Soundwalking in the Reuterkiez!

On April 28, we celebrated the International Noise Awareness Day 2017, by means of a group soundwalk in the Reuterkiez in Berlin.

The International Noise Awareness Day (INAD) was founded by the Center for Hearing and Communication in 1996 to encourage people to do something about bothersome noise in the places where they work, live, and play. Since then, INAD has been celebrated every year on a Wednesday in April by individual member societies associated with the European Acoustics Association (EAA) in countries such as: Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Portugal, and Switzerland. Usually, series of events have been organized to address the society, especially young people who are among the most sensitive parts of our society.

This soundwalk in the Reuterkiez was organized by me and Michael Jäcker-Cüppers from the German Acoustical Society (DEGA), in collaboration with Rabea and Dominik from the Stadtteilbüro Reuterkiez, Prof. Juliana Kohl and the students from the Rütlischule and it was supervised by Prof. Schulte-Fortkamp (TU Berlin) as a National Representative for INAD17.


Fig. 1. Image depicting the entrance to the Rütlischule’s Campus (CC Antonella Radicchi 2017)

This soundwalk was also part of the “Soundwalking in the kiez! ” Program, which has been envisioned and organized by Stadtteilbüro Reuterkiez and me in the frame of the “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes” project I have been conducting in the neighborhood, in order to promote and diffuse the soundscape culture in the Reuterkiez. In detail, this year the soundwalk’s goal was to focus on the importance of identifying and protecting “everyday quiet areas” by involving young students from the Rütlischule in this process.

You may now wonder what is a soundwalk!
In the words of Hildegard Westerkamp – the German-Canadian composer and musician who, since the Sixties, has contributed to the definition and spread of soundwalking – a soundwalk is “any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment”. Since the early examples of soundwalks, practitioners have experimented with a huge variety of methods within the arts and humanities, social sciences, ecology studies and engineering; accordingly a search for the most appropriate method could represent a challenge, especially for newcomers. Thus, in my essay “A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking”, I provided a theoretical framework where methods are differentiated and explained according to the purposes to be fulfilled: civic and political, educational and research.



Fig.2. A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking, proposing four methods of soundwalking, according to civic and political, educational and research purposes. (C) Antonella Radicchi 2017

In the case of the INAD17, I designed the soundwalk applying the method “soundwalk with complex evaluation points” with research purposes (see Fig. 2), defining a route with several evaluation points along the way for the collection of qualitative and quantitative data (see Fig.3).


Fig. 3. Map illustrating the soundwalk’s path with the 5 evaluation points: (1) Campus Rütli (2) Reuterplatz (3) Neuköllner Wochenmarkt (4) Maybachufer (5) Pannierstrasse (C) Antonella Radicchi 2017

Then we prepared a questionnaire to hand out to the participants, with questions drawn mainly to evaluate quietness and understand which sounds positively and negatively impact on it. Questions to investigate the impact of the soundscape on feelings and sense of place were also included (see Fig. 4).



Fig. 4. Questionnaire designed for the soundwalk (C) Antonella Radicchi 2017

On April 28 2017, the activity took place from 1pm to 4pm. Michael gave a short introduction to the students in class, then we went out for the soundwalk with the group composed of nine thirteen years old students, their teachers Julian and Felix and Dominik form the Stadtteilbüro Reuterkiez. I guided the soundwalk and we walked in a line at a slow pace, stick to the predefined route, in silence. We stopped at each evaluation point, where we focused on listening for one minute, in silence, and then we collected mixed data – students by replying to the questionnaires and Michael and me by making noise measurements and field recordings respectively. This procedure was repeated at each evaluation point. For noise measurements we used a SAUTER SU 130 sound level meter and for field recording my ZOOM H4n.


Fig. 5. Picture of the group walking along the Maybachufer canal (CC) Antonella Radicchi 2017

At the end of the soundwalk, we went back to class where a group discussion took place. Students were invited to give feedback on their favorite sounds and the place where they heard them (see Fig. 6).


Fig. 6. Picture of the dashboard reporting the students’ feedback on their favorite sounds and the place where they heard them (CC) Antonella Radicchi 2017.

From an initial evaluation of the data collected by means of questionnaires and noise measurements, we got interesting results.

While at Campus Rütli sound pressure levels were lower than those measured at Reuterplatz (Leq 56,4 dB(A) versus Leq 59,8 dB(A)), most students perceived the soundscape at Campus Rütli rather less quiet than the soundscape at Reuterplatz. Sound pressure levels measured along the canal at Maybachufer were about Leq 58,6 dB(A), however students perceived the soundscape in different ways: some of them rated it as „slightly quiet“, others rated it as „quiet“ and „very quiet“. On the other hand, everyone agreed that soundscape at Pannierstrasse was „not quiet“, in accordance with the sound pressure level measurements (Leq 70 dB(A)).
With regard to the relation between quietness and feelings, students associated „quiet“ and „very quiet“ places with positive feelings, such as calm, relax, pleasantness. Among the sounds, which were indicated to have a positive impact on quietness, birds chirping was the most rated even in noisy spots such as Pannierstrasse; natural sounds coming from water, wind and trees also resulted in having a positive impact on quietness in the Reuterkiez. The sound, which mostly disturbed the sense of quietness, was associated with cars and traffic lining also rather quiet places such as Reuterplatz and the canal. A more detailed discussion of data collected is under development and it will be published in the next months. So, keep on following this blog, if you are curious to learn more about it :).

To conclude, soundwalking in the Reuterkiez with the students from the Rütlischule was a very rewarding experience and it confirmed the power of soundwalking as a tool for understanding and evaluating the sonic quality of our cities. We therefore recommend the integration of this kind of experience-based and participatory method in soundscapes evaluation and planning processes at the municipality level. And we look forward to the next soundwalk in the Reuterkiez!