Urban Sound Symposium

April 19-21, 2023

Plenary program overview

The symposium will take place on three days; each day is dedicated to a separate topic:

  • Wednesday, 19 April 2023: Health & Noise, Social aspects of noise exposure, Urban biodiversity
  • Thursday, 20 April 2023: Techniques and technologies
  • Friday, 21 April 2023: Noise Policy and urban sound planning

The program of the symposium is shown below.

Wednesday, 19 April 2023 – Health & Noise, Social aspects of noise exposure, Urban biodiversity

13:00Welcome by the local organizer
Rosa Maria Alsina Pagès (Universitat Ramon Llull, LaSalle Barcelona, Spain)Welcome
13:15Welcome and brief introduction of the programDick Botteldooren (Ghent University, Belgium), Jian Kang (University College London, UK)Welcome
13:30Urban sound in an exposome contextJenny Selander (Karolinska Institutet Stockholm, Sweden)Talk
14:15Inequity in urban noise exposure
Catherine Guastavino, Christopher Trudeau (McGill University, Canada)Talk
15:00Break & poster session
15:30Urban biodiversity and soundscapesMike Woods (University of Salford)Talk
16:15Hearing deficits and natural soundscapes
Christian Lorenzi (L'École normale supérieure Paris, France)Talk
17:00Urban sound for allPanelPanel discussion
20:00Joint congress dinner

Thursday, 20 April 2023 – Techniques and technologies

09:00Machine listening as a tool for urban sound monitoringMark Plumbley (University of Surrey, UK)Talk
09:45Participatory monitoringArnaud Can (Université Gustave Eiffel, France)Talk
10:30Monitoring-based urban sound controlRosa Maria Alsina Pagès (Universitat Ramon Llull, LaSalle Barcelona, Spain)Talk
11:15Break & poster session
11:45Urban acoustics and auralisationJens Forssen (Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden)Talk
12:30Real world noise intervention studies
Tony Leroux (Université de Montréal, Canada)Talk
14:00Urban sound in virtual reality
Michael Vorländer (RWTH Aachen University, Germany)Talk
14:45Audiovisual interactions in environmental sound perception
Timothy Van Renterghem (Ghent University, Belgium)Talk
15:30Break & poster session
16:00Artistic sonic knowledge of urban spacesLisa Hall (University of the Arts London, UK)Talk
16:45Co-creation in urban soundNicola Di Croce (Università Iuav di Venezia, Italy)Talk
17:30Sound art demonstrationStijn Dickel (aifoon, Belgium), Michiel Huijsman (Soundtrackcity, Amsterdam)Demo

Friday, 21 April 2023 – Noise policy and Urban sound planning

08:30Living together in urban soundEdda Bild (McGill University, Canada)Talk
09:15Soundscape restorativenessSarah Payne (University of Surrey) Talk
10:00Anatomy of a noise complaintRuth Bernatek (University of Oxford)Talk
10:45Break & poster session
11:15Noise policy in cities : planning tranquil spaces in AntwerpRaf Verbruggen (city of Antwerp, Belgium)Talk
11:45Aural diversityJohn Drever (University of London)Talk
12:15Regional noise policyJavier Casado (Barcelona City Council)Talk
12:45Urban sound : Quo vadis?PanelPanel discussion

Abstracts – Health & Noise, Social aspects of noise exposure, Urban biodiversity

Inequity in urban noise exposure

Catherine Guastavino, Christopher Trudeau

Sound can be an environmental pollutant (noise) with detrimental health effects or an environmental resource with beneficial well-being outcomes. Sonic injustice as considers social inequalities in both noise exposure and access to high-quality, beneficial sound environments. This talk presents the results of a comparative analysis of 33 peer-reviewed studies on sonic injustice from Europe, North America, Accra and Hong Kong. There is mixed evidence of social inequality in noise exposure, where low income and race/ethnicity are often associated with an overexposure to noise, while children were often associated with an underexposure to noise. As well, this talk presents estimated levels of inequality in noise exposure; highlights the lack of research on beneficial sound environments; and presents avenues for future investigations into sonic injustice.

Hearing deficits and natural soundscapes

Christian Lorenzi

“Natural soundscapes” correspond to complex arrangements of biological and geophysical sounds shaped by habitat-specific sound propagation effects, with marginal contribution of sounds generated by human activity (Grinfeder et al., 2022). The capacity to build a “perceptual soundscape” should be useful for mapping the close environment, navigating, assessing resources and danger, or more simply building a sense of place and time. However, despite the high adaptive and psychological value of processing natural soundscapes, very little is known about the auditory cues and mechanisms at work for humans (Thoret et al., 2020). This is true not only for typical (normal) hearing but also for all forms of hearing disorders. This is quite surprising given the numerous benefits of exposure to natural sounds, such as improved health and cognitive outcomes, positive affect and decreased stress and annoyance. The goal of the present study was to assess natural soundscape discrimination for human listeners with sensorineural hearing loss. The ability to discriminate natural soundscapes recorded in a temperate terrestrial biome (Krause et al., 2011; Thoret et al., 2020) was measured in a group of hearing-impaired (HI) listeners with bilateral, mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss and a group of normal-hearing (NH) controls. Soundscape discrimination was measured using a three-interval oddity paradigm and the method of constant stimuli. On each trial, sequences of 2-second recordings varying the habitat, season and period of the day were presented diotically at a nominal SPL of 60 dB except for one HI listener who was tested at a nominal SPL of 80 dB. Discrimination scores were above chance level for both groups, but they were poorer for HI than NH listeners. On average, the scores of HI listeners were relatively well accounted for by those of NH listeners tested with stimuli spectrally shaped to match the frequency-dependent reduction in audibility of individual HI listeners. However, the scores of HI listeners were not significantly correlated with pure-tone audiometric thresholds and age. These results indicate that the ability to discriminate natural soundscapes associated with changes in habitat, season and period of the day is disrupted but it is not abolished. The deficits of the HI listeners are partly accounted for by reduced audibility. Supra-threshold auditory deficits and individual listening strategies may also explain differences between NH and HI listeners. The implications for hearing aid rehabilitation will be discussed.


  1. Grinfeder, E., Lorenzi, C., Haupert, S., Sueur, J. 2022. What do we mean by “soundscape”? A functional description. Front. Ecol. Evol., 10, 894232 doi: 10.3389/fevo.2022.894232
  2. Krause, B., Gage, S.H., Joo, W., 2011. Measuring and interpreting the temporal variability in the soundscape at four places in Sequoia National Park. Landsc. Ecol., 26, 1247-1256.
  3. Thoret, E., Varnet, L., Boubenec, Y., Ferriere, R., Le Tourneau, F.-M., Krause, B., Lorenzi, C., 2020. Characterizing amplitude and frequency modulation cues in natural soundscapes: A pilot study in four habitats of a biosphere reserve. J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 147, 3260-3274.

Abstracts – Techniques and technologies

Machine listening as a tool for urban sound monitoring

Mark Plumbley

Imagine you are standing on a street corner in a city. Close your eyes: what do you hear? Perhaps some cars and busses driving on the road, footsteps of people on the pavement, beeps from a pedestrian crossing, and the hubbub of talking shoppers. You can do the same in a kitchen as someone is making breakfast, or as you are travelling in a vehicle. Now, following the success of AI and machine learning technologies for speech and image recognition, we are beginning to build computer systems to automatically recognize real-world sound scenes and events. In this talk, we will explore some of the work going on in this rapidly expanding research area, and discuss some of the potential applications emerging for sound recognition, from home security and assisted living to urban sound monitoring. We will also outline how we are adopting participatory methods to help us realise the potential benefit of machine listening to society and the economy.

Participatory monitoring

Arnaud Can

The management of sound environments is a major issue in urban planning, in a context of urban densification, increased mobility and strong social demand for calm. However, this management comes up against a gap between quantitative and qualitative approaches to noise. Moreover, the management of sound environments lies within a context where urban governance is increasingly oriented towards citizen involvement. The presentation will explore the hypothesis that participatory measurement could contribute both to an alternative characterization of sound environments, and to stimulating the involvement of inhabitants in sound environment issues. The idea of smartphone applications to measure sound levels is that each inhabitant can make geo-localized measurements via their smartphone, which are sent to a server where post-processing is carried out. The advantage of this approach, apart from the possibility of collecting data from all over the territory, is to involve the inhabitants in the collection process.

The presentation will report an experimentation in the city of Rezé, using NoiseCapture, whose objectives were twofold: (i) test a protocol for diagnosing noise environments involving inhabitants on a city scale, (ii) evaluate the interest of a smartphone application for measuring noise, namely NoiseCapture, as a vector of this citizen participation in the context of noise. The idea is for the city to be able to draw on inhabitant knowledge when designing new urban developments.

Real world noise intervention studies

Tony Leroux

Traffic and construction noise might hinder large proportion of population living nearby highways and construction sites. For instance, during the rehabilitation project of a major urban highway in Montreal (Quebec, Canada), about 28% of residents living less than 300 m from the demolition/reconstruction sites reported to be highly annoyed by construction noise and traffic noise. These results were obtained as part of a 4-year longitudinal study aimed to identify factors that may explain annoyance from noise generated by this rehabilitation project. Various mitigation measures were put in place in order to control and reduce noise levels and other nuisances associated with the remodeling of the infrastructure. These were 1) temporary noise barriers, 2) establishment of noise emission limits, 3) website providing real-time information on noise levels and air pollution, 4) independent surveillance of construction site, 5) citizen’s committees and complaint management systems, 6) procedures to water down dust and clean the streets and sidewalks, 7) compulsory use of white noise back-up alarms, 8) road signs to better redirect traffic and 9) paths to ensure safe travel of bikes and pedestrians. The main goal of this study was to investigate knowledge, use and satisfaction of mitigation measures by residents within 1000 m of the highway rehabilitation project. The second aim was to investigate the relationship between satisfaction with mitigation measures and construction noise annoyance. Our hypothesis was that satisfaction with mitigation measures would explain a significant proportion in the variance of noise annoyance ratings. A total of 1409 participants were included in a first socio-acoustic survey conducted in 2018, and 609 in a second survey repeated in 2020. While residents were generally satisfied with most of mitigation measures, a reduction in their perceived effectiveness was observed in the 2020 survey. The perception of mitigation measures explained up to 6.5% of the variance in construction noise annoyance. Our results show that implementing comprehensive mitigation measures can help to reduce construction noise annoyance. These findings are especially relevant for authorities around the world, considering the increase in concerns about environmental issues and the surge of extensive long-term construction projects.

Urban sound in virtual reality

Michael Vorländer

Computer methods for simulation and auralization became standard tools for architectural-acoustic design and for application in indoor and outdoor scenarios. Another field of rapid progress is Virtual Reality – the combination of real-time signal processing with user interaction and multimodal (audio-visual) human-machine interfaces. In this presentation, the development of simulation tools in urban acoustics and further work aiming at real-time Acoustic Virtual Reality systems are reviewed. Virtual acoustics can incorporate any situational context and scene conditions with sources and sound propagation features in given environments. In consequence, groundbreaking research in auditory perception can be expected with higher degree of realism and with still high reproducibility. The presentation will highlight guidelines for creation and evaluation of such Virtual Acoustic Environments for application in urban environments and soundscape research.

Audiovisual interactions in environmental sound perception

Timothy Van Renterghem

When people perceive environments, they use all their senses, and vision and audition take a prominent place. These sensory inputs have to be merged in the brain, and they will interact. There is yet sufficient evidence that a positive visual might alleviate (negative) effects related to environmental noise exposure. In a dense urban setting, measures for actual noise level reduction are few and most often inefficient. This means that exploiting such audio-visual interactions is potentially a valuable approach. Green window view, or seeing outdoor vegetation through the windows of one’s dwelling, has been extensively studied before with relation to self-reported noise annoyance. Studies include long-term noise annoyance assessed at the dwelling through surveys, but also virtual reality settings in the lab. In order to bring this idea to the urban sound planning arena, design guidelines to maximally benefit from this positive audio-visual interaction are needed. Two recently conducted virtual reality experiments will be discussed, aiming at finding both the optimum green quantity and quality.

Artistic sonic knowledge of urban spaces

What insights do artistic and curatorial sonic practice share about the urban condition? In this presentation I will present my research exploring urban sound arts festivals / exhibitions as curatorial and artistic methods of urban enquiry and as unique archives of urban sonic knowledge.

I will give a curatorial tour of the online exhibition ‘Acts of Air: reshaping the urban sonic’, an exhibition that requires audience participation to realise the artworks in urban spaces around the world, as a means to explore and interrogate cities of sound. The project generated a large collection of performance ‘traces’ (videos, images and texts) and feedback from workshop participants that provide sonic perspectives about the urban experience. I will also present my research into urban sound arts festivals, exploring the curatorial shaping of these investigations and the topics of artistic enquiry addressed by these artists. Through this work I intend to highlight the insight into the urban experience that is identified by these creative sonic practices and the methods through which they are realised.

Co-creation in urban sound

Nicola Di Croce

This presentation focuses on participatory and collaborative approaches to investigate and co-create the urban sonic environment within the framework of urban planning research. Drawing from the results of a two years project (2021-2022) developed in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacle (QDS), it outlines the different steps of a multi-method research encompassing in-person field recordings, participatory listening sessions, and collaborative workshops, which eventually led to the implementation and assessment of a temporary sound installation. The installation was realized during October 2022 in a small public square located in the heart of QDS. The composition was informed by the outcomes of the workshops that engaged residents and city users of QDS, and addressed issues of traffic noise on the nearby streets and social inclusiveness within the square. The installation and the previous steps of the study thus illustrate how a participatory process can effectively impact on the future of underused and problematic urban areas. More broadly, building on current conversations on Tactical Urbanism and Research-Creation in the context of urban planning research, the presentation discusses how a sonic-oriented participatory approach can meaningfully help reframing the urban agenda giving new tools to urban researchers and professionals to address the intertwined issues affecting the attractiveness, livability and inclusiveness of contemporary cities.

Sound art demonstration

Stijn Dickel

aifoon is an arts organization based in Ghent, Belgium. It uses sound and listening as a critical and co-creative tool to achieve artistic, social and cultural dialogue. In the coming years, their artistic work on the art of listening will focus on auditory coexistence in the city and public space. aifoon’s artistic concepts, methods and technologies trigger questions about the auditive environment in which we live. They are accessible tools to work with a broad audience, e.g. local residents of an urban neighborhood, children in schools, public spaces, … . aifoon wants to use their participative expertise to generate impact in a way that is complementary to other disciplines that deal with the auditory qualities of living together.

aifoon’s main research questions are:
– Can an approach that focuses on listening rather than sound help the general public and the visual experts (e.g. city makers, urban planners, architects) to open up rhetorics, experiences and perceptions?
– Can aifoon’s artistic means generate an awareness of our auditive blindness and push towards a richer listening culture?
– Can this listening approach help to monitor and co-design cities in their auditive evolution?

If we want to imagine how we want to coexist in the city of the future, listening art offers a unique free space in which we can do that, as a kind of incubator for new ideas. It can transform experiences and design beyond the good, the bad and the ugly sounds we live in. In this way, art can be an essential part of a process of change and action.

Michiel Huijsman

Urban planners, architects, engineers and other professionals who design on the city are traditionally not very concerned with how their designs affect how the city sounds, other than that certain sound volumes (Db) should not be exceeded. In recent years though we are witnessing a “qualitative turn”; there is more and more demand for designs that provide a positive sensory experience, including the auditory. Designers, however, are often unsure how to go about this. The presentation discusses how Sonic Aggregator, an interactive listening installation developed for Soundtrackcity, functions as a physical hub in participatory urban processes. The installation’s acoustically perfected semi-open sound space provides ideal conditions for listening and creates a framework to critically examine listening experiences. Sonic Aggregator is used as a starting point to further discuss how to transform urban design processes and how sound can be integrated as a design component

Abstracts – Noise policy and Urban sound planning

Living together in urban sound

Edda Bild

Cities worldwide are struggling to balance livability and vitality, and sound is often the main point of contention. Ensuring sonic cohabitation between residential or industrial activities, on the one hand, and recreational activities, on the other, in neighborhoods increasingly relying on tourism or industrial development is a matter of, above all, communication and engagement with stakeholders. In this talk, I offer an overview of a two-year cross-sector collaboration between academia (Sounds in the City – led by Prof. Catherine Guastavino) and the public sector (City of Montreal and the Regional Public Health Agency) on what sonic cohabitation means in Montreal, emphasizing sources of sonic conflict and enjoyment as well as reflecting on the documentation and communication process. I describe two mixed methods studies conducted on living 1. in a festival area (downtown Montreal) and 2. in an industrial neighborhood (Assumption Sud-Longue Pointe), initially aimed at providing recommendations for future nightlife policies in Montreal. I use that as a starting point to discuss the methodological and institutional challenges in documenting sonic experiences in vibrant and ever-changing environments still grappling with COVID-19 and to open a conversation on how to ensure effective knowledge mobilization, transparency and encourage sound awareness among stakeholders.

Soundscape restorativeness

Sarah Payne

Human responses to soundscapes are vast and varied, positive or negative, simple and complex. Yet, there has been much traction over the last decade for the need to create restorative soundscapes, with psychological restoration becoming a key desirable outcome for designing a positive soundscape. To be able to design and plan restorative soundscapes, the methodologies used to evaluate them are important. Thus, approaches to measuring restorative soundscapes will be discussed alongside how the measures align with those proposed as basic requirements in the ISO Soundscape data collection and reporting standard. Additionally, the role of quiet, tranquil, and calm areas in creating restorative cities will be considered. Advancements and new directions of research in this area will be highlighted alongside reflecting on the value we place on the pursuit for restorative soundscapes.

Anatomy of a noise complaint

Ruth Bernatek

The management of noise in an urban context has been the subject of extensive scholarship. Overwhelmingly, the literature has focused on how ‘mitigation’, ‘avoidance’ and ‘reduction’ of unwanted or offensive noise protects default liberties; the ‘peaceful enjoyment’ of our home and environment, and our physical and mental well-being. Within the UK, built environment professions use numerical standards and formats developed through expert knowledge to objectively assess healthy or ‘appropriate’ environmental noise levels. Accordingly, the local governance of noise is underpinned by global regulatory frameworks, international standards, building regulations and codes, planning and licensing policies. However, everyday experiences of unwanted or offensive noise in the built environment – where sounds or sonic vibrations are perceived by the subject as crossing party boundaries – is dealt with by local authorities via noise complaint systems, and ultimately by the British courts under nuisance law. Contrary to what the data driven urban soundscape suggests, and as Cooper (2002) and Valverde (2011) have convincingly shown, the intersubjectivity of noise nuisance and its underlying values cannot be ‘written out’ of apparently objective legal or regulatory systems. Through an analysis of the noise complaint, and noise complaint processes in the UK, this paper focuses on how legal forms and conceptualizations of noise nuisance and urban acoustic regulatory regimes are mutually constitutive. Drawing from recent fieldwork in Brixton, I demonstrate how the noise complaint is mobilized as a bridging tool between intersubjective noise nuisance and centralized urban acoustic planning protocols. Bringing together different quantitative and qualitative perspectives of noise, in different acoustic and sociolegal urban contexts, as an ‘anatomy’ of built and systemic architectures of sound in the city that converge at the site of the body.

Noise policy in cities: planning tranquil spaces in Antwerp

Raf Verbruggen

In 2021, the city of Antwerp started an innovation track on quiet urban areas and urban sound planning. In seven pilot projects, the city investigates how the design, planning and management of public spaces can ensure a pleasant sound experience. In this way, the city aims to contribute to a healthy environment, where people can experience the urban bustle in a pleasant way or recover from it in a quiet place nearby. The innovation track provides designers and planners with additional insights into how sound is experienced and which measures can contribute to a pleasant sound climate and more quiet places in the city.

Aural diversity

John Drever

For more than 80 years, acoustics has relied upon A-weighted decibels – after Fletcher and Munson’s equal loudness curves (1933) – to represent human hearing in acoustic design and noise control. Finessed over the years, the A-weighting curve still resides at the heart of key standards, and through practice is inscribed on multiple levels into the built environment. But this norm explicitly characterises the hearing of 18 to 25-year-olds with no hearing impairments (BS ISO 226:2003). The concept of auraldiversity was born out of a study into high-speed hand dryers in publicly accessible toilets (Drever 2017). The study found a wide range of users adversely impacted due to high, yet admissible, sound levels in this complex and sensitive space: breast-feeding mothers, infants and children, visually impaired, hearing aid users, Alzheimer’s disease, Ménière’s disease, PTSD, cerebral palsy and, most significantly, people with hyperacusis and tinnitus, and autistic people with hyperacute hearing. Using this study as a microcosm for environmental noise issues within the urban environment, this talk will challenge the assumption of whose auditory experience we are taking into account in urban sound design.

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