Lisbon Sound Map



For centuries, urbanism, as a way of thinking the city as a place that is part of a territory that houses human life, has been conceived between two fundamental elements: wellbeing and construction.

Since the first communities were established, the priority sense has been the sight, and with it, the matter, the geometry and the distance.
The progress brought wellbeing, but also a transformation in acoustic ecology: in addition to voicing the crowds and the background noise of mobility equipment (cars, for example), the city broke sound bridges and passages in its built growth that, in their landmarks were communities and, in them, identities, creating acoustic spaces that founded new life forms and even language games.

Constructing extensive roads within the city limits, cutting passages through streets or avenues and building on open spaces have given way to a profusely noisy city and, especially, the homogeneity of sound territories, breaking with the identity of communities or making their places hybrid and distinct.
For this reason, sound mapping the city, not just its noise map, is an important task, in time and space, to understand what has changed sonorously and what has been lost due to human action.

The sound, now that many of the communication devices use the functions of hearing and speaking, can become an element that eliminates the fear of the city, as well as its abandonment. Making the city alive cannot be done with contempt for its soundscapes, as these are fundamental sound axes for a correction or deepening of urban noise and, through this, of life.

The Lisbon Sound Map, now under development, plans to build three large sound territories (stable, hybrid and in transformation) that will enable to maintain, change passages or reconstruct sound marks and sound signs that make the place and the city more historical and identitary.

Aristotle, in his book Politics, defines the city and its relationship with man as follows: “A city-state is among the things that exist by nature, that a human being is by nature a political animal (phusei politikon zoon), and that anyone who is without a city-state, not by luck (tiké), but by nature, is either a poor specimen or else superhuman. Like the one Homer condemns, he too is ‘clanless, lawless, and homeless’” (Aristotle. (1998). Politics. (Trans. by C.D.C. Reeves). Indianapolis-Cambridge: Hackett. 1253a3-5).

I. Framework of the project

The industrial revolution introduced substantial changes in the city that are present in the new cities. The machines brought new sounds to the landscape that forced the citizen to constitute in those sounds through immersion. What at first seemed to be an artificial sonority, produced by static or moving machinery, was gradually introducing in the relationship we establish with the territory and with nature, from artificial to natural. The human feels good only when the acoustic space is mostly a mass in which he feels natural, moving away what is not part of his sound territory, such as the one that presents as artificial. In the contemporary city, what was artificial is now natural, thus leaving nature in an artificial relationship with the city man. We feel more restless when we hear the insects in a field than when we hear the noise of the city traffic.

The industrial revolution was just the beginning of a long journey that is not over yet and that involves the human and the technology. The contemporary man no longer can live unless the technique is integrated or unless technique is an extension of the body. And this acceleration to another position that moves away from modernity is due mainly to the invention of sound recording and playback devices and the electric revolution. With the electricity, the background noise of the cities spread to the entire planet, through remote communication devices and through the radio. In addition to that, recordings, especially music recordings, gave the body new movements, spaces and times that forever changed the urban man. With rock ‘n’ roll, the body and the musical instruments were never the same again, whether for the performers, the listeners or the viewers. With the emergence of new kinds of music in the twentieth century, the miscegenation of cultures and the electrification of the instruments, as well as the presence of playback devices in every home, the sounds invaded all spaces and accelerated the difference in which the human fragmentarily exists in the city.

Now, in addition to a territory and a deterritory (through hearing the recording of a sound of a distant landscape), a landscape and the image (which is a ghost of what we hear with no visible sound source), we have soundscapes and sound territories, which require a redefinition of how urban human constitutes himself. While dealing with the unstoppable flow of the sound mass and, especially, with an invisible object, the sense of hearing was constantly moved apart from the constitution of the Western human. The knowledge that began in this city, Athens, was little interested in a phenomenology or an epistemology of the sound. What mattered was the systematization of what was visible and its taxonomy. Even metaphysics always reached the world of light and opacities, although it could start from the concept. And what we have been witnessing since then, with more intensity in the modern, is the emergence of an ancient human desire: to map the world. In fact, cartography occupied much of the production and reproduction of images between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. Even in painting, cartography is like an extensive archive of cities and fields in those centuries. Only with the view of planet Earth from the conquest of space by Apollo 8, about 45 years ago, this desire seems to have faltered. Once the geography was captured in a single image, some researchers turned elsewhere, towards the hearing. It is obvious that this passage is not only due to an overview of the planet from space, but also the theoretical and hermeneutical turbulence that struck the image in the twentieth century. Some researchers, in different universities, then turned to the issues of sound, namely, acoustic ecology and the exhaustive survey of soundscapes. There is in these activities the desire to establish a sound anthropology and a sound archaeology. The former to establish a genealogy and archive of the sound territories, their landmarks, symbols and signs, aimed at studying the causes and effects of the deterioration of the acoustic space; the latter to create a basis for future memory from the sounds of a given territory. In reality, and mostly in the urban space and due to human intervention, it is increasingly urgent to understand the effects on the quality of the acoustic space, knowing that this space is almost always understood as a “maternal” space of growth and development of the human interrelationship in community. Especially since the World Soundscape Project, by Murray Schafer, at Simon Fraser University (Canada), the syllabuses of sound studies have been evolving, growing in number of scientific fields whose theme is the sound, and also the amount of literature published on a monthly basis.

The Lisbon Sound Map follows the sound studies in the second half of the twentieth century. If, with the emergence of technical objects for recording and playback, in the second half of the nineteenth century, we were able to establish the double movement of immersion and emersion, given that before these mechanisms we were subject mainly to an immersion, even in the mechanization of the industrial revolution, thus allowing the perception of new sound realities, especially from the background noise, with the advent of the radio, in the 1920s, the territory and its geography gained new ways of establishing themselves. The notion of imaginary expectation is relevant in this action. From what was heard in the broadcasting, voices or simple urban and rural songs, the listener created his/her own geographies of places where he/she had never been. It is obvious that man always imagined places where he had never been, but now, and through the sounds, he could do an analog drawing of those places. And, like today, he did without much effort: it is a quality of the imagination and the memory. But mostly, he drew those places based on the print of the soundscapes that were broadcast. It is, we can say, a new cartography that is born, a sound-cartography. The radio, which has always been a powerful medium since its emergence and dissemination by all countries, caused a substantive change in the way we understood landscape. This, unlike the one caused by the image and the sight, became more vivid and underwent continuous transformations through the hearing of other sounds to the same place. Geography got the qualities of the sense of hearing: immersiveness, vivacity and interiority. Due to a side effect, the territories became more tactile, a sense that had fallen into the body with the hegemony of the sight, since this presupposes the remoteness and fragmentation of the real. And the touch of the territories, introduced by sound, as well as the noise, gave the landscape a unity. The radio has also the advantage of imposing the condition of truth in the listener in everything that it broadcasts. And it is this truth contained in the expectation that, at times, is not met in loco. But this is also the general problem of the voice and the communities that still use oral communication as a priority.

In the twentieth century, especially between the two world wars, we witnessed an optimization of communication equipment through the sound, getting the qualities that are innate: deterritorialization, distance communication and telepresence. The invention of the magnetic tape made possible two ideas that only exist in human fiction: handling the sounds, this invisible element that inhabits the world of the living, and creating a solid archive for future generations. The idea of archive is the one that went deeper in human behaviour: to archive and systematize were always human actions. But for these actions to be available in every home, it was also necessary to make the recording and playback devices and their media less bulky, make them increasingly portable and with larger files. Adapting these qualities to objects and sound fixation media was the major task of the “phonographic” industries of the twentieth century. Gradually we came to the media who have not forgotten the problem of sound, the phone for example, or the invention of devices and files serving only the sound such as, the iPod and the MP3, respectively. This huge advance allows any citizen to file his/her sounds and listen to them anywhere in the world. But it also allows for greater interactivity with the territory through sound. New sound territories are thus gained to which we all return, perhaps years later, as we returned to our photographic archives. There is only one difference: the former show the life that moves; the latter the death that limits us. And it is this difference that must be necessarily linked to a trans-hermeneutics of the image that has eroded its power of sense, truth and a copy of the real, which increasingly revives the work around the hearing and the sound, even in the digital age. Phonorecording the world has thus become urgent for the human. But because we still suffer from the hegemony of sight, many times, we forget that our devices have the ability to record voices and sounds that may disappear at any moment.

II. Presentation of the Project

The Sound Map of Lisbon project is a project to be developed over five years, but with the public presentation of the first collections of sound after six months. Once the static stations are removed, we will monitor and record the sound territories under study, including those with classic sound marks and that constituted themselves as historical places (the city’s Baixa Pombalina, i.e. downtown Lisbon), those who show changes in their acoustic space caused by erosion and renewal of the previous urban mesh (some historical neighbourhoods) and, finally, those that are in the process of radical change, whether due to the construction of buildings or roads (in the city limits or in areas where the Municipal Master Plan allows construction).

The places, that may or not be occupied, always have an acoustic memory whose contents may or may not persist over time. To record and understand the sound maintenance and changes of a territory is not only to establish an individual memory, but especially a collective one. The sound album became an instrument and essential information to the anthropological, sociological, urban and cultural study. With the sound mapping of a given territory, we adopt the strategy, on the one hand, to listen to the sound complexity of that place (constituting in the users as communication elements), and on the other hand, to develop new ways of hearing that reveal themselves in knowledge and expression. The sound map in its interactive form (with the use of the various digital media) enables the social, cultural, and political use and expresses the everyday life of a place that can be recreated years later, artificially or through the removal of the causes that acted on the acoustic space.

In many European and North American universities, sound culture and studies definitely became a part of the courses. With the increase in the soundscapes studies which began in the 1970s in North American universities, especially together with departments of communication and music, quickly reached other activities having as a principle the sound object and the sound itself. With the advance of acoustic ecology and anthropology, sound design and art, and interactivity of radio transmitters with citizens, major cities began to be sound maps of their major streets and neighbourhoods, driven at first by the curiosity of a new type of knowledge that escaped the hegemony of visual culture, and then building a sound city that offers to all visitors and residents, as well as the foundation of the riskiest decisions of urbanity of these places, be they historical, hybrid or news.

In addition to these major vectors of the sound map of the place, the importance of establishing as a sound album that can be used in the future as an indication of what is changing or not in the soundscape and human influences in that territory.

Since the ability to put the human in the sound fact is in the nature of the sound, the human in sound immersion is also nowadays a man on the move that carries his own aurality (his sound imaginary). Accustomed to a voluntary hearing on the move (particularly since the emergence of the walkman in the 1980s, it is also necessary to provide the most important places of a city with the conditions that allow the visitor to understand the acoustic space, at different times of the day or at a different time. The acoustic space reconstitutes in the visitor the identity of a place by immersing him/her in the sound marks of that territory and making him/her realize the major distinctions with other nearby neighbourhoods, recording many sounds that can disappear at any time as a result of a change in the main activities, the machining of the crafts or the construction and reconstruction of the place.

Since the 1970s, a vast number of works, mostly by universities publishing houses, have been edited and disseminated, and with them much of the contemporary development of studies on sound culture (whether in the fields of arts, ecology, communication, anthropology, sociology and urbanism). In all of them is the emergence of new ways to communicate and to form a new knowledge to the territory.

Be with essays that intend to reconstruct the sound of ages now missing, be the emersion of urban everyday life, large cities around the world began, possibly with the increased use of sound in art and the highlight of the sonic arts these days, recording and making available the city sounds in tourist locations of the city and in network using the web or the radio. We highlight the cases of Montreal (in, London (in and New York (in, project of The New York Society for Acoustic Ecology) or even large areas (with a more artistic intervention) as is the case of “sounds of Vigo” and a little bit throughout Galicia due to the influence of the collective “Escoitar” ( Also some artists have developed sound maps, such as Bill Fontana and his project “Acoustical Vision of Venice: (

This is just a sample of what this project aims at giving expression in Portugal and influencing the development of applied research in sound culture, having as its base researchers, students and teachers of the Degree in Sound Science and Technologies at the ULHT, following the evolution of these studies in other societies.

However, since the city is a place of proliferation of events, and in the case of Lisbon, a place of miscegenation of cultures, it is important to go beyond a simple recording and reporting of acoustic spaces. This involves a study process of the atmospheres from the communicational and sociological point of view and from there to the establishment of an archive that enables the understanding of similarities and differences of different acoustic spaces.

III. Objectives

Whether they are natural, artificial or protocol sounds of social coexistence, they are the expression of the functioning of urban communities. Being inherently circular and immersive, the sounds of a territory cause immersion in the listener, and through them, the creation of present, past or future soundscapes. Each place has its own acoustic character, hence the main objectives of this project are:

  1. The study of a community through the recording and playback of its soundscape;
  2. The maintenance of the collection at a time interval that allows the development of research in different scientific fields, particularly in communication sciences;
  3. To constitute, alongside visual culture, a culture of sound that awakens communities to that direction and preservation;
  4. To constitute, in the public space, a sound memory, audible in the different sounds and noises;
  5. Creation of territorial spots from the sound created at three levels: communities that maintain identitary sound marks; communities in sound miscegenation; communities in emersion into new sound territories;
  6. To enable artists or passers-by to incorporate their collections on the city map.
    With these objectives we intend to:
  7. Enable, in Portugal, the development of the sound studies and their historical and future significance for the analysis of the socio-cultural and communicational evolution of a region.
  8. From a base structure, we intend, on the one hand, to constitute the foundations of the changes locally audible and draw the attention to the need to create an archive of prior soundscape in the face of irreversible changes in the environment (such as the construction of access roads, buildings or large public works); on the other hand, to monitor the changes in the acoustic space, their real causes and their influence on socialization and knowledge of individuals in a given community.
  9. As is already the case for visual culture, it will be possible in the near future, to establish a comparative history that involves, in expression, different media, namely the radio and online newspapers, allowing anyone to compare and find the differences in that territory at different times.
  10. The ULHT is initiating this research and intends to create in its research centre a line of studies in sound culture that together with socio-territorial investigations, promoted by other research groups, find valences of interest and influence in the Portuguese society.
  11. Establish a virtual audio library of sounds recorded in the national territory and sent to the site promoted by this Project.
  12. Collect the research work in an editorial line that will enable the publication of 1 or 2 books in the collection “Sound Territories” of the ULHT publishing house.

IV. Conclusions

The Lisbon Sound Map project joins the development of hearing processes, in the survey of soundscapes that enable the reunion with the city and its development. Regarding this development, it is relevant to understand whether it contributed to the wellbeing of the citizen and the constitution of belonging communities. In the work already carried out, demarcation of recording areas that obey principles of urbanity and edification, recording of soundscapes taking advantage of many of the sound marks inherent to that territory and creation of an interactive website, we detect the importance of:

Traffic regulation in some areas of the city, since they contribute to the blurring of the natural soundscapes by creating flat lines that prevent the passerby from hearing the sound identities;
Existence of a prior recording of the territory before the start of the construction work of large buildings or the opening of roads and railways;
Sending the recordings made by citizens or tourists so as to constitute an archive that is identified with the best quality of acoustic space of a particular place.

Although still in development, this project intends to serve a scientific framework that addresses the analysis of the destruction of sound marks or symbols by human development, and the preservation of sound territories in identitary communities that still preserve and feel the place where they live, as happens in the old neighbourhoods of Lisbon.

It is also an objective of this project to carry out a phonogrammatic analysis of sound collected by a given device in a given place in comparison with sounds collected by the same process years later. From what we have seen, there are substantial changes in the sound masses during the construction of large buildings, without previously having made the recording for future memory. This project is also a warning for the use of recordings that can function as a service to the community, but also as part of a sound itinerary of a time and a city.


V. Bibliography

  1. Attali, J. (1985). Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Univ. Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816612870, Minneapolis.
  2. Bull, M. and Les Back (edt). The Auditory Culture Reader. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2003.
  3. Carpenter, E. and McLuhan, M., (edt.). Explorations in Communication: An Anthology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1960.
  4. Corbin, A. (2000). Les Cloches de la Terre: Paysage Sonore et Culture Sensible dans les Campagnes au XIXeme Siècle, Flammarion, ISBN 208014532, Paris.
  5. Erlmann, V. (edt). Hearing Cultures – Essays on Sound, Listening and Modernity. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2004.
  6. Johnson, J. (1995). Listening in Paris: A Cultural History, Univ. California Press, ISBN 0520206487, Berkeley.
  7. Kahn, D. (1999). Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts, MIT Press, ISBN 0262611724, Cambridge.
  8. LaBelle, B. (2010). Acoustic Territories – Sound Culture and Everyday Life, Continuum, ISBN 1441161368, New York.
  9. Ribeiro, L.C. (2011). O Mundo é Uma Paisagem Devastada pela Harmonia, Vega, ISBN 9789726999669, Lisbon.
  10. Schafer, R.M. (1977). The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, Knopf, ISBN 0892814551, New York.
  11. Smith, B.R. (1999). The Acoustic World of Early Modern England – Attending to the O-Factor, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226763773, Chicago and London.
  12. Thompson, E. (2002). The Soundscape of Modernity: architectural acoustics and the culture of listening in America, 1900-1933, MIT Press, ISBN 0262701065, Cambridge.


Luís Cláudio Ribeiro is professor of Sound Studies and head of Communication Sciences Department at Lusófona University, in Lisbon. PhD in Communication Sciences, develops research activity in the field of media epistemology and sound. His recent publications focus on the medium, identification and characterization of changes by the use of sound mediators in contemporary society: O Mundo é uma Paisagem Devastada pela Harmonia (Lisboa: Vega, 2011) e O Som Moderno – Novas formas de criação e escuta (Lisboa: Edições Lusófonas, 2011).). He is the main investigator of the project Lisbon SoundMap, supported by the Portuguese Government (FCT): and In addition to the academic activity, he is also a poet and novelist. The most recent books are Sucede no entanto que o Outono veio (Lisboa: 2013) and Um Jardim Abandonado que Desbota (Lisboa:2014).

The Lisbon Sound Map project is supported by the Portuguese Government (FCT). This paper was presented at the Echopolis – Days of Sound, September, 30- 2013, Michael Cacoyannis Fundation, Athens, Greece.