Within the sound environment of the medina, the Aïn Zerka emerges as a unique place. It opposes the familiar urban hierarchy: from the private house to the public derb via the street, the avenue, and finally the square. In this hierarchy, a sound gradient can be perceived, which moves from the calm of a semi-private space to the tumult of busy public spaces, from the hushed interior courtyards and secluded dead-ends to the brouhaha of squares and shopping streets.
Despite being at the heart of the medina, with adjacent streets busy with constant traffic, the spring is enveloped by silence. The Aïn Zerka is approached via turning streets that work as intermediate spaces preserving the site of the spring from the surrounding noise. As the silence becomes more significant through its suddenness, this urban configuration invites the passerby to listen. The succession of turns at right angles in the layout of the alleys allows for a sonic pause, during which the ear breathes to better capture the melody to come ... Where the neophyte is surprised, the one who is familiar anticipates and knows. This spatial composition induces the feeling of approaching a sacred space.
Threshold after threshold crossed, the sound arrives gradually to the ear. Its arrival is far from uniform; it is constantly fluctuating as regards level, direction, and intensity. According to where one listens, one perceives it differently: weaker on the street side, stronger in front of the theater, fading away beyond the green space. The sonic experience is surprising: the water can either fall at the feet of the listener or surround them in total immersion within the khettarat or at the bottom of the stairs.
The spring constitutes a sonic center; it generates an intangible veil, masking the surrounding sounds.
In the delimited zone circumscribed by the sound of water, women group together, draped in their colorful fabrics. The presence of bodies, wrapped by mellafahs, corresponds with the water sound, with its enveloping effect, thereby creating subspaces for encounter and exchange. The sound of water protects these spaces from the invasion of loud voices, e.g. the laughter and cries of the nearby children. To listen to these women, I must get close to them, reducing body distance and trespassing upon their intimacy.
The visual continuity of the space opposes the multiple intangible sonic boundaries by means of which people can isolate themselves from the rest of the space.
A few meters from the spring is the Kasbah. It is enough to cross the main door to experience the switch to another sonic universe. In the fortress exists a sonic hollow: there are no sounds at the center of the space, only along its borders. This corresponds to the origin of the word ksb (قصب), meaning in Arabic a hollow envelope or a shell or a hollow structure within a bone of the body.
Voices are silent, bodies speak,
Steps of women
The guardian intervenes
I stay …
The space empties
The Kasbah is wrapped in silence
The sun declines
The birds come, one by one
Some land on top of the palm tree, others choose the crest of the walls
A new symphony begins
Birdsong gushes forth
The space itself repeats their melody
The sound travels from wall to wall
I open my eyes and stare at the horizon
A bird’s ballet animates the crenels of the wall. Passing from merlons to merlons, the birds dance a complex choreography
(Journal, Noha Gamal Saïd, 2016)