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The sound of airports – the space between spaces

Airports are surely the ultimate liminal space, linking worlds together through a place that is neither one nor the other – at the same time, every airport feels the same, but also has its own quirks and similarities.

Today’s highlights from the Until We Travel project take us on a tour of airport sounds, investigating what it is that makes their soundscapes such a part of their unique character.

Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina

First up, we’re off to Buenos Aires for this recording by Mark Wilden, just outside the arrivals entrance, with traffic and passenger announcements.”

City version:

EZE airport was reimagined by Michael Trommer, who writes:

“This piece is a site-specific improvisation performed on a portable 1010 Blackbox sampler in the deserted lobby pavilion of Toronto’s Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) – a regional airport situated on a Lake Ontario island across from the city’s downtown core.

“Sounds of the quasi-deserted site were recorded in situ and combined with the project’s source sample (EZE Buenos Aires airport ambience) in an effort to create an sonic interzone meshing the performance locale’s ghostly, Covid-emptied ambience and the imagined space of Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport.”

Memory version:

Hong Kong International Airport sounds

Now it’s time to tune into airport sounds from inside Hong Kong’s international terminal, recorded by Marcel Gnauk.

City version:

The Hong Kong airport terminal was reimagined by Coxidelic, who says of his piece:

“In the original recording I was struck by the normality of it… how it felt like a relic of a bygone time when travel was normal and there was no pandemic.

“I wanted to take this sound and turn it into something more chaotic and confused like the times we are living in. Downtempo, of course – because we are all sitting on our couches.”

Memory version:

Berlin Tegel Airport sounds

Next up is Berlin’s Tegel airport, as recorded by Edgardo Gomez.

“This sound was recorded in the waiting room of the flight that was going to take me to Chile in January 2015. Listening to this recording you can perceive the classic acoustics that are produced in airports, a lot of reverberation and little intelligibility. So far nothing very new. However, the history of this sound is related to the place where it was recorded.

“The basic architectural motif of Tegel Airport is the hexagon. Not only is the terminal building designed as a hexagon, but this figure is also found in the tower and other ancillary buildings, in the staircases and even in the design of bus stops. Smaller design elements also occupy the motif and are often characterised by 60-degree angles.

“This type of construction exemplifies the classic architecture of the 1960 and continues to have a formative effect today, partly because its architecture required little space. In West Berlin, which was closed at the time, this was an important factor.

“In addition to its aesthetic function, the hexagon also has a very practical one: Its organic ring shape makes it easier for passengers to find their way around the terminal building and no matter which direction they take, they always return to their starting point.

“The hexagonal shape also reflects what many consider to be the airport’s greatest advantage: the short distances and speed of check-in. There were 20 metres from the taxi rank to the check-in counter, and another 15 metres from the check-in counter, through the waiting area, to the aircraft door. For this reason the Tegel Airport was considered to be one of the most efficient airports.

“With the construction of Berlin’s new international airport, “Willy Brandt”, Tegel closed its doors on 15 June. However, its architecture (and this recording) still exists. For the future a new district and a technology centre for more than 1,000 companies is planned.”

City version:

Tegel airport was reimagined by Clelia Ciardulli, who wrote the following:

“Until we travel,
we are waiting,
remembering the time warp
of airports with their echoing announcements
of lockdowns, with the merging of what we had hoped
and what we hope anew,
the clicking ticking and slipping and sliding of clocks,
until we travel,
the travels are inwards,
waiting to cross, to lift off, to meet,
to leave, to arrive.
Until we travel.”

Memory version:

Punta Arenas Airport sounds, Chile

Tune in next to a long layover in one of the world’s most southerly airports, at the tip of Chilean Patagonia, as we waited for a flight back to Santiago.

There’s very little to see or do in this tiny airport, as you might expect, but you can hear the sounds of traditional Chilean music being piped in, some chatter in Spanish, and those typical sounds of a transient space holding mostly people who are on their way to – or from – an incredible trip to one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Recorded by Cities and Memory.

City version:

Our Punta Arenas airport sounds were reimagined by Museleon:

“I have travelled the world many times over in the past 50 years without ever leaving the confines of my little house. Even before the pandemic, I have always travelled by listening to the worlds’ radio stations at night. Choosing a country and wandering through it via the local radio stations, is a wonderful way to get a flavour of a place.

“I’ve travelled to Asia, the Russian Steppes, Africa and the Pacific rim, so now was the time to explore Latin America, and Chile, which I have had a long wish to visit in reality, is as good a place as any to begin.

“So, starting at Arica on the northern coast, on the night of 28th February, 2021, I zigzagged my way down the 2,653 miles from Coast to Andes, via large cities and small towns, all the way to the southern tip at Punta Arenas. I recorded my journey via small snippets of radio shows, interweaving conversations, talk shows, traditional music and modern, to create a sound collage of the places I’d ‘visited’.

“As usual, I took the midi information from the original field recording – #1 : At the bottom of the world – Punta Arenas airport and used it as a basis to create the aircraft drone and also a range of ambient atmospheres representing airwaves, wind, cold, deserts, glaciers and mountains.

“I processed the original field recording and this adds to a ghostly feel, where sound fades in and out as if in a dream. My journey in radio is a sonic record of my travels from sea to mountain, from Peruvian border to Punta Arenas. At my destination, an Andean pipe welcomes me and I drift gently back to reality.

“Since this journey, I have listened to the sounds of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador and will shortly be exploring the 3,976 miles of the Amazon river all via the means of airwaves. It’s the only way to travel.”

Memory version: