3 & 4. How do these observations feed in to how the soundscape may effect our perception of the urban environment & how can this inform my compositional process and aesthetic decisions?

May 6, 2009 at 3:21 pm (Artists Statement & Reflection, Main Derives)

Sound + Space

Sound and space are always engaged in conversation. The activity of sound characterizes space; it can inject rhythm, texture and mood in to it, imbuing it with a sense of identity. Likewise, the physical form of space helps to define the character of sound; its size, shape and material effects its acoustic qualities, which in turn alters how we perceive the sonorities that occur within it.

“You enter a space and close your eyes and you can know simply through your hearing whether it is a large or small space, whether it is made of plasterboard or of concrete… The history of architecture… cancels materiality and the way it is expressed in space through the ear.” (Bernard Tschumi cited in Rebelo, 2003: 35)

“…the brain compares the signals from our to ears to detect where a sound source is located, not just on the horizontal plane around us, but also vertically, to give us an accurate three-dimensional impression of the soundscape around us.” (Davies, 2007:105)


Sound always exists in a spatial context, whether we are experiencing it within our memory, imagination, or the present moment. When I listen to a field recording my mind takes me back to that specific location and moment in time. Likewise, whenever I listen to a new dance music 12”, my mind is always transported to a club space I’ve experienced.

– Use real IR reverbs, as well as synthetic spaces (real vs imagined)

– Use reverb spaces to link journeys (this is a solid reason)

– Use surround sound, more realistic depiction of space

… + Time

Sound can bring temporality into our perception of space. Imagine a deserted residential street at night; the warm orange glow of the streetlights remain constant, the sky is clear, without a cloud in sight, nothing within the scene is changing. Time appears to be static, completely still.  However, in the background the sonorous city swells with activity; a police siren violently cuts through the indescript drone of distant motorway traffic, whilst the crystalline glissando of an airplane drifts gently overhead. Our sense of time is restored.


In each passing moment our experience of the soundscape is completely unique; both in the sense that our exact location defines what we hear at any particular moment, and also that each synchronized occurrence of sound at any particular moment, when listened too intently, is different from the last.

– Each listeners experience should be different from the last (MaxMSP – structure – linking)

– Solidity of space vs fluidity of sound

– Our experience of sound is endless, “there are no earlids” (Marshall McLuhan)

Chance + Accident

If one were to listen to the soundscape as an endless musical composition, then undertaking a sonic derive (or soundwalk) would be way of actively engaging with it and, in a sense, creating it through our individual experience. Though certain locations may have regularly or predictable types of sound activity, the dialogue between different sounds is largely determined by chance. This leads to one of the most important parts and exciting parts of creating a piece of work: discovering the Accident. The sounds occur without intention, without trying to work together, creating interesting and unexpected moments.


Perhaps this leads to the question ‘to what extent should we control and shape the acoustic environment’? Going too far may remove these moments of chance, creating a dull, predictable sonic experience of spaces where sound has no freedom. As with most things the solution is balance.

–    Utopian vs distopian soundscape

–    Real vs imagined soundscape

–    How much control is too much control? Leave room for ‘the
Accident’ within process

Nature + Dynamics

Green spaces, waterways and other natural habits for wildlife are important for a City since they retain a balance between natural and man-made sounds. They are also relatively quiet in comparison to commercial public spaces. By straying from more popular locations and journeying further along the River, one can move from being in a lo-fi sound environment to a hi-fi one:

“Abbreviation for high fidelity, that is, a favorable signal-to-noise ratio… a hi-fi environment is one in which sounds may be heard clearly without crowding or masking.” (Schafer, 1977: 272)

Clarity is something to aspire too. Perhaps the density of sounds within urban environments has made us tune out, as a means of survival! (Chris Watson)

Recognition of a sounds source is important. Nature is often perceived as more beautiful and calming than mechanical (man-made) sounds:

“‘People can completely change their perception of a sound once they have identified it,’…. ‘In the laboratory, many listeners prefer distant motorway noise to rushing water, until they are told what the sounds are.'”(Davies, 2007)

–    Treat natures sounds with respect (Hildegard Westerkamp)

–    Dynamics of journeys (nature / man-made, quiet / loud, etc)

–    Giving individual sounds context within composition for source recognition


Carlyle A. (2007) “Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practise” Double Entendre, Paris

Hill A. (2007) “Why we love sounds of the City jungle” The Observer: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/sep/23/science.ameliahill [accessed 1.5.09]

Schafer R M. (1977) “The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment & the Tuning of the World” Destiny Books, Vermont


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