Urban Soundscape Systems

Since the early 1990s, four large scale multi-channel soundscape systems and a permanent multi-channel sonic artwork have been established in Melbourne’s CBD.

The soundscape systems and sonic artwork include the following:

• A 160 speaker system on the Southgate promenade, recently decommissioned
• A 32 speaker system at Northbank Signal site
• A 120 speaker system installed throughout the ACMI building
• A 16.4 speaker system in Federation Square’s North Atrium
• A 56 speaker sonic artwork Proximities on William Barak Bridge

As of 2010, the sites with operating systems are at Northbank, Federation Square and William Barak Bridge, Birrarung Marr. The systems on Southgate and at ACMI have been decommissioned.


The sites fall into two categories. The first can be described as artwork specific where a single work appears on the site as in Birrarung Marr (Proximities) and ACMI (Soundscapes for Australian Centre for the Moving Image). The second category includes sites where different soundscape designs could be curated as in Signal and Federation Square North Atrium.

When it operated, the Southgate system could also be re-programmed with new work. For the purposes of this study and report, urban soundscapes were limited to permanent multi-channel electroacoustic systems, installed to deliver spatial sound designs or art works. For the purposes of focussing the study’s aims and to keep the study within budget constraints, sites such as the Federation Bells, or temporary installations were beyond the scope of available resources.


These public art assets represent the diverse aspirations of asset managers, marketing directors, artists, and planners for an enhanced urban experience. Despite being the largest collection of public art infrastructure in Melbourne, little is known about how effective the systems have been to date in fulfilling the aspirations of diverse groups. This research and report was the first investigation into issues around the establishment of the individual systems, and seeks to establish a framework for future work in urban soundscape design and research.


This research was funded through RMIT University’s Design Research Institute.


Other activities associated with this project:
• Musicircus (2007) playback of soundscapes on the Federation
• Square system as part of Melbourne Festival performance
• Material City Soundscape Workshops
• Development and Workshops for WASP
• Literature and Project searches

2008 – 2010

Project team:

Lawrence Harvey

Jeffrey Hannam

Philip Samartzis

Darrin Verhagen