On Sound-and-Space.

October 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

As the regular viewers of our Resonance blog by now surely will know: on October 29th and 30th, Paul Deven’s installation Panels will be the setting for a series of lectures and performances around the themes of the sonic, the public and the spatial (all of which are central themes also in Panels), co-organized by the Resonance network.

As a foretaste and in anticipation of what promises to become a rich and interesting event at the Bureau Europa/NAiM in Maastricht, below are more detailed descriptions of (most) of the many contributions that are proposed by the symposium’s participants. (A full list of lecturers and performers can be found in a previous post.)

Justin Bennett in his talk intends to present and discuss a number of his own works in order to address ideas about urban soundscapes, the acoustics of public spaces and the possibilities for, or the necessity of, artistic intervention. “The relationship between sound and architecture could include everything from noise abatement regulations up to the supposed mystical connection between music and architecture,” Justin says. “In between these extremes lies a world still to be explored. Artists working with sound do many different things; they map environments with sound recordings, intervene in public address systems, orchestrate car horns, leave pianos in public spaces, convert light patterns into sound or vice-versa, read buildings as musical scores, amplify trees, shake houses, adjust the acoustics of existing buildings, make audio tours or listening walks. Sound art, despite its debt to the conceptual art movement is practical, experiential and sensual. […] The sound-artist, above all, is a listener…”

Karin Bijsterveld‘s presentation (Listening in Space and Space for Listening:
Two Histories of Sound Mapping
) aims to historicize our knowledge about the relationship between sound, listening and space. “Today,” Karin explains, “we know how to construct spaces for listening artificially, and we know how we are naturally able to situate ourselves in space. A slight difference between the moments in which sound reaches our left and right ear helps us, for instance, to localize the distance and direction of particular sources of sound.
Many sound artists make use of such knowledge in their sound installations. Less generally known, however, are the historical roots of this knowledge. These go back to World War I: the ‘blind’ war from 1914 until 1918. It was in the context of the trenches in which soldiers could not see the enemy but only hear him that research into sound localization developed. Soldiers could only survive if they listened carefully to everything the enemy fired, and identified the distance, direction and source of what threatened them. What the soldiers did was ‘sound mapping’: assigning particular sounds to the information these sounds represent.
This process of sound mapping was similar to what engineers did, also in the 1910s, when they listened to the engines of cars in order to detect irregularities in the car engines’ functioning. Initially, they did so in order to solve the mechanical problems causing these irregularities. Yet increasingly, sound mapping aimed at silencing the car engines. It was with help of this knowledge that the engineers created one of the most unlikely spaces on earth to find silence at: the car. In fact, the combined rise of car noise control and car radio transformed the car into a highly artificial and widely used listening booth.
It is relevant to historicize our knowledge of sound, listening and space in the context of a conference on sound art, since it contextualizes and thus reduces the taken-for-granted character of such knowledge as well as of the actual spaces in which we listen. This may inspire designers and artists to open up and construct new spaces for listening, and new sound art installations. Science and technology have been source of inspiration for many composers and sound artists—may the history of science and technology be another…”

Brandon LaBelle wants to follow the challenging and enriching verve of sonic materiality and the diverse experiences of auditory phenomena. “In order to do so,” he says, “I hope to engage sound as it comes to impart meaningful exchanges around the singular body, and further, how it locates such a body within a greater social weave. From my perspective, sound operates as a community without name, stitching together individuals that do not necessarily search for each other, and bringing them into proximity. Such movements in turn come to build out a spatiality that is temporal and divergent – acoustic spatiality is a process of negotiation, for it splits apart while also mending; it disrupts the lines between an inside and outside, pulling into its thrust the private and the public to ultimately put into flux notions of difference and commonality. All these sonic movements and behaviours must be taken as indicating a particular and unique paradigmatic structure, which further generates specific spatial coordinates, social mixes, and bodily perceptions.
Following the details of this paradigmatic structure, what kind of language might begin to surface to describe or to think through where we are in the midst of sonic events?” Brandon asks.
To expose further this sonic platform, in his contribution Acoustic Territories he will map out, in the form of a mini-glossary, a set of themes or sonic figures, such as echo, vibration and rhythm. “These may function as points of departure for querying sound’s particular dynamic and how it may circulate through everyday life as a medium for social transformation. It is my feeling that these sonic figures function as micro-epistemologies, each giving way to specific perspectives onto the world, whether in the differentiating break of the echo or the mending flow of vibration. Experiences of sound may act as a force that hinges rupture and order together, to dissolve any strict duality of rationality in favor of the work of the imagination – that, as Arjun Appadurai suggests, may act as a form of new labor by which the intensities of contemporary culture are managed.”

“What constitutes our perception of a space, or a site?” wonders Eran Sachs in his contribution Sonic Modulation of Spatial Narratives. “Surely, there are physical, social, biographical and contextual factors at play,” he says. “The way by which we are situated in a space, projected in it, is contained in what Gibson calls its affordances – the attribution of one’s possibilities within a space. The government of affordances is therefore tantamount with the facilitation and manipulation of one’s explicit and implicit understanding of the scenic possible and impossible. It is this perceptual fact that tacitly permeates the writings of Constant and the LI. Now, in a society that is dominated by a prescribed or a monolith narrative – the determination of affordances is rooted in the prevalent ideology. The very perception of spaces, therefore, is given over to the narrative producing mechanisms.
Can sound be used to contravene the narratives that underline the perception of space? In recent years I have created a number of projects which have dealt with politically charged locations, working mainly (but not exclusively) in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, in an attempt to utilize Sound Art as a tool to modulate the narrative perception of particular spaces/locations and introduce the possibility of alternative narrative to these spaces. One such line of works, which will be presented here, positioned a series of faux research facilities in various locations around Jerusalem.
These works, however, have given rise to their own set of questions and difficulties which have to do with the relationship of sound and text. There is certain area of problems and concerns which seems to be inherent to the very attempt to engage in a form of art that aspires to be both essentially sonic as well as profoundly and directly critical in the aforementioned manner. In a sense, all these projects resulted in failure. I have come to realize that this line of works has led me to a somewhat of an Aporetic state (to borrow the Socratic term). I began to suspect that one cannot successfully tackle the two horns of this dilemma.
In order to elucidate the paradox, which may be called ‘the didactic paradox’, one must look at the most basic semantic nature of sound itself and the way in which sound attains meaning. A closer look at the semantics of sound and fundamentals of Sound Art reveals that a special case in point can be found in documentary audio. This, in turn, presents a set of questions as to the responsibilities and possibilities of documentary audio, and, effectively, re-introduces narrative demands on our understanding and perception of space…”

Janek Schaefer’s installations explore the spatial and architectural aspect that sound can evoke and the twisting of technology. The context of each idea is central to its development and resolution. In concert, hybrid analogue and digital techniques are used to manipulate field recordings with live modified vinyl and found sound to create evocative and involving environments. At the Symposium this weekend in Maastricht, Janek will outline his career and along the way highlight a few of his projects.

Basak Senova will talk about designing exhibition spaces as interfaces.
“When an exhibition space is designed and/or re-designed to function as an ‘interface’, the space aggregates all possible means by which the viewer interacts with the works inhabited by the space. In this respect, if the curator is considered to be ‘the designer’ of such an interface, then what constitutes the ‘skin design’ of this interface?,” Basak aks. “What are the parameters to shape the interface? What are the boundaries and connections between the conceptual framework and the formal aspects of the visual and aural design? As in Galloway’s reading of ‘protocol as an object of critical thinking’, could the design of an exhibition space be regarded as an object that generates critical thinking along with the substance and the associations of the art works?” Basak Senova will probe into these issues by navigating through her projects – including Lapses (a project developed for the Pavilion of Turkey at the 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009), Unrecorded (2008), under_ctrl (2005) and Postcapital Archive.1989-2001. Daniel G. Andujar (2010).”

Kees Tazelaar will take Terminus as his point of departure. “Terminus was the last composition that Gottfried Michael Koenig made in the electronic music studio of the Cologne Radio, in 1962,” Kees explains. “The composer called the work Terminus because he saw no further possibilities to realize his compositional goals with the manually controlled equipment of that studio. By giving techniques of sound transformation a central role in the compositional process, Koenig tried to avoid manual operations such as cutting tape and turning knobs to a minimum. And indeed, once he moved to Utrecht to be the artistic director of the Institute of Sonology, he would become the driving force behind the development of equipment for voltage control techniques, computer aided algorithmic composition and digital sound synthesis.
For Terminus, Koenig started with a single source material (a cluster of sinewave glissandi), and by systematically processing that material further and further, he ended up with a relatively large group of sound materials that shared relationships on the basis of their technical history and their common source. All those materials together formed a family tree, which then served as the starting point for the large form of the final piece. Different systematical routes through the tree structure could also lead to form variants. The technical (vertical) history of the material thereby enfolded itself in time (horizontal), while on the meso-level, the fluctuations of the source material and the processes applied to that material expressed structural characteristics.
Although the specific analog techniques used by Koenig to produce all the material for Terminus are very interesting, the compositional method as such is rather universal, and can be applied to any technique or a combination of techniques. Source material can be purely synthetic, a field recording, a series of instrumental sounds or anything else, as long as it has properties that can stay more or less recognizable during the process of sound transformation. Variety has to emerge from contrasting sound transformations and their parameter settings. Since this is a step-by-step process, the composer steers the material into a certain direction, always while listening to the results.
But most importantly, it moves the composer away from the primary orientation on a time line, that has to be filled with material in order to make a form. In instrumental music composition, the common practice is to know the sounds of a group of instruments beforehand, and then compose with those sounds while writing a score that consists of symbolic notations of those sounds. Time thereby is articulated with familiar sounds that are taken from a palette.
Although electronic music composers have claimed from the very beginning, that with the new media it was now possible to compose the sound itself, the reality was that the general way of working remained quasi instrumental. Sounds were produced in the studio by experimentation, sounds that were approved of by the composer were selected, others thrown away, until a palette of known sounds – in essence not that different from the traditional instrumental palette – could serve as the basis for the organization of material on a time line. Graphical scores usually formed the basis for the time structure, which was produced with the sounds by cutting tapes accordingly. Although nowadays, cutting tape has become an obsolete technique, it strikes me that with modern sound editing programs, the same old method has become even more of a straitjacket. The timeline is literally on the screen as the equivalent of the graphical score, and the sounds are grabbed from a region list. Structures are made by sequencing static sounds, whereas in my view, electronic music composition should aim at the expression of structure by the behavior of the sound itself. Sound synthesis techniques should not be used to only generate and process single sound events, but to create and process fluctuating sounds that are expressive forms in themselves.”
In more recent years, Kees Tazelaar came to the conclusion that the proposed compositional strategy has a spatial implication as well. “Just as sound synthesis techniques should be used to create and process fluctuating sounds that are forms in themselves, the spatial quality of the material should emerge from the sound synthesis too,” he thinks. “I am personally intrigued by the possibilities of randomness as the basis for spatial qualities at various time scales. At the micro-level, filtered noises with different random start numbers can create strong spatial illusions. On the meso-level, random deviation between the parameters of the individual layers of a multi-channel synthesis model can create spatial relationships that suggest a kind of communication between the various layers.”
Tazelaar’s lecture will include sound examples of Koenig’s Terminus, and of his own works Depths of Field, Lasciar Vibrare, Phalanxes, Lustre and Voyage dans l’Espace.

The sonic, the public, the spatial will take place on Friday October 29th and Saturday October 30th. Both days have a lecture-part (13h-18h) and a performance-part (20h30-00h). It is possible to participate, on both days, in a dinner at Ipanema at 7 p.m.


  • Full programme: € 32.50, (students: € 25.00)
  • Day programme (friday or saturday): € 17.50
  • Half a day (morning or afternoon): € 10.00
  • Participation in dinner per day:€ 15.00

You can inscribe at the Bureau-Europa website.

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