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Auditory Sensation of Architectural Space An Exploratory Essay on Aural Images and Memories of Sound

Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)

Delft University of Technology Department of Architecture, Msc1 AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Fall Semester 2011 Prof. P.E. Healy


30th of december, 2011

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


Auditory Sensation of Architectural Space An Exploratory Essay on Aural Images and Memories of Sound One of the most intriguing phenomena in music is the moment when individual musicians ‘by surprise’ meet in their play, when different musical lines suddenly seem to flow together in a perfectly balanced dance of unity. Soundscapes1 created by music can completely take over both listener´s and performer´s perceptions of the physical space they are in, often characterized by having bodily effects such as closing the eyes, increased heartrate or getting goose bumps. Only recently scientists have found neurochemical evidence and scientific explanation for man´s intense emotional and physical response to music.2 The experience of pleasure apparently is evoked by dopamine release in the human brain. Dopamine release, which basically leads to feelings of euphoria and craving, can also be aroused by psychoactive drugs, delicious food and money. A likely consequence of this scientific connection with such, somewhat superficial and sin-related belongings is that it probably impairs the romantic, often acclaimed ‘enchantment’ of intense musical experience. More generally, and I mean this neither in a disapproving nor in a approving way, it is scientific explanation like this which influences our understanding of personal experience and being. In “the Sex Appeal of the Inorganic”, Italian philosopher and professor of Aesthetics Mario Perniola writes about the dificultness and enigma of on the one hand existance, human being and on the other hand human sensibility. If we follow his logic, in our contemporary world “it would seem that things and senses are no longer in conflict with one another, but have struck an alliance“3. In some manner, the aforementioned neurochemical research supports Perniola’s explanation that “the essence of music is neither sentiment nor life, but more essentially, sound, understood precisely in the neutral and inorganic indifference evoked by this word.”4 On the contrary, the research also seems to show somehow an inconsistency in Perniola’s view towards modern sonority in the sense of pop music: 1 Soundscape, a term for our sonic environment coined by R. Murray Scheffer. See also: The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf, 1977) pg. 274 2 “If music-induced emotional states can lead to dopamine release […] it may begin to explain why musical experiences are so valued. […] These results further speak to why music can be effectively used in rituals, marketing or film to manipulate hedonic states.” Silampoor, Valorie and Benovoy, Mitchel, Anatomically Distinct Dopamine Release During Anticipation and Experience of Peak Emotion to Music (Published online in Nature Neuroscience, nr. 14, 2011) pg. 257 – 262 Available at: http://www.nature.com/ neuro/journal/v14/n2/full/nn.2726.html 3 Perniola, Mario, The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic: Philosophies of Desire in the Modern World (London: Continuum, 2004) pg. 1 4 Ibid. pg. 65

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


“In order to arrive at comprehending the inorganic character of rock music, it is necessary to free oneself of the sentimental conception of music, which considers it as the expression of an emotional interiority, and from the vitalistic one which sees in it the animal cry, the spontaneous manifestation of natural existence”.5

If an inorganic phenomenon such as music, regardless its style, indeed is able to effectuate great bodily effects through release of dopamine (an organic compound present in a wide variety of animals), pop music and even more in general sound, actually exactly are expressions, images and, whether or not always spontaneous, manifestations of natural existence. “Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul”, Plato once wrote.6 This specific quote was written within the context of music. It is noteworthy that Plato’s appreciation of music had nothing to do with pleasing the human ear by sound effects but rather with its matter of proportion and symmetry. Besides harmony in general, music theory was highly respected by the ancient Greeks. It is said that it was Phytagoras who was the first in history to conclude that “intervals in music are rather to be judged intellectually through numbers than sensibly through the ear”.7 Pythagoreanists persued harmony and purity of human soul through cognition of numerical proportions, believing that “numbers were the ultimate explanation of all things”8. It seems to be exactly rhythm and harmony which are overlapping ´instruments´ in both music and architecture. According to Dutch architect and Benedictine Dom Hans van der Laan, the house is an addition to nature with the aim to make the world inhabitable for man.9 He stated that the architect’s profession in essense is the technical assemblage of materials to form the house, in other words: to give shape to ´the reconciliation of man and nature´. Like the ancient Greeks, van der Laan searched for true aesthetic in it’s original sense, concerning not beauty, but clarity of perception. Seeking after this true aesthetic with the purpose of the reconciliation of inorganic space and organic environment, in 1928 van der Laan discovered and named ‘Le Nombre Plastique’ (The Morphic Number)10. His development of architectonic proportion theory, which to this day has many architectural followers and built objectifications, was inspired by a book written by Dom André Mosquereau, ‘Le Nombre Musical Grégorien’, and therefore even more a noteworthy example of found parallels between architecture and music. Van der Laan himself practiced his morphological studies in architectonic designs and renovations in designs of various cloisters and dwellings. An illustrative, well known example of his work is the significant expansion and renovation of his home, the ‘Abdij Sint Benedictusberg’ 5 Perniola, Mario, The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic: Philosophies of Desire in the Modern World (London: Continuum, 2004) pg. 65 6 Plato to Glaucon on the importance and potential of musical training (260 B.C.E), translated by Jowett, Benjamin, The Republic, Book III 7 Woods, Alexander, The Physics of Music (London: Chapman and Hall, 1975) pg. 181 8 Ibid. 9 Laan, Dom Hans van der, De Architectonische Ruimte. Vijftien Lessen over de Dispositie van het Menselijk Verblijf (Leiden: Brill, 1977) pg. 2 - 3 10 Haan, de, Hilde en Haagsma, Ids, Gebouwen van het Plastische Getal (Haarlem: Architext, 2010) pg. 84

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


in Vaals. (see illustration 1)11

“If human existence were purely material like that of a piece of wood or stone, it could be protected by a material form that enclosed it tightly, as a precious gem is kept in a padded box. But an animated existence that shows itself in spontaneous movement needs a shelter that leaves over enough space for moving about it. And movement is guided by senses, which also impose certain demands; lastly the intellect must freely direct towards their goal both the movement of the body and the working of the senses.”12

1 Photo of the ‘Abdij Sint Benedictusberg’ in Vaals, Dom Hans van der Laan

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Photo by Hambeurkens, D. Available: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dennishambeukers/5867061539/in/set-72157626913930999 Laan, Dom Hans van der, The architectonic Space (Leiden: Brill, 1983) pg. 4

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


In ´The Hidden Dimension’, anthropologist Edward T. Hall clearly explains the working of the human senses and their features by differentiating man’s sensory apparatus into distance and immediate receptors.13 Both vision and hearing fall within the first category and are therfore related to the determination of one’s distance as opposed to his surroundings and other objects. Picking up on van der Laan´s interest in both movement of the body and the working of the senses, one of the main differences between visual and aural sensation of space seems to be their relation with motion. The viewer’s visual image of his surroundings changes if he physically moves himself (ofcourse with his eyes open) through the space that he is in. Leaving aside other users and moving objects, when standing still, the viewer´s vision of the space14 around him, eventhough in static, ´frozen´ state, remains.15 Opposed to vision, there is no existence of auditory activity and sensation without movement. When an object is in stationary or stagnant condition, it never will be able to produce sound by itself. Underscoring the fact that sound exists by the grace of it, we can say that time is of great importance with the auditory experience of space. Movement in the sense of sound can derive from both inorganic objects and organic objects and phenomena: we are able to hear sounds of nature, like tweeting birds, a speaking human voice or the blowing wind as well as cultural and industrial sounds like a passing car or, whether or not recorded, playing music. In ´The Soundscape: our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World´, R. Murray Schafer subdivides our hearable environment into figure, ground and field,16 thankfully using terms employed in visual perception. The possibility of similar equivalents in aural and visual perception are also mentioned by Edward T. Hall, who refers to Bishop Berkeley´s argue that, “man actually judges distance as a consequence of the interrelation of the senses with each other and with past experience.”17 A healthful human listener is able to memorize single sounds as well as sound ensembles of a space. The aforementioned division of our environment into figure, ground and field finds its source in phenomenological psychology. In order to achieve a better understanding of our hearing environment, Murray in fact translated these subdivisions of the visual environment into partitions of our hearing environment.18 Murray coined these different sonic phenomena into respectively signal (figure), ambient sound (ground) and soundscape (field). The term sound signal includes “any sound to which the attention is particularly directed”19. Sound signals are contrasted by ambient or keynote sounds, those which are “heard frequently enough to form a background against which other sounds are perceived. Often, keynote sounds are not consciously perceived, but they act as 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Hall, Edward Twitchell, The Hidden Dimension (New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1966) pg. 41 Meaning both sheltered and natural space Blesser, Barry and Salter, Linda-Ruth, Auditieve Architectuur: de onzichtbare ervaring van de ruimte in Oase 78, ‘Immersed’ (Rotterdam: NAI, 2009) pg. 50 – 63 Schaffer, R. Murray, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf, 1977) pg. 151 – 152 Hall, Edward Twitchell, The Hidden Dimension, (New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1966) pg. 67 Schaffer, R. Murray, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf, 1977) pg. 152 Ibid. pg 275

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


conditioning agents in the perception of other sound signals.”20 Therefore, in explaining the aural phenomena of our world, keynote sounds are likened to the ground in the above-mentioned classification of visual sensation. Lastly, soundscape is the term coined by Murray for our sensible sonic environment as a whole, the surrounding ensemble of both keynote sounds and sound signals. The term “may refer to actual environments, or to abstract constructions such as musical compositions and tape montages”21.

Seeing is believing22, a commonly used saying, brings up the characteristic of our human nature of, if healthily in possession of all of the human senses, in the first place depending more on sight than on hearing. Edward T. Hall explains and obtains the logic of this by simply comparing the size of the nerves connecting respectively the eyes and the ears to the centers of the brain:

“Since the optic nerve contains roughly eighteen times as many neurons as the cochlear nerve, we assume it transmits at least that much more information. [...] It is probable that the eyes may be as much as a thousand times as effective as the ears in sweeping up information.”23

For now leaving aside that, since it was written in 1966, this probility deserves further investigation, we jump to a remarkable and probably only example of Modern architects who became primarily concerned with man’s spatial sensation through aural impulses, the interrelation between the sonic and visual environment and its manipulative potential. As we can see in the appearance of the façades of the Saint Marie de La Tourette, a collaboration with Le Corbusier and one of his early works, composer, music theorist and architect-engineer Iannis Xenakis based his designs mainly on mathematical proportions such as the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Section (see illustrations 2 and 3)24. More relevant when discussing the phenomenon of auditory sensation related to spatiality are his compositions, experiments and theories in music (see illustration 4).25 In ‘Terretekstorh’, Xenakis wanted to create an “acceleration of sonorous particles” by composing a piece for ‘88 musicians scattered among the audience’26 (see illustration 5).

“The performance of the piece puts the sound and music all around the listener and close up to him. It tears down the psychological and auditive curtain that separates him from the players when positioned far off on a pedestral, itself frequently enough placed in a box. The orchestral musician rediscovers his responsibility as an artist, as a individual. [...] If necessary, a shower of hail or even a murmuring of pine-forests can encompass each listener, or in fact any other atmosphere [...]. Finally the listener, each one individually, will find himself

20 Schaffer, R. Murray, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf, 1977) pg 272 21 Ibid. pg 274 22 “Eerst zien, dan geloven” 23 Hall, Edward Twitchell, The Hidden Dimension (New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1966) pg. 42 24 Pictures available: http://www.iannis-xenakis.org/xen/archi/real.html 25 Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary, (Amsterdam: Muziekgebouw aan het IJ, 9th of june 2011) 26 Xenakis, Iannis, Formalized Music, Thoughts and Mathematics in Music, (New York: Pendragron Press, 1992) pg. 237

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


either perched on top of a mountain in the middle of a storm which attacks him from all sides, or in a frail barque tossing on the open sea, or again in a universe dotted about with little stars of sound, moving in compact nebulae or isolated. ”27

In film and theatre, sounddesign already has proven to be of great value in the setting of scenery and adaption of spatial experience. Aural image seems to have established almost an equal position next to visual image. Maybe even more than Xenakis’ actual concept for ‘Terretekstorh’, the corresponding quotation in itself illustrates the potential as well as the complexity of human aural perception. The potential of sound is that it elicits imagination. Videlicet, this bring up the complexity of sonic perception being both strongly suggestive28 and dissimilar to each individual hearer.

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2 Design for the west façade of the Saint Marie de La Tourette, Xenakis 3 Photo of Xenakis and the west façade of the Saint Marie de La Tourette 4 photo of ‘actions de lumière’, ‘Polytope de Cluny’, Festival D’automne, Paris, Xenakis,1972 5 Study for ‘Terrektorh’, distribution of musicians, Xenakis, 1965 27 Xenakis, Iannis, Formalized Music, Thoughts and 5 Mathematics in Music, (New York: Pendragron Press, 1992) pg. 237 28 see also: Auditory illusion

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


When a listener senses a sound, it is always a note from an event of the (recent) past. Likewise, there is no such thing in our physical world as a ‘sound of the future’. We define the physical space around us largely through echoes: newfound memories of our surroundings. The persistence of sound, reverbaration, gives the user insight into for example size, hardness and degree of enclosure of its surrounding space. Though we are able to amplify, delay or record, once its source has stopped, a sound eventually fades away and stops being perceivable by one´s ears. Then, only the memory of an aural phenomenon remains. Despite the temporal nature of the physical appearance of sound, these memories of sound persist in the human brain, as if sound itself would be able to echo on and on in our minds. Like over time becoming accustomed to a scar on his skin, or to have around the one he loves, a person also can get used to a specific sound or even his entire sonic environment. A specific and probably identifiable example of this is the artificial ticking of the clock in a room that you are often in. It is likely that a person who comes to visit is aware of the sounding clock. In his case, the sound appears as signal. You, on the other hand are used to the specific tone of the ticking and as a consequence unaware of the present sound. In your situation the clock ticking can be ‘seen’ as ambient or keynote sound. German writer and theoretical physicist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe defined architecture as ´frozen music’. He stated that “the influence that flows upon us from architecture is like that from music”29. It is generally known that the hearing of music has comforting and soothening effects on listeners. Being in a artificial sonic environment effected by euphonic tones therefore appears to have resemblance to the feeling of comfort which can be aroused when being in a sheltered setting, in (architectural) space. Throughout history, architecture more often is compared to music. The architect then is likened to the musical composer of the piece, which is equated to the building. There are several examples of architects interested in the parallels between music and architecture. Like Dom Hans van der Laan, some of them even predicate(d) their entire practical work upon discovered similarities. Remarkably, in such comparisons music is mainly translated through mathematical and proportional theory into the visual aspects of architecture. Apart from the design of typlogies directly related to auditory programs such as concert halls, auditoriums and churches and despite the apparant parables between sound and shape, in architecture acoustics and ‘soundscaping’ remain often a side issue, a contingence. Only few architects keep the auditory effects of their work consciously in mind. Although, in the work and writings of contemporary architects such as Jan Hoogstad, Daniel Libeskind and Peter Zumthor30 we see a considerably increasing consciousness, together with all other inorganic arts and phenomena that express 29 30

Eckermann, Johann Peter and Fuller, Margaret, Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of His Life (Boston: Hilliard, Grey and Company, 1839) pg. 282 “Interiors are like large instruments, collecting sound, amplifying it, transmitting it elsewhere. That has to do with the shape peculiar to each room and with the surface of materials they contain, and the way those materials have been applied.” Peter Zumthor in ‘the Sound of a Space’, Atmospheres, Architectural Environments - Surrounding Objects (Basel: Birkhauser, 2006)

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


themselves outside the person31, the awareness of posibilities of sensory integrality for the betterment of being in architecture and environmental space seems to be still in its (overextended) infancy. Many architects are, probably because of their on vision focused educational background, visual thinkers in the ´seeing sense´ of the term. Visual thinking actually includes thinking through all sensory proccessing using the part of the brain that is emotional and creative. The terms figure, frame and field provide a framework for organizing man´s experience, for thinking and thus designing architectonic space in all its senses. ‘Inner echoes’, or aural images, help us in understanding the physical world around us, meaning both organic and inorganic surroundings. By enclosing space, the architect can shut the ‘noisy’32 world outside and provide shetler. Like a conductor of an orchestra, with the use of instruments such as materials and proportion, through their buildings architects have the ability to direct the soundscape of its users and effect their (well)being.

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Reference to Havelock Ellis’s statement that “dancing and architecture are the two primary and essential arts. The art of dancing stands at the source of all the arts that express themselves first in the human person. The art of building, or architecture, is the beginning of all the arts that lie outside the person.” From: The Dance Of Life (1923) by ‘noise’, I mean ´unwanted sound´

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


Epilogue In order to experience your own memories of sounds, the aural images that you already have in mind, triggered and hinted by the images of the musical instruments, hereby a small empirical exercise: Try to ´hear´ the suggested sonic environments with all its signals, key sounds when looking at the random visual images I attached on the following pages of this essay.33

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Apart from an attempt to gain a better understanding of aural memories, the images have no substantial goal whatsoever...

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


Bibliography Blesser, Barry and Salter, Linda-Ruth, Auditieve Architectuur: de onzichtbare ervaring van de ruimte in Oase 78, ‘Immersed’ (Rotterdam: NAI, 2009) pg. 50 – 63 Eckermann, Johann Peter and Fuller, Margaret, Conversations with Goethe in the Last Years of His Life (Boston: Hilliard, Grey and Company, 1839) pg. 282 Haan, de, Hilde en Haagsma, Ids, Gebouwen van het Plastische Getal (Haarlem: Architext, 2010) pg.84 Hall, Edward Twitchell, The Hidden Dimension (New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1966) pg. 41 – 45, pg. 67 Laan, Dom Hans van der, De Architectonische Ruimte. Vijftien Lessen over de Dispositie van het Menselijk Verblijf (Leiden: Brill, 1977) pg. 1 Perniola, Mario, The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic: Philosophies of Desire in the Modern World (London: Continuum, 2004) pg. 1, pg. 65 – 70 Schaffer, R. Murray, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf, 1977) pg. 151 – 153, pg 271 – 275 Silampoor, Valorie and Benovoy, Mitchel, Anatomically Distinct Dopamine Release During Anticipation and Experience of Peak Emotion to Music (published online in Nature Neuroscience, nr. 14, 2011) Available: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n2/full/ nn.2726.html, pg. 257 – 262 Xenakis, Iannis, Formalized Music, Thoughts and Mathematics in Music, (New York: Pendragron Press, 1992) pg. 237

AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Marleen Klompenhouwer (1558978)


Auditory Sensation of Architectural Space