Photographer Ara Güler has been nicknamed “the eye of Istanbul” for his legendary pictures of the city. But if Güler is the eye, then who is the city’s ear? The exhibition Everyday Sounds at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC), running until March 20, opens our ears to the dissonance and harmony of Istanbul’s streets.
The installation “Inaudible” gives visitors a luxury that is not available in the hectic city. A panel of switches is organized into three categories: home noise, office noise, and street noise. By selecting and combining different switches, you can make a personal soundscape that includes everything from birdsong to ship horns, crowds to hair dryers. Listening to each sound individually allows us to reflect on the many sounds that pass unnoticed, filtered out by our busy minds.
From there you can move on to the film “Another Day In the City” by Vassilis Danellis and Hürcan Emre Yılmazer, which tells a story of wandering the city in graphic-novel style. Actual street recordings are mixed with sound effects in this film, which marks the first time Dolby Atmos technology has ever been used in a Turkish gallery.
The highlight of the exhibition is The Soundscape of Istanbul, an interactive project to map sounds to particular areas of the city. Pınar Çevikayak Yelmi, an academic at Koç University, has spent four years making recordings of different neighborhoods. Expanding this aural record to the public, the website www.soundslike.com is an archive of crowd-sourced sounds linked to a city map. In this way, visitors can make a sonic trip from the balık ekmek (fish sandwich) sellers of Eminönü to Greek hymns in Fener or a glass-blowing workshop in Sultanahmet.
Academic Yelmi conducted a survey as part of the project, asking 421 people for “the most common sounds in Istanbul.” Eighteen percent replied that the most common noise is traffic and car horns, gaining the largest share of the vote. Seagulls took only 11 percent, while the call to prayer took 8 percent of votes. Participants identified the Taksim tramway, the fishermen in Eminönü, the ferry whistle, the call to prayer, and the shouting of simit sellers as the most characteristic Istanbul sounds. At the same time, they stated that boza (a sweet warm winter drink) sellers, second-hand goods vendors, milk sellers, and children’s voices were among the noises that are disappearing from the streets.
As a crowd-sourced archive, The Soundscape of Istanbul has the potential to preserve the soundscape of a city that is transforming at a rapid pace. The sounds that seem ordinary today might be lost tomorrow – so keep your ears tuned and your recorder ready, for the city might not sound the way you know it forever.