Venice is an amazingly quiet city. For those of us used to the ambient hum of traffic on the streets it can be confusing as you try to work out what is missing but once you’ve done that you become more acutely aware of the most subtle sounds. The songs of the eurpoean birds (very sweet sounds compare to the quite harsh song of Australian birds); the lap and swoosh of water and the gentle thunk of boats as they are rocked against the sides of canals and the moorings; the chatter of people in the streets and floating out of shops the sounds of classical music (Vivaldi et al).
Working in an audio medium it is automatic to become aware of sounds, and to appreciate their subtleties. Listening to the cadences of a language you don’t speak being interrupted by the reality of the one that you do.
And there are the other sounds. The buskers in the streets. Ravel’s Bolero being played on glasses and the violinist in the sottoportego (a dark passageway under houses) on the way to Santa Maria della Salute and penny whistles. There are the voices touting for business , “gondola signora” sounds quiet lyrical in Italian. The laboured sound of the vaporetto chugging down the canals. Students celebrating the end of their studies dressed in ridiculous costumes being serenaded by their friends. The mumurmed “per favore” of the beggars in the streets. The gentle religious chants in the churches. The sharp whoosh of espresso being made, and the muffled footsteps in the mist. Bells ring out all over the city reminding Venetians and visitors that this not just a city of water but also a city of beautiful churches.
On the radio there are echoes of Australia, Little River Band, Gabriella Cilmi, and a curious positioning statement in English for an Italian radio station – “We’re Really Normal People”.
At the Architecture Biennale there were other sounds and soundscapes. At the Greek pavillion gossemer thin strands of lights cascade from the ceiling to highlight plinths with audio visuals embedded in them. Each plinth represents a different audio aspect of Athens and the sound is activated by sensors when you walk by. The Irish exhbition also features the voices of it’s people as they tell the stories of buildings and ideas.
On November 21 there are 24 hour masses celebrating Venice’s deliverance from the plague in the 17th Century. On this day the beautiful basillica of Santa Maria della Salute is crowded to over flowing with people praying, singing and lighting candles. There is a sense of continuity – this has been happening for hundreds of years and will continue to happen.