Spatial Sound

Sonic Architecture

Sonic Architecture is a discipline concerned with the (re)construction of architectural spaces from the listening perspective, and vice versa - the creation of listening experiences as a sculptural-architectural process.

The role of sound in our present-day built environments is often reduced to a merely functional consideration of acoustics, if considered at all. The sounds that are intentionally added to our environments, such as various forms of background muzak, primarily aim to mask disturbing noise and unsupportive acoustics, and thus its effect is to numb the listener’s ability of sensing and connecting with the environment through the ears and the body even more.

Nevertheless, landmarks of architectural achievement from ancient times show us that form, aesthetics and function of built spaces were indissolubly connected with sonic experience, and carefully considered as such. Evidence of such spaces are the intentional harmonic relations between the resonating cavities of the Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni in Malta, dating back as far as 4000 BC (The Subterranean Sanctuary at Hal Saflieni, S. Mifsud, A. Mifsud, C. Savona Ventura 1999). Or the acoustical function of building vaults for the purpose of localized amplification, as first applied in the Pantheon in Rome built in 200 BC, which later became the architectural model for the development of the Christian church (The Evidence of the Use of Sound Resonance from Paleolithic to Medieval Times, Reznikoff 2006).

A reappreciation of listening in the present can help us create more balance in how we design our shared spaces and how we envision our interactions within them. For example, when our environment is designed to minimise noise pollution and encourage more intelligible communication, we are much more likely to enjoy, and be nourished by our spaces.

The practice of sonic architecture incorporates experiential modelling of architectural designs that can be accessed and explored by means of listening. The applications include acoustical prototyping of spaces, propositions for the design of future-oriented listening spaces, or concepts for sonic spaces of imaginary nature, i.e. experiences that transcend the limitations of physically navigable space.

From there, the practice extends to incorporation of sound as a structural and aesthetic material in actual built environments. The programme investigates the influence of physical materials and structure on the perception, experience and aesthetics of sound and seeks to develop innovative practices that integrate sound and vibration in their reciprocal relation to the volume, shape, material and function of built spaces.

Another key area in this programme is the application of spatial sound technologies in archeoacoustic research - the examination of intentional sound design in ancient sacred buildings and outdoor spaces. The programme propagates the use of omnidirectional sound distribution, real-time object-based sound processing and 3d-graphic interfaces to reconstruct the acoustical experience of specific sites. This practice opens up the potential to acoustically experience spaces that would otherwise be very hard to visit, or do not exist anymore. Special attention is given to the importance of interactivity in this process. Through voice and body movement we are enabled to physically interact with these virtually reconstructed environments. Technologies for modelling spatial sound thus form an experimental means to further examine and form hypotheses of the social or sacred functions that ancient spaces and sites might have had.

→ Key Questions

How do sound and acoustical design influence our perception of space?

How does sound affect the quality of experience within and our mental-emotional attachment to spaces?

How does the sonic design of a space shape social interactions, human behaviour and musical expression within it?

How would a more prominent focus on sound experience change current paradigms in architectural design?

How can we envision purpose-built spaces for listening (other than consuming music like in a concert hall)?

What are the means and methods that contribute to a considerate practice for sonic architecture in our future society?

→ Creators and Contributors

The Sonic Architecture Programme is open to creative and scientific research proposals from a range of contributors at different stages in their career. All fields of research are welcome to apply to the programme, including but not limited to:

  • Composers & sound artists
  • Architects
  • Theorists & researchers in the field of sound studies
  • Artists working with spatial sculpture and installation
  • Acousticians
  • Archeologists investigating sound heritage  
  • Cultural anthropologists
  • Field Recordists