Post 383 – by Gautam Shah
Hearing reveals multiple facets of architectural spaces through a very comprehensive experience. The experience is not focussed like vision, but substantially includes many convergent audio ‘effects’. This effects have clueless or orientation-less feel. Visual knowledge is more metrical compared to hearing which is abstract.
A normal person relies more on directed visual clues than diverse audio feeds. This is because visual information can be perceived and processed faster, whereas the audio cognition needs sustained understanding of the space making elements.
The audio information in a space is made of: 1. Direct sounds, 2. Reverberated sounds from different distances, surfaces and directions and, 3. background noises that enter the space. The hearing becomes more complex, when sounds get mixed to depress or enhance certain frequencies.
The space making elements, such as materials and their surfaces, the shape and the size, format the space hearing experience. This was realized from primitive times. Architectural spaces were exploited (rather than designed a fresh) for the hearing related inherent space facilities. This was possible with sporadic success. Acoustics for new spaces were always an unpredictable exercise.
Continuous use of known spaces, sizes, and shapes give a predictable audio experience. Religious buildings, amphi theatres, meeting halls, were such oft repeated works. The visual and tactile knowledge of the space helped mould it for hearing. Opera and concert spaces were fine tuned for such combined sensorial experiences.
Opera and concert halls over a period have fashioned the architecture of sound transmission exploiting the shape and size, beyond the surface qualities. Parabolic ceilings, inclined walls, convergent or conical forms were involved in interior articulation of the space. Even then within a space there were great many locally variegated experiences. A church, concert hall or assembly hall always had few pockets of poor hearing.
In all large spaces the spatial experience was moulded by direct and reverberated sound synchronized with relevant visual clues. Greek and Roman theatres were designed to bring the audiences closer to the stage so that audio-visual experience would become one. These were reinforced with loud and emphatic dialogue delivery, use of extra ordinarily flocked dresses and highly articulated postures and gestures. These traditions also continued in dramas, operas and other musicals. The techniques were, however, not freely applicable in sombre religious ceremonies.
For Peter Zumthor the ‘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.’ Corridors or passages are considered eerie places, not just due to poorly lit and unexciting architecture but the sound quality.
Hearing nothing is like hearing through sea shell that re-transmits all sounds baffled by a wall and its labyrinth form. The Pantheon or cave recall this ‘absence or absorption’ of sounds. Architectural acoustics was once about managing the outside noises and inside sounds. The former was solved by isolation from surroundings, and the later by spatial modulation.
Modern technology of hearing, deals with the presence and absence of sounds, in the work places. One may not desire to eavesdrop a colleague talking to another co-worker or a wife at home. In highly insulated work space the complete absorption of such noise is as much a problem as the inability to suppress such sounds. These are now managed by adding additional sounds (white noise) through special type of speakers. The speakers output sounds in set frequency range to cancel (sound making – white noise) out the irritant sound presences.