4.1. Reflections on the Gallerian design work
The commissioner and owner of the mall showed great trust in the professional competence of USIT and took an active interest in the conceptual dialogues. From the given conditions, we had extensive artistic freedom and support from the client, which was of great importance. But the spatial-acoustic-artistic-technical-social complexity of the project could not have been handled without the interdisciplinarity of the team, and the long experience of cross-over discussions generated through a series of art and design installations and experiments. This also reflects the necessity in artistic research and within so-called “making disciplines” not only of “knowing what” but “knowing how,” and of developing value-driven knowledge. The sonic material and overall architecture of the Gallerian project had to be changed several times, due to our own on-site check-ups as well as to complaints or remarks mainly channeled through the owners. Traditional qualitative evaluations resulted in too vague, general or unfruitful feedback, as the sound art work was so discreet. A combination of technical analysis and artistic reflection seemed more proper to achieve continuous improvement. However, it is important to discuss qualitative aspects on a theoretical and more overall methodological level, as will be done further on in this article.
4.2. Experiences Developed from Artistic Experiments
The sound design commission at Gallerian was one project in a series of art and design works developed by USIT of which a few have been described in other publications and at the USIT website (Dyrssen et al 2007b: 136-156; www.usit.nu). Some of these works were customized to accommodate client specifications, others involved more considerable artistic autonomy and freedom, in art exhibition contexts, but they were all site-specific. Conclusions from these experiences, including the Gallerian project, have generated an open methodology involving some qualitative key aspects to be considered:
The importance of carefully, but not too obviously, evoking a connection to sounds of the environment.
- To choose and create a basic sonic atmosphere for a specific place.
- To establish a few points of reference or orientation in the spatial design.
- To add or open up for a certain heterogeneity in the sound design in order to enhance the sense of urban quality – an overly homogenous sonic space may render the character of a “hotel lobby.”
- To carefully consider the narrative aspects of sound – sounds can easily be recognized as having specific meanings or referring to certain objects or places (church bells, birdsong, motorbike engines, melodic fragments, etc.).
Time and repetition aspects; as even small fragments of sounds can easily be recognized as formations or figures, or ascribed with meaning, even sparse recurrences can quickly have an irritating effect.
That every sound installation needs to be carefully modelled according to the complexity of time, space, users and activities of the site and situation.
4.3. Qualitative Tools for Sound Analysis
Can qualitative tools be adapted for the analysis of acoustic spaces, especially when activated through noise design and artistic interventions? If so, what are their operational values, i.e. interdisciplinary criteria and generic concepts to be used on an intermediate level, as a link between different disciplines? Such concepts could be used to identify and describe, with sufficient precision, the vast amount of configurations that arise between sound-sources, user’s space, built environment and perceptual criteria (Amphoux 1993; Hellström 2003: 143-172).
A second aspect concerns the interpretation of sound; when listening, we never attend to the sound itself, but we attend to its context, e.g. spatial, temporal and aesthetic dimensions. A third aspect concerns the expression of sound. In daily life, we are to some extent always aware of sounds in that the given sonic information works as a guide to inform us how to act in the environment. Consequently, this aspect concerns social interaction and people’s practice. The French researcher Pascal Amphoux defines urban acoustic space as, firstly, a collective space, which is characterized by a principle of accessibility to all people as well as by its spatial limitations, which do not necessarily follow the visual limitations of urban space, and secondly, as a place of sociability, which is characterized by the establishment of certain types of reciprocal listening behaviors between people, but also by the establishment of impersonal social relations, which induces a suspension of strategic and/or of functional interactions between people (Amphoux 1993: 37-38; Hellström 2003: 162-163).
According to Amphoux, every urban location has a distinctive sound identity. This identity can be scrutinized from a subjective as well as an objective perspective. The subjective perspective involves individual experiences, correlated to the relationship between environment and activity. Different value judgments can be linked to those individual experiences in terms of assessment, idealization and imagination. The objective perspective comprises distinct and measurable dimensions in terms of scale, volume, tempo, speed and orientation. But one can also scrutinize the concept of sound identity from an inter-subjective perspective as a kind of consensus view – by sharing our personal interpretation of the sound identity with others, a collective understanding is gradually established. In this sense, a specific place that "sounds good" is not necessarily quiet, but it is rather a place where the sound identity is considered proportionate to the individual's perception and expectations, that one shares with others. The inter-subjective perspective can be illustrated in terms of representation, expression and reflection (Amphoux 1993: 35; Hellström 2003: 116).
The inter-subjective perspective indicates that acousmatic sound environments, e.g. in shopping malls, do not necessarily bring about a negative environmental impact in terms of stress, disorientation or discomfort. This can be explained in the sense that the soundscape is interpreted in context, in relation to the situation and location. For shopping mall visitors, this means that the acousmatic sound environment is consistent with their expectations. This may involve potentially negative health effects which are not covered in this article (Jackson 2003: 194).
The selected vocabulary is, in itself, an important basic tool for sound analysis, when qualifying different criteria of sounds, from a descriptive as well as an operative point of view. An ordered set of concepts has to be developed regarding the specific problem area, but concepts may also be borrowed or transformed from one field of application to another (Hellström 2003: 145). In artistic research, as conceptualization, perception and action are closely interconnected, concepts are often used on both descriptive and operative levels. The concepts of acousmatics, acousmatic conditions, acousmatic perception and metabolic environment were important for the initial analysis of the situation as well as for setting the frameworks of the sonic-spatial composition. Figure-ground formations, with figurative and non-figurative conditions were also useful for analytical mapping and in the design process. Masking and cutting effects belong to a general acoustic terminology also used in the artistic work.
The cutting effect, as defined by CRESSON concerns a sudden fall of intensity, which is signified by the abrupt change of the spectral envelope or reverberation (Augoyard and Torgue 1995: 38-51; Hellström 2003: 216-218). The cutting effect is one of the most important modes of sonic articulation of different acoustic spaces, in that it establishes the passage between them. There are two distinguishing categories of cutting: 1) regarding the sound emission i.e. the cut of a sound source; and 2) regarding the spatial propagation of sound, i.e., the manner in which space is organized. In Gallerian, this effect particularly concerned the composition and the organization of the sonic material in space, from choices of frequency range (higher frequencies can be more precisely directed) to the use of Audio Beams and parabolic speakers. Thus the cutting effect can play a structuring role in spatial and temporal perception, which makes it possible to distinguish or to differentiate parts and sequences of sounds.
Another central concept is atmosphere. The concept is, perhaps, most associated with the German philosopher Gernot Böhme. Atmosphere has, referring to Böhme, developed into a scientific concept. The difficulty with the concept is that it deals with phenomena that operate on several levels. In the article The Great Concert of the World Böhme writes:
Atmospheres are something between subject and object: They can be characterized as quasi-objective feelings that flow out indeterminately into space. Equally, however, they must be characterized as subjective, in that they are nothing without an experiencing subject. But it is precisely in this being-in-between that their great value lies. They link together what has traditionally been separated as the aesthetics of production and of reception. (Böhme 2007: 48-49)
Böhme states that the aesthetics of atmospheres are examined with reference to the objects that produce them. But it should not be understood from an ontological viewpoint (from within the nature of the objects); instead it is about the qualities that radiate into the room through the objects. Urban sounds are thus not interpreted as if they were independent of the acoustic space, but they are connected to the listening subject, place and situation.
Atmosphere was used in the design work as a precondition – the meeting place was to have a warm, relaxing atmosphere, inviting visitors to sit down, but the objective was also to forge a connection with the activity of the surroundings in order to stimulate shopping. Böhme’s concept of atmosphere presupposes a phenomenological and, in essence, an idealistic approach to aesthetics; that an environment is presented to the experiencing subject through its qualities and that this environment is inherently inclusive in character. But a complex communal space such as a shopping mall is to a much larger extent ruled by its social activities and implications. At Gallerian, the commissioners explicitly described the mall as a generous, public space for all visitors, one which was not exclusive, not “branding” a special set of commercial activities, or addressing a certain audience. In the design process we discussed at length the difference between, for instance, creating a sound design for a hotel lobby or a single boutique. The main character of the meeting place was to be a restful crossing point and a landmark. Therefore it was more important to accomplish a cutting effect, a separated acoustic space, but at the same time to strengthen the identity through coherence with the visual landmark, primarily the chandelier, and with references to the other social environment of human voices, “cafe sounds” and the “whispering” and “murmuring” acousmatic and metabolic conditions. Thus, aesthetic choices were founded in the social and cultural context of the place. In turn, this implies that a wide-ranging concept such as atmosphere is socio-culturally conditioned. A thorough discussion on that topic goes beyond the aim of this article, however, we will reflect on sound design as manipulation.
4.4. Manipulative Sonic Tools in Commercial Space
Various types of music distributed by loudspeakers are now the norm in public places, thereby generating a variety of acousmatic conditions. This is a growing trend which is expressed in different forms ranging from purely commercial messages to artistically aesthetic expressions. Muzak, also known as “elevator music,” “sound perfume,” and “sonic wallpaper,” operates discreetly with the intent to control the emotions of the consumer. It was around already in the 1920s, mainly in department stores and in restaurant chains. Today Muzak is controlled by multinational companies and distributed via digital networks (Stockfelt 1987: 1-13; Hellström 2010: 18).
Nowadays, music has taken over the role of Muzak in stores, restaurants, malls, garages and stations. Some users are very aware of what the music aims to convey, and employ music as an identity and a trademark. Others simply play music without any articulated goals, or they may use music as masking, in order to camouflage disturbing sounds, or as part of urban aesthetics that are more actively and commercially noisy (Kreutzfeldt 2009: 129-147). It is important to point out that even sound-art installations in any form can be manipulative. It is therefore important to consider ethical aspects, related to site analysis and the artistic process.
4.5. Acousmatic Modelling – A Method for Permanent Sound-Art Installations
A common problem with permanent sound-art installations in public spaces is that they are not sustainable over time. This is why there are so relatively few permanent sound-art installations in public spaces. Installations in public spaces are often perceived as a kind of interference, rather than a quality, particularly by those who are exposed to them on a daily basis. In one sense, they confront the site with aspects of social interaction and define the space not as an enclosure or environment, but as multilayered and heterogeneous (Dyrssen 2007a: 23-27), or as a relative and relational space, as described by geographer David Harvey (Harvey 2006: 117-154). The Canadian sound artist Robin Minard states that
Sound-art and sound installations are not about making loudspeaker music for open spaces, ‘acousmatic music for open spaces.’ The process is more convoluted than that. It is about the social relationship that is established between the recipient, the location and sound. (Minard 2006: 24)
One essential strategy for sustainable installations is to closely interact with the site, as public space is supposed to be accessible to all. There is, thus, a need to consider spatial, functional and social matters as well as the artistic positions of the installation. The increasing amount of speaker-distributed sounds in public spaces often creates problems, but can also be a resource. A key concern is how to create sustainable, site-specific sound installations with regard to the site's existing sound.
Referring to the discussions above, most of the sounds in public space are acousmatically perceived. Consequently, one main issue when creating acousmatic sound-art installations concerns how to control the interaction between these acousmatic entities. Therefore, we introduce the concept of acousmatic modelling – i.e. the relation and interaction between two acousmatic sound environments, as a tool when dealing with this problem. The concept of acousmatic modelling opens a vast field of opportunities related to issues regarding site-specific, simulated and manipulative forms of expression. The issue is very much about the relationship between architectural, social and auditory representation.
A site-specific sound installation, distributed on a demarcated space, can for example be achieved by composing a sound atmosphere that operates in the background. Such a speaker-distributed installation can also perform a dual function in that it masks the site’s soundscape, while it can also bring about a sense of a private sphere in the public domain. New speaker technology makes it possible to distribute spatially directional sound installations. Such an installation may be subliminally perceived, locally distributed in the room, with the intention to create an unobtrusive sound environment that differs from the site's sound environment.
A key aspect concerns metabolic environments, which are commonly found in shopping malls. One strategy is to destabilize the metabolic environment with a sound installation, and thus to articulate the homogeneous noise with sound installations linked to the architectural and social space. In other words, with this strategy, the installation masks the metabolic environment and generates a variety of auditory qualities. There are a number of different qualities to be considered. Representative criteria in this process are, e.g., communication (interaction, context), space (orientation, boundaries), time (dynamics, flow), aesthetics (artistic qualities, atmosphere), representation (identity, site-specification) and social structure (comfort, public-private). As we most often interpret sounds in context, related to the situation, environment and social interaction, an interdisciplinary understanding is required.
Regarding the concept of sustainability, there is no obvious connection between acousmatics and location, e.g. that the less perceived acousmatic environment means a greater opportunity for permanence in the public space. Previously, the concept of figurative – non-figurative acousmatic condition was discussed, which defines the relation between acousmatic sounds related to a visual context. One can easily be led to believe that figurative installations, with sounds that are recognizable in a visual context, would be a successful design strategy for creating sustainable sound art. However, the main factor is rather the installation’s dialogue with the architectural and social space. For this reason, a non-figurative acousmatic sound-art installation could, for example, be manifested through a spatially distinct atmosphere which consists of “abstract” sounds.
Returning to the heading of this section, acousmatic modelling: When making permanent sound-art installations, it is essential to have in mind that one operates in-between two kinds of acousmatic conditions – on the one hand the site’s existing acousmatic environment and, on the other, the acousmatic sound-art installation.
4.6. Phase 5 - Analysis
One obvious consequence of forming a spatially well-defined art-work is the sudden change of sound climate, the cutting effect. In Gallerian, the installation appears as a screen between the other sources and the listener. The idea of a fluid and continuous space as an expression of transparency is generally accepted in today’s discourse on modern architecture and urban planning. These concepts are strongly influenced by the visual sense and may frame a type of homogeneous sound space in comparison with the previously mentioned heterogeneity and interactivity. In consequence, it should be stressed that visual “transparency” and continuity may differ from sonic fluidity. Thus, the cutting effect makes it possible to reveal different types of fluid and continuous spaces (Augoyard and Torgue 1995: 38-51; Hellström 2003: 216-218), and the described situation illustrates the effect of cutting as an essential structuring function of urban space.
One could also discuss the sound space of the art-work at Gallerian in terms of an interior-exterior relation. In fact, this sonic demarcation directly affects perception at the place. It was noted that many visitors alter their behavior when sitting on the furniture blobs under the crystal chandelier. Not infrequently, one can see mothers breast-feed their children, or visitors just sit back and relax.
In fact, when asking the visitors questions such as “What do you think of the sound installation?”, about 70-80 percent reply: “What sound installation?” The reason why so relatively few people pay attention to the installation can probably be attributed to its structural composition, i.e. that the art-work expresses a metabolic environment, where it is difficult to distinguish the constituent basic sound elements of the global sound space. However, we are dealing with two types of metabolic environments: Gallerian and the art-work. One reason why people do not notice the installation may be that its structure does not catch their attention; the sounds that make up the atmosphere are perceived as being in the background. The visitor moves from one metabolic environment to another, and since no sounds constitutes figures, the art-work is not actively perceived.
Nevertheless, it is evident that the art-work to some extent masks the sounds of Gallerian, and accordingly has an impact on the visitors’ behavior. In this case it is not about energy masking, that the sound level from the art-work is so high that it cancels out the sounds of Gallerian. The type of masking provided is rather akin to what in psycho-acoustics is called informational masking (Durlach, Mason, Kidd, Arbogast, Colburn, Shinn-Cunningham 2003: 2984-2987; Watson 2005: 502-512), meaning that a new sound draws the listener’s attention so that existing sounds become inaudible or weaker. The hypothesis is thus that the art-work involves some form of informational masking and as a consequence, evokes a contrasting private space in relation to the public space of Gallerian. A prerequisite is that there are no sounds that catch the visitors’ attention. In this case the listening perception operates on a subliminal, non-attentive listening level. According to Pierre Schaeffer, this represents a passive listening form that he denotes in terms of hear (ouïr), i.e. a kind of unconscious, unarticulated listening (Schaeffer 1966: 116; Hellström 2003: 72-75). But this assumption must be handled with caution, since the installation has not been evaluated by psycho-acoustic experts. However, without drawing any hasty conclusions, the informational masking effect in combination with the structural composition and the aesthetical expression of the art-work seems to be a plausible model of explanation for its perceptual and social impact on the visitors’ behavior.
Acousmatic modelling is a usable concept in reverberant public places such as malls, stations and terminals. In Gallerian, the art-work does not manifest itself by the modelling of figurative sound objects, but is modelled in the form of a sound atmosphere that operates discreetly in the background and which consists of a new acousmatic condition, structurally non-figurative (forming a metabolic environment) and stripped of associative meanings. The aesthetic expression is embodied by the interrelation between the art-work and the soundscape of Gallerian. The process is related to the experience of the actual sounds and not to the causal connections that produce them. This means that the art-work is not perceived as an external object, but is linked to listeners, place and situation.
The art of acousmatic modelling is not normative, neither is it possible to fully systematize. But with the help of adequate concepts to structure the analysis of the problem setting, the design work, like all design processes, needs artistic competence and experience to read the complexity of the site conditions, use and social context in order to achieve a fruitful result. In turn, these design results can always add fuel to theoretical and conceptual discussions.