Towards a different understanding of acoustics, 2009
This text serves as a proposal for a project as yet unrealised. The
aim is to investigate and perhaps partly shape a different, extrascientific,
understanding of acoustics, which I propose to ex tend
into spheres of activity such as music, architecture and hu man
behaviour itself. In using their ears and eyes, people in fact ex peience
acoustics in a non-scientific way, influencing, in the process,
their cultural production.
Ursula Nistrup 2009
Towards a different understanding of acoustics.
(used with a singular verb) Physics. the branch of physics that deals with sound and sound waves.
(used with a plural verb) the qualities or characteristics of a room, auditorium, stadium, etc., that determine the audibility or fidelity of sounds in it
adjective Also, a⋅cous⋅ti⋅cal.
pertaining to the sense or organs of hearing, to sound, or to the science of sound.
(of a building material) designed for controlling sound.
of, pertaining to, or being a musical instrument whose sound is not electrically enhanced or modified.
arranged for or made up of such instruments: an acoustic solo; an acoustic group.
Towards a different understanding of acoustics
In this project, I am working with three different fields; Music, Architecture and Human Behavior. I am seeking to elaborate upon the shared interests of these fields through the contributions of three individual participants operating in each field. This project is a search for the development of thoughts causing and affecting human behaviour, interaction and patterns. It is also important for me to stress that I do not see a hierarchy between these areas of interest. Nor do I see any line or narrative to what element might come before the next. I am just as interested in the way development of thought can influence the creation of a building as I am in how music can change the mood or trajectory of a people’s daily routines. In considering both these fields and individuals, I am not aiming to discuss how these areas differ, but on the contrary, where they overlap, correspond and where they exist as a continuation of each other, in regards to concerns and theory shared between them.
It is my understanding that acoustics usually is being referred to as a language through which a sound’s movement in space scientifically can be measured. I believe this to be of the utmost importance when dealing with and creating new buildings as well as the interiors in which people will live and work. Often, however, I see that even these acoustic premises are an integrated part of the overall considerations when a building is designed and built. Acousticians are afterwards hired as “repairers” to create the best and most pleasant acoustic solution. These acousticians are scientists, and they measure and calculate where and with which insulating material the best possible acoustic solution for the building can be made. This is of course a very important and difficult job. My intension with this investigation is by no means to criticise acoustics, but to propose a different understanding of the fields of acoustic. What if acoustics were to be considered not as a question of the best possible solution? The medium of sound is already so extremely complex and constantly moving and altering, perhaps a perfect location for listening would also be in flux? Or perhaps there would be several solutions in terms of the acoustical most ideal place or location. Also I would like to try to understand the term acoustic in a broader term than to address sound moving through space; could the term be used when dealing with music, and could we use the term architecture when talking about the way music is composed?
I would like to test if it is possible to pay attention to both the space (architecture) and situation (human behaviour) as part of an unwavering relationship that can be understood beyond the sciences and research corresponding to each field or where each field is regarded as an aesthetic set of values. In order to explore this relationship, I am proposing a much more radical redefinition of acoustics as we have come to understand the present definition as a physical science.
This different definition of acoustics is oriented as a study; as a branch of philosophy. Where acoustics are not only to be understood in terms of its physical scientific attributes but also in terms of its “aesthetic” values such as the beautiful, the sublime and through empiricist readings that index experience as it is gathered acoustically, through our senses. I am speaking of acoustic values relating to the philosophical principle of acoustics. Where one becomes sensitive, appreciative and/or depreciative, to such a relationship as the one premised between architecture and human behaviour.
The main instrument - the human ear - can explore this set of principles and acoustic values such as; an earful, on listening, the infinite physicality of sound, or “pertaining to the sense of…hearing” are but a few that come to mind. It is in this re-categorization of the understanding of the term acoustic where we find the rules and principles of sound art.
Acoustics evidently determines structural and social contexts as it materializes the characteristic way in which sound carries or can be heard within each relationship exchanged in architecture, music and human behaviour.
This is a radical departure from aesthetics, which possesses a historical dialog between subjective and objective attitudes of the observer in regards to taste and visuality. The predominant western conception of art as rigorous it is on the use of the intellect to rationalize sensory perception, has concentrated and emphasized on the apparatus that enables vision, meaning the eyes, and not our ears. Therefore aesthetic language becomes clumsy and inappropriate when it comes to speaking about sound. We say I “regard this” or “I see”. Not “I hear this” or “I listen”.
So this brings me to the issue of voice within an artwork where consideration of its acoustic value and principles determines its affinity in both subjective and objective terms - each time adjusted to every possible combination in the world - listening to the confluence of the particular acoustic relationship this statement is focusing on (architecture, music, and human behaviour).
For example a Brahms opus? In what medium can such a phenomenon be captured and translated as an art form, how can it be made?
Could a counterpoint in music have a “pendant” – a related thought – a similarity when we talk about architecturally designed buildings or human developed thoughts?
With this project I would like to pose a series of questions to professionals working in the field of music and architecture and human behavior. These questions might not make rational sense. But they are posed as a way to develop a different kind of logic and perhaps a different way of thinking about and approaching acoustics. Perhaps through creating a different kind of music, architecture or an understanding or a relation to behavior. Some of the questions I am trying to pose are:
Why is there more than one voice in the Brahms variation op21? What does it contribute having more than one voice? Is it plausible to talk about a connection between the various voices in an opus and rooms in fx. a Le Corbusier building or a renaissance castle. Does it have a pendant to the awareness that exists when moving through a building while listening to what is happening in adjacent rooms? Audibly to be moving between voices in music and physically moving between rooms also partly informed by listening. When more than one voice is present and we get a harmony or a counterpoint is reached, what would this result in within the area of architecture? If anything? Can such lines of thoughts exist and what kind of translation can happen between them?
Can a result be a meeting place or an awareness of a parallel existing room, adjacent to the one we are currently present in? And what does it contain and imply to be given a choice between several options, how do we choose? Is it based on history or experiences, when we consciously or unconsciously make a decision.Does that have to do with ways we might follow and navigate through a room or how we hear a composition of music before it is being played? How is it possible to audibly shift between the several voices and hear each individually and then to compile them and hear the whole harmony. Like discovering a sense of a whole building through an encounter with each individual room. Does a musician read musical notes in the same way as one might read a map to find the “right” way? Can the musical notes establish a dialogue between each other, as walls in a building might be in conversation?
With this text as an entry point, my idea is to allow the professionals from the tree fields of practice to give their “take” on whether it would be possible to develop a piece of music or buildings and structures, or to define thoughts for a performance of some kind of behavioral interaction? I am interested in accumulating ideas and thoughts based on and developed from this overlap between the tree fields -even in its most abstract of forms. I am hoping that contributions created in this project, between these invited professionals will bring new ideas and develop the term acoustics.