Sonic Relations as Bulging Spheres

Sandra Lori Petersen



It simply felt so relaxing to just have slippers on and, like, shuffle my feet.  I was like, ‘Oh wow – a universe of relaxation’…


This quote is from a woman I will call Almira, and it describes how good she felt while she was visiting her parents-in-law and realized that she no longer needed to move in the specific way she had trained herself to in order to avoid bothering her downstairs neighbor, whom I will call Claudia. 


Almira is originally from the Baltics; she is in her early 30s and has lived in several other countries before moving to Denmark for her work, where she met Anders. She spent more and more time in his apartment and eventually moved in. When Almira reflects on this period, she says it was the first time she became aware of the sounds she produced simply by moving around. When Almira began staying over, Anders would ask her not to jump off his relatively high bed because he figured the sound would disturb Claudia. “I wouldn’t jump, necessarily,” she recalls, “but I’m a short person, and not a very elegant one, so I would probably make a ‘thunk’ sound.” In an attempt to accommodate Anders, she tried to avoid making the sound, and the two eventually moved a stool next to the bed so she could quietly climb in and out of the bed. 


When sound moves from one apartment to another in a multistory residential building, it may seem to be simply a matter of acoustic waves moving through built material in a one-way transaction extending from the inhabitant producing the sound to the one who receives it. However, acoustic waves passing through dwellings often move more than just the built material. Indeed, as suggested in the introductory text, when everyday sounds pass through the walls, ceilings, and floors of the apartments, neighbors – who may or may not know each other – become connected to each other. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, neighbors form a relationship that is both shaped by and shapes them in different ways. Through an examination of the accounts of Almira and Claudia, I explore the sensorial dynamics of this kind of relationship and the differing forms it can take. I propose conceptualizing it as a sonic relation that is more accurately depicted as intersecting spheres than as linear connections between subjects.


I begin by explaining the methodological considerations employed in constructing the qualitative research data that form the basis for this article, in particular the methods used to elicit  accounts about sound and spatially mapping the noise experiences of inhabitants of multistory buildings in Denmark. Drawing upon Almira’s various experiences of home life, and referencing the work of Marianne Gullestad and Sarah Ahmed among others, I elucidate the characteristics of Scandinavian notions of home – which is closely linked to personal identity – and construct its interior in terms of what I call the domestic-personal sphere. After sharing the account of Almira’s downstairs neighbor, Claudia, I explore the involuntary connection between Almira and Claudia as a sonic relation, exploring how it affects both of them. Employing the image of a bulge that is poked down into Claudia’s ceiling by Almira’s sounds and the attempts to pull it back up again as Almira adapts her ways of moving around the apartment, I discuss the sonic relation as the interference between the women’s domestic-personal spheres, before finally offering my concluding remarks.