An Acoustic Reshaping of Alice’s Home



00.03.50:           The caregiver leaves

00.04.00:           Lighting a cigarette

00.04.10:           Silence

00.04.30:          Turning on the television 


Sonically, a home is constantly created and re-created by the shifting sounds that emerge and fade away. A room has no definitive form; it is a process, the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa writes. He emphasizes how a room is not only constantly emerging, it is also vibrating with different sonic qualities and, therefore, not a passive entity. A room has the ability to unite or isolate, to embrace or alienate (Pallasmaa 2007: 29).


When Alice lost her mobility, her home was not only physically remodeled, but a profound acoustic reconfiguration took place as well. New sounds entered; new patterns appeared. New bodily practices were adapted. There was a radical shift in the way she was able to inhabit her home and vice versa.


For about two years she has mostly experienced the space around her from a horizontal position and from the same spot. Her home has transitioned from being a place where she could reside, depart from, and return to – a micro cosmos – to becoming her entire cosmos. Her bed, the corner of her living room is where she rests, makes sound and engages with her acoustic environment. The artist and sound theorist Brandon LaBelle ties together the concepts of sound, self, and home. He writes: “In the weave of self and sound the home might be said to function as an elaborated `sonorous envelope’ keeping safe, or functioning to replicate an imaginary or primary aural warmth” (LaBelle 2010: 52). However, “home” can have many connotations, not only those related to being a place of safety. The geographers Alison Blunt and Ann Varley write more ambivalently, as they explain how home can be “at once a place of belonging and alienation, of intimacy and violence, desire and fear” (Blunt and Varley 2004: 3).


Listening to Alice’s home it appears to be both one of protection and isolation, triviality, remembrance, and loneliness. Few sounds leak in to her sonorous envelope from the outside world. Only when the caregiver opens the front door or when the window is cracked open (just wide enough to prevent the birds from escaping) can she hear sounds from the outside. Her birds fly from one room to another, filling up the space she can no longer inhabit. Together with the television they offer an acoustic stimulation shaping the sensory experiences of Alice in her home. 

The two parakeets on the curtain rod. Photo by Nanna Hauge Kristensen (copyright)