Exploring Georgestown through Sound Experiences
By: Ehsan Mohammadi
Sounds deposit a symbolic bank of meanings and can reveal the hidden layers and aspects of people and their environments. Sensory experiences, and especially auditory patterns, have changed dramatically through the years due to advancing technologies, material revolution, and different lifestyles of people. If we compare the map of Georgestown from past to present, we can see that many trades and local businesses, and consequently many sounds, no longer exist. What are Georgestown’s current sounds? What are its lost sounds?
Sounds in and from Gathering Places
Religious sites can feature prominently in the cultural identity of a neighborhood. In the case of Georgestown, The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a striking presence. The sounds of its bells, organ, and church services are part of the collective memory of many people in the neighborhood. Other sounds are associated with activities of the pub, café, and bakery and their customers. On different occasions during the day, you can see and hear young people playing basketball or soccer in Century Park or on the Saint Bonaventure’s College football pitch.
Sounds of Nature
Just as in the other urban neighborhoods, in Georgestown human-made sounds eclipse natural ones and it is not an exaggeration to say that the sounds of nature have become an often overlooked backdrop. However, nature has not entirely lost its voice and on occasion you can hear rain when it’s dripping on the leaves or running down into sewers. You can hear dogs barking and when it’s sunny, the birds chirping. In addition, one can always hear the wind howling through the trees.
Sounds of Human Beings and their Activities
Despite soundproof ceilings, windows, and doors, in Georgestown, like the other neighborhoods, many different sounds still emanate from houses. These include sounds of music and instruments, sounds of equipment and cars, and casual conversation between the neighbors. If you walk through the neighborhood, you can hear different renovation and construction sounds and even occasionally hear the exhaust from a clothes dryer blowing air through the vent in a house wall. Private cars, delivery trucks, service vehicles, helicopters and airplanes are the other types of sounds in the area. Sometimes you can hear residents, students, children, visitors, and tourists in the streets.
Although there is a Neighborhood Watch program, Georgestown is a safe and quiet neighborhood. People are very friendly, and visitors and tourists are welcomed. With a lack of local markets and corner stores, people shop outside the neighborhood at chain stores. Consequently this cuts down on the interactions among residents and there are not a lot of collective sounds. Natural and human sounds are sometimes drowned out by the sounds of traffic.
In my interview with one Georgestown resident, Laura Winter, she reflected on neighborhood sounds. She spoke with regret about the disappearance of the sounds associated with local stores and with kids playing in the streets. She explained that many children’s’ play traditions, such as street games, do not exist anymore, and as an elementary school teacher, she tries to introduce similar activities to the children in her classes. She worries that the natural sounds of neighborhood have been replaced by the noise of vehicles, truck horns, and other and machinery. She spoke of changing the location of her bedroom from the front to the back of her house because the muster station of brewery is right out front. Another resident I spoke with echoed some of these thoughts as she reminisced about the lost sounds in the neighborhood and shared how she missed the sound of children skateboarding on the streets.
To sum up, the auditory experience of living in Georgestown has been changed over time in many ways; today Georgestown sounds like a different place than it did in earlier years.