Soundfile 3: Ice cream van melody.
The route of the truck leaves a sonic ripple that influences the ambience of the area; it conjures for only a few minutes a sense of place that scarcely returns during the rest of the day. In most of the cases the sonic ripple persists; indeed, it can be heard continually as the van maneuvers in and out of the nearby residential courts. Since the neighborhoods are not easily accessible, the route covered by the trucks is far from linear; that is to say that the persistence of sound within the environment is strictly linked to the urban contours.
As a result, the melody also appeared in the background in unexploited, abandoned, or uninhabited areas; in those cases the sound contributes to creating a surreal or even alienating ambience. Ice cream van melodies, more than any other sounds diffused through public space, play a crucial role in constructing the various nuances of the perceived sonic environment.
The area inhabitants, who are habituated to this sound, correspond in this analysis to ice cream buyers (the ones who can afford a 99p soft cream) who experience a segregated environment daily. My fieldwork thus shows how the circulation of ice cream vans traces a sonic delineation of urban marginality, introducing a strong relationship between the diffusion of these melodies and low-income housing areas. Indeed, my research reveals that mobile ice cream vans have chosen for their business those neighborhoods that are closer to the “peace walls”, and more generally to low-income residential areas.
Approximately 20 trucks drive through lower middle-class and working-class residential areas from 3pm to 7pm. According to one resident, “The truck is passing by here every day, around 4pm and again after dinner. I actually can’t remember a single day it doesn’t pass by.” It seems that the inhabitants have established a special relationship with ice cream van melodies: As one dweller said, “It’s like I’m waiting for it every afternoon, and suddenly, when it comes, I can hear the kids coming out their homes …”
The habit of listening for and to the ice cream melody coincides here with a strong sense of cultural belonging; a resident, in fact, proudly declared, “We have our ice cream truck, the others’ have their own.” Ice cream vans form part of the identity of the inhabitants and reflect the isolation of these residential areas. In this case, even though dwellers can hear other ice cream vans passing by, they recognize and firmly support their own. However, as sound does not honor borders, ice cream melodies can disclose a special sonic awareness linked to the perception of urban limits: “Sometimes you can hear them before you see them; some other times you can just hear them, but there is no chance to catch one, because they are on the other side of the wall.”
The interviews revealed how it is more likely for inhabitants of working-class residential areas to be fully aware of ice cream van melodies, especially close to the peace walls and other infrastructures built in order to separate two conflicting neighborhoods. In fact, outside the most segregated areas, there is a strong difference between the dwellers who are typically aware of the ice cream van melody and the ones who never notice such sounds. Inhabitants living in middle- and upper-class residential areas rarely perceive the ice cream melody, even if their neighborhood is quite close to a working- or lower middle-class ones. Sometimes they even question whether the trucks are still active in the city. One resident asked, “Are ice cream vans still passing through the streets? I can see them just in the main parks.” Their relationship with ice cream vans is then mainly nostalgic; the melody sometimes brings them memories from their childhood: “I remember I used to hear ice cream vans back in my childhood, when I was living somewhere else in another neighborhood, now I never hear them.” In this case, the disappearance of ice cream melodies within his present sonic environment reflects a social mobility that is difficult to be hidden.