The Wire #296, October 2008:
Tuned City – Between Sound and Space Speculation
Doris Kleinen/Anne Kockelkorn/Gesine Pagels/Carsten Stabenow (Editors)
Kook Books Pbk EUR 25
Published to coincide with a conference of the same name held in Berlin last July, Tuned City explores the impact of sound on our urban environment. This collection of 12 essays and interviews pulls together contributions by sound artists, architects, media theorists and even a neurologist, offering an overall picture of the multifarious relations between sound and architectural space.
Opening up new and refreshing perspectives, the book features several contributions form architects who actively engage with sound. These include Doris Kleilein and Anne Kockelkorn, whose essay “Disconnection” explains why architecture is ‘disconnected’ from sound and noise, noting that at the most it is required to combat them. The authors go on to argue, quote rightly, that sound artists show a similar lack of interest in architecture: using recording and playback equipment, they create acoustic spaces that exist by virtue of the performance, relegating actual built space to the background. Other architects attempt to bridge the gap between built space and sound: Pascal Amphoux and Gr?goire Chelkoff from Cresson, the French Sound Space and Urban Environment Research Centre, present a typology of sonic effects occurring in urban areas, outlining the relationship between these effects–which range from reverberation to immersion or attraction–and architectural space. This typology provides a standardized vocabulary that can be used by psychologists, sociologists or architects dealing with sound, while also reconfiguring our perception of the urban environment. Architectural theorist Susanne Hauser likewise examines the social impact of urban soundscapes, arguing that the functional, unaesthetic structures making up the major part of today’s agglomerations are designed to attract neither the eye not the ear. She suggests that this sensory deprivation may well be responsible for the retreat of city dwellers into their own private spaces via technologies such as the iPod, which allows users to select their audio environment. In his writings, the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has discussed such strategies of selective participation, which can lead the individual to experience the rest of the world as a poison, or at best as a meaningless backdrop.
As its subtitle suggests, Tuned City also leaves room for some thought-provoking speculation. Architect Arno Brandlhuber evokes the possibility of modifying the sound of one’s living room by adding echo or adjusting the volume. Elsewhere, musician and sound artist Thomas Ankersmit points out that buildings reflect sound but never dialogue with it. Even more intriguingly, architect and sound artist Raviv Ganchrow considers the possibility of a dialogue between the building and the user, in which the architecture is perceived not as a finished product, but as a system that is only complete when it is listened to as well as looked at. At a time when sound is becoming increasingly controllable, directional and ‘material’, these ideas open up new perspectives for architecture that are not as utopian as they may appear.
Sound engineer Barry Blesser’s essay on aural spatiality comes across as simplistic and self-evident alongside the exhaustive typology developed by the Cresson team, while an article or two charting the theoretical underpinnings and historical background of the arguments put forward in these contributions would not have gone amiss. These are minor quibbles, however; as an indicator of sound’s undeniable capacity to influence architectural practice and a plea for greater openmindedness on the part of architects, Tuned City makes for essential reading.
Rahma Khazam, The Wire #296, October 2008
neural #32, January 2009:
[…] It’s a peculiar catalogue and essential reading, properly reflecting the content of a one-of-a-kind festival. […]
Alessandro Ludovico, neural #32