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Streetnotes is a peer-reviewed journal for the interdisciplinary study of the city, its lifeways and social relations, with a special concern for the cultural and aesthetic forms that arise through its traffic.

Sounds and Silence in the Pandemic City

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Sounds and Silence in the Pandemic City
“Sounds and Silence in the Pandemic City”, edited by Jorge de La Barre and Blagovesta Momchedjikova, addresses the dimension of sound, when the usual public social life has been suspended for a prolonged period of time, and we have had to inhabit new, unfamiliar soundscapes.


Introduction: Sounds and Silence in the Pandemic City

Introduction to the Streetnotes 28: Sounds and Silence in the Pandemic City

Sonorities and Cities (in Times of Crisis)

The aim of this article is to explore some possibilities of hearing the city as a tool for an extended exploration and understanding of different aspects of urban dynamics and contradictions in socio-anthropological analysis. Starting from considerations of the secondary importance given to the sense of hearing in social research and theory, and the growing interest in the integration of all the senses for the construction of an embodied research apparatus which would contemplate the multidimensionality of everyday life, I explore two perspectives: the one contained in the different uses of the concept of soundscape, and the one referred to more recent appropriations of Henri Lefebvre's rhythmanalysis. Complementing the reflection, I use the theoretical suggestions based on sound perceptions, to produce some insights regarding the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on cities and everyday life.

The Sound Seasons

These pieces explore the seasons of sound in a city caught in the global pandemic.

Dodging Partitions

This a visual investigation into partitions, which separate space and sound.

Swimming Sounds

City sounds are scarce these days in Johnstown, PA. The population of this once-thriving rust belt town has shrunk to fewer than 20K people and is now focused on outdoor recreation and the arts. The YMCA pool is one place where, even in COVID times, the community gathers in the name of wellness.


A short response to the sounds of lockdowns during a session of a Zoom Writing Salon initiated by Michelle Dent which involved eight former colleagues from the Department of Performance Studies at New York University.

Rest in Power Portraits: Reverberations

A close description of a 2020 summer public art project in support of Black Lives Matter, at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York.

Stories in Black

Three poems about anti-Blackness and state violence.

Silenced No More

Several artworks from a larger project created in 2020, during the times of the pandemic and unrest, when people of color decided that they would be silenced no more.

Mixed Speak

This short piece addresses the challenges of being biracial and finding your own voice while listening to the conflicting voices of others: parents, grandparents, friends, mentors, teachers, coaches. I had two constraints while writing this: one, I had to emulate Jamaica Kincaid’s short story “Girl,” where a mother teaches her daughter how to be a respectable girl and not “the slut you are so bent on becoming”; and two, I had to develop this for a high school literature assignment while studying remotely during New York’s pandemic lockdown. I had no “in-person” communication other than with my immediate family, which made it even harder to find one’s own voice: you need the voices of others in order to distinguish yours from theirs. I wondered: what is sound--music? vibrations? noise? everyday sounds? silence? Will silence always protect you?

a woman, alone

This essay, a metafictional account, arose from the grief and trauma of losing my mother in March of 2019, one year prior to the 2020 Pandemic shutdown. One of the formal challenges was in exploring how best to represent the soundscape of city and household she might have heard in her final hours. At the same time, it also imagines her interior soundscape, the moment of death and the transition to the afterlife she had hoped for. The essay was conceptualized as one of several "islands" in an archipelago of essays as you see them here. Each island, each essay, is rendered all the more interesting (we  hope!) in the way they are situated in this intimate yet quarantined zoom community of long standing friendships and shared intellectual vision.

When the Fugitives Decide to Stay

"When the Fugitives Decide to Stay" looks at how language use, for many of us, marks value and non-value, and this marking becomes especially troubling under pandemic conditions. The essay juxtaposes bodily valuation and non-valuation during the AIDS epidemic and during our ongoing COVID moment, arguing that we need to expand our abilities to critique human desire and its operations.

Dreams Are What Music Is Made of…

A rumination on dreams and music, in dedication to my Mom, Dad, and all our ancestors past and present. And to all that have been called home during this dramatic exodus in the vastness of space.


A series of musings on listening to the city amidst pandemic motivated retreats and diminished soundscapes. It latches onto some possible lines of flight—courtesy of the author’s own experiences and others’ art.


The first versions of this poem about sound on paper were drafted while I was writing a chapter on sounds in travel literature. On 7 May 2018 my concentration broken by human and mechanical noises from outside, I tuned in to the commentary on a cricket match at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge (a ground less than 2 miles from the city centre), and listened to the applause as the South African batsman Hashim Amla, playing for Hampshire, reached his century. As I would have been there had it not been for the chapter deadline, the poem became a reflection on the paradox of sound being both present and absent in texts. During the Covid-19 pandemic I redrafted the poem several times, more intensely aware of the differences between inside and outside, between urban and natural sounds, and of the places where they meet.

Loud: Death by Garbage Truck

A writer speculates on waste sounds in the city.


The poem is about a snow drop hitting my window while driving under a bridge. The shape made me remember older boys with daisy bb guns shooting at parked trains near what is now the Highline. Then a kid with a snowball slams my windshield while I was deep in memory. I jumped back quickly into a sound reality.

A Day in Quarantine

A day, March 8, 2021, in sounds.


A daily sound report.

Listening Log #1 – Distribution

The soundscape of a single day, February 21, 2021.

Soccer Sounds, from Ingá (a middle-class neighborhood in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro)

A sound journal, taking into account public celebrations during the pandemic.

All Sounds Are from My Home: Nova Iguaçu, Rio de Janeiro

A journal, in which I keep track of sounds around me, on an hourly basis, for about a month.

Like Birds in A Cage: Accounts About Social Isolation Soundscapes During the Pandemic in Brazil

This article presents and reflects upon the transformations on the soundscapes of Belo Horizonte (capital of the state of Minas Gerais, in Brazil) and the surrounding countryside areas, noticed during the current social isolation period due to the health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The starting point is a discussion about the concepts of landscape and soundscape, upon which our work is grounded, as theorized by scholars in the fields of geography, art, and sound studies; and also, the notion of proxemic zone, which guides our understanding of the relation between the listener and their space. The article then moves on to the authors’ own experiences during these pandemic days. One has stayed put, remaining in the center of a city with a population of 2.5 million people and taking notes of the different pandemic phases through the changing soundscape. Another has left her apartment in a bohemian part of town to stay at her countryside home, replacing the musical soundscape of nearby bars with the singing from tropical birds. Finally, the third author alternated his stay between places located in different neighborhoods of the city, looking at certain times for refuge in a farm in the countryside of the Minas Gerais. In addition to our own perspectives, we also discuss the experience accounts from 76 undergrad students, from Journalism and Advertising courses at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG, in Portuguese), regarding their social isolation soundscapes. These accounts have been originally gathered for the “Sound and Sense” class, guided by Raymond Murray Schafer’s sound diary, from his sound education exercises (Schafer 1992), and adapted to observe the soundscapes during the social isolation period due to the pandemic. The students’ accounts and the authors’ experiences are presented and discussed from a sound studies perspective, addressing the ways in which our sonic environment can shed light on urban changes and transformations in sociability.

Lockdown, Soundscapes, Dreams: A Diary (July 25, 2020 – August 8, 2021)

These selected entries are from a diary that I have been keeping since the beginning of the pandemic; they document the ways in which sounds have occupied my dreams, and my reflections about a new, perhaps quieter, perhaps sinister, soundscape experience.