Soundscape: Anger and its Carillon

— Sara Keller

Our last city walk took us on an exploration of the atmosphere of Erfurt’s squares. Atmospheres, we concluded, are as fascinating as they are ephemeral and difficult to grasp. In search of understanding urban atmospheres, recent studies in architecture and designing, but also geography, sociology, philosophy and psychology drew particularly attention to sound and the acoustic environment (to mention but a few, see Schafer 1977, Attali and Garcia 2016, Garrioch 2003, Gandy 2017, Lenzi and Lindborg 2021). Soundscape, a term coined by composer Raymond Murray Schafer (1933-2021), refers to our sonic environment, including natural and man-made sounds. In urban context, the soundscape proves to be a determining element of the urban sensory environment and a producer of ambiances (Schafer 1977). It triggers a diversity of affective states and shapes the atmosphere of individual spaces (Gandy 2017: 358). Working on historical soundscape help reconstructing past urban atmospheres (Burgess and Andrew 2000, Garrioch 2003, also see Rubin 2021) and the appropriation of urban space (Novák 2020), while the study of present soundscapes raises question related to sociability, spaces, health and sensibility (Schafer 1977, Lenzi and Lindborg 2021).

During our last City Walk on ‘Attitudes, Atmospheres, Aspirations’, we experienced and reflected on the soundscape of Anger, one of Erfurt’s major squares. Besides the chatting of flâneurs and the sound of the shops, we could also intermittently hear traffic noises such as the tram passing or cycle bells. In the distance, the Anger fountain could be perceived, as well as the singing of birds and the barking of dogs. As we were standing there, a bell rang suddenly rang, followed by a second and a third: this was the carillon of the Bartholomäusturm. So, as a follow up of this City Walk, we scheduled a visit of the carillon of the Bartholomäusturm under the guidance of Mr Ulrich Seidel, Carillonneur of Erfurt.

Bells certainly are an iconic sound of urban environments, in fact a sure sign of urbanity in the European context since the early Middle Ages. Unique object, the cathedral bell gave an unmatched sound identity to its city. For that matter, Erfurt’s urbanity is marked by the sound of the Gloriosa, an extraordinary bell casted in 1497 –and that prides itself on being the largest free-swinging medieval bell in the world. Church bells were not just the loudest sound of the town (Garrioch 2003: 5), but also an important signifier announcing both war and festivities. Eventually, not only churches rang bells, but also monasteries, town halls and even urban magnates: Bells, demonstrated Corbin, also spoke for social and political struggle (Corbin 1994). The Erfurter Carillon im Bartholomäusturm goes back to 1979 when the bell set was installed in the old tower of the Bartholomäus church in order to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the GDR. The carillon has 60 bronze bells, that are ringing at regular hours (10 am, 12 and 18 pm). They also play occasional concerts, to the delight of the inhabitants, thus enlivening the Anger area and creating there an unmatched urban atmosphere.

Many thanks to Mr Karsten Grobe for the information on the Carillon, and to Mr Ulrich Seidel, Carillonneur of Erfurt for the kind and informative visit. I would also like to address special thanks to Prof. Dr.  Annette Haug for the stimulating discussion on urban atmospheres.

Sara Keller is a post-doctoral researcher in the KFG “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations”. She specialises in history of architecture and space, and currently works on water spaces in South Asia.

Short bibliography

Attali, Jean and Jesús Torres Garcia. 2016. “La ville-pluri-sensorielle : de la vibration sonore au projet d’architecture.” Paris, San Francisco, Hong Kong. Ambiances, tomorrow. Proceedings of 3rd International Congress on Ambiances. Volos, Grèce: 259–264.

Burgess, Clive, and Andrew Wathey. 2000. “Mapping the Soundscape: Church Music in English Towns, 1450–1550.” Early Music History 19: 1–46.

Corbin, Alain. [1994] 1998. Village Bells. Sound and Meaning in the 19th-century French Countryside. New York.

Gandy, Matthew. 2017. “Urban atmospheres.” Cultural geographies, Vol. 24(3): 353–374.

Garrioch, David. 2033. “Sounds of the City: The Soundscape of Early Modern European Towns.” Urban History 30, no. 1: 5–25.

Lenzi S, Sádaba J. and P. Lindborg. 2021. “Soundscape in Times of Change: Case Study of a City Neighbourhood During the COVID-19 Lockdown.” Front. Psychol. 12:570741. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.570741

Novák, Veronika. 2020. “L’espace du cri à Paris aux XIVe-XVIe siècles : recherches sur les « lieux accoutumés »”, Revue historique, vol. 696, no. 4: 61–86.

Rubin, Miri. “Religion and Urbanity: Difference and Commonality in Religious Processions.” Religion and Urbanity Online, edited by Susanne Rau and Jörg Rüpke. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1515/urbrel.16031909

Schafer, R. Murray. 1977. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Alfred Knopf.


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