Close your eyes wherever you are, and you may become aware of the aural complexity of the space you’re in. The acoustics, distant sounds of play or belligerence, nature or machinery form a constellation of environmental cues we unconscious incorporate into our sense of a place.
We live in a world which privileges sight, playing on a Western philosophical heritage that scopes out and objectifies the world. While sight affords us a voyeuristic viewpoint separated from the world (could we feel so detached if we could see 360 degrees around us?), sound envelopes us.
Research in the emerging field of acoustical archaeology suggests that ancient temples were designed with sound strongly in mind, and certainly many of them – such as the Chichen Itza in Central Mexico – exhibit extraordinary acoustic qualities. However, contemporary Architecture seems to be driven by an occularcentrism; still no acoustic modelling in architectural packages, while an architecture student friend is told by her lecturer that they work exclusively in the “graphic realm”.
I recently met up with a sound professional turned researcher, Mark Ward, at a conference on interactive entertainment (IE2009). Mark acknowledged the under-appreciated nature of sound, even in cinematographic sound design, and is working to advance the body of knowledge on sound, immersion, and emotion. Of particular interest to me is Mark’s overview of Impulse Response analysis. Impulse Response effectively captures the acoustic signature of a space, by examining the way sounds echo around it. For sound production this means an arbitrary sound can be modelled very accurately as it would sound within the space. For architectural applications this allows a high-quality, cheap, and standard way of recording and archiving the acoustic qualities of a location.