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Sound Sites (1999)

Go to Gallery Page Sound Sites
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Temporary Installation
Location: Span Galleries, 45 Filinders Lane, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Installation by Lawrence Harvey curated by Samantha Comte as part of "The Occupation of Space". Sound Sites was an exhibition of 24 acoustic moments created from interviews with sight impaired individuals about how they negotiate spaces by aural means.

The following is from text panels used in the exhibition:

Sound Sites is a series of sonic frames acoustic moments that have been developed over eight months through research, consultation and interviews with individuals and groups from the blind community. Participants in the interview process have brought a diverse range of backgrounds to this project. Individuals from 6 to 70 years old have shared their experiences and answered questions in relation to sound in their everyday lives.

During the interview, the participants were asked to discuss the ways in which they negotiate spaces; physical spaces and imaginative spaces. The responses highlighted the complexity and richness of the acoustic environment.

The interviewees discussed the use of echo location (sensitivity to extremely fine sounds reflecting from interior and exterior architecture), desirable and undesirable sounding events and environments, memories of sounds no longer heard, effects on the soundscape from recent technologies and made suggestions for improving acoustic communication.

Sound Sites seeks to respond to these observations to present an experience of various acoustic memories, impressions, signals and environments.

The process of negotiating space by the blind, is a complex one involving sound, smell, touch, orientation and memory. It is also a world available to the sighted community through listening. The absence of a visual stimulus, makes the world no less "real". Not all events of the world have to be seen, for them to exist.

Sound Sites is not a disability project. It has been produced from the insights and abilities of the blind community into the state of the acoustic environment. Some of the acoustic moments are very subtle and may require repeat listening and are designed to develop in listeners, a greater awareness of the sounds surrounding us and those we make ourselves.

Technical production.

Sound Sites was produced from a combination of ambisonic B format recordings, and other standard stereo techniques. The ambisonic recordings were decoded for listening over headphones in the Lake Audio System. Sound Sites was produced in the Auralisation Studio of the Soundscape Research Group, Faculty of the Constructed Environment, RMIT University.

Thanks to . . .
Michelle Piggot, Gary Stitchcomb and staff of Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind at Burwood and 85 High St Prahran Staff of the Royal Guide Dog Association of Victoria Dr Neil McLachlan Faculty of the Constructed Environment, RMIT Andy Reynolds and Philip Driver - 200 Gertrude Street

The participants in the interview process were;
Linda Blaik, Philip Driver, Gina Caswick, Dorothy Hamilton, Katrina and Martin, Bridgit Parker, Bill Patchett, Lyn Richardson, Kate Stephens, Gary Stictchcombe, Barbara Williams, and RVIB students; Ross, Melissa, Sam, Ashley, Felicity, David, Jennifer, Heath, Paul, Trent, Peter, Stephen, Anna, Michael, Bridgit, Dian, Megan, Louise and Lauren

The Occupation of Space: Sound Sites, was supported by The City of Melbourne, the Besen Family Foundation and the Myer Foundation.

Track Listings

1. Philip conducts the city

"I feel like a conductor beating out a symphony on the city".

Sonic textures roll under Philip's cane as he navigates his way through the city. A rapid montage of clicks, scrapes and clutters.

2. & 3. Symmetry

Two moments of symmetry: a church bell and the
electronic beep of a handy teller machine; ocean waves and the hiss from an opening drink bottle.

Interview participants expressed a desire for a soundscape that allowed for small and large sounds, creating a rich and complex acoustic environment. The sounds in the two examples share qualities of pitch and timbre.

4. Bridges and trains

Sighted people use large stable objects to orient themselves in space, to determine how far they have travelled, or how far they have to go. Blind people must listen for subtle clues coming from the same objects. On a train journey, a blind traveller might count the number of bridges passed, or the number of stops between stations.

This moment is recorded in a train as it passes under several bridges between two inner eastern suburbs. The number of bridges passed under, is available at the entrance to the gallery.

5. Interlude - water ensemble

The hidden acoustic worlds of water unfolded, created from the moment, "Water ensemble". This moment is an interlude created from several electroacoustic music techniques.

6. & 7. Night and day

During night and day, the ambience of an environment changes. This moment shifts from recordings of cars on a suburban road, during day then night.

8. Sound walk 1 - through streets to a gallery

Streets, alleys, doorways, lanes, awnings, reflect sound back to the listener in a subtle composition of surface textures colouring the acoustic environment. Listen for the changes between open and closed sounds in various spaces and the changes of textures underneath the feet of the walker.

9. Birds

Many of the interview participants spoke about bird calls. Some people identified favourite calls and places where they could listen to a variety of birds. This moment was recorded close to the city by the Yarra river.

A sonic panorama.

10. & 11. Two corners in a city - No 1 and 2

Learning to navigate spaces without vision requires continuous attention to smell, physical/muscular memory and sound. This moment contains two street corners from Melbourne, where each has a distinct character determined by sounding objects such as flagpoles, traffic direction and speed, trams, shops and changes in the background ambience.

In navigating the city, these differences map out the identity of the location.

12. Supermarkets

During one interview, a group of teenagers described the sounds of a supermarket. They kept trying to outdo each other with their observations of sounds from the check-out and the differences between sections within a supermarket. For example, the kitchen or crockery sections sound much brighter than the bedding or clothing sections.

13. Impulse - response 1

Listening to a doorway.

Find a doorway, move to one side, stand very close to the adjoining wall. Make a "click" with your tongue and listen. Now move directly in front of the doorway and make a "click", listen to the difference.

A simple exercise in listening to space.

14. Impulse - response 2

Surfaces respond to sounds in unique ways. When the sound bounces off the surfaces of a room, we are literally listening to that room. We make a short sound or impulse, and the room responds. The ability to hear the acoustic qualities of different spaces is an
important navigational technique.

Three different rooms in a house.

15. The sonic shoreline

While walking along a street, windows, doorways and awnings effect subtle changes in the acoustic environment. A doorway is an acoustic thread between the inside and outside; you follow the thread or pass it by, counting the threads as landmarks on your journey.

Along a narrow street, counting doorways.

16. 17. & 18 Transitions - outside to inside

Transitions from outside to inside in three different arcades in the city. The variations in ambient sound between spaces form contours on a sonic map.

A small difference is heard between the ambience of the street and the interior of the first two arcades. In most contemporary shopping malls, sound bounces around their interiors in a way that "de-localises" the listener. The experience is a combination of blandness and frustration. The first arcade is flooded with machinery noise from outside. The soft hissing sound in the second arcade comes from nearby escalators.

The final example is an older style arcade, high ceiling and several types of surfaces that reflect the sound away from the listener. The difference between the busy street to the interior can be clearly heard.

19. Sound walk 2 - Botanical Gardens

Sounds from the gardens birds and screeching bats. A brief respite from the city.

20. Kitchen

Shape, colour, resonant, warm, brittle, crackle, spill. A pattern of sounds recorded from a domestic environment that create the acoustic identity of an everyday space.

21. & 22. Well-heeled

The sonic character of a location is coloured by the affluence of those who visit. Wealthy suburbs are often quieter because of more expensive, aerodynamically designed cars, tree lined streets and gardens.

Are dress codes audible?

The first recording was made at the entrance of a hotel on Collins Street, the second was made at the entrance to a university campus on Swanston Street. Leather soled shoes traverse the entrance of the hotel, while at the university, rubber soled shoes create a different ambience.

23. Interlude - Celestial Kitchen

An imaginative weave of sounds from the moment "Kitchen". This moment is an interlude created from several electroacoustic music techniques.

24. Sound walk 3 - waters edge

Sound travels fast and far over water. Sand underfoot, the masts of boats and small waves.

Related Entries for Sound Sites


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Prepared by: Iain Mott
Created: 28 October 2003
Modified: 6 November 2003

Published by The University of Melbourne
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: i.mott@unimelb.edu.au
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 18 January 2007

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