The architecture of sound

This workshop began discussing post-war cities in UK, and it was argued that the changes in their urban design and architectural form were not passively bad, but in some circumstances aggressively bad. Following which, the workshop looked at where the ‘making’ of cities happens. The assumption that cities are made by planners, designers and architects was pitted against the notion of the everyday street where new generations are crucially and imaginatively remaking the spaces in which they live. How might we reorientate where we think design happens so that the ‘messiness’ of the vernacular high street gets read in new and informative ways that might start to shed light on aspiration, and other forms of sociality?

Moving on, the workshop examined cities as spaces of over-stimulation, particularly when it comes to sound, music, and noise – how do we create a space for people to give attention to music discursively? Should we make cities less stimulating? 

This lead to a discussion of ambience, ambient sound and how it relates to space. Brian Eno explained that the first of his ambient music records from 1978 were created to address the fact that in public spaces there is always music that isn’t created specifically for public spaces. He gave the example of the new Cologne Airport at the time – a 220 million deutschemark airport playing a 1.50 deutschemark cassette over the loud speakers. The argument followed that music has a role to play in the same way that lighting does. It does not just occupy the space uselessly. 

The discussion turned to the audience and spaces of listening for music and how much of the music we hear today is not performed. Music is created and intended for a recording, to be heard through loud speakers or headphones but not to be performed. Is it made to be consumed as an MP3 on headphones and individually. We see now people listening to music individually on their players, but somehow still collectively in public spaces.

This led to a discussion of the problem or opportunities of public spaces, where everyone is different, and wants different things, and returned to initial thoughts about over-stimulation, being able to hear, and concentrate.