Sunday, May 1, 2016

Same Song - Different Sound

I love this video by "the Wikisinger" showing one song sung in a variety of different spaces.  It underscores the immense effect that architecture has on shaping sound and experience.
"With “no artificial reverb added,” Müllner demonstrates how much environment contributes to the quality of what we hear with a montage of sound and video clips from several—very aesthetically pleasing—locations. In each place, Müllner sings the same strange song: in a tunnel, an attic, a field before an oil derricks, the nave of a cathedral, and an anechoic chamber—which resembles the interior of an alien spacecraft and produces no reflections whatsoever. Sometimes the effect is subtle, inviting you to lean in and listen more closely; sometimes it’s outsized and operatic."  (July 17th, 2015 on
Read the whole article here:

Watch the video here: 
the Wikisinger from Touché Videoproduktion on Vimeo.

Reminds me of the piece I recorded in 2011 called MBTA Journey.  Listen here:

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Deafness and Spatial Experience

Emergencies written by Charlotte Vetter Gulick. (Book 2 of The Gulick Hygiene Series)
Original copyright 1909 by Luther H. Gulick, published by Ginn & Company.

For a while now I have been interested in the impact of blindness on one’s experience of space. Stemming from that, I have lately been thinking about the way in which someone who is deaf experiences the world and navigates their environment. I would be interested to know more about how the removal of aural information affects the perception of space, and whether there is a significant impact at all considering the visual sense is still intact. As is expected, each sense has its own limitations, however I would imagine that a consequence of deafness is that it brings awareness specifically to the limitations of vision and is therefore invaluable to investigate.

Of course the visual field is limited in scope as a result of our eyes residing on one side of our heads. Because we can’t see behind us, the perceptible environment is only that which is facing us. This is one area in which our auditory sense has an advantage. As John Hull points out,

“The view looking that way is quite different from the view looking this way. It is not like that with sound. New noises do not come to my attention as I turn my head around....Perhaps there is some slight shading of quality, but the acoustic world is mainly independent of my movement.” (pg 83, Touching the Rock)
Considering one of the main limitations of the visual sense is that it does not provide information regarding the urgency and proximity of motion as directly as the auditory sense could, it seems there would be a certain stillness to space when experienced without the sounds of activity and action that take place within a given environment. Again, speaking from the perspective of being blind, John Hull observes,
“The intermittent nature of the acoustic world is one of its most striking features. In contrast, the perceived world is stable and continuous” (pg 83, Touching the Rock)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Embedded Sound" published in On Site review 28:sound


"The sounds that animate architecture, and the ways in which architecture augments those sounds, can be examined by observing the essential qualities of constructed space: material and geometry.  These characteristics, plus scale and construction method, inform soundscapes that are embedded within all built environments. 

As an exploration of how sound is shaped by space, and how experience is shaped by acoustics, I offer a series of vignettes describing three distinct sites and the way in which I perceived them to be particularly defined by the acoustical quality of the architecture.  The focus is not on the behavior of an imposed sound source or signal, but rather on the ambient conditions of inhabitation." (pg 38)

on site review is an independent journal and print magazine edited by Stephanie White and published twice a year, in the Spring and the Fall.  Issue 28 centers on the theme of sound. You can listen to tracks associated with articles here and read more about the journal here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Projected Auscultation

Projected Auscultation is a theoretical proposition which explores the creation of a social network connected only by the projected sounds of the human body.

Internal sounds are picked up by a microphone, amplified, and projected into the surrounding space. Simultaneously they are projected out to a network of locations around the city (or globally?) and amplified into these other public spaces as well.

Modified urban furniture could potentially serve as points of connection/collection of body sounds in the public realm. There are a number of different ways that this type of biometric data could be collected...perhaps even with an app for a smart phone.
Sounds captured at point "A" are projected at various locations as "a" 

Meanwhile, sounds captured at point "B" are projected at various locations marked "b", creating overlapping conditions. 

And so on...

A (low-quality) simulated audio experienced can be accessed here:

At any given moment there may be multiple people connected to this web of auscultation. In this way, when you participate, you become connected to the public solely through the acoustics of the inner body.  You are able to hear your own individual characteristics in conjunction with others, and subsequently, you are contributing to the formation of a temporary and constantly changing social network of displaced sounds.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Perceiving Environments through Acoustic Events

Lately, I have been referencing John Hull’s book “Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness” and I will again today as it presents a plethora of observations on the nature of perceiving the world through senses other than sight. At one point, Hull describes the experience of crossing a busy intersection and the confidence with which he is able to navigate the situation due to the pattern of acoustic cues that are present at the site.
“The noise of the traffic, coming from either direction, was full and rich, the peripheral sounds made by people walking on the footpath, louder on this side of the road, fainter on the other side, and all of the other echos and contours made up that acoustic shape which I call the Bristol Road. In a few moments the noise of the traffic would change. Instead of the present movement of approaching and departing rushes of sound there would be the purring of engines idling on either side. Between would be a silent space.” Hull, pg 149
A couple years ago I made a recording at a T-shaped intersection in Cambridge, MA. I was fascinated by the amount of information that was embedded within the recording itself regarding speed, direction of turns, relationship to my recording position, and of course, a documentation of the events that occurred. The recording communicates an environment of sweeping movement and dynamic fluidity.  Listen below:

The increased importance of movement and event in the constructed understanding of one’s surrounding landscape is later addressed by Hull.

“I can tell when things are moving by the sounds they make. Cars swish past, feet patter along, leaves rustle, but a silent nature is immobile. So it is that, for me, the clouds do not move; the world outside the car window or the window of the train is not moving. The countryside makes no noise as the train passes through it. The hills and fields are silent.” Hull, pg 179
The association of silence and static objects is somewhat straightforward, but by suggesting that static objects in the world in essence no longer exist since they are no longer present in one’s perception of the environment, presents opportunities for investigation and discovery. Imagine taking a photograph (or a video) and eliminating any element which does not move/make perceptible would the world be altered? 

Coming next: Projected Auscultation...linking public spaces with body sounds


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Acoustic Effects of Precipitation

Last night it snowed for the first time this season and today it is rainy and stormy.  It seems only fitting to post about the acoustic effects that precipitation has on the perceived environment as recounted by John Hull in his book “Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness.”  I have included excerpts from this book previously in the post on facial vision, and it is almost certain that there will be more to come as my copy of the book is currently filled with an abundance of post-it tabs.

Concerning rain, Hull writes:

“Rain has a way of bringing out the contours of everything; it throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the steadily falling rain creates continuity of acoustic experience.
I hear the rain pattering on the roof above me, dripping down the walls to my left and right, splashing from the drain-pipe at ground level on my left, while further over to the left there is a lighter patch as the rain falls almost inaudibly upon a large leafy shrub. On the right, it is drumming with a deeper steadier sound, upon the lawn. I can even make out the contours of the lawn, which rises to the right in a little hill....” Hull, pg 29-30
I am interested in the observation that through continuous percussion, or percussive activation of the environment, we are able to form a more unified and informed understanding of our surroundings.  That the material characteristics of an object can be revealed through the high speed smack of a raindrop is compelling in itself, but that an entire "scene" can be understood through the simultaneous smacking of millions of droplets from the sky, seems to me, to present possibilities for the exploration of three-dimensional environments solely through aural means.
“The rain presents the fullness of an entire situation all at once, not merely remembered, not in anticipation, but actually and now. The rain gives a sense of perspective and of the actual relationships of one part of the world to another. 
If only rain could fall inside a room, it would help me to understand where things are in the room, to give a sense of being in the room, instead of just sitting on a chair.” Hull, pg 31
Though differing in intention, Rain Room by rAndom International, creates the framework necessary for it to rain inside a room.  Check out the installation here:

Later on in the book, Hull revisits the impact of rain on his perception of the world in a more analytical way.  In addition to the cohesive view he describes above, Hull acknowledges that the differentiation that rain reveals, is what develops the richness of the now accessible "view".  For instance, Hull recounts that he first notices differences of place (in relation to his own body eg. left, right, above, below), next there are differences in speed (slow drips, rapid cascades), followed by differences in intensity (exposed areas versus sheltered areas).  Finally, differences in pitch and volume emerge relating to the material that is being struck and its orientation relative to the sky.
"This built up into a complex pattern. The more intensely I listened, the more I found I could discriminate, building block upon block of sound, noticing regularities and irregularities, filling dimension upon dimension.” Hull, pg 132
In contrast to rain, snow has the opposite effect by taking away information.  There is a saying that snow is the blind person's fog.  Hull explains why:
“What I suffer in the snow is a loss of knowledge. All my familiar points and markings, the different grades and textures of grass, gravel, asphalt and concrete, are obliterated." Hull, pg 156
The softness of a snow fall, which has no audible impact on the landscape, and the subsequent acoustic insulation that results from a thick blanket of snow, effectively shrink the area of the aural environment that one can perceive.  
“Apart from the white cane, and the sounds from the environment, the body’s knowledge of its surroundings does not exceed its own dimensions.” Hull, pg 157
It is strange to think that only a precious few degrees Fahrenheit separate a vast and accessible world from an exceedingly limited field of perception

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

RECAP #7 - "The Sound of Architecture" at Yale School of Architecture

Yale School of Architecture
"The Sound of Architecture"
October 6, 2012 2pm - 4pm

The Sound of Architecture at Yale School of Architecture
“Listening is the process of confronting expressive movements around us” - Brandon LaBelle

Here we are at the final session of the symposium! I had been looking forward to this last portion since the last speaker is Brandon LaBelle, who in my opinion, is such an eloquent man. I will go on about him during the recap, but I did want to preface the following summaries by saying that I may have been distracted during the first talks in anticipation of his lecture. Now that I have made my little disclaimer...on to the last recap!


Sabine von Fischer “Intimate and Infinite Space”
                I appreciated the structure of von Fischer’s talk which was organized around a selection of terms relating to the study of sound environments from the 1920’s-1970’s. The terms presented were: the aural, sonosphere (sonisphere?), soundscape, acoustic space and acoustic horizon. These words were coined (or more explicitly defined) at varying times in the last century and through a range of texts, though by now they have all pretty much been widely appropriated. For instance, von Fischer refers to R. Murray Schafer’s distinction of “soundscape” from the 1960’s or Peter Sloterdijk’s use of the word “sonosphere” in the 1990’s which was used in Michael Southworth’s 1965 master’s thesis at MIT. Through tracing the history and evolution of these terms, von Fischer was able to track the changing attitudes towards pace, sound, and architecture. Additionally, she was able to move between technical and scientific investigations while emphasizing the importance of language and description communicating a rich and multidimensional understanding of auditory space and the experiments that advanced and explored it.

Alexander Nemerov “Acoustic Shadows: Macbeth and the Civil War”
               Nemerov, who has explored the specific topic addressed in his talk in the book Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War, concentrated on describing a single performance of Macbeth in 1863 as a particular moment which encapsulates the cultural, spatial, and political forces of the time. Through a detailed study of all aspects of that day, October 17, 1863, including the performances (namely that of leading lady Charlotte Cushman), the theater itself (the architecture of Grover’s National Theater), and the political climate at the time (the “acoustic shadows” of Civil War battles in the distance), Nemerov is able to communicate the interconnected nature of seemingly disparate realms.

Veit Erlmann “Biology, Environment, and Sound: Jakob von Uexküll Revisited”
                Erlmann pretty much lost me a couple sentences into this lecture. Perhaps it was because I am not really familiar with the specific language which seemed to overwhelm the research he presented, or possibly because I had not been previously acquainted with the work of Jakob von Uexküll. Regardless, it was a pity that felt I could not follow the train of thought and ideas presented, as after a cursory glance at Uexküll’s research concerns and findings, I feel that it had the potential to be a rather illuminating talk. Uexküll, a German biologist active during the early 1900’s, was particularly interested in investigating how living beings (studied through ticks, jellyfish etc) perceive their environment in reaction to sensory data. It seemed as though Erlmann was arguing for the importance of Uexküll’s perspective in terms of human awareness, and emphasizing the value of considering the way we construct our environment through perceived experiences particularly with regards to sound. Here’s one quote from the lecture I found noteworthy: “Space is to the aural architect as the spiderweb is to the fly.” When the fly becomes trapped, the fly assumes some spiderweb-ness and the spiderweb assumes some fly-ness. I think this scenario of mutual influence and feedback is quite strong and appropriate when considering relationships between our perception of space in relation to the built environment.

Brandon LaBelle “Shared Space”
                I was first introduced to Brandon LaBelle’s books as required reading in the context of a studio art class, “Sound in Time, Sound in Space” taught by Marina Rosenfeld at Harvard University. His writing is descriptive and his observations are thoughtful and perceptive. Check out both his books “Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art” and “Acoustic Territories” if you are interested in reading some of his work.

While sound is deeply connected to experiences of sharing and reassurance, LaBelle described as he began his talk, it is also linked to disruption and confrontation. Following this idea, LaBelle turned his attention to an exploration of “noise” which he defined as “sound which oversteps particular limits.” The lecture was broken into three parts in order to examine qualities of “noise” through a selection of art pieces. These were: acoustics multiplied, supplement, and difference making. “Acoustics multiplied” referred to noise as pluralistic and concerned with overlapped acoustical spaces. A piece by Mark Bain explores ideas of vibration by capturing and transmitting energy passing through structures. By embedding an accessible headphone jack into the exterior wall of a building, passersby on the street can “plug-in” to the building and listen to vibrations which are captured by transducers inserted into the foundations of the building. In this way, the public can experience a simultaneous, yet inaccessible, space while remaining a part of the exterior and public street. The idea of “supplement” LaBelle explained, allows for the possibility of another narrative which “brings into question the wholeness of the original with a ‘more than’.” He shared one of his own pieces where he recorded a deaf man reading John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing as an example of this idea.* A second work, “The Sonic Body” introduced a series of “portraits” by LaBelle where he asked people to listen to music on headphones and then recorded the sound of them dancing to the music. All we heard in these recordings were the percussive steps and thumps of feet on the floor, the breathing of the individual, and the occasional sigh or melodic line escaping the participants’ lips. It was really quite fascinating, especially as fundamental qualities of the music they were listening to eventually became evident through the recorded interactions of the body in space, namely, rhythm. With “difference making”, LaBelle was interested in collapsing distance through the introduction of a difference. “Boomerang” (1974) by Richard Serra served as an example. In the video, Serra employs a slightly delayed echo which is played into the headphones of Nancy Holt as she speaks. Holt is listening to her own echo and trying to talk at the same time. You can watch a clip below. The sequence is quite powerful.  Holt alters the speed at which she speaks as she tries to listen to, or align with, her own echo. In LaBelle’s talk we were introduced to several attitudes or approaches to noise. We began to understand the proposal set forth by LaBelle as he observed the inherent qualities of contamination and disruptiveness that are at once productive and uncomfortable when considering noise. 

*At this point, I have to note that I am shocked that John Cage was not even mentioned until this point in the symposium! He was so completely concerned with bringing awareness to the aural environment within which we all live! Actually, as I think I have mentioned before, I am extremely critical of the fact that there was practically no mention (and no speakers) that dealt with sound/space/architecture as an artistic medium. Where were the discussions of Lucier, Neuhaus, Leitner? Where were the presentations by contemporary artists/architects actually working to explore the issues introduced in the lectures?