Sound Workshop: Ruggles Station

On October 8th, 2015, representatives from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the MBTA’s department of Architecture, and the MBTA’s department of System-Wide Accessibility were in conversation with Sam Auinger and Bruce Odland (O+A, http://www.o-a.info/) in addition to students from Northeastern University’s Architecture Program, Northeaster University’s Information Design and Visualization Program, and Harvard University’s GSD.  The conversations between these groups will help O+A’s upcoming installation in the Ruggles Station as part of an exhibition sponsored by the Gardner museum and Northeastern Univeristy.

Notes from the Meeting:

The Office of System-Wide Accessibility

  • identifies issues of disability services on MBTA transit
    • trains front-line handling of situations where patrons need assistance
    • oversees maintenance of accessibility technology and tools (speakers, signs, elevators, etc)
  • publishes a quarterly report on accessibility functionality
  • works with both fixed-route and para-transit services
  • recent improvements:
    • wayfinding for the blind
    • audible countdowns for the trains arriving next
  • Information Equivalency
    • how can information many people take in visually be translated to sound and tactile sensations?
    • with non-consistent train station layouts, how can acoustic localization be upheld?
    • how can various sound information remain distinct? how can sound information be withheld in efforts to direct the flow of information release?
    • when is sound puddling effective communication in happenstance events, such as maintenance or repair of accessibility technology?
  • Accessibility needs call for consistency; they aim to clarify information with a lack of cacophony.
  • Sounds perceived as “ambient” or “noise” by most can actually be sonic information for the blind.
  • With the many competing sounds of transit, commerce, and socialization, sonic information competes with masking forces.

Department of Architecture

  • internal department of the MBTA
  • focuses on repairs and additions of current train stations as well as construction of new facilities
  • Art in train stations has always be in policy, but never has it been standardized
    • Temporary Art in train stations has recently had a policy clarified. Artists must suggest space and idea to be reviewed by architecture and accessibility departments. The cost to produce and install will be on the artist.
    • Integral Art is an enhancement to the underlying structure of the train station is partially funded by the US government. Artists/designers will work directly with architecture firms and their work will be incorporated into the construction bids. A fabrication company will then be hired to create the art and install it.
  • Policy is now in place to make sure both types of art in train stations is decided on fairly and with open procurement.
  • Art needs to consider the fundamental use of the space, how it affects accessibility of the space, and safety of materials.
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Guest Speakers: Mapping and Sound

A collection of guest speakers, artists, and designers spoke with our Mapping Strategy class on their work with sound, maps and/or both.

Sven Anderson – Dublin, Ireland
http://www.svenanderson.net/

Anderson is working with the city of Dublin, in effort to create a new position Urban Acoustic Planner. His efforts are best described as a “year-long public art commission for Dublin City Council, titled MAP or Manual for Acoustic Planning and Urban Sound Design”

http://map.minorarchitecture.org/

Continuous Drift (2015)

Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square – Dublin, Ireland

The above is the site for an interactive, public sound installation (Continuous Drift). The square is populated by shops and bars and the four retractable canopies protected the open square from harsh elements. The architect originally built speakers into these canopies without any discernible use. Anderson commissioned 21 artists to compose/create sound to be controlled by the democratic nature of a singular remote accessible on the web. Users of the square can start, stop, change the volume, or change the track entirely at the press of a button on their smartphones.

“Generally we walk around the city and we have no say in what we hear, and a lot of people have different opinions about what’s noisy, what isn’t noisy, what should be there and shouldn’t be there.” – Sven Anderson, on Continuous Drift

Glass House (2015)

Smithfield Plaza + Torches – Dublin, Ireland

Pictured above is Smithfield Plaza of Dublin, Ireland, and the torches that line its perimeter. The plaza, an uncommon sight of open-space in the dense urban city of Dublin, was originally created to be an active neighborhood center, with open space to hold outdoor rock-concerts and markets. Noise complaints about various activities in the space has rendered it barren, and rarely-used.

Glass House, a sound installation, uses the torches (which no longer run because gas is expensive) as speakers to pipe ambient sound, a fragmented version of the audio from the theatre below the square, into the square. Named after composer John Cage’s analogy relating experimental music to glass architecture, the sonic environment transforms the above ground square from the already-present data from the theatre below.

Peter Cusack – London/Berlin

Favourite Sounds (1998-ongoing)
http://favouritesounds.org/

Peter Cusack, recording sounds at Chernobyl in 2007.

Cusack’s ongoing, crowd-sourced project began in his hometown of London, England by asking people not only what their favorite sound was, but also why. The sounds themselves weren’t the interesting part, it was the reasoning behind the sounds and how subjective pleasing sounds are because of differences in sonic perception and memory.

“It [Favourite Sounds project] was trying to get people talking about the way they hear everyday sounds and how they react to them, or what they think and feel about them, and how important (or not important) they are. And to a certain extent, that project has been successful in that. Because when you ask questions, then people will always talk about other things.” – Peter Cusack, for createdigitalmusic.com

Sarah Williams – Cambridge, MA
http://dusp.mit.edu/faculty/sarah-williams

digitalMatatus (2014)

Mutatus (multi-passenger, fixed-route taxis) popular in Nairobi, Kenya and many other African urban centers

Sarah Williams, director of MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab, engaged with the favored transportation of Nairobi, Kenya: matatus. Matatu (or Matatus) are privately owned minibuses, often decorated vibrantly and play loud music, which offer the only wide-scale transportation needs of inner city Nairobi. Williams, in collaboration with the University of Nairobi, sent out GPS-equipped devices with students to track over 200 matatu routes in the greater area of Niarobi.

A digital map of the many matatu route in Nairobi, Kenya designed by Williams’ team

Upon creation of the digital map, city officials adopted this map as the official matatu map of Nairobi, began a large paper distribution, made it available for download, and have recognized the need for a more-organized public transit. When matatus drivers first saw the map, discussion quickly turned to the creation of new routes where gaps in the map exist. The data collected by Williams and her team has also been added to the Google Maps data base, and can proudly boast it’s inclusion as the first non-formal transit system to be searchable on Google Maps’ direction services.

Sam Auinger + Bruce Odland (O+A) – Berlin/New York
http://www.o-a.info/

Hearing Perspective

O+A’s work has a foundation in discovering a hearing perspective, much like visual perspective, for a culture which has let its sonic awareness wither. With active listening and sonic thinking, this artist team creates large scale, public sound installations as well as gives lectures and workshops worldwide. With the rapid rise of technology/architecture and lack of sonic consideration, there often arises a disparity between what we see and what we hear. Auinger and Odland suggest “we will not understand ourselves until we understand our noise.” Our noise is our culture. Listening is also a perception of present/dynamic powers mediated by past powers, in that active stimuli are reflected and manipulated by our built environments and spaces.

Harmonic Bridge (1998-ongoing)

A sonic intervention near Mass MOCA in North Adams, MA, Harmonic Bridge connects the town and the museum despite the noise of a highway overpass. Resonating tubes placed under strategic parts of the highway bridge take data from the passing traffic and creates ambient chords that color the space that was once frequently unused.