“Places and traces” by Viv Corringham

Reading Aimilia’s fascinating writings based on Spaces Speak, Are You Listening – a book I found very interesting – I thought I’d write a little bit about the work that I do.

I am particularly interested in people’s sense of place and their relationship with very familiar places.  Much of my work has developed in response to this, especially my ongoing sound project Shadow-walks. This began in 2003 and has occurred in 19 places in USA, Canada, Asia and Europe. It involves three main elements: walking with others, listening to environmental sound, and my own improvised singing.

There are well-known traditional links between walking, singing and the sense of place, such as the Aboriginal song-lines or the Kaluli song paths. Anthropologist Steven Feld studied the Kaluli people of Bosavi, Papua New Guinea and has described their practice of song paths, the poetic song texts that take listeners on a journey through a local area. The philosophy of song paths is that knowing where you are is knowing who you are. Feld’s writings were an important influence in the development of my work.

I became very interested in everyday sounds, inspired by working with composer Pauline Oliveros and learning her method of “Deep Listening”. My fascination with environmental sounds and musical improvisation led me to consider methods of exploring places and interacting with them vocally. My first attempts, in 2002, were called “Vocal Strolls” and became a regular show on London’s Resonance FM radio for a time. Vocal Strolls consisted of wandering through the city while listening to the environment and responding with improvised singing.

Shadow-walks began with the intention of incorporating other people’s experience of place into my work. James Joyce wrote that places remember events and I found this idea very interesting—that everything that happens leaves traces that we might be able to sense. So that if a person walks through certain places repeatedly along the same route, perhaps the ground retains traces of that person’s history and memories. Shadow-walks is an attempt to make a person’s traces, their shadow, audible.

The process of a Shadow-walk is straightforward. I arrive in a new place and ask to be taken on a special walk, one that has been repeated many times and has meaning or significance for that person. While walking together, I record our conversations and environmental sounds. This is followed by a solo walk in which I attempt to sense my previous companion’s traces on the walk and to make them audible through improvised singing in the location. These recordings are then selected and edited to become the final work, the Shadow-walk. Shadow-walks have been shared in various ways: as audio-walks, radio pieces, at listening posts around a town and, most frequently, as sound installations in art galleries. It is very important to me that they are presented in some way in the place where they were made, to the people who shared their special walks with me.

Soundscapes and Architecture — a New Love Affair or a Long-Term Relationship? Part II

But do we tend to associate certain sounds with certain rooms? Do the spaces speak?

Hogarth webIt is a common knowledge that we experience places not only by seeing but also by listening. In Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?, Barry Blesser and Linda- Ruth Salter take advance of his long career in audio engineering and her experience regarding space, and they examine auditory spatial awareness. They introduce the notion of aural architecture, integrating contributions from a wide range of disciplines such as architecture, music, acoustics, psychology, art and many others. According to them, when we think of architecture, we tend to visualize the properties of space that can be seen, especially boundaries like walls and surfaces. In contrast, aural architecture has aural boundaries. Moreover, the aural and acoustic attributes of a space have an influence on the moods and feeling of those who inhabit it. Searching for a certain high-impact space is easier than trying to construct it, since it is impossible to auralize a space that has never been experienced. So, it is obvious that we tend to listen to the unique voice of certain spaces but without realizing it most of the times.

But what happens when we leave our home? How we tend to aurally experience the city? The French philosopher and phenomenologist Jean- Francois Augoyard at the Centre de researche sur l’espace sonore et l’ environment urbain (CRESSON) at the National School of Architecture of Grenoble and lead soundscape researcher, makes an innovative approach. In his book, Sonic experience, a guide on everyday sounds, he introduces the notion of sonic effect, and he provides a sourcebook full of auditory examples with a distinctive architectural and urban context. Nevertheless, he clearly uses the notion of R. Murray’s soundscape and Pierre Schaeffer’s sound object. Augoyard believes that never before has the everyday contemporary soundtrack of urban space been so cacophonous, and he hopes to enrich our understanding of what it is to listen and the role sound plays to our environment.

kentrikos stathmos tokxolmiFollowing the same path with CRESSON Bjorn Hellstrom, the writer of Noise Design: Architectural Modelling and the Aesthetics of Urban Acoustic Space, takes a structural approach to urban acoustic space. While most regulations adopt a defensive attitude towards noise, as unwanted sound, Hellstrom believes that urban noise, transient and immaterial as it is, makes public and private space less predictable and less monotonous, having a direct connection to transparent and fluid space, which is a central principle of contemporary architectural composition.

But is this transformboston-symphony-hallation of the contemporary urban soundscape in the Western World, the result of major cultural and technological changes that took place in the beginning of 20th century? Emily Thomson, in her book The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933, agrees that the dramatic transformations in what people heard and how they listened, were the result of the prevalence of a neradio-city-music-hallw aural culture. The new sound of the modern technology changed radically the experience of sonic space. This is a fact that you can visually notice for example when you experience the architecture of Boston’s Symphony Hall, which was built in 1900s and the architecture of Radio City Music Hall, which was built in the 1930’s. The architectural composition of these two stages is mainly the result of acoustics but its function changes entirely in these two cases.

The result of this journey is that; the connection between soundscapes and architecture is not a new but an ancient one. While the soundscape of the world changes, as R. Murray Schafer has stated in his book that introduced the notion of soundscape, modern man should learn to inhabit a world with an acoustic environment radically different from any other era. I believe that contemporary architects should stop designing for people without senses and focus on real space rather than space constructed by bits!

 

References:

Blesser, Barry and Linda-Ruth Salter. Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing aural architecture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2007. Print.

Auguyard, Jean-Francois and Henry Torgue. Sonic experience, a guide on everyday sounds. Quebec: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2005. Print.

Hellstrom, Bjorn. Noise Design: Architectural Modelling and the Aesthetics of Urban Acoustic Space. (Doctoral Dissertation, School of Architecture, Royal Institute of Technology, KTH) Gotenborg: Reproman AB, 2003. Print.

Thomson, Emily. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004. Print.

Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Vermont: Destiny Books, 1977,1994. Print

 

Picture sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Enraged_Musician

Second photograph is courtesy of Alex Stogiannis; Stockholm’s central station January 2013.

http://bicycleresearchproject.blogspot.gr/2013/01/18-emily-thompsons-soundscape-of.html

Soundscapes and Architecture — a New Love Affair or a Long-Term Relationship? Part I

Taking a cue from feKunsthofpassage_Dresdenllow blogger Joseph Young and his blog posts about the 100th anniversary of Noises Manifesto, the words of Luigi Russolo about the great modern city came to my mind. According to Russolo, the city was characterized mainly by the sounds of the machine, as he was always in search of the music in technology as a true futurist that he was.

 

My curiosity about connections between sound and architecture made me take a different path, so I researched musicians who have taken an interest in the city and architecture as a source of inspiration. Iannis Xenakis was a genius who used his personal memories of crowd, demonstrations and battles that took place in the city of Athens, during the German occupation in the Second World War, as a row music material, a true war soundscape. Using his own words “The whole world has observed the sonic phenomena regarding a large politicized crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. The human river recites a slogan with dissent rate. Afterwards another slogan is heard from the head of the demonstration and is transmitted until the end, by replacing the first one. So, a wave of transition starts from the head until the end of the demonstration. The clamor fills the city, the inhibitory power of the voice and the rhythm is the highest that could ever be. It is about an event particularly bright and beautiful regarding its own ferociousness. Thereafter, there is the conflict between the protestors and the enemy. The perfect rhythm of the last slogan decays in a vast crowd of chaotic screams that are transmitted until the end of the demonstration. Let’s imagine additional to that the bursts of the machine guns and the whistle of the bullets that add their intonation in this complete disarray. Then, very quickly, the crowd is dissolved, the sonic and the visual hell is succeeded by an explosive calmness, full of despair, death and dust.”  (Iannis Xenakis, 21).

 Iannis Xenakis’ studies anExpo 1958 paviljoen van Philipsd his profession as an architect and engineer (these two were considered to be almost the same by Greek Universities in previous decades), as Makis Solomos remarked in his book about Xenakis, affected deeply his music in terms of practical mathematics and a holistic spatial notion of sound.

But can the opposite also be true? Can we find examples of architectural structures that are affected mainly by sound? As an architect and a theorist Juhani Pallasmaa stated in his book The Architecture of image: Existential Space in Cinema, since the 1970s architects have fervently sought connections with other art forms—such as seeking inspiration in painting, sculpture, literature and music. Architects’ interest in infusing their work with echoes of other art forms indicates that the architecture has become uncertain of its essence and future course.

Searching deeper in older historical periods, such as 1950s, I came across Steen E. Rasmussen’s classic architectural theory book Experiencing Architecture. Steen E. Rasmussen, a Danish architect and urban planner, acknowledged that “It is possible to speak of hearing architecture.” He believed that sound is a major factor of architecture—even if many of us could say that a building does not produce sound, and therefore cannot be heard. But isn’t this also true about light? A building does not radiate light, yet it can be seen. Rasmussen concludes, “Though you cannot hear whether or not it is good architecture, neither is it certain you can see whether it is good or not, you can both see and hear if a building has character.” (Steen E. Rasmussen, 224).

therme-vals1And as I continued my journey exploring contemporary architecture, I came across the work of Peter Zumthor, a Swiss architect and winner of the 2009 Pritzker Prize, whose work I have always admired. As he claimed in his book Atmospheres, “The Sound of a Space” is one of the nine aspects that concerned him in order to generate a certain atmosphere in his buildings. He believes that interiors are like large instruments that collect sound, amplifying and transmitting it somewhere. According to Zumthor, that particular sound of his spaces has to do with the shape peculiar to each room, with the surfaces of the materials they contain and the materials that have been applied.

But do we tend to associate certain sounds with certain rooms? Do the spaces speak? To be continued…

 

References:

Σολωμός, Μάκης. Iannis Xenakis: the Universe of an Idiosyncratic Creator. Αθήνα: εκδόσεις Αλεξάνδρεια, 2008. Print.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema. Helsinki: Rakennustieto Publishing, 2007. Print.

Rasmussen, Steen E. Experiencing Architecture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1959, 1964. Print.

Zumthor, Peter. Atmospheres: Architectural Environments Surrounding Objects. Basel: Birkhauser, 2006, 2010. Print.

 

Picture sources:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kunsthofpassage_Dresden.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Expo58_building_Philips.jpg

http://littlespeakeasy.com/?p=318

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