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Sound and Space between Circle and Square

How would you draw the space you're in? (Take paper, pencil and draw it, you will understand what the exercise is about)

Experiencing in the here and now: this life is a perceptive experience.

Dan Graham

Whether we like it or not, we are limited by the way we perceive the space we inhabit. In turn, that space limits and expands the possibilities of relating to the world around us.

To the extent that we experience a space, we perceive it through the dimensions it possesses. The space is taken as an organizational model, a structure in which objects and/or people are arranged and related. From this perspective the space can be presented as occupied or empty.

What it «does» instead of what it «is»

In the text entitled: Perception in Architecture the authors Claudia Perren and Miriam Mlecek analyse the perception of space from a completely different perspective.

The Brothers Grimm, in their 1838 dictionary, offer the intriguing definition of the term Doppelgänger as someone who «can show himself in two places at the same time».

This definition is interesting because it challenges the popular notion of Doppelgänger as «someone who looks exactly like someone else», i.e. a twin or double. Instead of focusing on the physiognomic aspects of Doppelgänger, the dictionary entry by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm proposes a topological definition that speaks of a person who is present and seen in two different ways simultaneously.

Claudia Perren y Miriam Mlecek

The Own Perception of Space

If we continue with the term Doppelgänger to analyze how we relate to space, we will find that we are that «someone who can show himself in two places at the same time».

Let’s think about a subway/subway ride. We find ourselves waiting for the car to stop. At that moment we could say that we are «inside the space» of the station, while someone who is «inside the car» could think that we are «outside the space» of the car.

What determines a space is our perception.

How did you draw the space you are in?

  • Have you drawn that space in a round/circular shape or have you drawn it in a square/rectangular shape?
  • Why do you think you perceive space that way?
  • What information is most relevant to your analysis? Light? Sound? The physical dimensions of space?
  • In a strictly geometric sense, could you say that space is really round/circular or square/rectangular?

Some of the readers of this article probably drew a circular space while others chose square or rectangular geometries to describe the space they are in. A few others will draw a triangular or rhomboid space.

Photo by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) known to be the assistant of the photographers Man Ray and Eugène Atget.

The Influences We Don’t Know

There is a predisposition to perceive space in a certain way that is given by our culture.
Music, theatre and public speeches have influenced and been influenced by the acoustics and architecture of the spaces where their performances have taken place.

Wallace Clement Sabine (1868-1891), a pioneer in architectural acoustic engineering, considered that the difference in the forms of evolution of rhythm in music and dance between the first African and European civilizations was due to the differences between the spaces they inhabited.

In Africa, life took place in the open air, where the meeting places were concentric – for example around the fire, a speaker or a singer – so the development of listening, singing and speeches was semicircular. A group of voices was placed in a circle and the audience was placed in a semi-circle in front of the singers. In this way the form of semi-circular listening developed naturally, as people chose the places where they could hear best.

In Europe, due to climatic conditions, prehistoric tribes sought refuge in caves and later, Europeans built larger and larger temples and churches where sound took on another dimension and where the listener only had to enter an enclosed space. This is how Gregorian chant emerged: from the architectural and acoustic characteristics of the Gothic cathedrals.

Is it a circle or a square?

Let’s take up the concept of «Doppelgänger» as someone or something that can be shown in two places at the same time.

If we think of the space in which we find ourselves as an acoustic space (not only as a physical architectural space) we will notice that it is very difficult for us to dimension it since, on the one hand, the sounds that we perceive are not contained in a single space. On the other hand, we perceive these sounds with the baggage of semi-circular listening that our culture gives us: think of the amphitheatres, theatres, stadiums, etc. In addition to this, the architectural development of the spaces.

Let’s go back to our drawing. At first we could have drawn a square in which there is a circle inside, in which there is a square inside, in which there is a circle inside and so on.

Finally, life is made up of one or more perceptive experiences.


Author: Sol Rezza
Editor | Corrector: Franco Falistoco
@ 2019

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