architecture student on a discovery via north dakota

Listening to Spaces

An exploration into the audio variety through depriving ourselves of sight in a particular space focusing on our perception of sound. 

When visiting a space and purposely depriving ourselves of sight to really listen in on what is happening around us, there is a transfer that occurs that somehow turned ‘noise’ into ‘sound’.  This experiment, in the Memorial Union of North Dakota State University, unveiled a discovery of what differentiates the two words.  Before, I could describe the impact of sound on a perception of space, it was crucial for me to question what ‘noise’ and ‘sound’ meant separately and later, what one meant in relation to the other.

It was said that the difference between ‘sound’ and ‘noise’ was about the specificity of the descriptions.  Sound being the particular auditory effect produced by a given cause and noise being the attribute of sound, therefore, sound results in a less specific portrayal.  I searched for the definitions of each in the dictionary which was not much help.

Sound: Def.: 1. The sensation produced by stimulation of the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air or other medium      3. A particular auditory effect produced by a given cause

Noise: Def.: 1. Sound, especially of a loud, harsh, or confused kind     4. A nonharmonious or discordant group of sounds

The space in the Union is overflowing with shuffling feet, distant chatter, espresso machines letting out steam spattered with random clicks and clacks.  I sat against a wall on the carpet where all was visible.  I closed my eyes trying to focus on what I was hearing.  As I drowned out the conversations nearby, I realized there was participation and interaction that occurred that cannot be reduced to a mere description.  Is it really about the effects and qualities that differentiate ‘noise’ and ‘sound’ or is it more about what resonates with us in the process?

A thought occurred.  Does the difference between ‘sound’ and ‘noise’ rely on the wants of individuals? Is sound a quality that is wanted and noise, a sound unwanted? Is the difference, then, completely subjective?

I don’t know that it’s so much about if the sound is unwanted or wanted.  I think it has more to do with expectation and predictability.  If we can synchronize our perceptions with a rhythm found around us, we can predict its next move.  That’s when we can bob our heads to the music and sway our hips to the beat.  We can depend on it.  When this predictability is intercepted or broken by an abrupt cut of outside force, it is then that we notice it, cannot predict its next move and have to find the beat once again.

The next step, is the take this idea into the design of a space.  As designers, we have control over the way people perceive our spaces.  We have the power to frame particular experiences through all of our senses that exists and is created intentionally.

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