City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.


Saving me from having to transcribe my presentation, the very well-organised Lift09 conference got Swiss French Television to film all the talks. So please see the embedded video at the end of this entry, or here on Vimeo.

When I finally got to deliver this speech, I'd been travelling for some time without rest, as previously noted (and indeed, as described at the beginning of the talk). So perhaps understandably there were a few points I accidentally missed out, or stumbled over.

  • Firstly, the reason I was dwelling on the airline story so much is that it's the commercial model underpinning contemporary aviation – a model I see as part of soft infrastructure – that leads to poor service, not any particular technical issue as regards hard infrastructure. Boarding the passengers whilst doing the safety checks on the aircraft is a manifestation of how close to the wire airlines have to run things. Equally, there is little or no redundancy built into the system, due to the particular financial models underpinning them, which are in turn expressions of underlying social, cultural, political fabric. When something goes wrong, therefore, it causes very large ripples through that soft infrastructure of service and system, in turn.
  • The effect of bike-sharing networks such as Vélib' and Bicing, are so key to me as they indicate how soft infrastructure can utterly change the perception of the city – in this case the sense of mobility, effectively warping physical distance – without altering much in the way of hard infrastructure.
  • The closing video, which people always find compelling, is lifted from a fantastic advert for the Madrid Metro, which I discovered on SuperSpatial a while ago. I re-edited, and replaced the soundrack (using a bit of Jacaszek, I seem to recall). I'm not sure who created the original advert, but it's a beautiful piece of work and I usually try to declare its provenance. Here I forgot/ran out of time. I deploy it to illustrate the promise of informatics in terms of seeing through the hard infrastructure to the activity and behaviour of the city itself, the way people actually use the city. Here's my cut of the video:

I can't show much of my work in detail due to the stage some of the projects are at – and the nature of those projects – but they'll all make it out here in time. Thanks to Keynote's effortless integration of video I now use clips heavily in presentations, but that makes it a little tricky to easily share talks afterward. The camera crew often neglected to capture the screen, so missing out on a few of the videos. So for the record, here are a few of the videos used during the talk:

  • All in a Day, the documentary about Sheffield in 1973, can be seen at the end of this previous entry.
  • The City (1939), by supergroup Lewis Mumford/Aaron Copland/Ralph Steiner – a favourite here and written about back in 2005 – was used a couple of times, and here are the extended versions of those clips (you can download the whole film at, to convey a few issues with utopian visions of the future (here what would become suburbanisation) and how industrial work had a visible effect on the form of the city:

Note: I've now switched this to the Vimeo version uploaded by Laurent et al. Thanks again to the organisers of Lift09 for the opportunity.


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