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Soundscape 1&2 : (Re)Creating a space using sound. An artistic research project at Stockholm University of the Arts

After having worked in film sound for forty years I already knew that sound can create a powerful illusion of a space. The question is if this is only a consequence of the ”audio-visual contract” as described by Michel Chion, or if it works in the non mediated world as well? A cinema audience is prepared to be tricked, or seduced, they have even payed for that. The same applies for someone visiting an art gallery to take part of a piece of sound art. In everyday life however, things are different. Nevertheless our perception of a space and a situation appears to a large extent to be dependent on what we hear, even if it’s contradicted by what we se and by our preconception.
When I tried the recording of the subway station in our main hall, students and staff came running out of their offices to see if there was actually a train passing through the building. I had forgotten to issue a proper warning about my test… When I played back the recording during our research days, I observed spectators moving to different positions in the hall, to get different perspectives. It is in deed an interesting thing to have your senses fool you!One explanation to the powerful illusion may be that the soundscapes are in full scale. They are recordings of big spaces played back in another big space. The main hall has the same length as the subway station, and the recording of the Central railway station with it’s high ceiling creates an illusion that the space expands beyond the loudspeakers, in three dimensions. The voices, footsteps and the trains give us information about what’s happening around us. The way those sounds reverberate gives us information about the space, the size of it, and its acoustic properties.The answer to my original question is undoubtedly yes. It is in deed possible to create a ”place” using sound, a stereo field big enough to move around in and so consistent that you don’t loose it as you approach one of the loudspeakers. So how can we use this knowledge?One could try this recording technique to record background sounds for films that will be screened in Barco Auro or Dolby Atmos. And it’s obviously a way to create interesting sound installations that allows the audience to move while listening. For me it has raised another possibility. By transforming a familiar space, we can begin questioning who we are in different situations. I’m not the same person when I’m walking the corridors in our college building as I am walking on a beach while on vacation. So if I hear the sounds from that beach walk in the corridors of my workplace, will that change the way I feel and act? I made an experiment in our staff canteen. Now during the Corona restrictions it’s an empty place where you often find yourself totally alone while having lunch. So I made a soundscape, using sound effects from my library, that turned one end of the canteen into a posh restaurant, with a piano player, discreet voices and other sounds referring to fine dining . At the other end I put a lively english pub ambience, and in the kitchenette i put the sound of a german fine dining restaurant kitchen.The transformation of the place was quite remarkable. As you enter you pass through the german kitchen, and then you can choose if you prefer to be one of the guests in the fancy restaurant or to join the cheerful crowd in the pub. Where ever you choose to sit, you still hear sounds from the other spaces. This is where this project is going to take me next. To change familiar places in order challenge our self image and our feeling of belonging or being a stranger in a space.
Stockholm, 2020

Full spec

Stockholms konstnärliga högskola
Open Closed
Soundscape 1&2