said. “The first section is about people, the second is space, the third section takes on the city streets and the fourth one is an overview of the city.”

Mapping the soundscapes of Istanbul

The exhibition was designed for maximum participation, so that the visitors will be much more than viewers, or in this case, listeners. Based on Pınar Çevikayak Yelmi’s PhD research, “The Soundscape of Istanbul” section is an interactive experience, mapping the city’s sounds “recorded with technical equipment providing the closest match to the actual auditory experience,” and asking everyone to contribute to that map. 
The map is also a literal one, designed by Hüseyin Kuşçu, at the dedicated website where visitors are encouraged to record and upload their own everyday sounds, contributing to this unique soundscape of Istanbul. “There are many sounds specific to Istanbul,” said Yelmi and Kuşçu. “The nostalgic tram of İstiklal Avenue, the ferry, seagulls, the fish sandwich sellers on the street, the phaetons in the Prince’s Islands, the simit sellers, the boza sellers, the chestnut sellers, street musicians and the Akbil, Istanbul’s electronic transit pass, are the sources of some of these sounds.”

Experiencing Istanbul’s ‘Everyday Sounds’

Some of the sounds in this section might not be unique to Istanbul, but the whole experience definitely is one of Istanbul. “We didn’t isolate the sounds, but made sure that they were recorded with the sounds surrounding them,” they said. “For instance, you might hear the sound of a simit seller in other cities, but if you hear it with the sounds of the tram or the ferry or an Akbil, then they complement one another, becoming representative of Istanbul.”

“We have conducted interviews and online surveys to decide on the symbolic sounds of Istanbul,” Yelmi and Kuşçu said. “The sounds of a city shape collective memories and cultural identities. That’s why it would be wrong to talk about a city’s symbolic sounds through the answers of one single person.” 

As for the interactive map, people have been uploading sounds they have recorded. One of the valuable contributions was from national broadcaster TRT sound effects designer Korkmaz Çakar’s sound archive from the 1960s and 1970s. “You can find the sounds of steam boats, announcement for the Munich train in three languages at Sirkeci Train Station, sounds of the cotton fluffers and junk dealers,” they said.

ANAMED’s foray into sensory experience

The modern feel of the “Everyday Sounds” exhibition, at first glance, seems an unlikely choice for ANAMED, a center dedicated to developing and facilitating research on art, architecture, archaeology and the history of Turkey from the Neolithic era through the Ottoman era. 

“Some of our loyal visitors have stated the ‘Everyday Sounds’ exhibition is different than the previous ones as it touches upon more ‘modern’ issues,” said Ebru Esra Satıcı, the exhibition’s coordinator. “They have a point indeed, because in this exhibition the emphasis is on the cultural heritage dimension of sound, so preservation of something contemporary is the subject matter.”

“In previous exhibitions, though, either archaeology or history was in the foreground. Yet ‘Everyday Sounds’ is completely in line with ANAMED’s identity and mission in the sense that it is an exhibition on the cultural heritage of Turkey,” she said. “One of the missions of the center is to address large audiences and raise awareness on the history, archaeology and cultural heritage of Turkey.”

“We have realized that this exhibition has widened our visitor profile through adding new people interested in contemporary issues on top of our loyal visitors. So, we are happy to enlarge our audience while staying within our mission,” said Satıcı, announcing a consecutive exhibition with “a parallel objective” focusing on another sense: smell. 

“Both exhibits will examine the pasts and presents of various cities through the lens of sensory experiences,” said Satıcı. “Further, there will be a workshop in conjunction with these two successive exhibitions to take place on April 1 and 2. We are seeking to bring together scholars engaged with the study of the sensory past of Anatolian civilizations, from prehistory to the Ottoman Empire.” Here’s to the rise of the senses that have been overlooked in collective cultural experience, and here’s to ANAMED for being a pioneer.