Committee on Environment, Geography and Urbanization

Division of Social Sciences, The University of Chicago

Issue 7 | Spring 2024

The Choir of Hyde Park and Woodlawn

by Teddy Sandler


The carillon sounds through its surroundings from its home in Rockefeller Chapel. As the music carries, sound waves interact with the built environment and change shape, impacting how the music sounds. At the same time, noise from the environment emerges. This noise is location and time dependent, arising in any disturbance of the air, some movements too quiet to notice but as the disturbance grows, so does the sound until it is not only audible but understood. Close your eyes and listen to your surroundings. Even without sight movement, registered as sound creates a map of our surroundings. A bell, the brush of hands on a surface, a gust of wind, a machine, the rustle of leaves. If one listens close enough to detail, the built environment renders itself audibly. When we recognize a sound we can understand information about its source through differences in how it sounds. A bells tune decreases in volume with distance the shows produce an individualized impact dependent on the walkers actions. Recording also changes sound as it is flattened in its capture, how accurate of a representation is dependent on the technology and person who records. This technology is not always audible, which makes sound as a medium so compelling in why sound seems to be a truth of a recording and is commonly mistaken for a completely accurate form of documentary. Glitches sound ‘buggy,’ the person recording might breathe audibly, or wind might blow strongly enough to max out a microphone. Noises in the built environment not only hold meaning but hold their sonic representation. These noises can never be fully captured as identical to embodiment in that time and place but some representations make these noises identifiable. Recording documents sound as a medium and playback recreates the initial medium. In this project, we used recorders to capture sound in the audible vicinity of the carillon in Rockefeller Chapel. Located on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park Chicago, between South University Ave towards South Woodlawn Ave and between East 58th Street and East 59th Street, the bell also reaches audibly into the neighboring communities, specifically Woodlawn, only two and a half blocks away.

In my project I used the recordings, edited to draw attention to the meanings of these sounds. Recordings of different bells from inside Rockefeller Chapel ground the narrative in the audible vicinity of the bells. Contrasted immediately with a recording of the bells, quieter, where they are still the dominant noise, demonstrate these recordings as spread out. Noise is introduced as unrecognizable, violent and uncontrollable, but this turns into recognizable sounds of cars and planes. Wind, specifically when it maxes out the technology, is introduced in the context of higher volumes mechanical noises again suddenly to align both as uncontrollable in the number permutations to create sound. The sound of wind rustling leaves is brought in gently to give a sense of relief, using the quality of how leaves sound to escape the violence of broken technology. Language is brought sharply and disjointedly in various languages both forwards through time and reversed. This not only shows the construction of language but points its control to individuals. The final part pairs these past sounds together in harmony in a number of volumes and includes other sounds of people including walking, repeated similarly to speech. The ending strips back to lower volume examples and the bells tied with the amount of time the track lingers on these clips show the flowing nature of time, tied together within the soundscape of Hyde Park and Woodlawn by the carillon.