The Journal of Sonic Studies

To refer to this article use this url: http://journal.sonicstudies.org/vol01/nr01/a06

Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 1, nr. 1 (October 2011)

ON THE PERFORMANCE OF SOUND: The Acoustic Territory of Post-War Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Evy Schubert


This article concludes a research on the acoustic territory of post-war Sarajevo and a history of its acoustic performance. It will demonstrate the results of the investigation of the participation, contribution and perception of the selected soundscape in terms of its socio-political context.

The research focused on two primary questions. First: can urban sound be a direct mirror image of the underlying socio-political condition and, thus, a performance of its source? Second: can, therefore, political peace have its own sound?

For this research, the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was chosen. There were two main reasons, one geographical and the other historical, for its selection. Sarajevo lies in a narrow valley and is surrounded by hills, a geography comparable to an old Greek amphitheatre, with many of the same acoustic implications. On the mountaintops surrounding the city, you can hear the total sound image as well as detect singular sounds. During the war, between 1992 and 1995, these mountaintops were occupied by Serbian military forces, creating a circular front line without exit that isolated the city from the rest of the country and the world. This led to the assumption that Sarajevo must have a unique and rare acoustic history.

Research and Design

This research project was conceived as a field research focusing on the acoustic cartography of the present, through narrative interviews and sound recordings, conducted in January 2009 and from August through September of 2009 and subsequently analyzed throughout 2009 and 2010. Leading questions focused on the acoustic transformation from a militant to a peaceful condition. The theoretical basis for this research was drawn from the work of Barry Truax on “acoustic community” (Truax 2001), from Rick Altmann’s theory on sound as an event (Altmann 1992), and from works by Erika Fischer-Lichte on performance and atmosphere (Fischer-Lichte, 2004). All interviews were conducted with Sarajevans who were intimately familiar with the soundscape of their city before, during and after the war. The interviewees were chosen due to their profession or due to their socio-political connection to the city. Their statements were transcribed literally for this analysis in order to keep and guarantee their authenticity. They were evaluated through the aforementioned theoretical lenses. Along with the scientific research and analysis process, the documentary Vodopad (Evy Schubert, 2009b. Premiered in Berlin 03.02.2010 at Ballhaus Ost.) was realized in order to illuminate the topic also from an audio-visual perspective.

Theoretical Background

This research focuses on sound as an acoustic event in the context of its unfolding. Sound is what is heard, but is distinguished from what is spoken for purposes of communication or that which is performed as music. Sound is considered as a phenomenon that lies between the sciences, both as an acoustic signal and as a performance in space and time, that is connected to the socio-political and cultural circumstances of its unfolding.

To understand the soundscape of Sarajevo and its connection to the city’s socio-political circumstances, the acoustic territory in which the sounds are generated must be understood, and its extended and functional form need to be considered. This “acoustic community” reveals basic acoustic structures, as it is “…any system within which acoustic information is exchanged…The community is linked and defined by its sounds…to the inhabitants they convey useful information about both individual and community life” (Truax 2001: 66). The acoustic community reveals basic acoustic structures for the individual regardless of how the sounds are evaluated. Truax defines sound signals, soundmarks, sound metaphors and sound symbols, criteria that were useful in analyzing the given statements of the interviewees on the acoustic history in the context of this research. Therefore, these criteria were analyzed over time, tracing the evolution of the soundscape from wartime until the present. Accordingly, any conceptualization of the “sound of peace” must be based upon an understanding of the “sound of war,” which raises the question as to whether the soundscapes from before the war and after the war can be understood equivalently.

Truax posits that if an acoustic community functions independently, where the basis is set on the exchange of acoustic information, you can analyze it by three sets of criteria: variety, complexity and equilibrium. By variety, he understands the co-existence of diverse sounds as well as the underlying variations of the types of sounds that can be clearly perceived. These sounds possess a great density of acoustic information. Complexity is found, on the one hand, in the sound event itself, and, on the other hand, in the ways and media of their communication. In order to perceive complexity, one must have both knowledge of the acoustic space and a capacity for decoding: “Listeners who are familiar with the environment are able to decode and interpret subtleties in the sound that the novice does not recognize” (Truax 2001: 76). Functional equilibrium indicates the spatial, chronological, social and cultural borders of a sound community and is, in turn, partly delineated by the categories of variety and complexity (Truax 2001: 78). The comparison of the militant and peaceful conditions in Sarajevo is fundamental for this discussion at hand, in order to discover how the acoustic equilibrium can be guaranteed in either of these circumstances.

Soundscape Competence

The complex auditive system can generate a unique mode of perception in the individual, which is called the listening-in-search-mode. This mode describes the ability to give full attention to all palpable acoustic information (Truax 2001: 79). Received information is processed into three sets of criteria: known, cognisable and unknown, which enable the listener to analyze the information and generate meaning:

The complexities involved in ascribing meaning to such sound sequences suggests that environmental sound can function as a “language” within a soundscape. The essential difference is that such languages are quite localized, even idiosyncratic, and that the encoding of information is not in discrete digital units such as words, but in terms of a holistic image that can be recognized as a “gestalt” or analyzed for some particular qualitative feature (Truax 2001: 79).

Truax concludes that soundscape competence describes the knowledge that the hearing individual has about the structure of the sound environment. This knowledge can be understood as a representation of the fundamental structures and qualifications that give the sound a meaning. Since the human brain is not able to remember all patterns of sounds that it senses, it must be selective: “The pattern of familiar sound, through repetition, does enter long-term memory in terms of the features that have been used to decode it combined with the environmental context in which it is typically heard” (Truax 2001: 79).

The acoustic community and its attributes (sound signal, sound mark, sound symbol and sound metaphor), underlie an acoustic structure. Depending on the functioning of such a structure, one can ascribe the attribute of acoustic equilibrium: “Without constraining forces, acoustic complexity turns against itself and prevents effective communication through sensory overload,” whereas “physical properties of sound are the basis of its natural ecological balance” (Truax 2001: 81).

As this discussion is aimed at examining whether peace has a sound and, if so, how it is performed, it is assumed that the sound of peace must underlie an acoustic and peaceful equilibrium, which allows underlying sounds to generate their own harmony undisturbed by caustic noise. The sound of war, therefore, is understood as an aberration from such a primal acoustic equilibrium.

Perceiving and decoding sound

In order to properly define sound, you must differentiate it from other acoustic events. Truax contrasts sound with “noise,” the latter being an unwanted sound that appears disturbing, and that “…seems to be the source of a negative mediation of such relationships, an alienating force that loosens the contact the listener has with the environment, and an irritant that works against effective communication” (Truax 2001: 94ff). According to this description, noise is the enemy of the acoustic community. In the context of Sarajevo, military shelling could easily be defined this way, as an acoustic event that upsets the previously existing acoustic equilibrium. In this way, noise is defined at the moment of an acoustic happening; “A sound becomes noise because of some property it has or because of its behaviour in a given situation…The definition is a static labelling of sound, not a reflection of its role in a process” (Truax 2001: 95). While listening, the human process of perception underlies a selection so that it can differentiate cognitively the acoustic information that reaches the perceiving individual in order to ascribe meaning and importance to the sensory data and differentiate between sound and noise (Truax 2001: 96ff).

Sound and noise events have the strength to capture the whole body, for “the fundamental fact that sound is first and foremost a physical vibration that affects the whole body…the body reacts to noise as it does with any stressor, an age-old reaction that associates loud noise with potential danger” (Truax 2001: 98). The body, under these conditions, may even produce physical stress symptoms, such as raised blood pressures, physical reactions, or even physical action. Through recurrence and conditioning, certain sound signals can produce measurable reactions, as Nihad Kresvljakovic explains here:

This video fragment is taken from the documentary Vodopad (Schubert 2009).

Kresvljakovic demonstrates this relationship between an exposure to specific sounds and a reaction demonstrating caution and self-protection. He has adjusted his soundscape competence to the changes in his acoustic territory of the besieged city.

Finally, sound is inescapable; upon hearing, it irrevocably effects the individual: “sound reaches us from everywhere, it surrounds us, goes through us,” and in time “there is no respite for sonorous perception, which is active day and night and only stops with death or total deafness,” as well as harbouring a disturbing lack of concreteness, for “sound can never be grasped; only its sonorous source can be identified.” All these conditions are understood in the quality of omnipresent simultaneity (Connor 1997: 214). One interviewee, Haris Pasovic, explains how the sound of weaponry became a fixed part of his daily life:

Over the period of time people learned which sound is more dangerous to them than the other. On the basis of sound you could guess how close the shelling is, you could hear when they shot the shell from the artillery and you knew by the experience how long it will lasts before it explodes. So you hear the shot, you hear then how the shell flies and then you hear the explosion which is not a Hollywood type of explosion, it is a rather down, very heavy hit first. So eventually people started to learn, even what kind of arms was used for that particular shot. People started to distinguish the type of the shells that were fired. To me it is quite extra-ordinary that the victims started to learn on the basis of sound the arms of the enemies [sic] (Interview Pasovic 2009).

In this context, we can consider Truax’s notion of adaptation:

At the physical level, adaptation in the form of auditory threshold shift is a natural protection mechanism against auditory overload, but it is not sufficient to protect hearing from damage. In general, increased exposure to a stimulus promotes increased toleration of it, and when the agent is potentially dangerous, such toleration may not be in our best interests. The problem with the extraordinary human ability to adapt to environmental changes (...) is as René Dubos (1965) has remarked that we can adapt to what kills us. The ability to adapt to noise (...) is insufficient grounds for its acceptance, much less a guarantee of its harmlessness (Truax 2001: 100).

Thus, one can evaluate a sound only by considering the situation in which it unfolds, along with the subjective association that it has provoked. Such an evaluation is connected to the possibility of well-being, in this context survival, since the individual is forced to listen. “The way a sound, or a noise, functions within the system depends not only on its objective characteristics, but also on the way in which it is understood by listeners and the community. Any design criteria, therefore, must be based on an understanding of communicational functionality” (Truax 2001: 103). This idea can be further applied to a sound community during a military siege: for one, the Serbian military forced a new soundscape with a threatening character upon a city under siege, and two, the Serbian military did not needed to fear these sounds, because it itself was creating them. The inhabitants could conceivably protect themselves from the immediate physical dangers of the shelling, but not from the sounds that came along with them. So the acceptance of the unbearable turns into the surmounting of the tyranny of noise.[1]

Sound in performative space

Both sound and noise unfold in a certain space and time. Time sets the frame for the beginning of the unfolding of the acoustic event until its total presence and its final decline and fade-out. Space is unstable and subject to temporal dimensions. It is defined and shaped by the actions that enter it. When entered, it becomes a performative space, opening up possibilities for action, interaction, movement, and perception, whereas its structure and organization undergo a constant process of change. In Sarajevo, an urban space, inhabitants are perpetually changing and designing the space during their daily lives. Fischer-Lichte states that no matter how the possibilities are used, ignored or counter-acted, to behave in a given space has a direct impact on the performative appearance of the same space. Movements of people or objects, light or sound events can change it so that it is constantly developing and remains instable.[2] The inhabitants and participants become creators and victims of the existing and constructed soundscape: together they define the acoustic space.

Fischer-Lichte argues that a space has its own atmosphere, which is itself not a fixed space, but understood as a spatial description of the experience of a space due to the interplay of several of the space’s elements (Fischer-Lichte 2004: 201). The individuals and objects, and their constellation, in a certain space shape its atmosphere, whereas the perception, experience and sensation of that atmosphere are connected to the corporal presence of the sentient individual, who evaluates it subjectively.

A soundscape always possesses an acoustic atmosphere. The unfolding of the acoustic structure is connected to the space in which it finds its effect and relation to the overall context of experience. It shapes a specific soundscape that can be interpreted with atmospheric criteria by the individual. The experience of an acoustic atmosphere is greater than the pure biological aspect of acoustic perception, as the individual is infiltrated by the atmospheric and subjective sensations, which the space and the underlying acoustic events have provoked in him. Fischer-Lichte states that the atmosphere is created by outer circumstances but results in a special kind of feeling that the recipient experiences.[3]

Therefore, an acoustic space is equally an atmospheric as well as a performative one, since it is both elusive and convertible, and, moreover, fixed to its sentient individuals. Even if a sound event is fixed to a temporal dimension, it shapes the space in which it appears, creating a sensational echo in the recipient. The recipient concludes a meaning or experiences a feeling of the perceived impulse. Therefore you can argue that sound transmits a great dimension of impact.[4]

The sound can fade away, but the reverberation of the experienced sound event (internal, mental and emotional), stays within the recipient. The atmospheric effect of sound and its unfolding, therefore, has acoustic and emotional dimensions.

The meaning of silence

In order to fully understand sound, you have to differentiate sound from other acoustic signals, such as its subspecies noise, as well as from “silence,” that which is un-sounding, the disruption or the absence of the acoustic. Silence encapsulates many dimensions; it is surely closely related to sound, although it implies the lack of a sonorous event. Silence, like sound, is generally described in the context in which it takes place. The silence in a graveyard, the “Rest in Peace,” is opponent to the dead silence, finding its qualification and valuation only through ascription, through construction and experience of the perceiving person. Haris Pasovic remembers the interplay of silence and sound during the war: “The nicest sound from that time was silence. Because it meant that, at least for the moment, it is quiet and precarious: it is safe. But that sound of silence was also somehow dangerous because you knew that after this silence it will come again” [sic] (Interview Pasovic, 2009). Silence, when connected to the position of the individual experiencing it, suggested both death and life. In the video ‘Bascarsija Silence’

This video fragment is taken from the documentary Vodopad (Schubert 2009).

one can experience the comparison of the absence of sounds in Bascarsija, the old town of Sarajevo, with the soundscape from nowadays along with an introducing comment of the interviewee Nihad Kresvljakovic.

Speaking to this notion of silence, Mirsad Tukic, a sound engineer in Sarajevo, describes the ability to perceive the whole imaginable spectrum of sound:

My experience with the sound goes as long as I remember. I used to like to go into the biggest silence possible, because the threshold of pain goes down in primal silence. Primal silence is deep, it is eternal. And in war, you have these silences and these destructive sounds, so I experienced the whole dynamics of human hearing, of perception, from absolute silence to destructive sound, that is from the threshold of silence to the threshold of pain, to the most exposed; that is why those generals that shoot say: let’s blow their brains out! Why? Because a man can listen till one point, then the sound starts to become irritating and becomes dangerous for human psychics... I wouldn’t have discovered my thresholds of silence if I didn’t see how horrible it was [sic] (Interview Tukic 2009).

Tukic states that he understood silence only in contrast to its counterpart, the destructive force and totality of the sound of warfare. Only in this context does silence create a sense of well-being and a feeling of being free from pain and fear. Thus the significance of silence is derived from the subjective context of the individual experiencing it. A personal meaning and association is ascribed. Nihad Kresvljakovic finds a musical and relaxing response to silence that generated a space for creativity:

Silence is something that we can create in some way, if we are alone in a room. And I love the silence as the moment where people mostly think. I love that as the background music for thinking. All these hills we see around – we can be there, with the car within ten minutes, we can enter those forests, and you have the sound of the forest and you have that kind of silence that you can enjoy [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

In this context, silence becomes an acoustic, and almost musical, phenomenon that produces a relaxing atmosphere in the rural areas around Sarajevo. For Kresvljakovic, silence is the sound of nature free from the urban cacophony; silence then becomes the absence of unwanted sound, of noise.

The soundscape of Sarajevo

Kresvljakovic explains the acoustic features of Sarajevo as an urban space, historically, referring to sound and noise as a symbol for urban life:

The architectural concept of Sarajevo, when it was built in the 15th century, was that you have the marketplace in the valley of the city, so the working zone was there and it was the zone of noise and the zone of sound. The private houses or the houses for the living were built on the mountains, so people used to work during the day and then return to their own private paradises (...) The home was the space where people could relax, enjoy life and enjoy the nature, far away from that central part where people were working, making sound. On another side, in the practical way, without sound we cannot make or produce anything. So I believe that the balance between sound and silence is probably the perfect thing for a human being [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

Kresvljakovic explains that Sarajevo was conceptualized with the goal of creating balanced everyday life for its inhabitants, including an acoustic equilibrium. Sound is not isolated as an aspect set apart from the idea of the city, but rather forms a vital component. New academic research fields such as the auditive architecture studies prove the growing interest in such interdisciplinary conceptualization. The sound of an urban space is both performed by people as well as shaped by the natural and man-made aspects of the urban environment. Architectural planning sought to create an acoustic equilibrium, taking into account the city’s natural geography. This carefully constructed equilibrium was unquestionably upturned by the siege of Sarajevo. The former urban concept was not valid anymore since it could not guarantee an acoustic equilibrium or a balanced and peaceful everyday life.[5] This massive and political man-induced event could not have been without consequence for the acoustic history and development. Therefore, it can be assumed that the sound of a place and the underlying acoustic atmosphere are shaped by the people that dominate it through their operation.

What we, then, can begin to understand as a “sound of peace” seems to indicate a multiplicity of diverse sounds that unfold harmoniously and consistently, and create certain affects in individual listeners: a soundscape that is the mirror of a natural equilibrium and peaceful co-existence in the environment itself. The sounding of the soundscape results in the evaluation and classification of the merging of sounds that fuse in the soundscape, whereas the solitary elements, the singular acoustic events, are value-free initially and only get contextualized and evaluated through the recipient. Only when the acoustic history of Sarajevo is understood in its development can one draw conclusions about the exact definition of the acoustic territory of post-war Sarajevo. In this context, one must make a differentiation as to whether the sound of peace is found in the form of a certain sound or a sound metaphor. Since the term peace is described in terms of metaphor by the interviewees, I conclude that it finds a metaphorical description in acoustic terms. Peace is here understood as the specific condition that came along with the end of the Bosnian War in Sarajevo in 1995. A theoretical definition of peace shall not be drawn here to avoid suggesting generalisability. The nomination of that what peace is and could be, shall here be found in the statements of the interviewees since it is assumed that they are best in discerning and describing the political condition on site. Ultimately, their perception is central for the analysis at hand.

This examination of sound is better understood with concise sound examples that should illuminate this concept of the sound of peace. Accordingly, I will first describe the sound of war, followed by memories of the consistency of sound, with examples of street trams and churches. Afterwards, I will examine the sounds of post-war Sarajevo. All of these analyses will be based on the aforementioned criteria of soundmark, sound signal, sound symbol and sound metaphor. These criteria are applied free of any value judgments, and are only given specific evaluations by the interviewee in a specific context, bearing the sensations the inhabitants experience concerning the sound of their city.

The sound of war

Based on the research and interviews conducted, it became clear that the greatest impressions of the sounds during the war were related to the overall acoustic situation rather than specific sound events.[6] For example, Mirsad Tukic described the siege of Sarajevo as follows:

During the war, that soundscape didn’t die completely, but it was reduced, logically, because where there is destruction, there’s no space for normal life. But instead of cars, there were the sounds of canisters, bicycles – people were on bicycles – and then there was that elementary sound, and not this urban, which exists in every city in the world, from Africa to America. So the sound didn’t come to us with peace; it was never gone, only man tried to obstruct the soundscape. Destruction is obstruction of a soundscape. Destructive sound dominates: the sounds are short, loud, sharp, while now, that soundscape is different... I think that sound in that form never stops but only transforms; man transforms that soundscape, unconsciously, with his aggression [sic] (Interview Tukic 2009).

For Tukic, the acoustic development of the war was linear, describing a power relationship in which stronger, and thus more dominant, sounds overcame others. Interestingly, he suggests that some primal sound, a natural harmony of every place, never fully disappears but is simply overwhelmed or distorted. Despite the war, a consistently fundamental tone remains.

Kresvljakovic pointed to a very specific sound from the fighting, analyzing it metaphorically and atmospherically:

I remember the sound of the generator from the UN barrack which was maybe one kilometre or less far away from here. UN forces were placed there and I remember during the night the sound of their generator... It is the same thing like when you are on the seaside, when you have the sound of that engine of the boat. It is something which is invented by humans but it is something which makes the sound of being on the sea; it makes that, I don’t know, kind of lovely [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

Here, the artificiality of the UN generator is compared with the lulling naturalness of the ocean’s waves; the individual’s own context of experience and specific associations are used to handle the incoming signal, to arrange or use it as an aid to deal with the actual situation. To experience this atmospheric perception you can listen here to ‘Generator Sarajevo’.

However, reality cannot also be ignored. Latific Sanjin, for example, found no positive associations with the sound:

The sound of the war was hardcore, a heavy sound you know. You can imagine the bands from the 90s who were playing very hard, strong music with a strong rhythm. Guitars were like machine guns. The sound of the war is something you can never, you can not compare to anything... The sound of the shelling and people struggling and the screaming when glass broke… It was the sound of panic most of the time - except during the cease-fire it was like hell [sic] (Interview Sanjin 2009).

Sanjin relates the sound of war directly to music; despite the fact that he describes the sound of war as incomparable, he still tries to relate it to something from normal life, perhaps as a means of dealing with the traumatic effects of the situation.[7] The most telling description is that of panic. Even if one was not suffering immediate physical danger, the soundscape of the war provoked such feelings. Here, it is important to remember the geographical constitution of Sarajevo. Because of the surrounding mountains, most sounds are louder and prolonged. This acoustic violence does not occur without reverberation and lasting impact. The sounds get engraved into the acoustic memory. This may explain the acute lingering effects of the sounds of war in peace time:

Many people in Sarajevo do not like fireworks. This city, which is surrounded by the hills, it is in a valley, so it is a kind of natural acoustics, so the fireworks always sound much louder then it would usually sound in some open space. And many people are reminded of the shelling because that is quite much how the shelling sounded and that sound lasted for almost four years [sic] (Interview Pasovic 2009).

Some sounds are so deeply engraved in the individual, that a new context does not have the power to replace the older one. Kresvljakovic, for example, remembers the lack of electricity during the war and how its momentary return would awaken normal life:

In the moment when electricity returns you hear the sound of ‘yeah!’ (screams) and then you start, for all night long, you hear the vacuum cleaners... and it is, for example, one o’clock in the morning. So at that period of the war the electricity used to give life to those homes, in a way that people were using all this stuff they have in their houses to clean the house or to do something [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

Punctuating the soundscape of shelling and screaming, the return of electricity would produce its own soundscape, returning the city, somewhat, to a pre-war urbanity and a non-restrictive circle of everyday life.[8] Latific Sanjin described other ways that electricity could help individuals deal with the siege:

People connected their radios to bicycles, and kids were driving bicycle to make electricity for the radio. Radio was very important during the war, because there was one radio station called ‘dval’... and a lot of people were in bands... people put all their strength into these bands because it was something very beautiful, your own thing, which is beautiful, which is pure, and it was our arm against the war and all that horror that was happening to us. And that radio station played most of the demo tapes from most of these bands so they were doing their best to give the bands and the people that were involved in bands to give them hope that there is a meaning of doing that music in spite of all this horror what was surrounding people that were here. Those small things... and things which are not so important in normal life you know, in normal surroundings, they were very or most important things in that period... One good radio you can hear, it gave you strength to go tomorrow to fight [sic] (Interview Sanjin 2009).

Individuals communally acted to create a soundscape against the one of war. This performance has several levels: cycling, generating electricity, the production and reception of music. Here the distinct motivation to act, generating personal sound against the war condition forced upon the people, can be found.

Summary table: The sound of war

From the preceding research on Sarajevo, we can summarize the sound of war with the following aspects:

1. The physical military destruction occurred in tandem with an acoustic superimposition upon the normal acoustic equilibrium.

2. The sound of war describes the disconnection and disruption of this normal acoustic equilibrium.

3. The sounds of military activity can be classified as “noise,” a dominant interruption and overlay of the original soundscape. Through this acoustic interruption, the primal soundscape can be transformed into a limited soundscape with an aggressive and destructive potential.

4. Centripetal and centrifugal sound signals, dependent on military action, can either unify or disperse individuals in terms of their survival.

5. Silence denotes two sound symbols: on the one hand, an alarming signal for an upcoming shelling, and on the other hand, a symbol of a break from the shelling. Silence during wartime is thus inherently different from silence during peace-time, since the former denotes an absence of or a waiting for the sounds of war. Because of this danger, silence embodies a negative and restrictive atmosphere.

6. Electricity is an aspect of modernity inherent to a certain living standard in contemporary society. Irregular functioning has a direct impact on a community’s soundscape. Connected to the functioning one can hear in which condition the inhabitants find themselves and how this impacts the acoustic atmosphere. To simplify: when there was electricity, there were electric sounds. When there was no electricity, only humans, nature and weapons formed the sources for acoustic events.

7. Music, among other man-made sounds, can help the individual cope with the destructive sounds of war. These spaces of personal peace, that counteract the military acoustic atmosphere, are found in wartime soundscapes.

8. Individuals create sound. Whether conducting military action or creating spaces of personal peace, a person is a performer of sound and noise and, therefore, influences the soundscape.

9. Sound has a strong and lasting impact on the individual, and produces measurably similar reactions, especially that of fear for future sounds. Thus, the sounds of fireworks, in one context a symbol of celebration, can become a reminder of the prior wartime acoustic experience.

10. The inhabitants of a city can posses a great “soundscape competence”. They are able to decode and classify the acoustic signals of war, as well as their effective dimensions. This knowledge, as well as knowledge about the acoustic transformation of their city, helps them to survive the dangers of wartime.

On the consistency of tonal sound

The “consistency of sound” refers to the regular reoccurrence of certain sounds and sound images, which are understood to form a fixed component of a soundscape reoccurring over a certain fixed amount of time. Despite the fact that all sounds are transient, due to the inherent nature of acoustic events, there can be certain sounds that become manifested in the soundscape due to their reoccurrence. Consistent sound events can help to strengthen and guarantee the acoustic equilibrium, which, in turn, generates a comprehensible, readable and referential soundscape. Sound symbols, sound metaphors, sound signals and soundmarks are examples of consistent sound events, even though they are all individually limited. Due to their consistent regularity, they have the power to generate an acoustic structure:

The church bell is mixing with the sound from the mosque. That’s something that Sarajevo has; it is all tradition and it still exists. That is something which can be recognized as a sound of Sarajevo: when there is time for prayer in particular moments of the day you can hear the mix of the sounds, from the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and the Muslims’ mosque [sic] (Interview Sanjin 2009).

These sound signals and sound marks can be understood as a structural contribution to the temporal and ritual orientation of the city.[9] They can also create a sound metaphor: the co-existence of Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim calls for prayer create an image of multi-religious togetherness. In an acoustic way the different beliefs float together and form an irrevocable existing component of the acoustic atmosphere of Sarajevo that can prove of a consistency over the last centuries. This audio sample

can give an acoustic impression.[10]

The church bell and the muezzin are understood as examples of the functioning acoustic consistency over time. Their existence in regularity and musical harmony and the acoustic togetherness create an aural frame in which other sounds of the city can be integrated. This can be experienced here.

The atmosphere of “Ezan” in the historical process of the city

Kresvljakovic remembers the significance of the interruption of a traditional and reliable sound event:

Basically there is only one moment of history in Sarajevo when the continuity of Ezan had a chance to be cut. That was when the Austrian-Hungarian troupes entered the city... the battles were all around the city... all the mosques were closed because the people could not approach the mosques, and the muezzin went, I do not remember to which mosque, and he gave the Ezan. Only one in the city. Then, after it was a regular thing, that people went to mosque and they could do it, but in that moment, when war was raging all around the city, there was a chance that for one day in Sarajevo, it finished without the sound of Ezan. And this guy, he went to the minaret and he gave the Ezan [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

Kresvljakovic describes the importance that the regularity of the Ezan meant for Sarajevo, and how one muezzin attempted to prevent the Muslim tradition from interruption. His sound signal can also be understood as a sound metaphor, meaning that the religious call fights against the war.

Acoustic performance is always connected to perception. Therefore, a sound signal can always be perceived in contrary ways, leading to different individual reactions. Kresvljakovic goes on to explain the two-sided interpretation of the Ezan during the Bosnian War in this video clip.

This video fragment is taken from the documentary Vodopad (Schubert 2009).

In this way, the war brought a sharp interruption of normal, everyday life. The Ezan is not only disrupted in its acoustic process, but its very occurrence brings about the threat of physical danger, as inhabitants follow its call towards the mosque. This shows that the inhabitants as well as the sound of a city are subject to political regulations. The possibilities of action are connected to the political context as well as to the general social framework. This leads to the assumption that the socio-political system at hand, in this case a war condition that is forced upon the people, not only influences the life of the inhabitants but also has a direct impact on the acoustic appearance of the city. Eventually, over time, the call of the Ezan received the ability to produce either a centripetal or centrifugal impact. In peaceful times it serves to call people together unhindered, whereas in war times it was an intro sound for the shelling and an alarm signal for the believers, restraining them in their religious practice due to the danger. It is assumed that the sound of peace is connected to a peaceful atmosphere that guarantees an unlimited and unhindered unfolding of acoustic events. So, the acoustic event and the impact of the Ezan on movement in the city is significant since it gives insight in the socio-political condition of the acoustic territory of Sarajevo at a given point in time.

The importance of the sound of the tram

The tram was opened in Sarajevo in 1895 and is still in use today. A single route encircles the city and, thus, greatly influences the traffic, offering a functional and acoustic common denominator for the inhabitants of Sarajevo. During the war, the tram could not be used. There was hardly any traffic at that time, in general, due to the danger of military actions, the lack of gasoline and severe damage to the tram tracks and the roads (Interview Hrvt 2009). Because of these restrictions, the sound of the tram still proves to be of great significance to the inhabitants, as Amna Hrvt remembers.

This video fragment is taken from the documentary Vodopad (Schubert 2009).

The rumbling of the tram wheels, reoccurring after years of halted activity, signified the return of normal everyday life. The tram encircles the heart of the city, acting as its veins and arteries, and its operation proves that life is floating and functioning again.

Enes Zlatar points out this acoustic consistency of the tram, unchanged over time: “I always liked the sound of the trams and that is the only sound, I think, that is left from my childhood which is unspoiled, which is the same and which I like…it is the only sound I recognize as my sound, the sound of my Sarajevo” [sic] (Interview Zlatar 2009). In fact, the trams are about 30 years old, since the city does not have the money to invest in an upgrade. Financial and political conditions surely have a direct influence on the soundscape of a city. The present political structure of action then does not only have social consequences but also acoustic ones:

You can hear the tram now, the tram with the broken wheel…We use old trams here as you could see. So most of them went through the war, most of these wheels are a little damaged and when they go too fast they make rata bratatat rata… [imitates the sound] and they never change it [sic] (Interview Dujmovic 2009).

Kresvljakovic as well finds a metaphorical and emotional meaning in the tram as a “symbol of the peace from before the war” that, when heard today, provokes him to rejoice “’Thank God it is peace today’” (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

Postwar sounds and globalization of sounds

Today, the soundscape of Sarajevo is marked by a constant hammering, drilling, and pounding; in short, the sounds of construction and rebuilding of the once-ravaged city, as can be heard here.

Directly after sunrise, after the first Ezan, these sounds of construction are heard all over the city, finding their own rhythm, briefly pausing at noon, and then returning until the early hours of the evening, when they fade away to be replaced by other sounds. Depending on where you stand, the sounds of construction machinery and vehicles can dominate the primal soundscape. They symbolize as well the new, post-war peace soundscape. However, one must compare this post-war peace soundscape with the sound of peace from before the war, because these post-war sounds are contingent upon the experience of war. Despite their symbolic meaning as signifying the end of fighting, most of the individuals interviewed classified the sounds of construction as noise because of their disturbing and dominant role in the soundscape, as well as due to the facts surrounding most of the construction projects. Enes Zlatar suggested that certain political decisions were responsible for these acoustic disturbances:

By making these stupid decisions, they are influencing the sounds in the city. They give permission to these business people to build these shopping malls…Very fast! But if somebody wants to build something nice, like they wanted to build this museum of contemporary art over there [points at the place]…they could not get permission to build this. But if you want a shopping mall, of course you will get permission [sic] (Interview Zlatar 2009).

Such demographic and structural processes of change are subject to the financial and political decisions of a city or a country, which in turn affect the population. Decisions about urban development have a direct influence on a society. At this point, the re-construction processes, as well as the ensuing acoustic changes, have just begun, so any prediction of the eventual outcome is purely speculative. Zlatar remains critical of the constructive development of the city, critiquing both what is being built as well as the effect that this construction has on the soundscape of the city, as new sounds eclipse older, more comfortable, ones. His position becomes clear in this video clip.

This video fragment is taken from the documentary Vodopad (Schubert 2009).

Zlatar describes the suppressing of specific sounds. The “fun fairs” were moved to the suburbs and no longer enrich the urban soundscape as you can hear in this audio example.

The traffic noise and the construction noise suppress the original, primal and typical sounds of the city. Where big shopping malls stand today, one could previously find small art and crafts shops, many famous for their sheet metal forming. Some of these shops can still be found on the narrow streets of the old part of the city, but they are gradually being pushed out. Here

you can listen to these traditional and slowly vanishing sounds. Zlatar argues that as the city undergoes “development” – the arrival of large, multi-national corporations and the disappearance of smaller, local businesses – the soundscape of Sarajevo undergoes a similar acoustic globalization. The globalized assimilation and standardization that has been discussed and feared in economic and cultural dimensions can also be understood acoustically.

Peace as an acoustic equilibrium

The sound of peace is considered to be a mirror of an acoustic equilibrium in which the primal and fundamental tone is embedded in a free and open acoustic frame, and not superimposed in a destructive way. Kresvljakovic argues that this balance is dependent on the absence of shelling: “after the sounds of the grenades and the shootings, I would find this definitely as the balance. So in my life I found the things which I would consider as the absolute overdose of sound…the sound of explosions and stuff like that” [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009). These sounds of military destruction are now memories, having given way to the elementary sound of the city that can now be overlaid by new sounds, new sounds that are not destructive, but that symbolize a peaceful and constructive life. Tukic considers this elementary sound to be fundamental and universal, an acoustic harmony that can be transformed and designed by individuals. The sound of peace must describe a soundscape and acoustic atmosphere that can claim metaphorical validation for the times before and after the war, since the war is understood as an interruption of peace and its acoustic representation. We can understand this through the perspectives of the interviewed individuals.

The end of the Bosnian war: How does peace sound?

We had a problem to get used to normal life just after the war, but that sound is beautiful, so normal. Maybe we are, how can I say, in a weird way we are happy to recognize and to appreciate that sound much more than people who did not experience things we did during the war [sic] (Interview Sanjin 2009).

Sanjin demonstrates the high sensibility, attention and appreciation that he has for the change of the acoustic atmosphere that arrived with the end of the war. The special feature in this acoustic change is not found in the uniqueness of a specific or novel sound, but rather in the normality of the sound and its freedom from the signification of destruction. Sanjin learned to appreciate it again but also needed time to get used to it and to the safety that it symbolized. If I consider this in Truax’s terms, Sanjin had to re-identify and re-decode the peaceful acoustic territory, and furthermore he had to modify his soundscape competence. This statement further demonstrates that the siege must have formed a significant cut in the inhabitants’ perception; significant in such a way that Kresvljakovic can consider the sound of peace only in a dualistic way: as the absence of the sounds of war. “The particular absence of the sounds is basically the sound of peace; where there is no shooting is the sound of peace, where there is no yelling, aggressive yelling, is the sound of peace” [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

On the one hand, Amna Hrvt shares this dualistic perspective, but on the other hand she can ascribe a more distinct acoustic atmosphere to the sound of peace that goes deeper and constitutes a metaphor for a peaceful, safe and unhindered life:

As I survived this war, I really know what I am speaking about and, on the other hand, peace for me means everything I really like… It is not silence, but it is a nice and comfortable environment which provides you with peace, with the feeling of peace. It is not noise itself; peace are birds, peace is nature, peace are people who are walking and laughing and you can hear them and you can laugh with them, not at them [sic] (Interview Hrvt 2009).

Using Truax again, I could interpret the sound that Hrvt describes as carrying the ability to bring people together in terms of an acoustic dimension. Through the absence of destructive sounds, the individual is transferred information concerning the existing socio-political conditions. The acoustic community and soundscape of post-war Sarajevo display a conjunctive and peaceful acoustic period that merges with the noise of physical reconstruction in a harmony of all sounds.

Damir Niksic approaches the search for the sound of peace from another perspective. He understands conflict and war as permanent human conditions:

The only thing that we need to leave is to live with the awareness that there is always conflict. The worst thing is, hell is when you really believe that you are going to get rid of the conflicts in the world. Peace is when you realize that conflict is always [sic] (Interview Niksic 2009).

Niksic describes the acoustic freedom of a peaceful Sarajevo, arising from an acoustic equilibrium in which sounds and noises are free to exist and co-exist without being restrained by the unfolding dominance of aggressive sounds. Noise, then, is accepted and tolerated. The crucial point is that the sound of peace is free from fear. Hrvt points to this in relation to moments of silence, as the meaning of silence has changed since the end of the war: “…there is no fear in the air; so many times during the war it started, I mean bombing, and it started out of total silence. So now I am not afraid it will be so. So it is really different” [sic] (Interview Hrvt 2009). She can now enjoy the silence again.

The waterfall as sound metaphor for the sound of peace

Modern society exhibits a high degree of acoustic complexity. Acoustic signals reach the city dweller in an infinite diversity. The individual is, at the same time, both active and passive, a recipient and performer of sound. Due to this, the soundscape of an acoustic territory undergoes a constant process of change – the floating of the acoustic development, reverberating the rhythm of time. Could there be a sound that touches everything, that is life and peace, the unison of all conditions of being and of everything man-made?

The preceding research suggests that the sound of peace cannot only be a sum of specific sounds, but that it rather has to be understood as a sound metaphor, which connotates a liberal, peaceful and equal life free from danger, revealing a soundscape in which every sound with its characteristics is accepted and embedded. Thus, concluding with Truax’s approach, the soundscape of peace must confirm that the acoustic community functions. The sound of peace describes the interplay of different sounds in which the primal sound can reverberate; an interplay in which the multiplicity of sounds merge in an acoustic equilibrium:

I can tell you it is peaceful now. Here you hear these sounds gathered together, they sound like a waterfall, like you are near some big waterfall. So these are the sounds of Sarajevo. All together they become like a river. Some electrons are going in a certain direction when they spread away and Sarajevo is in a valley, so they get together coming up higher. Up here you can hear everything but gathered in one sound, mixed with the sound of the wind on the leaves… Blood is almost the same as sound, something streaming through your body… Now you can hear this waterfall, the city is alive again. During the war there was no waterfall. There was just complete silence and then you hear explosions there boom and t-t-t-t [imitates the sound] [sic] (Interview Dujmovic, 2009).

As Hesse described in Siddhartha, the image of the floating river becomes the symbolization of life itself, being a beginning and an end, pulsing and consistently streaming. The constant sound of this streaming is a metaphor for life, grasping every other sound, proving that life functions. It shall be assumed that this sound, awake day and night with its own acoustic rhythms, the same sound as that of blood pulsing through the human body, also defines the elementary sound of all sound, manifesting the genesis of an acoustic territory. The acoustic equilibrium is guaranteed through the floating of all sounds. It encompasses also the impression of a peaceful, functioning and unrestricted acoustic territory. Dujmovic clearly states that this sound metaphor also proves that the military siege delivered a destructive, restrictive and one-sided soundscape, generating an incomplete soundscape that disallowed some sounds and cutting the floating of life and its acoustic stream. He demonstrates that, as a socio-political condition has a direct impact on the sound of a place, the sound of peace is one performed by the inhabitants of a place. Again, the metaphor of the waterfall is used for the acoustic equilibrium of peace:

In the end, the sound of peace is just that consistent noise, which comes from engines, from electricity, nature and voices. Precisely because it lives and flows, because it is beginning and ending, origin and being at the same time, because it is also overcoming. And the way, peace is the river of life, in its sweeping power, washing around any resistance, finding its own path, the waterfall becomes the orgiastic fulfilment of peace.
War is interruption; it destroys the circulation of life, of blood, because it undercuts the flow of people through the many narrow alleys. The city then an overturned reservoir, neither river nor waterfall.
The sound of peace, the sound before and after the war.
Vodopad.[11] (Schubert 2009b)

Summary table: the sound of peace

The sound of peace was demonstrated by the consistent and acoustic pulsing of the waterfall and discussed in connection with the acoustic territory of Sarajevo. In this context, peace signifies the general classification of an acoustic representation in periods before and after the Bosnian War (1992-1995).

1. During times of peace, the primal sound is not being superimposed in a destructive sense. It is a free component of the overall acoustic image of the sound of peace, finding harmony with the other sounds and noise of the city.

2. The sound of peace signifies an unrestricted acoustic equilibrium.

3. Disturbing noise also exists in times of peace. In Sarajevo, these are the loud sounds of construction and traffic. But the intention of their generation cannot be compared to the disturbing and destructive noises of war, since these sounds are directed toward a positive target, useful for the functioning of society. They can be considered as loud and disturbing in the soundscape of peace, but since they are free from signifying danger, they can also be understood as a harmonic contribution in a democratic acoustic territory.

4. Centripetal and centrifugal sound events are free from destructive and restrictive intentions, meaning that the dominating acoustic events created by weapons do not exist any more in the way that they have marked the soundscape during war times.

5. In peaceful times, silence has lost its association of waiting and fear, and thus can offer an important balancing force to the urban din. This silence embodies a positive and peaceful atmosphere.

6. Sounds generated by electricity are not restricted in times of peace. Electricity is streaming again like the blood is flowing through the bodies of the survivors. This audio example

reveals this interplay of electricity and freedom of movement of people in public.

7. The production and reception of music has become a certain and guaranteed component of everyday life. The Bosnian folk music Sevdah, a fundamental part of Bosnian culture, can now be heard again as in this audio example.

8. The individual is both performer and recipient of sound and noise, of that which the individual perceives as the sound of the city and to which he continually contributes with his own acoustic expression and action. Peace challenges the individual to be creative, since he does not need to restrain his actions anymore, since he is no longer a victim of the noise of war.

9. Peaceful sound metaphors can resist new sound stimuli. They are shaped by the perception and ascription of meaning by individuals. However, the aforementioned statement of Kresvljakovic regarding the acoustic comparison of the UN generators to the engine of a boat proves that the attachment of an acoustic stimulus to a positive association can be possible.

10. Inhabitants needed to become accustomed to the transformation of the soundscape that developed after the war. Accordingly, they had to modify their soundscape competence in accordance to the new political conditions.


1. The experience of such sounds, especially the ones connected to such dangerous situations, can cause trauma. Individual memory is therefore shaped, and a new sonic event, acoustically comparable to the previously traumatizing sound, can produce traumatic reactions. Since the psychological effect of sound is not central to this discussion, I will only refer here to the psychological theory of Flashbulb Memories. A further discussion on this topic would be interesting for an understanding of the overall impact of acoustic events. See Martin Conway’s Flashbulb Memories from 1995 (Hove, UK: LEA.)

2. Original quotation: “Wie immer von diesen Möglichkeiten Gebrauch gemacht wird, wie sie genutzt, realisiert, umgangen oder gar konteragiert werden, hat Auswirkungen auf den performativen Raum. Jede Bewegung von Menschen, Objekten, Licht, jedes Erklingen von Lauten vermag ihn zu verändern. Er ist instabil, ständig in Fluktuation begriffen” (Fischer-Lichte 2004: 187).

3. Original quotation: “Gleichwohl geht etwas von ihnen aus, das nicht mit dem gleichzusetzen ist, was der Wahrnehmende sehen oder hören mag, das er gleichwohl beim Sehen und Hören des Dings leiblich erspürt, etwas, das sich zwischen dem Ding und dem wahrnehmenden Subjekt im performativen Raum ergießt – eine spezifische Atmosphäre” (Fischer-Lichte 2004: 202ff).

4. Original quotation: “Was könnte flüchtiger sein als ein (v)erklingender Laut? Aus der Stille des Raumes auftauchend, breitet er sich in ihm aus, füllt ihn, um im nächsten Augenblick zu verhallen, zu verwehen, zu verschwinden. So flüchtig er sein mag, wirkt er doch unmittelbar – und häufig nachhaltig – auf den ein, der ihn vernimmt. Er vermittelt ihm nicht nur ein Raumgefühl (...) er dringt in seinen Leib ein und vermag häufig, physiologische und affektive Reaktionen auszulösen. Ein Schauder überfällt den Hörenden, er bekommt eine Gänsehaut, sein Puls beschleunigt sich, seine Atemzüge werden kürzer und heftiger; er verfällt der Melancholie oder, im Gegenteil, bricht in Euphorie aus, Sehnsucht (...) ergreift ihn, Erinnerungen steigen in ihm auf und so fort. Lautlichkeit ist (...) ein starkes Wirkungspotential inherent” (Fischer-Lichte 2004: 209ff).

5. Here it has to be remarked that nowadays, 16 years after the war, the original, urban concept with the calm area in the mountains and the loud centre in the valley – despite urban development and immigration – inevitably exists. The surrounding mountains are still not free from mines and because the mountains also embody the border to the Serbian part of Bosnia, they are not considered yet for urban planning due to inner-political reasons. The (re-)construction and the working life still take place primarily in the valley or the Western part, ‘Novo Sarajevo’, with the result that the mountains keep their natural – but dangerous – ‘silence’.

6. It should be noted that this research only focuses on individual cases and therefore only reflects a selection of present sounds. A deeper analysis could be realized in a comparative approach with other war-torn cities.

7. Sanjin referenced the band “Sikter” as a good example of the type of hard rock music reminiscent of machine gun fire. Kresvljakovic remembered their music in relationship to the end of the war: “[The] sound of Sikter is one of the sounds of the war I have, because I was going to their concerts and I remember after the war there was a concert of U2 in Sarajevo and Sikter was playing as the supporting band. I remember Esad Radis, guitar player of Sikter who went on stage and he was playing on the guitar the Bosnian National Anthem and at the moment he stopped playing, the people continued to sing that song. And for me it is a little bit some of those pathetic, patriotic feelings, but it is the real truth. I consider that moment as the end of war. If I should choose one moment when I could say, ‘OK, war is over’ I would definitely choose that moment” [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009).

8. Kresvljakovic goes on to say: “And I remember after the war, because we had that … blackout is the word. So it happened from time to time that they had electricity cuts and I remember every time it happens in the main streets or where there are a lot of people, probably the people who spent the time in the war, after it happened when it is blackout, they used to make the same sound like ‘yeah!’ [imitates the scream] so it was really something which I loved... that something which happened in the war, in the moment when we get electricity that people used to make that ‘wow’ when there is blackout after the war” [sic] (Interview Kresvljakovic 2009). After the war, the lack of electricity provoked the same reaction, and acoustic memory, as the return of electricity during the war: provoking memories of a horrible experience survived in common. In both cases it called forth joy, solidarity and the floating of life.

9. Notice: the church bell rings every 15 minutes, the call of the muezzin occurs five times a day, beginning at sunrise and finishing at sunset.

10. Ezan is the Bosnian expression for the Muslim call to pray of the muezzin.

11. ‘Vodopad’ is the Bosnian word for ‘waterfall’.

Evy Schubert holds a BA in communication science and social sciences (University of Erfurt) and an MA in theatre sciences (Freie Universität Berlin). Schubert, living and working in Berlin, initiates scientific research projects with an artistic result. She is a conceptual artist and director for film, photography and theatre projects. Her film projects include the documentary Vodopad, a search for the sound of peace in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Vodopad was premiered in Berlin in 2010.


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