Module 1

Spatial listening exercises / listening experience

The first part of the workshop featured practical listening experiments designed to expose participants to the aural aspects of space. Such qualities are often neglected in architectural processes that rely on visual methodologies and sensibilities. Participants were given blindfolds to use as instruments for exploring the spatial-aural dimension. The module was structured around two exercises:

  • Blind dérive
  • Composition, documentation, and performance of personalized spatial sound scenes within public spaces

In the next module, participants were asked to reflect on their ideas via readings.

Blind dérive

Inspired by the situationist dérive, which suggested an alternative and experimental mode of understanding and navigating the city as experience, the exercise encouraged workshop participants to navigate the city through their hearing, and attempt to appreciate, distinguish and qualify its aural ambiances. Given that western cultures and moreover architectural studies are to a large extent reliant on the visual, the activity aimed to account for the aural dimension as sensibility, and also as an ever-present aspect of the urban environment and our daily lives, regardless of how underappreciated it might be. 

The process was both experiential and cognitive. On the one hand, the task cultivated a sensory experience asking participants to take the time to acclimate and 'open their ears,' which was further exaggerated by the use of the blindfold that destabilized habitual perception. And on the other hand it encouraged a cognitive and creative process of mapping and discussing such experiences. Just as dérive and psychogeography activities produced maps that articulated the city through subjective experience, 'sound scenes' here are attempts to articulate sequential spatiotemporal frames of experience. 

Short introduction to spatial listening, aural architecture, and concepts of space and place. Hand out blindfolds (sleeping masks) as aural enhancement devices (AEDs) to be held close and used as an apparatus during the workshop.

First task: Move as a pair through the city, for 15 minutes, with each participant blindfolded with an AED, and holding their partner's hand as a guide. Concentrate on sounds. Try to map surroundings, distances, events, directions, and atmospheres. Partner helps listener navigate safely, and records the path.

Second task: View path taken on the map.

Third task: Create a sound scene by listening to a chosen place and detecting and describing its five most noticeable sounds.

Fourth task: Rate presence from 1 to 10 of the five most noticeable sounds (like on a mixing desk).

Fifth task: Give spatial sound scene a title, as a painter or sculptor would do for their work.

Sixth task: Produce an audio recording of the sound scene and describe it while recording.

Meeting with all the others. How do the visual impressions differ from the aural? Listen to the recordings. First impressions and discussion.

Walk through the city with the whole group.

Seventh task: Present and perform (dramaturgy and orchestration) your spatial sound scene to the group in situ.

Discussion about shared, subjective, and intersubjective aspects of perception of spatial sound events, their definition, ephemerality, characteristics, and materiality.

Above: Pictures of the type of blindfold that was used (left) and collective listening session of sound scene assignment (right).

Below: Slideshow of participants' presentations (click to pause/resume) at Beyond the Visual, OSSA 2018, Łódź.

Soundmarks are those sounds considered culturally significant or deemed by an acoustic community to warrant preservation (such as church or temple bells, town square clocks, and foghorns)
while keynote sounds are those which are continuously operable within a site and form a background (traffic, for example, or air conditioner sounds or muzak).
Sound signals represent foreground sounds within a soundscape and thus may dynamically change and include local soundmarks.
Soundscape: the auditory equivalent of landscape, a sound or combination of sounds in an environment -- the term was first used by Canadian composer, environmentalist and writer R. Murray Schafer.
A soundscape is the voice of a society and an environment. Our everyday activities animate the soundscape, but how and what we build is what amplifies or controls the sound.
Sound can help add to an understanding of a place, which may not otherwise be visually identifiable. The distinguishable features of a soundscape are keynotes, sound signals and sound marks.

Barry Truax (Soundscape Composition as Global Music, 2008)