Monday, 11 May 2009

Sound and Theory - Listening to the sites

"Now I will do nothing but listen...

I hear all the sounds running together, combined,

fused or following,

Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds

of the day and night..."

WALT WHITMAN, Song of Myself

I decided fairly early on that for the theoretical consideration of my two sites I would build it around a consideration of Sound Theory and the idea in public art of "overlooked in public space."

Choosing this approach made a great of sense to both sites as one is completely overwhelmed by constant sounds of a particular type and the other made up of a complex layering of many different types of sounds.

In fact it is the soundscape of my NOT like site that has the most direct influence on why I don't like it.

In the book The Soundscape: the Tuning of the World by Walter Murray he identified three distinct features of the soundscape which he describes as:

Keynote: the key or tonality of a particular composition. It is the anchor of fundamental tone and although the material may modulate around it, often obscuring its importance it is in reference to this point that everything else takes on its special meaning... The keynote sounds of a given place are important because they help to outline the character of men living among them.

Signals: are foreground sounds and they are listened to consciously... Signals MUST be listened to because they constitute acoustic warning devices... Sound signals may often be organised into quite elaborate codes permitting messages of considerable complexity.

Soundmark: is derived from 'landmark' and refers to a community sound which is unique or possesses qualities which make it specially regarded or noticed by the people in that community.

Taking all of this into consideration I spent a great deal of time listening to each of my sites every time I visited them so I could make note of their soundscapes.


Keynote sound:
- traffic: engines of trucks, cars and motorcycles accelerating and braking through the intersection in flowing waves of traffic

- tram bell
- car and truck horns
- traffic lights ticking “cross now” and “don’t cross’


- tram moving through the intersection
- car tires going over the tram tracks

The site is completely overwhelmed by the sound of traffic and it always took a couple of minutes for me to be able to stop hearing the site as just one big "TRAFFIC NOISE".

It also needs to be noted that I was never able to hear non-traffic noises, such as people walking past or voices even though I could see people moving through the intersection. The traffic noise is very much like a blanket that encompasses the entire space.

I chose the tram moving through the site and the cars moving over the tracks as the Soundmark as trams are a particular aspect of urban life in Melbourne that you don't usually have intersected with such high levels of constant, moving traffic.


Keynote Sounds:
- leaves rustling in the trees
- water lapping against the banks of the river
- hum of traffic on the freeway in the distance

- dog barking
- bikes’ bells and tires moving onto the gravel
- train whistle from Richmond Station
- snatches of conversation as people walk past
- trucks and traffic accelerating up the freeway ramp
- motor boats revving their engines


- bell bird calling from the Botanical Gardens
- rowers’ calling out instructions to each other
- crunch of joggers’ feet on the gravel as they run the ‘Tan’

What makes the Morell Bridge soundscape so interesting is the layers of sound that are a mix of both natural and man-made noises.

What I also found really interesting when I compared the notes I took on the soundscapes for each site was how each was such a extreme opposition to the other in the concept of an audio horizon.

The NOT Like site is a demonstration of how the audio horizon has shortened in that the sound of the traffic, though it does in some ways indicate that there is a hill that needs to be accelerated up, does not allow for any other horizon indicating noises beyond that of the immediate area.

In absolute contrast the LIKE site has a long horizon where you can actually hear the distances between various elements that create the soundscape noises. You can hear the leaves in the trees above you, yet also the train whistle in the distance. You have an awareness of the uses around you and they someone create balance. My favourite contrasting noises were the high pitched bell bird from the Botanical Gardens, following by the deep roar of the truck engines in the distance.

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