Favourite Beijing Sounds

by Peter Cusack

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in 2006, UK field recording artist and impro musician Peter Cusack visited Beijing for participate art project Sound And The City which organized by British Council. as a side result, he edited Favorite Beijing Sound. He recorded most pieces of it, the rest by students volunteers and local artists. Favorite Beijing Sounds is also the next step of Your Favourite London Sounds (2001) which was a research and field recording project hold by Peter Cusack.


“What is your favourite sound of Beijing, and why?”

During September 2005 hundreds of Beijingers were asked this question and their replies make up the tracks of this CD. Together the responses are as varied and extraordinary as the city itself. They reveal the Beijing of the ear, as opposed to that of the eye.

At the beginning of the 21st century Beijing is at the forefront of the world's attention. Fundamental changes are taking place at phenomenal speed. Inward migration increases an already huge population. Traffic dominates where only a few years ago bicycles ruled the streets. As fast as the hutongs, Beijing's traditional housing, are demolished tower blocks rise in their place. Millions visit each year. The economic style is unashamedly commercial.

But what does all this sound like? The answer is that it's fantastic. Currently Beijing has one of the most fascinating soundscapes to be heard. This may not last. Older unique sounds are disappearing as newer, more globally familiar, ones take their place. But at the moment the old and new co-exist. Amongst the loud and chaotic there are still places of the utmost quiet. Music, live and recorded, is everywhere. People like to talk, hum and sing. It is a city of sound loops. Ubiquitous loudhailers repeatedly blast out competing advertising slogans. Pigeons fitted with bamboo whistles create eerie chords above your head when they fly. Buses screech, salesgirls yell and clap their hands, taximeters talk and woks sizzle. Street cries are still commonplace. And in the parks older people sing revolutionary songs in choirs sometimes hundreds strong, while others engage in caged-bird singing contests, ballroom dance or practice tai chi.

It is from these everyday sounds that Beijingers have suggested their favourites. The sounds themselves and people’s answers to why they were chosen show how significance sound is to our work and personal lives. The choices vary greatly from person to person and are often given with unexpected detail. Some are loud sounds meant for the whole community, and others are the small and more intimate sounds of life. Not surprisingly for a period of such profound change they reflect not only present feelings and past memories, but hopes and anxieties for the city’s future too. The stories and observations that people associated with their sounds were fascinating. Building sites at night represent the coming of noise and the disappearance of silence; the sound of children playing signifies that Beijing is still a child needing care and protection. Some of these wonderful comments are given with the individual track information.

The ‘Favourite Sound Project’ aims to discover what people find positive about their city’s soundscape. It started in London in 1998 and still continues there. Chicago followed later. ‘Favourite Sounds of Beijing’ was set up in 2005 by the British Council as part of their ‘Sound in the City’ initiative that also took place in Shanghai, Chongqing and Guangzhou. In all places the project has generated much discussion in the media and amongst artists and people generally. Questions of a city’s sound identity, the rapid changes in soundscape, disappearing and new sounds, noise problems and how they can be tackled and creative approaches to the sound environment have all been raised. Despite its importance to us in our everyday lives sound receives far less attention than it should. I hope that in the future this project will continue to increase the discussion.

Peter Cusack – April 2007


There are many to thank for contributing to this CD; friends Clive Bell and David Toop with whom I first explored Beijing’s amazing soundscape; all those involved at the British Council, particularly Colin Chinnery without whose phenomenal energy the project would never have happened and Leah Zakss for handling the London end; recordists Gao Lei, Dong Xuancheng from Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Art and Ken Fields and students from the Central Conservatory of Music for all their commitment and work; Janice Hart and Eve Waring at the London College of Communication for their support; Steve Barker, Xiaxia and Chaos Y. Chen for valuable insights.
Very special thanks go to Yan Jun for his recordings, editorial help and as the CD producer and, particularly to Liang Junhong, my guide and translator around Beijing without whom I would have experienced only a fraction of the city that I did. This is for her.


released September 1, 2007

All recordings Peter Cusack except where noted

english translation: Frankie Su

kwanyin 022
supported by British Council





Sub Jam Beijing, China

Sub Jam is a label and organization based in Beijing. Since 2000, it had working on underground music, film and literature. Now focus on improvised music and experimental sound practice. Its sub-label, Kwanyin Records starts since 2004.

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