FRAMING AND MAPPING SPACE WITH SOUND

 

There’s no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that makes a sound. John Cage

When we start to think of sound’s function in design, we mainly think of acoustic engineering. With the shapes, surfaces, and materials of spaces, we can manipulate sound, in order to produce its best performance, in a concert hall, for example, or in a recording studio, where we erase it. We rarely celebrate sound in design, but it should be explored further, expanded upon, and invited in because it plays a key role in defining our surrounding environment and finally it highly influences our experience of the space.

We do not know with any definiteness when man became consciously aware of the significance of sound and, more importantly, of the possibility of controlling and using it for other than purely practical purposes. The cupping of the hand behind the ear in order to focus a distant sound or placing the hands in horn-like form in front of the mouth to help project the voice, are recognizable as a deliberate attempt to influence the sounds, we make and hear. And some researchers have also noted that the famous cave paintings are often to be found on locations where the local acoustics have unusual qualities and this led to speculations that these places may have been early venues for first alternations of multimedia events.
Simply said, sound is everywhere. It plays an important role in almost everything that we do in our lives and we take it for granted. We need to close our eyes in order to “see”. The ear can inhabit a space, and capture a place, more acutely than the eye is able to. We can relate our ear to personal and unique device for mapping or framing space. The ear resides in a way that the eye can’t. Let’s compare an interiors to large instruments, collecting sound, amplifying it, transmitting it elsewhere. Each space has a particular sound.

Every building or space has its characteristic sound of intimacy or monumentality, invitation or rejection, hospitality or hostility. A space is understood and appreciated through its echo as much as through its visual shape, but the acoustic percept usually remains as an unconscious background experience. Juhani Pallasmaa

And each person perceives it a bit differently even if there are certain standards of acoustic. Yet, what does it mean to ‘hear space’? From the position of the listener, sound appears as an immense enveloping medium. We hear from all directions simultaneously an acoustic expanse that has no tangible borders. Our built surroundings inevitably constitute a framework for listening. A methodical answer to spatial-sound categorizations that facilitate the connection between built environments and the ways in which we use our ears, is the aural architecture. It examines sound as design: how sound defines space, creates realms of privacy or society, and produces a sense of place. To narrow it down we can say that we are all aural architects at home because with each our change of our living space we influence its acoustics as well.
We need to realize that the sound what we hear in space is always filtered through cultural biases and personal cognitive processes. We respond to the complexity of sound and acoustics even without the ability to articulate the origin of their response. Our senses always provide complimentary aspects of space, and ignoring one sense in favour of another decreases our abilities to appreciate and design spaces that are worth experiencing. I consider the sound walk as a very nice example for framing the space with sound.

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GRAY – site specific sound walk, 2015
It was my contribution to the workshop led by Lara Almarcegui. The walk is designed for the parking building, located in industrial area of Utrecht, that has been built from gray massive rough concrete. During walking up and down through the building you could literally feel imprisoned by the concrete. From the open top floor, you could see far away, but your vision was restricted by misty fogginess, blurring the horizon. I did not use any background sound for the audio, there is only voice speaking to you. Headphones facilitates in this piece two ways: at first they transmit the voice and at the second, when the voice is silent, it restricts the sound coming from outside. I was aiming to emphasize that separation and the situation that you are alone in this journey. The overall mood of the sound walk has a glimpse of George Orwell’s novel, 1984 and by McCarthy Cormac’s book The Road.

I found it very interesting to explore a city’s streets through sound walks. It gives you an opportunity to shift your perception and enhance your involvement by immersing yourself into two blending sound layers. The subtle, softer one – partly eliminated by materia of the headphones, originated from the streets you are passing by and the other one on the top, is the collection of sound(s) and voice(s) that you are listening from headphones. Two diverse levels are making a nice melange of noises and voices that creates a completely new experience of already (un)known place. Other example I would like to use is a silent disco parties, where each person listens to music only from headphones and the surrounding space itself remains quite. After all, when you put your headphones off, you see people dancing in silence and conception of the place is shifting.
By my opinion there is an unbelievable richness of possibilities that still can be acknowledged and researched in order to better grasp a sounds as a tool for shaping the space. We are still touching only the peak of an iceberg, by merging existing sounds with a new created sound level as it is happening in sound walks or changing otherwise quite spaces with a different stories from your headphones.

soundwalk
SOUNDWALK is an international sound collective based in New York City. Founded in the early 2000s by Stephan Crasneanscki. Soundwalk made its name by producing cutting–edge audio guides, mixing fiction and reality to provide an exclusive and poetic discovery of a city, on the bridge between Baudelairian stroll and cinematic experience.
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