I was just today at the clinic (all is well) in Seoul at Severance Hospital and, arriving a bit early for my appointment, I sat in the main hall and watched people come and go for awhile, all hectic with purpose with charts and lab coats and IV trolleys. There was some structure there in their movement, but I wasn’t able to see it. So I closed my eyes and just listened. I relaxed and breathed deeply and then listened and more structure revealed itself to me. My mind floated a bit through this noise and I heard the surface structure of phone chatter, squeaky linoleum and hospital shoes, and an elevator ding. It took a minute or two to dig past this. Then, I stumbled across the white noise, that din lingering beneath all sound. 

din (dn) n. A jumble of loud, usually discordant sounds. 

I find myself wanting to reclaim the word din as something else entirely. Not as discordant, loud, nor even a jumble of sound, but rather a pattern. A sequence that lurches away from chaos and random towards purpose, even if spontaneous. A network of sound. All of these sound agents, these squeaky shoes, elevators, IV trolleys, and phone conversations, are pursuing their own purpose as much they should. But they interact in structural patterns that a whimsical wisp away from melody. An ambient melody of our buildings and cities and purpose-built places. These purpose-built places (these schools, supermarkets, subways, hospitals, and homes) have an audible register and they speak, they breathe in sound. So, naturally I recorded it with my eyes closed. 


It takes a bit of time to hear anything, except that ambient whoosh lingering beneath every surface register. A crackly whoosh of air meandering through the building like a persistent whisper. Sound is electric. 

Being who I am, I try to relate everything to learning and it wouldn’t be hard to make that stretch with this experience. By simply negating one sense (sight) was I able to isolate another (ambient sound). By removing the content from the context (recording the audio and posting it here), I allow you to imagine what a hospital means in this context. How laden it is with culture (Koreans hospitals are rarely quiet places), how naturally reflective these places are (with your body revolting on you), how encouraging or bewildering that can be in context. 

So, listen for the din. Find that repetitive structure, that language. Let it speak in whispers and whooshes and let all of that infuse your imagination. Now compare that to one of my favorite work tracks (tracks I categorize as ideal for working with endless writing, music elastic enough to allow for meandering yet taught when it needs to be for mental structure and focus). The name of the track is “Handwritten Map to Sea” by Yuichiro Fujimoto, an artist determined to toy with ambience in ways that make sense to me. I love that the structure for this peace is that din I was referring to earlier. 

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By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

2 thoughts on “Seoul Hospital Noises and the orienting din of ambience”
  1. I love that recording, that sound of the shovel (?) hitting the gravel with the wind whipping through. Very evocative for the imagination. I would love to hear more from Ireland, if you do plan on pushing on with these. I am starting to realize that with elearning/e-culture, ambient sound (as opposed to music or lecture or something staged) is a missing ingredient in contextualizing online presence. I feel like I know something sometimes merely through the sounds of the street, so to speak. I think there is lots of learning and pedagogic potential with this type of audio and I would love to explore this more (especially from Ireland!). Many thanks for the comment and keep the recordings coming!

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