Beaconing: when a system offers information to users
Puddling: when sonic information is contained within, and only within, a distance appropriate to those who need the information
Information Equivalency: information in different forms (visual, tactile, sonic) remain distinct from each other, yet allow equal access to information
The most important concept gathered from this workshop was how many people depend on ambient sounds of public transport for their spatial models of public space. Previous art installations that promote dramatic changes in sonic consumption are often at odds with accessibility-needs of certain patrons.
To first understand how perception of sound and memory of that sound, our team began to take walks around the Northeastern University area, near Ruggles Station. We then traced our path on an aerial map and recounted when we remember certain sounds sources being perceivable and which weren’t.
We then took a survey of patrons currently inside and sonically-removed from Ruggles Station and asked them what they heard:
Interesting to note that people inside Ruggles Station only picture themselves near the transportation they arrive to the station on most frequently. However, we only interview people in the passageway, of which most of our sound experiments with Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger took place. People are able to hear a variety of sounds in Ruggles, yet they aren’t committed to memory as easily as the sounds of transportation devices.
Further, we continued our introspection studies to draw what we called a “sonic chamber” or the perceived volume of space that a sound is contained within. Over top of our spatial mental model of Ruggles, each of us drew chambers for different sound sources we remembered from our day prior in Ruggles. The result is a perspective of space that is created by perception of sound.
The overlap and lack of overlap allowed us to analyze space in a way that permitted sonic interventions that would not interrupt accessibility needs of those patrons who depend on sonic stimuli.
Tasked with returning to South Station, the following observations were made in light of an essay by urban media designer, Martijn de Waal (of The Mobile City) entitled The City as Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City.
In the essay, de Waal specifies some public space as part of the “urban public sphere,” namely any accessible place where people of various background can potentially meet. In certain aspects, successful public spaces are designed around the identities that weave though the space on a daily basis. A modern urban public are the inhabitants of this public sphere which share a common goal or action (such as transportation in a train station). American sociologist Lyn Lofland introduced a third classification of space (besides public and private): that of the “parochial” domain. A parochial sphere consists of a common group of people that share a sense of commonality despite having a publicly accessible location. Examples include a Turkish hooka bar in a Dutch neighborhood, a gay bar, a bench in a public park where teenagers commonly gather. The ubiquitous nature of personal cellular-run interfaces (phones, laptops, tablets) permits an interlocked analysis of public, parochial and private spaces. These observations try to take in consideration of these three classifications.
Patrons were observed in different zones of the South Station atrium/food court. For the course of three minutes, actions despite walking, were tallied. Included were (phone activity, talking, looking up at ads and way-finding, using the restroom, eating, etc). Actions were then classified into adding to the public domain or participating in a parochial/private domain (since often times it’s difficult to classify which one an individual is participating in).
These are the tallies/raw data from my 3 minute observations about the Atrium:
The concentric circle diagrams are the first steps in my algorithm to determine a network diagram at the perspective of an individual in South Station. My assumption: A patron of South Station will be drawn to areas in which other people are behaving similarly (headphones on, or looking for way-finding, or eating, etc.). My network diagram takes into account which zones are physically accessible to each other (clear pathways) and how much sonic or visual activity is perceivable from his/her vantage point.
The top image is the network diagram with the centers of each zone at their physical distances from each other. The circular chart on the left describes the journey of one individual through South Station in terms of talking on a mobile, looking up at way-finding, and having headphones on. The blue wedge and outlined zone #7 shows where in time and space (respetively) the individual’s perspective is currently. The size of the node represents how many people inhabit that zone on average. The saturation of the node represents how many people are conducting similar actions as the current user’s perspective. The length of the connection represents the potential of the user perceiving ambient information (sonic and visual) in his current perspective.
In this way, space is not a simple function of x-, y- and z-displacement; it is a dynamic system of goal-seeking, resource-exhausting, information-filtering agents which happen to be navigating four dimensions. And when these motivations act on a subject, it is not accurate to plot navigation of a public space in two dimensions.
For the Sonic Commons project, students should analyze a sonic phenomena from observations and experiences in the space at Ruggles Station.
“What does it mean to explore a phenomenon? An explanation is never the phenomenon itself, but only a refracted image of it, like looking at a scene through a prism.” — Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter, in Spaces speak, are you listening? : experiencing aural architecture
While visiting the site, we passed an escalator that connected the domed tunnel passageway and the below-ground bus bay (seen on the right side of the station in the picture above). This escalator, operating normally, emitted a distinct tone from some part of the motor, I’m assuming. While not a pure tone, it was an observable standing wave amongst the clamor of socialization and transit. After experiencing the area outside the station and coming back to the same place, I could hear the escalator’s unique standing wave from a greater distance and with more clarity, despite the dynamic sonic environment attempting to mask it. This lead to a fascination with a psychological understanding of sonic memory and it’s relation to architecture.
Psychology of Sonic Sensation, Perception, and Memory
Human Memory (2003), 2nd Ed. Ian Neath & Aimée M. Surprenant
Chapter 4: Working Memory
Working Memory Model: A Central Executive function controls attention (voluntary processing of stimuli), learning, and retrieval functions.
Phonological Loop: Back and forth between Phonological Store and Articulatory Control Process.
Phonological Store: Short-term aural memory, said to only keep information for ~2 seconds without rehearsal
Articulatory Control Process: A repetition or refreshing process that rehearses/refreshes phonological store
Episodic Buffer: A theoretical addition to the Working Memory model; a system that may utilize multiple sensory inputs to support learning and recall.
theorized to help create hierarchy and meaningfulness in stimuli perception and memory recall
Chapter 5: Perspectives on Processing
Context-Dependent Memory: Recall of long-term memory occurs more accurately when context of rehearsal matches context of recall.
Context can be any environmental factor (light, volume, location) or additional stimuli.
State-/Mood-Dependent Memory: matching states (pharmological, stress) or matching moods both support accuracy in recall of long-term memory.
Chapter 12: Reconstructive Processes in Memory
Schema: an organized knowledge structure that reflects an individuals knowledge, experience and expectations about some aspect of the world. These are parts that define schemas:
Schemas represent experiential knowledge, and are dynamic with additional experiences.
Schemas can represent multiple knowledge levels, from concrete objects to complex social situations
Schemas can be nested and/or related, such as a schema about ice cream within a schema about commercial transactions (to buy ice cream)
Schemas information is very general, so they also have variables. A coffee schema temperature variable is usually hot, but it is not uncommon to experience iced coffee.
Sensation and Perception (2010), 8th ed. E. Bruce Goldstein
Chapter 11: The Sound Stimulus
sound can have two definitions: a physical definition of sound is a pressure change in a medium; a perceptual definition of an experience when hearing stimuli
Sound as Pressure Changes
A movement of a speaker’s diaphragm causes rapid changes in volume. Outward motion pushes air together (higher pressure, or condensation); inward motion creates new space for air molecules to spread to (lower pressure, or rarefaction).
It’s the systems of pressure that move away from the speakers, not the air particles themselves
A Decibel (dB) describes a physical measure of sound; Loudness describes a physiological sensation of sound. Loudness is a combination of both pressure changes and frequency.
Pitch (perceptual ranking of sound on a musical scale) is closely related to a wave’s frequency.
Timbre (or quality of sound) depends on relative strength of harmonics (various pure tones that overlap in a complex tone) as well as attack/decay of sound.
Aperiodic tones, those that do not repeat pressure changes (unlike musical tones), are even more complex yet.
Central Auditory Process in Brain
More areas of your brain are activated by aperiodic complex sounds than by pure tones, suggesting different areas of the brain aid in perception of different qualities of sound (decay rate, pitch, frequency, etc).
Different neuron pathways are activated depending on the perceptual usage of sound (what pathway identifying sounds is a separate neuron chain from where pathway spatially locating sound).
The Auditory Cortex is Shaped By Experience
Training of any kind (music, active listening, etc) can shape neuron connectivity within brain in two ways: formation of more connections, and more sensitive connections. Musicians use more of auditory cortex to perceive piano notes than non-musicians. Effects can be seen in as few as seven “learning” encounters with a stimuli of choice.
Chapter 12: Sound Localization and Auditory Scene
Auditory Localization: perceiving objects that emit sound at different spatial locations
Auditory Space: the perception of volume/space/architecture from sound information
Three dimensions of sound localization
azimuth: left/right sound dichotomy
elevation: up/down sound dichotomy
distance: near/far sound dichotomy
The cochlea (inner ear location of sound receptors) transmits information on pitch and timbre; localization requires location cues from sound interacting with the head and ears.
Inter-aural Time Difference: time differs for sound to reach each ear (unless directly in front or behind listener). Helpful for low-frequency sound localization.
Inter-aural Level Difference: Head acts like a buffer and pressure perceived differently in each ear. Helpful for high-frequency sound localization. (See diagram)
ITD and ILD still create a cone of confusion, or localization ambiguity, for the elevation dimension of sound. Monaural cues help establish elevation.
The shape of your pinna and ear canal (outer ear) reflect sound (and thus change frequency of stimuli) in unique ways depending on elevation.
Perceptual Organization of Sound
Auditory Scene Analysis: Separating perceptions of stimuli into being emitted by unique sources
Auditory Grouping: Peceptual organizing of sounds based on similarity or distinctiveness or dynamically of location, timbre, pitch, etc
Experience and memory can shape perception. If a melody is split between various octaves, those with a familiarity of the melody can still pick it out.
Sound and Architecture
Spaces speak, are you listening? : experiencing aural architecture by Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter
1 Introduction to Aural Architecture
acoustical awareness is a skill everyone possesses, but often isn’t aware of it’s role in our lives
when we clap our hands (sonic event) a wall reflects an echo (passive acoustic object, the wall)
The distance to the wall determines the delay for the arrival of the echo, the area of the wall determines the intensity, and the material of the wall’s surface determines the frequency content. These physical facts relate only indirectly to perception. Our auditory cortex converts these physical attributes into perceptual cues, which we then use to synthesize an experience of the external world.
architecture can cue emotions, associations or social meaning
like dampening drapes for a reading room, or marble floors in a lobby for announcing arrival of guests
sensory anthropology studies how sense-usage results in meaning of perceptions across cultures and despite biology
aural architects focus on the space changing the physical properties of sound waves; acoustic architect focus on the way that listeners experience the space (subjective, dynamic).
it is for this reason that aural architects are often not people, but sociocultural forces influencing design and perception
Aural experiences are fleeting
Language for describing sound is weak and inadequate
Modern culture places little value on the importance of hearing/art of auditory awareness
Aural architecture is not generally recognized in intellectual inquiries, nor taught in academia
“ When fused together into a single concept, however, the marriage of aural architecture and auditory spatial awareness provides a way to explore our aural connection to the spaces built by humans and to those provided us by nature.”
Within my research, I discovered that publications that connect sound and architecture are few and far in between. The two types of buildings that have information concerning their intersection are auditoriums for concerts and churches. Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter suggest that churches are constructed to permit sonic reflection and resonance to symbolically reference a higher power.
For the purposes of my research, I continued to treat the sonic phenomena from religious architecture as a explanation of the space, and to further study how sonic phenomena gives rise to the programming of the space. Below is a concept map connecting sound to religion.
From a variety of academic, philosophical, theological and fact-weary sources, I discovered many religions describe their higher power(s) in a sonic capacity, and some even constrict or ban its visual imagery. Similarly, science (if that is your religion) begins to have difficulty identifying the building blocks of the universe. Many phenomena are not physically observable, but it is changes from one state to another let us know things/matter exists. And after all, sound is by definition changes in pressure.
My research suggests the following be taken into account when developing a sonic understanding of architecture:
What makes an architectural space religious, sonically?
Is Ruggles Station a sonically religious space, and if so, what are the tenants of its religion?
Does architectural space dictate acoustic phenomena or does acoustic phenomena give rise to our perception of architectural space?
To gain a better understanding of sonic information processing within architectural spaces, my data collection methodology will begin with interviews. Subjects will be divided into two groups: (1) active stimuli experience, or those sonically near Ruggles Station and (2) reconstructed stimuli experience, or those sonically removed from Ruggles Station.
From there, the subject matter brought up by both groups will be explored with binaural microphone recordings of Ruggles Station. Discrepancies between sonic information and location of listening (or reconstructing sonic memory) will be the focus of my analyzation.
After two assignments considering the mapping of South Station, this capstone project is both a summary of research and critique of mapping methodology.
The first visualization observes activity of patrons of South Station in the ticketing and food court atrium. Dots are placed on a plan view of the atrium to show different activity by location. While this visual is helpful to show where different types of activity occur, it is often easily observable: food transactions happen close to food kiosks, etc.
The second iteration of our data concerned perspective mapping. This visualization takes into account a specific user, and to what degree the public sphere can add to his/her experience in Station. The traditional plan view is colored by areas of unique programming. From there a distortion map is created for a user that favors way-finding, noise, visual distractions, and other patrons doing similar actions. While the distortion method is not programmed to be dynamic or algorithmically precise, a series of these maps could help show areas that most alter or add to the urban public sphere.
The third iteration creates a network diagram out of the plan view, considering that area is irrelevant in programming. Programming zones are replaced by nodes, that vary in size by the average population that inhabit those spaces. Connections between nodes are shortened and lengthened according to the similarity of adjacent spaces and strength of their sonic and visual stimuli from the user’s perspective (outlined in blue) and detailed in the circular narrative (blue wedge).
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
wayfinding for the blind
audible countdowns for the trains arriving next
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.
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”
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)
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
For the 3 Trips Assignment, we must design a map/diagram which documents the route of three trips: (1) from our local living space to Northeastern, (2) from our childhood home to our local living space, and (3) from Boston to an overseas destination. Each of these trips must be shown simultaneously (one document or pamphlet) and descriptions should not be favored over visual representation.
For this assignment I labeled the trips: Local, Continental, International (respectively). These trips are from specific address to specific address, including the transportation methods employed as if the trip was happening today. My local trip uses the subway from apartment to studio space in Boston, a commute. My continental trip uses car (both personal and über services) and airplane from Dayton, Ohio to Boston. My international trip uses a combination of walking, bus, subway and airplane (including layover in Paris) to go from Boston to the Franz Kafka Monument in Prague, Czech Republic.
Modeled after ØString’s “Roadtrip 2009”
Circular element representing time overlays a geographical route. Icons surround the circular element to represent landmarks. The routes in proportion to each other’s time arranged for comparison on bottom.
Modeled after Boyack + Klavans + Paley’s “Relationships Among Scientific Paradigms”
A non-euclidean, spherical map of the northern hemisphere shows all three routes in their entirety; callouts zoom in on the parts of the map that aren’t flight related (Dayton, Boston, Prague). Lines connect various parts of the map and routes: connects can form from a multitude of realms, such as emotional, geographical, historical, environmental, social, etc. Along the outside of the globe, time/distance are measured in proportional radians. Callouts help describe historical, natural, or environmental landmarks.
Based of Felton’s “Feltron Atlas 2008”
Each route will exist on a series of foldable equilateral triangles that allow viewers to see each trip in an “overview” mode (where the entire route is visible) or in “detail” mode (where the beginning and ends of route are detailed/zoomed in on). The colored in flaps in the third picure show where the extra variables will be (historical context, temperature, total time, etc). The mechanics are only worked out for the first two routes.