Sonic West: listening to Amsterdam Oud West

Exploring the hidden gardens (binnentuinen) of Amsterdam Oud West.

Together with Mayke Haringhuizen, we are the two artists-in-residence of Sonic West for 2019-2020: a project dedicated to the sounds of Amsterdam Oud West, initiated by Soundtrackcity. Sonic West invites different artists every year to create work inspired by (the sounds of) the neighborhood, but also invites the neighbors, and sound enthusiasts who visit the area, to contribute with their own recordings via the Sonic West app (available for free in the Google and Apple store). The results can be heard in an Installation – Listening Object located in café Belcampo in De Hallen, but also in the Sonic West app.

In our own work, we decided to explore the sounds of the hidden gardens (binnentuinen) of Oud West. Those gardens are behind building blocks, and they are accessible only by the residents of those buildings. Although almost all houses have a view to an open space in the back side, it is often impossible to guess whether there is a garden or not, and who can access it.

Typically, since the neighborhood is in the center of Amsterdam, the front side of the buildings is often surrounded by busy streets with trams, cars, and bikes passing by. There are also many bars and shops in the area, open spaces, playgrounds for children, and a busy open market (Ten Katemarkt). Therefore, in many of these streets, there is traffic, noise, and a mixture of various sounds masking each other.

Ten Katemarkt

On the contrary, in the back yards, the scenery is very different. The gardens are exceptionally green and many of the noisy sounds that dominate the outside streets are blocked by the buildings. As a result, when entering a garden, there is a peaceful and quiet environment where the flora and fauna thrive, and the birds sound louder than anywhere else in the city center. Exploring a new garden is a very exciting process and, for this reason, we decided to expose those unique sounds and give a glimpse of this atmosphere to the public.

A guest in a hidden garden around Kinkerstraat
Hidden garden in Overtoom

Our work consists of three parts. First, we compose music based on those field recordings, mainly inspired by this contrast between the inside and outside world. Second, we create a form of artistic, audio documentaries based on interviews with some of the residents. In these interviews, they are asked to talk about their own (sonic) experiences related to the garden they have access to. Third, we organize guided soundwalks/listeningwalks where we encourage the audience to start listening to the sounds around them while occasionally revealing some of those hidden sounds via our recordings.

In the trailer below you can get an idea of our work.

The entire project will be presented in June 2020 in a live performance in Amsterdam and soon after it will be published online digitally as well as in a CD.

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