The Space of Sound

The Space of Sound

 

What does it mean to have a space of your own in New York City? A space that is innately, undeniably yours, unlike the transitory physical spaces we encounter and dwell in. Somewhere you can retreat to at any time and any place. A space you hold for yourself. 

 

“Can we, at all, create Space by means of Sound?” 1

 

Hannes Hölzl poses this question at the beginning of his work of the same title. I’ve been pondering parallel to this inquiry:

 

How can music carve out a space for us within spaces that already exist in the material plane? 

                  What determines the dimensions of inner spaces?

                                           Are the spaces as ephemeral, amorphous and ever-changing as sounds themselves?

                                                                                                           or do they become fixed once visualized internally? 

What does the shape of sound reveal to us about our sense perceptions? 

 

I’m thinking about how music creates an incorporeal space within a physical one. The feeling of architectural properties within sound, allowing for exploration within while simultaneously enriching the external stimuli. The motions of life are both reduced to and amplified as a hyper-realistic game when listening to a song you love, deconstructing the normalcy and monotony of your commute and restructuring it into an adventure. Music carves out a space between the immediacy of your thoughts, allowing in that sliver the ease of self-reflection and simultaneous escape. Catharsis. The transformative power of sound massages our brains in ways we are not fully aware of; subliminal associations between sounds and feelings coagulate to manifest the air of an environment.

The spatial properties of sound are different from the auditory nature of architecture. The latter refers to the sounds that occur due to vibrations interacting with the shape of a physical structure. The spatial dimension of music relates to the subjective feeling of spaciousness and narrowness the sound evokes; the visualization of a shape may occur as a result of the sound, but it is the sound that creates the shape – as opposed to the shape creating the sound. All of our sense perceptions mingle with our inner and outer world; our difficulty in conceptualizing sound in this unconventional way is a result of the constructions and delineations we have been taught to organize the intertwined nature of our senses. Some may even call it a mess. It is the language we use that shapes our ideas. 

                   The implication we take from the verbalization that intertangledness is messy is that it is undesirable, that organization and order reigns supreme and to have that we must engage in separation.

                                                                                                                                                    But we do not feel in isolation. 

Annie Besant’s research into the blending of senses detailed in her piece “Thought Forms” considers the molding of our conceptions and emphasizes the importance of leaning into experiences that possess layered multitudes of sensory details. 

“Many people are aware that sound is always associated with colour—that when, for example, a musical note is sounded, a flash of colour corresponding to it may be seen by those whose finer senses are already to some extent developed. It seems not to be so generally known that sound produces form as well as colour, and that every piece of music leaves behind it an impression of this nature, which persists for some considerable time, and is clearly visible and intelligible to those who have eyes to see” 2

I am reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting, “Blue and Green Music.” An abstract representation of music through form and color, the undulating lines and rhythmic shapes in varying shades of blue and green create a sense of movement and harmony reminiscent of musical compositions. 

Unlearning the separation we have become accustomed to for the sake of comfort and clarity is a lengthy process, one best met with intentionality; but it will open us to new perceptions. The acceptance of the interconnected nature of our senses in turn connects us to our inner and outer worlds in ways that are more holistic and perhaps, stronger. That persistence of the impression the sensory experience leaves on us is both the time and space held for ourselves when we are immersed in the experience of listening. To really listen is to receive life.  

“It is well for us ever to bear in mind that there is a hidden side to life—that each act and word and thought has its consequence in the unseen world which is always so near to us, and that usually these unseen results are of infinitely greater importance than those which are visible to all upon the physical plane. The wise man, knowing this, orders his life accordingly, and takes account of the whole of the world in which he lives, and not of the outer husk of it only.

To exist is not enough. We desire to live intelligently” 3

Labels reduce the things around us to just their essence. Something’s essence is not what it truly is, as everything is empty so as to make room for the amalgamation of everything else. All things are made up of a combination of other things; such is the interconnected state of existence. Constantly changing and evolving, we describe things by the essence of what they currently appear as, the “outer husk,” — not what they really are. The essence of the thing is like a magic trick, a temporary illusion. A surface level understanding of the experience would make one think the illusion, or the essence, is the real thing; but there is always more at play behind the scenes. Besant’s ideas touch on the spiritual dimension of sensory experience, while Hölzl addresses the existence of inner and outer worlds on a biological level: 

“Sound, in its physical nature, is vibration, fluctuation of air pressure. The ears are the part of our outer membrane specialized in the task of sensing vibration. Nonetheless, all of our skin is, in a more limited way, reactive to it; as we know from very strong low frequency sounds: we literally feel those basses as we feel the vibration of a solid body in contact with our skin.

As such, sound is the medium that connects us with the space outside us by means of volatile air vibrations. But let’s not forget that we also hear sounds from within our body. We hear ourselves speaking and, sometimes, we hear sounds produced by the working of our inner organs, bodily fluids and bones which might or might not be audible to others. 

Sound, thus, also is a medium relating the inside and the outside of our body, a medium permeating the bounds of our body in both directions” 4

Science and spirituality are not at odds, rather they are complimentary. There is quantifiable proof of sound’s effects in the material realm, and collective, ephemeral experience that resists interpretation in the incorporeal realm. Each bolsters the other. Music can create emotional space, which, just like a real architectonic space, one can enter and leave, experience from different perspectives and distances, and socialize in. Though it cannot address all of the needs we have in the physical world, sonic space is complimentary. It has unique qualities that resist comparison, such as temporal flexibility and its transportive ability. The relocatability of sound is a quality with enormous promise. The ability to be in two simultaneous realities at the same time has often been considered a faculty of magic. 

 

 

  1. Hölzl, Hannes. Can We Create Space by Means of Sound?, Utrecht School of the Arts – Faculty of Art, Media and Technology, Aug. 2003, www.earweego.net/varia/SpaceOfSound.pdf, 1.
  2. Besant, Annie, and C.W. Leadbeater. “Thought-Forms.” The Project Gutenberg eBook of Thought-Forms, by Annie Besant., 12 July 2005, www.gutenberg.org/files/16269/16269-h/16269-h.htm.
  3. Besant.
  4. Hölzl, 4.
 
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