'Audio & Image' 
:On auditory perception and the image in dissociated sound.k Schaefer 1995.
Included in the text are a few instructions for you the reader. So before you
begin to read, it is advised that you find a quiet room, with closed windows
and doors. It is also preferable that this space is in a city.
................................................... there is no such thing as
Close your eyes and open your ears. Everything in the world has at some point
made sound, or been the cause of sound.
The following is an exploration into the nature of sound, the way we listen
to and hear the world around us. There are two aspects to the nature of our
contemporary auditory environment as expressed in the definition of the term
AUDIO: "Sound or the reproduction of sound."(1) The essence of the
essay lies here. Sound originates from two types of source, both exist in actual
space but are intrinsically different in their nature. Vibrations emitted by
physical objects constitutes real sound in its initial state in real space which
gives us the soundscape of our surrounds. The reproduction of this effect through
the umbilical cord of the speaker gives us a mental IMAGE of that soundscape,
it forms a mind space via auditive means.
I have chosen to concentrate on the nature of our soundscape (city), firstly
because it is a characteristic of our times that many people live and work in
fairly dense environments with close proximity to machines of all kinds, including
myself, and it is this environment which best characterises the soundscape at
the end of the our century. Secondly is not feasible to fully comprehend the
soundscapes from ages past, as neither you nor I have had any first hand experience.
It is the nature of sound that only in this century has it been possible to
make a record of it. Prior to recording technology we can only rely on earwitness
accounts characterising the nature of those environments.
Although I will touch on the physics and mechanics of the process of sound generation
and reception, I do not intend for it to be the focus, (as this is more expertly
documented and dealt with elsewhere) but instead I wish to look at the way in
which we experience, Perceive and understand the actuality of our own soundscapes
(each is different, continually). "Noise is a food like oxygen, or a piece
of information like the mail, or an emotional gamut such as crying or fucking."(2)
"Although sounds and even more general noise emissions are not visible,
not tangible, they are nevertheless physical realities in as much as they exist
as pressure differences in the air, mechanical vibrations in the middle ear,
liquid vibrations in the inner ear, and finally as electrical impulses in the
nerves leading to the brain."(3)
In Italo Calvinos short story on the nature of the earth before it formed
its atmosphere there existed a character named Ayl who occupied the realm of
total visual and auditory neutrality: "Ayl was a happy inhabitant of the
silence that reigns where all vibration is excluded."(4) Sound requires
a medium through which it can travel, be it a fluid medium (air) or solid matter.
Without the medium there is no message. The nature of the medium determines
the characteristic of the vibration. If the vibration travels through the air
then climactic conditions such as pressure, humidity and temperature all influence
the ability of that vibration to extend its ACOUSTIC SPACE.(5) This term refers
to the profile of a sound over its landscape. It is the area of space over which
the sound may be heard before it drops below the ambient sound level. An example
of this would be anything that you cannot hear from where you are now. As any
sound that you cannot hear has fully occupied its acoustic space. Inversely
in this scenario then, you are in the sound field of all the sounds that you
can hear at this precise moment. The nature of vibration travelling through
and reflected from mass also sculpts the nature of that specific environment.
This is probably the most important factor in the formation of the citys
physical acoustic flavour, with its multiplicity of inter-related hard, reflective
surfaces that refract the continuous flow of vibrations which in turn acoustically
signal the sense and type of enclosure.
The perception of sound does not just involve the act of hearing, but is in
fact the process of listening. The listening system includes two ears together
with the muscles for orienting them to a source of sound. Anatomically speaking
the ear is only half of the bilateral listening system. A single ear can interpret
a sound but it is unable to locate it. The function of the auditory system is
not merely to permit hearing, but also to allow orientation and identification
of the event.
When we close off our visual field we can learn the advantage that hearing has
over sight. We cannot see anything with our eyes closed as we can only see objects
directly. We can hear around corners but not see around them. This is because
of the reflective nature of sound. Sitting at my desk I can tell that there
are cars driving up and down the street outside but I cannot tell you what colour
The sense of hearing cannot be closed off at will. There are no earlids. We
are continually absorbing and filtering the soundscape. When we go to sleep,
our perception of sound is the last door to close and it is the first to open
when we wake up. The ears only protection is an elaborate psychological
mechanism for filtering out undesirable sound in order to concentrate on the
desirable. The eye points outward, and the ear draws inward. It soaks up information.
Brian Eno pointed out in one of his interviews when discussing a tape-loop composition
by Steve Reich (during which two identical recordings of a person saying Its
Gonna Rain are played together, but at very slightly different speeds
due to the nature of tape machines) that our hearing operates in a similar manner
to that employed by the frog's eye mechanism: "Frogs eyes dont
work like ours. Ours are always moving: we blink. We scan. We move our heads.
But a frog fixes its eyes on a scene and leaves them there. It stops seeing
all the static parts of the environment, which become invisible, but as soon
as one element moves, which could be what it wants to eat - the fly - it is
seen in very high contrast to the rest of the visual field. Its the only
thing the frog sees and the tongue comes out and takes it . Well, I realised
that what happens in Reichs piece is that our ears behave like the frogs'
eyes. Since the material is common to both tapes, what you begin to notice are
not the repeating parts, but the sort of ephemeral interference pattern between
them. Your ear telescopes into more and more detail until youre hearing
what sounds like the atoms of sound."(6)
The Ability of the ear to distinguish one sound from a multiple group of noises
is what sets it apart from the rest of the senses. The eye for example cannot
fully differentiate between three overlaid images projected onto a wall, or
break down the constituent parts of the colour green. What our brain tells us
is that that is the colour green and that is an image which looks like
that. What it perceives is the whole, the image, not what its components
are. This is due to the nature of seeing; we only need to see objects as objects
and images as images. Whereas because the ear absorbs sound in a passive manner
it is forced to adopt a process of filtering and focus. This ability as explained
by Eno gives us the ability to listen to two conversations at the same time,
and also to hear our name floating across a crowded room.
When analysing a soundscape one must first discover the significant features
of that soundscape, those sounds which are important either because of their
domination, their numerousness, or their individuality. The main distinguishing
features are categorised into keynote sounds, signals, and soundmarks.
Keynote is a musical term; it is the note that identifies the key or tonality
of a particular composition. It is the anchor or fundamental tone and although
the material may modulate around it , often obscuring its importance, it is
with reference to this point that everything else takes on its special meaning.
Keynote sounds do not have to be listened to consciously, they are overheard
but cannot be overlooked, as keynote sounds tend to become listening habits.
It is useful to borrow from the field of visual perception when the psychologist
deals with the idea of figure and ground. The figure
is that which is looked at while the ground exists only to give the figure its
outline and mass. But the figure cannot exist without its ground, subtract it
and the figure becomes shapeless, non-existent. Even though keynote sounds may
not always be heard consciously, the fact that they are ubiquitously there suggests
the possibility of a deep and pervasive influence on our behaviour and moods.
That is to say that the keynote sounds of a given place are important because
they help to outline the character of the environment. The classic keynote of
the city is the ever-present sound of the car, something I will return to later.
Signals are the foreground sounds and they are listened to consciously. In terms
of the psychologist, they are the figure rather than the ground. Any sound can
be listened to consciously, and so any sound can become a figure or signal.
Some signals which we as a society have learnt that we must listen to as signals,
as they constitute warning devices, are whistles, horns, sirens and bells.
The term soundmark is derived from landmark, and refers to a community sound
which is unique or posses' qualities which make it especially regarded or noticed
by the people in that community. Once a soundmark has been established, it may
well deserve protection, as soundmarks make the acoustic life of the community
unique. (It has been suggested by R.Murray. Schafer that a record should be
kept of all these unique aspects of each soundscape as this has not been the
tradition in our history to date. There does not exist, as far as I know, a
single museum which is dedicated to the soundscape and its constituent parts.)
In order to further classify and analyse the nature of a sound, Pierre Schaeffer,
(a mechanical engineer by training who undertook a life long study of the nature
of sound) formed a research group as part of the French radio in Paris in 1946.
This research was aided by the abundance of post WW II tape recorders in broadcasting
studios at the time. He invented the term Sound Object which he
defined as an acoustical "object for human perception and not as a mathematical
or electroacoustical object for synthesis."(7) It is, in its essence, the
smallest self contained particle of a soundscape. As it possesses a beginning
a middle and an end, it is analysable in terms of its envelope. The component
parts of the envelope are, attack, body and decay.
The attack refers to the onset portion of the sound object. When the ear system
is suddenly excited, an enrichment of the sound spectrum results, giving a rough
edge to the sound. Thus every attack of sound is accompanied by noise (the roughness).
The more suddenly it appears the more noise there is. When a sound develops
more slowly, less spectral excitement is present and a more even tone quality
emerges. Even though the attack section of a sound object may only be a few
milliseconds long, its importance in terms of characterising the sound is vital.
Schaeffer demonstrated that when the attack portions of certain sounds are amputated,
they may well become unintelligible or mistaken for others. In musical terms
the piano may then sound like the flute.
The body is the mid-life stage of the sound object. It used to be known as the
steady-state as it may seem to the ear that the sound is unproggresive or stationary.
The air conditioner when not being switched on or off remains in a continual
steady-state cycle. This is a man-made possibility.
The bell has no body in its sound envelope as it consists of purely attack and
decay. The energy of the sound begins to drop, fading away to nothing. This
can be both fast or slow, and is associated with the reverberation properties
of the source.
Although this is how the nature of a sound object is composed, Schaeffer states
that it must be considered integrally: "A composed structure (such as we
perceive it) cannot be deduced from separate perceptions of its component objects."(8)
Even though we have the ability to focus on specific sound objects, these should
always be related to the wider field (soundscape). Sound objects when removed
from the laboratory become sound events in the environment, as event
by definition attaches a context to the situation. .............The context
is real space, real time .......... now go to a window, locate its opening mechanism
and close your eyes, listen, open the window (or close and then open it), listen
again, and note the change in your conception of the space and soundscape.
SOUND & SPACE : FIRST HAND
"He lay stiffly sprawled across the back seat of the car. The motorway
embankments were hidden from him, but a steady drumming, as threatening and
yet in some way as reassuring as the soundtrack of a familiar nightmare, reminded
him where he was."(9).
Space affects sound by modifying its perceived structure through reflection,
absorption, refraction and diffraction. The outdoor sounds very different from
the indoor; the large space different from the small. The nature of indoor space
is that it envelops us, it retains the sounds that we produce; much more than
the outside. It is a much more intimate environment than the roofless exterior.
When we move around the internalised nature of the closed rooms that we inhabit
throughout the whole built environment, we reference ourselves to the objects
around us determining our situation, in part, by our auditive proximity to these
surfaces . The carpet, ceiling tiles and wood chip wallpaper of the room Im
in now, for example, creates a very neutral acoustic space. It is with reference
to this sound quality (in combination with the thermal and visual system it
employs for telling me that its a bedroom) that I feel comfortable and
have a sense of privacy. I am the acoustic signal (when the stereo is off),
and the distant sound of the traffic acts as the keynote.
"The principle feature of the city soundscape is random motion.......It
is the continuous low-frequency roar one hears from an adjacent hill or through
an open window."(10)
Over the past year particularly, I have observed the total acoustic transition
of this space when I simply open the window, even slightly. I feel the sense
that the world enters in when the window rises. The drum and hum
of the road and city floods the internal space, and the nature of it changes.
This very small physical change to my environment imparts an inversely large
effect on the perception of the place. The soundscape has been altered to include
another realm of my acoustic space. I choose to have this as my acoustic space
whenever the temperature allows it as it gives me a greater sense of my situation.
In another of Calvinos short stories he tells of a king who is confined
to the Kings Chamber for fear of losing his throne if he should leave the room.
His only reference with the kingdom that he rules is by his auditive perception.
He knows the daily routine of the palace, and tells the time by reference to
its diurnal soundscape. If at any time that audio pattern changes he fears the
end of his reign. An extract from this gives an accurate account as to the generic
soundscape of the city: "The city is a distant rumble at the bottom of
the ear, a hum of voices, a buzz of wheels. When in the palace all is still,
the city moves, the wheels run through the streets, the streets run like the
spokes of wheels, disks spin on gramophones, the music comes and goes, in gusts,
it oscillates, down in the rumbling streets, or it rises high with the wind
that spins the vanes of the chimneys. The city is a wheel whose hub is the place
where you remain immobile, listening."(11) This last sentence highlights
the nature of the human acoustic space, as each and every one of us is the hub
of our acoustic space.
An opposite type of space to my bedroom is the industrial environment, full
to the brim with clattering machinery. This a common soundscape space with its
low fidelity keynote. This lo-fi soundscape was introduced by the Industrial
Revolution and then extended by the Electric Revolution which followed it. The
lo-fi soundscape originates with the sound congestion of machines which defines
the acoustic nature of a generic shop floor today. These large spaces are acoustically
not to far removed from other large enclosures, such as churches. In terms of
their high ceilings, wide floor areas, and hard reflective surfaces they act
in the same manner. Sound travels with ease throughout the volume. Each environment
is characterised by the sharp contrast of total silence at night (except for
24hr factories) and a very loud sound output at times, during use, in the day.
The type of auditive experience generated couldnt be further apart though.
Mans love of machinery is supposed to be in its total efficiency. It is
the fundamental problem of the machine that it so inefficient acoustically.
The loss of energy which creates the lo-fi noisy nature of the factory soundscape
illustrates and undermines the inefficiency of the machine. In the church however
the human machine is highly efficient and the significant sounds that we produce
such as singing or speaking are the object of our energy output, not a side
Between the house and the factories lies the street and road. The moving car
gives a very clear conception of our space via the Doppler Effect. This effect
is associated with the movement of the sound source through your acoustic field.
It results when a sound is in motion at sufficient velocity to cause a bunching
up of the sound waves as the sound approaches the observer (resulting in a rise
in pitch) and an elongation of the sound waves as the sound recedes (resulting
in the lowering of pitch). So, as we can perceive the passing of the car with
our binaural listening system which comes at first hand from a single source,
we can understand the nature of our three dimensional space. It carves out a
space around us, delineates it, and gives us personal orientation. If you close
your eyes and listen (focus) to a single car passing your perception system
relates your position to that of the cars; It says I am hear and the car
is passing me there. The continual flow of traffic, the passing of one
car and then another gives a good analogy of the way we listen to the space
around us as described by John Cage: "The nature of listening is the experience
of hearing something and then realising that your no longer hearing it and that
your hearing something else instead. This is part and parcel of hearing."(12)
Beside the foot path lies the Urban Park. Our perception of the space in urban
parks is both related to the sound of the vegetation, the acoustic nature of
that vegetation and most importantly, being urban, the proximity of the car.
Brian Eno once said: "If you sit in Hyde Park just far enough away from
the traffic so that you dont perceive any of its specific details, you
just hear the average of the whole thing. And its such a beautiful sound."(13)
Yet again the car is raised as the keynote. The sound of the city is fused with
the rustle of the leaves the whoosh of the wind and the ripple of the water.
Sound transmission in the park has a reasonably clear path depending on the
vegetation, in opposition to the reflective nature of the street. The very absorbent
nature of the vegetation makes it one of the most calm external environments
in the city. We are not affected so much by the reflection of our own voice.
If you shout in a public street or square the auditive effect is much greater
than the same action in the open park. When vegetation is heavily present it
further reduces the transmission of that shout.
I visited the Berlin Wall just after its demise in 1990. It was not so much
the visual experience that defines my memory of that event, but instead the
sound signal of that soundscape. Walking between the two delineating planes
with a friend, what was most apparent was the sound of the hammer and chisel
tapping away at the wall claiming small fragments of the structure. My most
vivid memory of the event is then attached to the specific nature of the auditive
event at first hand.
"Space has always reduced me to silence." Jules Valles(14) ...................Try
and find a silent space.
SOUND & ABSENCE
"There is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds
lend colour to space, and confers a sort of sound body upon it. But absence
of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation
of something vast and deep and boundless."(15)
The most unusual sound in the city (silence) in actual fact doesnt exist.
There is no such thing as SILENCE.
The famous story which illustrates this is that of John Cage entering an anechoic
chamber. A room of total sound absorption which is totally sound proofed. When
you speak in a room of this nature the sounds seem to drop from your lips and
disappear. The ears strain to pick up evidence that there is still life in the
world. On entering the room, Cage thought that there was something wrong with
it, he could hear two sounds, one high and one low: "When I described this
to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my central nervous
system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation."(16) He concluded
that something is always happening that makes a sound. This is true on a global
scale but as I have described, the acoustic space of a sound is finite. It does
not exist acoustically speaking beyond its perimeter. Silence is a quality that
we relate to on a personal level. Animate objects all make sounds of some nature,
but an inanimate object like a book is silent until it is touched in some way.
The CD in this package is a silent static object, and not even it makes a noise
(unless it is touched) as information is extracted from it which is translated
into sound by the electronic system. It is merely a representation of sound.
The anechoic chamber can be viewed as the ultimate acoustic representation of
infinite space, as the absence of reflected sound gives it the unlimited sense
of space described in the opening quote. Silence then is only a notional idea,
one which we associate with relative quietness and the absence of sound. As
the ears dont ever stop listening to noise it is an unusual experience
to be conscious of its true absence.
Just as our bodies require time for sleep to recharge our physical batteries,
so to do we require time to regain mental and spiritual recomposure. Even when
we sleep our ears are absorbing sound, all be it in an unconscious manner. Before
the acoustic congestion of todays city, stillness was a precious article
in an unwritten code of human rights. The tradition of the quiet Sunday
still applies to a certain extent, but this is even now being eroded by the
Sunday openings of many high street shops. The working week for many people
is never ending. The time for relaxation less and less. One of the favourite
places for contemplation in silence is the cemetery, which represents the ultimate
human silence, death. "We like to make sounds to remind ourselves that
we are not alone. From this point of view total silence is the rejection of
the human personality. Man fears the absence of sound as he fears the absence
In Western society, silence is a negative, a vacuum. As Wittgenstein wrote;
"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent."(18) Silence
for us is equated with lack of communication, pause between sentences. Not having
anything to say is frightening to many of us, especially in our soundbite city
culture. "The essence of sound is felt in both motion and silence, it passes
from existent to non-existent. When there is no sound, it is said that there
is no hearing, but that does not mean that hearing has lost its preparedness.
Indeed, when there is no sound, hearing is most alert."(19) In other words
silence delineates and punctuates the soundscape.
Before continuing: Play the sample RECORDED
DELIVERY and carry on..................................................................................
Brian Eno...... while bed-bound "A friend of mine came to visit me, and
as she left I said can you put a record on for me? She put it on,
but it was much to quiet - plus, one side of my hi-fi had broken down. At fist
I was listening and thinking, Oh, shit, I cant hear the music.
But then I realized I wasnt just listening to the music: I was listening
to the rain, and to these occasional pieces of sound drifting above the level
of the rain. I thought, Now this is interesting, the idea that music shouldnt
exclude but include, that the music you make can be a background against which
other sounds can perform."(20)
image & SOUND ¬ DISSOCIATED
" The human ear offers not just another hole in the body, but a hole in
It is this hole in the head which enables us to deal with the manifestation
of the image in dissociated sound found lurking in the reproduction and transmission
technology of the twentieth century.
The focus of the previous chapters has been on sound (or its absence) at first
hand derived from an original point source; that which travels directly to your
ear (often around corners). I now wish to turn to the nature of our perception
associated with sound that travels directly to us from the speaker. This is
still a specific point source in itself but the nature of the sound is very
different, as it is either reproduced or transmitted from another location.
I choose the term dissociated as it is able to refer to both the reproduced
and the transmitted. It is defined in the dictionary as, "Disconnect or
become disconnected: separate." The reproduced becomes disconnected, and
the transmitted, separated. R. Murray Schafer used the term Schizophonia to
describe the same. Its components are schizo, to split, and phone, Greek for
voice. The problem I find here is the narrowing of the term to voice, as what
we are trying to describe is sound in general, of which voice is just one facet.
Originally all sounds were originals. They occurred at one time in one place
only. They were inseparable from the mechanisms that made them. Every sound
was uncounterfeitable, unique. With the invention of the Phonograph in 1877
this all came to an end. Sound could be a representation of the thing itself.
The voice for example was no longer tied to emerging from the mouth. It was
free to issue from anywhere in the landscape in many different places at the
same time. With the phonograph and the tape recorder sound was released from
its original point in time. The telephone and the radio acted to release sound
from its point in space. The amazing removal of these restrictions has given
us a totally new perception of space. This was only made possible by the advent
of Electric Revolution.
The telephone is simply an extension of the distance between two people having
a conversation. We can stay in the same place and talk directly to people in
America and Poland within the space of five minutes. This is an incredible shrinking
of space. Ive just got off the phone to my mother, who called me from
a phone box. Before I asked her where she was, I had absolutely no idea, (other
than she was standing near a road,) yet I could still speak to her and we knew
who we were talking to.
When we arrive home and play our answerphone messages the soundscape which surrounds
the caller leaks onto the tape and gives some information as to their surrounds.
People can have whole verbal conversations via this medium and yet never actually
speak to each other. People just become sound impressions in the broadest analogy,
with which we must attach mental images to, partially based on the auditory
information. In getting my CD produced, I have had a purely telephonic relationship
with the guy on the other end. I could tell you that he works alone
in a quiet room and he has a wooden door. These clues culled from listening
to the background noises of the calls get mixed together into a palette of associated
images, which relate to my acoustic and mental notions of what his room might
The tape recorder has been the most commonly available and revolutionary audio
(recorded sound) medium for the past fifty years simply by its ability to record
sound and replay it directly. Its beauty lies in its immediate flexibility.
Once you had pressed record, and subsequently, stop, the captured sound is instantly
dissociated. Tape recording and working with sound this way highlights its inseparability
from time. An audio diary of a journey for example can only be re-revealed in
real time. That is to say that it cannot be quickly and intelligibly scanned
and understood faster than the speed of the sounds themselves were recorded.
A snap shot (1/60th sec.) of an acoustic event does not have the same informational
content as the snapshot photo image. Soundscapes are revealed through time.
"A character in one of Jorge Luis Borgess stories dreads mirrors
because they multiply men. The same might be said of radios."(22) Radio,
a cold medium which gives only one type of sensory information, unites the telephone,
the record, the tape and links live events. By 1970 there was an average of
one radio per citizen in America. The radio formed its own community of listeners
which were spread by the ability of the signal to create an interrupted acoustic
space. Never before had sound disappeared across space to reappear again at
a distance. "The community, which had previously been defined by its bell
or temple gong, was now defined by its local transmitter."(23)
Today we are very accustomed to the nature of the radio. When heard unconsciously
it is just an object that talks to us. Yet it truly is an umbilical
cord to a physical yet virtual event in space. Live is still a common
promotional tool on the radio. It means something special, as the events you
hear are actually taking place at that very moment. This is true also of the
voice of the DJ, but the live event is unfamiliar, a signal rather than a keynote.
We are transported directly to the event acoustically. We have a sense of being
there, being part of the action.
The Loudspeaker is the sound source for these types of technologies
and thus represents the acoustic virtual image. In tandem it is capable of producing
a binaural stereo portrait of an acoustic event. It can transform
the perceived nature of a room. Again I return to my own. When I listen to a
CD (a digital representation format) I enter the space of the speakers. The
sound that I hear from them forms a stereo environment which is separate from
the room. But it is also a part of the environment of the room, thus blurring
the distinction. I put on sound to create that environment within my room. Sound
has the ability not only to create an image, but also affect the atmosphere
of the environment. If you put on a recording of a journey you are placed within
the acoustic environment of that journey. If you put on music it also establishes
an atmosphere in your environment, and gives you an abstract sense of place,
as identified by Eno: " One thing it [music] can do is give an instant
sense of location. When I was travelling a lot, I used to carry four or five
cassettes that I knew could reliably produce a certain condition for me. Id
put one particular cassette on, and that piece of music would make the letter-writing
space for me........I realized that while I was living this nomadic life, the
one thing that was really keeping me in place, or giving me a sense of place,
The next level of interaction with the speaker is enacted by in the wearing
of headphones. This is the ultimate private dissociated acoustic space, as Schafer
notes: "messages received through headphones are private property."(25)
This is less true today with the familiar experience of listening to people
listening to headphones. But the exclusion of the true acoustic horizon for
one which is invented in the mind through the stereo is the essence of dissociated
audio. In the head-space of earphone listening, the sounds not only circulate
around the listener, they seem to literally derive from a space
within the head.
"When played on the radio, a given sound is juxtaposed instantaneously
with thousands of different ambient sound contexts."(26) The work of Bill
Fontana, the American sound artist (sculptor) explores the themes in dissociated
sound and relative context. Influenced by Duchamps strategy of the found
object, Ready-made, he uses the acoustic ambience of a place/space
and relocates it (via phone and radio), in order to find new aesthetic aspects
in the sculptural qualities of sound: "I conceived such relocations in
sculptural terms because ambient sounds are sculptural in the way they belong
to a particular place.......the act of placing this sound would have considerable
Metropolis Koln was an acoustic portrait of the city of Koln made in Sept. 1985
by Fontana. Unlike his previous projects which primarily dealt with a duality
relationship (which focused on the nature of the perceived scale of the sound
source in its new location), Metropolis Koln was characterised by its multiplicity
of events. In order to express the nature of the city, rather than a place,
it was necessary to combine many ambient scenarios. He did this by simultaneously
relocating may different types of sounds to the Roncalliplatz, a large square
plaza adjacent the city cathedral (the dominant architectural element of the
plaza.) Eighteen loudspeakers were hidden, at differing heights, on the four
sides of the plaza. Each one relating to eighteen microphones placed at various
acoustic landmarks around the city. These locations included bell towers, bridges
spanning the Rhine, a pedestrian street, the zoo, just above the surface of
the river, and finally a hydrophone placed in the river. The signals were transmitted
via broadcast quality telephone links. The result of all this connectivity was
a live diurnal soundscape diary/portrait of the city. The acoustic image of
the space had been transformed into an acoustic image of the city.
"During the day and early evening, the square was alive with many sounds
and activities, with the river sounds providing a constant texture among the
other sounds. In the evening as the city became quieter, the sound of the river
would take over, apparently becoming the sound of the cathedral. In the early
morning and at twilight, the live microphones broadcasting from the zoo became
very active, as if the sealions, birds and apes were suddenly calling from the
balcony of the cathedral. On the hour, the Romanesque bell towers told the time
from positions all around the square; the time they told was not entirely correct
since they were all off slightly from each other. Ships passing under bridges,
trams and trains making the bridges resonate could be heard from the cathedral
and the roof of the museum. A microphone placed under a manhole cover on a pedestrian
street would broadcast the resonant and percussive sounds of foot steps and
the sounds of muted voices. Microphones in the Hauptbahnhof would broadcast
train announcements, the whistles of the Wagenmeister and the loud signals at
the end of the platform."
Fontana does not draw any conclusions from his work, as the actuality of the
event is what he is concerned with. I have included this verbal trans-script
in order to illustrate the essential nature of dissociation. I suggest that,
just as you have formed a mental image of the events above (and throughout this
document) based on text only, so does the listener form an impression of a dissociated
sound based on its acoustic representation. The difference lies in the quality
of its representation. The sounds in the square are stencilled off the
real (to borrow the words of Susan Sontag on photography). The text then,
is second generation, as it has been transcribed (represented) from
this stencil. The listener in the square obviously has a much greater affinity
with the sounds heard there, as they are live, and auditive; yet they too are
not real, they were reproduced by speakers. You cannot even hear anything (I
hear you cry) associated with the event (based on a textual representation).
Yet you have produced a mental image (most notably its sound content) through
reading the description. (I am aware) The image in text is a very different
field, but I do feel that it does have resonances here. Sounds in the
square are in actual fact just as much removed, notionally, from their respective
context, as the text here is removed from the context of the square.
Fontanas work is not to far away from that of Hans Peter Kuhn, who at
the time of writing has just finished showing his collaborative installation
HG in the Clink Street vaults, London. His work is in opposition to Fontanas
in that it is mostly internalised by architecture. He under takes much the same
procedure as Fontana, but his Decontextualised sounds are not necessarily
live or transmitted. They consist of a palette of the everyday noises, especially
ones which evoke memory and emotion: "I use sounds everybody knows and
first isolate them and put them together in not normal relationships. And by
that of course I trigger the memories of the people. They have all their stories,
but because there are sounds coming together that dont belong together,
two stories come together that dont belong together. What happens is a
third story appears and thats the story of the single person who comes
to listen to it."(29)
What Kuhn is doing here, is working directly with the acoustic mental image.
He is not trying to recreate or transmit. He is catalysing the personal mental
image. He calls himself a Sound Architect which implies the will
to create the mental acoustic spaces in which these images live.
The field of the Sound Effects Technician involves the falsifying
of these dissociated soundscapes. Predominantly it is enacted out in the medium
of the radio. It is not to far removed from musical composition, in so far as
it is involved with the creation of imaginary landscapes. The difference being
the sounds it employs to do this.
In recreating, or creating an imaginary landscape from scratch the technician
uses what is known as The three stage plan which subdivides the
sound-scene into categories of acoustic dominance. Not dissimilar to the figure,
ground and field system. The Immediate describes what is to be listened
to, such as a conversation. The Support and Background
are effects merely to be heard. The Support effect refers to sounds
taking place in the immediate vicinity which have a direct bearing on the subject
in hand, leaving the Background to do its normal job of setting
Take for example, the recording of a commentary at a fun-fair. The Immediate
effect would be the commentators voice. Directly behind this would come
the Support Effects of which ever item of fairground amusement he
happened to be referring to, backed, to a slightly lesser degree, by the Background
effect of music and crowd noises.
These soundscapes are truly in the imagination of the listener. Not only are
they received through the technology of dissociated sound, but only exist in
this medium. When I listen to the Archers on Sunday morning, I know that the
events in this acoustic space are only enacted in my mind, and this image is
completely different to any one elses, as no one really exists in this
Id like to end by discussing the dissociated soundscape in which you have
been travelling; the RECORDED DELIVERY 28>03>95. This acts as the acoustic
image for the document, and serves to illustrate the themes I have been dealing
with in this section.
RECORDED DELIVERY 28>03>95 as the title suggests, (and as you will have
by now deciphered) is the secret life of the journey of a parcel initiated by
myself in March of this year. The idea was brought about by my involvement in
a group show called Self Storage which was produced by Art Angel, Brian Eno
and Laurie Anderson. The brief given me was wide open, but it was the nature
of the project as a whole that helped me to arrive at the final idea. The space
allocated to us was the generic idea of a room in a Self Storage centre, only.
Not a particular space. The fact that I did not have access to a physical and
specific place was the fundamental aspect of the creation of the work. If a
touchable place had been given me then I would have most likely dealt with IT
(being an architect by training) rather than the idea (Virtual) of it.
The question I asked myself, was how can I create something specific to a space/place
without having ever been there. I realised that the whole aspect of Delivery
was very pertinent, as it is essentially to do with the movement of objects.
Delivery involves the movement of an object from one specific place to another
specific place. Which deals with the problem of site specificity with relationship
to the brief. The self storage centre is a temporary resting place for these
objects, and the place I was dealing with. But what does the journey of the
parcel sound like. This is where the Audio technology enters the scene. How
do you record the secret journey of the parcel. In the last ten years Sound
Activated recording technology has become widely available. This gives
the ability to leave the tape recorder on all the time and it only activates
itself when it senses loud sounds. So by sending such a device through the post
it can undertake a 12hr journey and only record one hours worth of audio. It
only records the interesting parts of the journey. The best example
of this on the CD, is having sent the recording parcel overnight
through the Post Office system, it lies in wait for the postmen to arrive for
work, and captures them swearing at each other. But what exactly does interesting
refer to here. It is all the sounds, as this is an unheard soundscape before
now. We have all heard the rustle of paper, the movement of machinery and the
chitter chattering of people before, but never through the ears of a moving
object of this nature.
By equipping the parcel with ears you give the inanimate technology
a spirit. By deciding when, and when not to listen, it takes on a life of its
own. When listening to what it has heard its previously unknowable
journey is revealed. Every journey is different. No-one involved in its auditory
space has any special relation to the package. It is (as far as they are concerned)
just another brown paper box. [but it has been given ears]....
1. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary.
2. AND,Miekal . article"All Noisy". in Cassette Mythos.(N.Y.1992 Autonomedia)
3. WINCKEL,Fritz. Music, Sound And Sensation (U.K.1965. Dover) p4.
4. CALVINO, Italo. Csmicomics (G.B.1965.Picador) p54.
5. SCHAFER, R.M. The Tuning of The World (N.Y.1977. Knopf) p271.
6. ENO, Brian Artforum vol.? issue.? late 80s page78 (lost very old source
7. SCHAEFFER, PIERRE Quoted from The Tunning of the World p129
8. ibid. p130
9. BALLARD, J.G. Concrete Island (G.B. 1974 Paladin) p23
10. SCHAFER R.M. op.cit. p233
11. CALVINO, I Under a Jaguar Sun:A King Listens (U.K. Vintage 1986) p50
12. CAGE, JOHN Conversing with Cage (N.Y. Omnibus Press.1987) p235
13. ENO, Brian op.cit p77 interviewed by Anthony Korner.
14. VALLES, Jules LEnfant p238
15. BOSCO, H Quoted from G.Bachelards The poetics of Space (U.S. Beacon
Press 1994 ) p43.
16. CAGE, John op.cit. p228
17. SCHAFER R.M. op.cit P256
18. Quoted from ibid. p257.
19. SINGH, Kirpal ibid p259.
20. ENO, Brian Keyboard magazine March 1995 p54
21. KHAN, D. & WHITEHEAD, G. Wireless Imagination (U.S. M.I.T. Press.1992)
22. Quoted from The Tunning Of The World op.cit. p91
23. ibid. p92
24. ENO, Brian Artforum op.cit. p78
25. SCHAFER, R.M. op.cit p118
26. FONTANA, Bill. Leonardo, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1987, p143.
28. ibid. p146.
29. KUHN, Hans,Peter, The Wire issue139 Sept. 95. p20
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Wire, The. Issues 139-140. 1995.
Copyright of audiOh!Room 1995. JANEK SCHAEFER