I have looked forward to the module, as sound design is something I know very little about. Yet, I want to use sound to create with as part of my project. I want to find an interesting and integrative way of using sound, not as “soundtrack music” but as part of the whole.
I started with the the reading Sonic Mechanics: Audio as Gameplay. The author quotes Luigi Russolo stating that all sound can be music. When I made the videos that are part of my project, I was careful to capture the ambient sounds: cars going by, wind in the trees, a wind chime in the distance, thinking that these sounds would be important. While working, I sat in a quiet house, listening to the hum of electric appliances, wind rattling the windows, tapping of a keyboard, slight shifting and settling noises of a very old house, cars on the road outside, and heard a hypnotic rhythm that I think would capture the aural essence of residual space.
The article also had a quote form Morton Feldman that his music “should be approached as if you’re not listening but looking at something in nature.” and that sounds could be treated as unusual events seen while walking in nature. This got me thinking about the relationship of sounds and architecture. The article went on to say that improvisation in music “begins with a loose composition or set of rules within which musicians perform spontaneously”. The parallel with architecture is how architects begin with certain requirements and limitations, and these provide the framework for creativity to be expressed within. Moving through a beautifully designed piece of architecture is like closing your eyes and being moved through a beautifully written and performed piece of music.
Spatially composed sound installations are essentially creating architecture with sound, as the placement of sound sources and how they reverberate could influence the way a person moves through a space ( much the same as physical architecture consciously dictates the way a person moves through a building, a park, or even a room.) The description of John Cage’s dichotomy of small and large sounds relates so closely to physical architecture: “Small sounds were absolutely everywhere, loud sound dwelled at certain locations, and drew Cage himself in their direction…” In physical architecture, small patterns exist all throughout, while large architectural “events” are special, rare, and meant to draw one to them: an exquisitely designed flying staircase, or a dramatic view from a released space.
This led to some investigation of sound and architecture, and the article Soundscapes of Digital Morphogenesis in Architecture points to musical frequencies and algorithms that can be expressed visually as architectural forms. Acar charts the volumes, tempo, transitions and frequencies in musical pieces, and represents the data as 3D spatial forms. Perhaps the same could be done with ambient sounds that are around us all the time, whether in a “silent” house or walking in nature. (I see a future project here!)
Returning to John Cage, I decided to investigate some of his pieces. 4’33” is a conceptual piano piece in which the only sounds are provided by the audience. The performer opened and closed the piano keyboard, set the metronome, but each movement of the piece consisted only of ambient sound. Water Walk was a performance in which Cage had a number of “instruments” that each involved water: a bathtub, a tea kettle, a watering can, a steaming pot, a blender full of ice cubes. As he walks between these items, he manipulates them in different ways to create sound. The video that I watched was done on a TV show before a live audience. The audience often laughs or makes other sounds, but the laughter sounds nervous, as if the audience may be perplexed by the performance. Even though the audience laughter became part of the soundscape, it was at the same time distracting. The second time I played the video, I closed my eyes and listened, and the sound became mesmerizing and mysterious, and I wanted to hear more.
Finally, While in the middle of reading and writing about sound, I had the opportunity to learn about harmonics through a woman who provided a series of tuning forks and other small metal objects that create harmonic sound. Working with a small group of us, she “conducted” a session in which we all used these harmonic tuning forks and objects to create a musical piece. I wish I would have recorded it! The sounds were so subtle, yet so resonant. I am curious about mixing harmonics with ambient sound, and experimenting with using that in my project.
Paul, C. (2008) Digital Art. Sound and Music, London, Thames & Hudson
Hope, C and Ryan, J. (2014) Digital Arts, From Scratchy to Glitchy: the Creation, Performance and Installation of Digital Music, London, Bloomsbury
Oldenburg, A. (2013). Sonic Mechanics: Audio as Gameplay. Game Studies, 13(1). Retrieved from http://gamestudies.org/1301/articles/oldenburg_sonic_mechanics
Acar, D. (2015) Soundscapes of Digital Morphogenesis in Architecture, Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042815062631
Cage, J. Water Walk, Retrieved from
Cage, J. 4’33”, Retrieved from