The Philips Pavilion, based on hyperbolic paraboloids originally used in Metastaseis musical piece by Iannis Xenakis
“Sound is a spatial event, a material phenomenon and an auditive experience rolled into one. It can be described using the vectors of distance, direction and location. Within architecture, every built space can modify, position, reflect or reverberate the sounds that occur there. Sound embraces and transcends the spaces in which it occurs, opening up a consummate context for the listener: the acoustic source and its surroundings unite into a unique auditory experience.”
The spatial metaphor
Over the years, the relationship and analogy between music/sound art/sound design and architecture has been explored in several aspects. In the same way architecture works over the solid materials, visual spaces, geometry, abstract realities or social contexts, it does over the aural realities, the sonic dimension. When it comes to space, sound can be valued in an architectural process, just as architecture is also sonic.
Although when it comes to music, there has been a discussion on the validity of the analogy between the musical space and that of architecture, and there’s also some way of relating both concepts in the role of sound design, since it doesn’t rely in a fixed language as some music is, and it’s always open to the contexts in which it evolves or in which it is developed, such as a film. Space in terms of sound design is immensely important, both in terms of the visual/outer spaces projected in a particular audiovisual medium, but also in the inner, abstract or invisible faculties of a piece like a film or a videogame, thus introducing the possibility of creating architecture with aural elements in the same way the visual aspect creates its own spaces and objects.
Image by Stewart Butterfield, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.
When we say “space”, people generally think of two things: outer space, or a bounded area that something fits into. It’s a safe bet that most people in the sound community immediately think of the latter. So often we focus on the characteristics of a space…how far a sound carries, reflections and reverberation time, etc. Certainly that helps us define a space, but…for the most part…only on a technical level. What really defines a space, is what occupies it. There’s no denying that production designers and location scouts in film, or level designers and artists in games, have a strong role in creating a space, but we in the sonic branch of our respective mediums have the unique ability to refine…or even redefine…those spaces they create. Sometimes, we’re even given the opportunity to create spaces where they cannot. What I want us to consider in light of that, is how we approach the creation of that space.
Image by Bust It Away Photography. Used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source
The world we inhabit is ever shifting. People and animals are constantly on the move. Water laps against wood or crashes against a sandy beach. If considered from a somewhat solipsistic approach the buildings, trees and mountains around us even shift in position. With all of those positional changes comes a new sonic interaction. The squirrel’s chitter no is no longer to our left, the wave passes above us when we are under water, or the reflections of nearby traffic now reflect off of a different building of steel and glass…confusing its location. Space is not fixed nor are the elements within it.
This month, we look at that mercurial idea of “Space.”
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Guest Contribution by Jeff Talman
Seong Moy, my drawing professor at City College of New York, had students lightly shade their sketchpads with hand-smeared charcoal to prepare a background for the drawing. This neutral background helped to create an illusory sense of depth in a 2-dimensional medium. The negative space of the drawing was activated by this treatment. Had there been no shading, no defined background, the objects in the drawing would not have existed anywhere, but would have been only representations, floating and free of context. The background helped to create a space in which to work.
Similarly, audio engineers know how important the background silence is in recording. In the early days of Audio CDs engineers learned that absolute silence between tracks created a void that the listener could find to be unpleasant, as if the CD was somehow unnatural because it did not exist in any space itself. The problem was compounded in that LPs had a consistent background sound. So sound on the early CDs seemed to ‘drop out’ between tracks. Soon engineers added low levels of ambient, background sound to fill these voids just as the charcoal smears did for the drawings.
Acousmonium, INA-GRM, 1980. Photo by Laszlo Ruska.
Surround (Oxford Dictionary)
- (verb) [with object] – Be all round (someone or something)
- (noun) – A thing that forms a border or edging around an object.
- (adjective) (Surrounding) – All around a particular place or thing.
Based merely on a technological approach, one might think that Surround sound is just the technique of reproducing audio signals in a particular array of speakers that distribute sound around space in order to give a three-dimensional illusion for the ears…
Surround is not visual really, is not something we can see. Surround is not just a technique of distributing sound, but the consequences of it. It’s a characteristic of sound itself, natural to the sonic phenomenon and responsible of the entire notion of the “auditory field” which is more than simply one dimension of space, but a multi-layered, multi-dimensional representation of sound.
In this article I aim to explore different experiments and perspectives toward the use of surround sound and the experiments between space and form, getting out from the image/film relationship in order to explore how sound “alone” can be enriched by the process of multichannel distribution, which has been deeply explored aesthetically, psychologically, musically, etc.