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public sound vs accoustic privacy

Broken Sony_StudioL

there have been a few times when i've sketched out my research on this blog and i'm afraid i'm going to have to do it again. apologies to those who think it's frightfully dull. as penance, i promise i'll soon post about some of the most-excellent exhibitions i've seen.

but until then, it's going to be a sketch on what my masters project is on. i handed in my proposal last week, but the whole thing is going to start taking shape, bit by bit over the next little bit. so i figure, that in the spirit of GenWhy and Web 90210, i thought i might post it here too.

it's a dry kind of post, but it's a starting point and i'll probably expand stuff into it over the next few months. of course, any feedback is always welcome :)

Soundproofing the city: Public sound vs acoustic privacy

What do you want to research and with what end in mind?
Investigate the relationship between sound in public and acoustic privacy, and the role that access to silence/quiet urban space has on the public sphere, through art means (as opposed to architecture, design and/or policy).

How will you conduct your research?
Being a conceptual installation artist, I will use a variety of means to conduct the research:

• Initial theoretical work will be done through reading and traditional research on areas of acoustics, sound art, public art and cultural theory.

• Community-based work/workshop will then be conducted in order to 'test' one aspect of the research in relational and qualitative terms.

• Using technology and public action in order to test the sonic/acoustic public space and the difference from private sound, in quantifiable terms, with the role of the artist occupying the public sphere as an important factor.

• A series of large-scale and city-wide public works will be developed as concepts, with a view to implementing a select few on a small-scale.

A rough timeline is as follows:

4 April
Community work Harvest Festival CNH

May - June
Public sound drawings/action Selected public locations and institutions

Community work Living in Art Festival

Early September
CBD public works Public toilet

Early October
CBD public works Public transport (possibly for TINA)

October Conceptual works
Building headphone

Why is this research worth doing? (boy i had to resist the answer: "it's not. art produces enough crap as it is")

The divide between the public sphere and that of the private has traditionally been a discipline of media/communication/cultural studies. Artists like PVI Collective, Guerilla Disco and Franis Alÿs have begun to address the issue through the visual arts, bringing it into a 'whole of society' issue. This research continues an interest in the line between public and private life and aims to improve a functioning public/political life through creating stability in the private life. The political nature of public art and its role in encouraging engagement from 'the public' is an important one in a country with an increasing level political complacency.

Simultaneously, acoustic engineering and its role in public policy, urban planning, architecture and landscape development is relatively recent phenomenon (but one with increasing importance) as the city and urban environments become the primary built environment. This research is an added reminder that Public Art has an equally important role in the discourse about die Öffentlichkeit (public sphere).

What will you produce?

Part 1: Mobile privacy

Poorly designed public housing means that residents are deprived of acoustic privacy and security, resulting in sleep-deprivation, insecurity, petty arguments and other anti-social behaviours that infect live in public.

This project is a workshop with the residents of The Collingwood Housing Estate at The Harvest Festival, in which residents will customise headphones, as means to block out ambient noise from public spaces, transport and neighbouring residents, known to cause social problems in areas with high social and spatial density.

'Mobile Privacy Kits' will be developed to fasten to the headphones. These include cardboard discs, felt, paint, wire and a selection of text (in English, Arabic and Spanish) including: 'ssssh', 'I have the right to be left alone ', 'having a quiet moment', 'privacy' etc.

Part 2: Public noise vs private sound
Psychoacoustics, or the perception of sound, has links with psychogeography as one way to map, or experience the city and die Öffentlichkeit. This project measures public ambient sound, and private sound taken into the public space - primarily music through headphones and externalises this liminal space.

Drawings will be made by occupying a selection of public spaces (the artist in the public space) and mapping the ambient sound using the online Sound Drawing Tool by ze frank and the iphone application: Wide Noise. The images will represent the sound of those spaces - both private public, and then will be overlaid as the difference between the two. The drawings will also map the conceptual action of being and listening to sound in die Öffentlichkeit.

Part 3: Soundproofing the city
This aspect of the project looks at the spaces of public life that are acoustically sensitive - places in which "private" sound is experienced or that inhabit the divide between public and private spaces, and therefore sounds.

These places will be soundproofed, using a collage of current soundproofing materials and art-based materials: felt, foam, rubber, wool. In order to reduce noise and amplify the experience of privacy. Two types of places have been currently earmarked: a public toilet and an aspect of public transport.

Simultaneously, a building in the CBD will have a huge pair noise-cancelling headphones attached to it. The aim is to have this happen in real life, although this aspect of the project may end up being solely conceptual, due to time and financial and engineering constraints.

Selected preliminary list of readings and references.

People to talk to
Pablo Romera - Arup Sound Lab, Melbourne
Derek Thompson - Bassett Acoustics
Romaine Logere - SIAL
Lawrence Harvey - SIAL
Dan Hill - UTS//City of Sound
Russell Davies - The Really Interesting Group//interestingsounds

Voice Drawing Tool by Ze Frank
Responds to sound through line: a clockwise curve for a soft noise, a counter-clockwise noise with a thicker line in response to a loud noise.

WideNoise by WideTag
Measures and maps the decibel output of its current location.

Public Art, ed Matzner, Florian Matzner; 2001; Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany.

Practice of Everyday Life, De Certeau, Michel; 1984; University of California Press, Berkeley.

Public Good, ed Slater, Marnie and Booker, Paula; 2008; Enjoy Art Gallery; Wellington.

Music, cognition, and computerized sound : an introduction to psychoacoustics; 1999 ed Cook, Perry R; MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Master handbook of acoustics, Everest, F. Alton, 1994, TAB Books, Philadelphia

A-Level Psychology Through Diagrams, Grahame Hill; 2001; Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sensation and Perception: An integrated approach, Schiffman, Harvey Richard; 2001; John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Experience and the Public Sphere, Negt, Oskar and Kluge, Alexander; October - The Second Decade 1986 - 1996, ed. Krauss, Rosalind et al, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Listening and Sound: Phenomenology of Sound, Don Ihde, 1976; Ohio University Press, Ohio.

Privacy, A manifesto, Sofsky, Wolfgang; 2008, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

Human Performance and Ergonomics, Hancock, Peter A.; 1999; Academic Press, San Diego.

Online references
Rane pro audio reference guide; http://www.rane.com/par-h.html
Wikipedia references on : noise
haas effect

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At 28 March, 2009 08:12, Blogger Mel said...

a very generous post - a really interesting, worthy and innovative project - i look forward to updates!

At 28 March, 2009 12:59, Anonymous lauren said...

thanks mel for pretending that it wasn't as dull as dishwater :) there will be updates as each project happens, hopefully.

At 29 March, 2009 05:11, Blogger Mel said...

i too conduct research on space / built space / the city - so it was anything but dull - it's a very original project

At 30 March, 2009 05:28, Blogger mayhem said...


A worthy and accessible project! Where/who are you doing it with? Have you read Paul Carter (melb uni architecture)?

good luck with the journey.....

At 10 April, 2009 05:03, Blogger lucazoid said...

this "sounds" good, lauren.

it made me think of something william burroughs once wrote about the potentially disruptive power of sound recordings when they are played back into the same space they were recorded in. they can drive people insane. burroughs advocated using this sort of thing as a weapon.

sorry, totally unreferenced, cannot remember where that came from, or whether i dreamed it...

the book "action in perception" by alva noe explains perception as an embodied, active state (rather than some kind of raw experience which rains down upon the passive subject). (william james says something similar, back in the 1890s...)

At 10 April, 2009 06:04, Blogger lauren said...

thanks mayhem! thanks lucas!

mayhem - i've only heard paul speaking at process, but not read anything he's done.. i must source that out.

and lucas - was it william burroughs was it? in a conversation i was having with derek thompson, he mentioned someone who working with binaural recordings of spaces, then feeding them back into the space through headphones and wigging people out. awesomeness.


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