Soundtracks for Architecture

A few comments at the end of a recent post reminded me of something from David Toop's Ocean of Sound, an excellent and highly recommended survey of "sonic history," focusing on ambient music, post-Debussy.


Roughly midway through Toop's book we find this review by composer Paul Schütze: "Recently listening to Thomas Köner's Permafrost," Schütze writes, "I found that by the end of the disc my sense of aural perspective was so altered that the music seemed to continue in the sounds around me. Tube trains passing beneath the building, distant boilers, the air conditioning, and the elevator engines had been pulled into the concert. This effect lasted for about forty minutes during which I could not get anything to return to its 'normal position' in the 'mix' of my flat."
What would have been yet more fascinating, however, is if Schütze had been wrong. What if the disc, in other words, had still been playing – and he didn't live anywhere near the Tube, nor did his building have elevators...? What if those subtle and distant architectural sounds had actually been part of the CD?
This would be music as the illusion of architecture.
You could move into a house without a basement – so you purchase this CD, or download these tracks, and you uncannily achieve the sonic effect of having more floors below you. Or perhaps you want an attic, or even a next-door neighbor: you would buy soundtracks for architecture, architecture through nothing but sound.
For instance, think of the Francisco López album, Buildings. Buildings is "a work composed entirely of sound fragments López procured while wandering around big buildings in NYC," recording the "sounds of elevators, air conditioning systems, cables, pipes, air ducts, boilers, clocks, thermostats, video cameras, and so on." (You can actually listen to a brief excerpt).
So instead of an addition, or a home renovation – you would commission a piece of music; and for as long as that music is playing, your house has several thousand more square-feet... and a Tube line nearby... and distant boilers...

(With thanks to Dan Hill at City of Sound for pointing me toward Buildings).

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6 Comments:

Blogger Joseph Clarke said...

Several years ago I mentioned a work by Christopher Bailey, Quiet Play of Pipes, that does something similar with HVAC ducts. Bailey notes:

I’ve always had a weird fascination for these sounds, because they seem to imply worlds beyond, pregnant with energy, waiting to burst forth - as if breaking open a pipe would unleash a stream of violent anti-matter unto an unsuspecting universe, or opening a Coke machine would let in an intense all-revealing white light.

Why is it that architects have traditionally had no problem incorporating visual art in their buildings, but have so rarely considered acoustical art?

February 11, 2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger cemenTIMental said...

so you purchase this CD, or download these tracks, and you uncannily achieve the sonic effect of having more floors below you.

You should definitely look into Convolution Reverb... a software effect which allows one to basically sample the reverb of a real space and play any sound thru it.

Lots of links + info about it on this forum thread I started on the subject:
http://p206.ezboard.com/fiheartnoisefrm25.showMessage?topicID=507.topic

February 11, 2006 2:22 PM  
Blogger cemenTIMental said...

...oopps...
HERE'S THE CORRECT LINK

February 11, 2006 2:23 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Joseph - Interesting post, and interesting comment as well. It is true, I've found, that when sound is mentioned in architectural discussions, or in ads at the back of arch. magazines, it is discussed as something to eliminate, dampen, or control. You don't see many architects deliberately seeking sound-generating materials (presumably because future owners of a given building cannot be presumed to have the same audial interests as the people they replace). In any case, interesting point.

And cementi I'll check out the reverb program, it sounds good -

In fact, this whole thing is interesting, I'm going to keep posting about it this week if I have time -

February 12, 2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

And this is something of a tangent, but if you want to hear some good shortwave radio captures, by a guy near Boston, try ShortWaveMusic for mp3s like this one.

February 12, 2006 9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Krakow, the Communist-built Philharmonic sits about a meter away from the tramlines, thereby updating old classics in Schutzean/Konerian/Manughvian fashion, welding whooshes and rattles to the Ode to Joy, sugestively inserting the illusion of an empty tram into the middle of Penderecki's Polish Requiem....

February 16, 2006 4:48 PM  

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