My first year viva…

23/03/2018 - Uncategorized

Starting with intention…

My original abstract read:

Aurality and the modern urban landscape – An exploration of the city as a prime motivator for intermedia analysis

My research explores the notion of place, identity and the sonic representation of urban spaces. It is differentiated from acoustic ecology (R. Murry Schaefer, Barry Truax, Hildegard Westerkamp) and musique anecdotique (Luc Ferrari) in that the sound of the environment itself is not the primary concern within the composition. What is foregrounded is the psychological impression of the built, urban space on the individual. Any sense of what an urban environment is emerges impressionistically through associative and cognitive processes. Architecture and urban landscapes provide visual and aural stimuli that can be discussed through an engagement with aesthetics and an appreciation of the notion of symbolism with particular reference to the semantic understanding of poietics and esthesics. As Nattiez suggests:


…a symbolic form… is not some ‘intermediary’ in a process of ‘communication’ that transmits the meaning intended by the author to the audience; it is instead the result of a complex process of creation (the poietic process) that has to do with the form as well as the content of the work; it is also the point of departure for a complex process of reception (the esthesic process) that reconstructs a ‘message.'”

(Nattiez 1990 – Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music, p.17)

Coupled with any philosophical contextual analysis of the urban landscape, an investigation into the ‘concrete’ sonic and visual worlds and the way that sound interpolates with our perception of the city, is pertinent to understanding any study of the urban aural scape.

Seeds of an idea:

The first ideas for this project came when I was introduced to The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin.

It is a collection of thoughts and writings (by Benjamin and by others) collected in the last decade before he fled the occupational forces in the WWII. He died before it was completed – the work having been translated from his native German into English and published only recently.

There are two things that I particularly love about the work…

I was initially drawn to Benjamins descriptions of the Flaneur…

…drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who made this figure the object of scholarly interest in the 20th century, as an emblematic archetype of urban, modern experience.[1] Following Benjamin, the flâneur has become an important symbol for scholars, artists and writers.

The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.”

— Susan Sontag, On Photography, pg. 55

 Read from A Philosophy of Walking – marked.

My new abstract…

Aurality and the modern urban landscape


Abstract (revised):

My research considers the role architecture and the urban landscape plays in my composition practice – mediated through the presentation of photography and video bounded by the disciplines of sound film, architectural photography and acousmatic composition.

Whilst I travel through an urban space I am often overwhelmed by the anonymity of any particular space – of course there are iconic landmarks that clearly position one in a specific location – for example 30 St. Mary Axe (The Gherkin) in London or the Eiffel Tower in Paris – but, for me, these do not define that place; they are but one of the characters in a list of many that make up a sense of place.

It is this anonymity of place that I find most beguiling. I am surprised that I can be as lost in London – the city where I was born, a place in which I am familiar – as I can be in Beijing or Montreal, where I have recently spent time exploring and making images.

The familiar can be rendered unrecognizable by turning a corner or with the sudden onset of dusk.

As I progress with this project so my aspect has altered. What once defined the work has been replaced. Initially it was the vista, the broad scape of the urban space that inspired my practice. But more and more I am interested in the details – the materials, the textures, the reflections. The way that one building is able to inform the reading of another, it’s materiality, meaning and function, it’s place in history.

My work then is not about replicating the sound of a particular place more a sense of the imagined sound of the ‘stuff’ that constitutes that place and how that ‘stuff’, that material functions. This is both because it is genuinely fascinating and because the material can be engaged with on a more human level. Buildings soar into the sky negating any real engagement – but the material of which it is constructed can be studied, examined and touched. Dissecting the building, deconstructing the constituent parts and examining their unique quality.

So… my most recent thoughts (some (soft) wood in amongst the trees)

I construct music much like buildings are constructed – taking small parts and assembling them within a ‘musical’ framework to create larger structures.

The music I make stands in for the sound of the buildings, music as metaphor for the sound of the materials that make up urban structures. Metaphor, also, for the juxtaposition of the materials that constitute a structure. Structures layered both vertically, one floor above the other and horizontally from one building to the next.

My role here is as documenter, I reveal a filtered reality – the ears and the eyes of the artist is ultimately what informs the work.

Music and sound is used in fictional situations to manoeuvre our emotions, in the service of a narrative, with much skill. The research here is an exploration in the notion of sound and music in the service of the non-narrative, non-fictional situation, using the urban environment as source material.

Some further questions…

Two book titles…

The Charged Void: Architecture

The Charged Void: Urbanism

The charged void of the title refers to architecture’s debt to the space around it.

There was a moment in the past when I began refer to my video work as ‘video music’. I am vague about how this happened and it does much matter.

I much prefer the term ‘sound film’ to refer to the process of combining montage and sound. Taking my cue from Sergei Eisenstein’s statement on sound where he argues that

“…the use of sound to provide an added level of naturalism to the screen will destroy the principles of montage…”

preferring the idea that;

“… only a contrapuntal use of sound in relation to the visual montage piece will afford a new potentiality of montage development and perfection.

Sound, treated as a new montage element (as a factor divorced from the visual image), will inevitably introduce new means of enormous power… “

A STATEMENT ON SOUND (USSR, 1928) Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Grigori Alexandrov

Professor Linda Williams from Southampton University describes the film maker Louis Bunuel, as using sound …”as nonsynchronous counterpoint to the visual image, rather than redundant accompaniment…”


If you have time perhaps talk about some of these:

Some useful words used by architects:

Allegory – using the veneer of one narrative to disguise the meaning of another.

Ambiguity – deliberately cryptic or inexact expression

Anchoring – the physical and metaphysical rooting of a building to the context of its setting.

Articulation – to clearly constitute the parts that constitute the whole

Balance – equivalence of balance can be achieved in two ways: symmetrically (axial balance) and asymmentrically (counterbalance)

Chora – is a concept of an invisible, indeterminate receptacle or place.

Closure – as part of Gestalt theory, where we fill in or optically close incomplete information

Coda – concluding experience of a journey though a building. An entrance experienced in the opposite direction

Complexity – intricacy, elaboration, convolution and multiplicity

Composition – a vehicle for bringing order to chaos

Contrast – scales of which are the essential force in the articulation of ideas

Edge Condition – is a place of tension, of intensification and conflict. forest/field


Elegance – going beyond appearance to the essence of the thing itself

Framing – contain order and systematize their contents

Interaction – dialogue and interchange


Intervention – the impact architecture has on its context

Juxtaposition – the placing of elements side by side to invite an interaction

Layering – the conscious expression of a series of layers of space or materials

Linearity – the dominating directional dynamic, either individual or multiple lines of force

Locus – is the focal point, an exact place

Mediate – resolving programmatic conflict by transforming ‘problems’ into design opportunities

Module – a unit used in construction, ranging from a brick to a space module/pod

Nodes – one of five elements described by Kevin Lynch in his Image of the City: ‘paths’, ‘edges’, ‘districts’, ‘landmarks’ and ‘nodes’. Intersections, concentrations or the clear articulation of a coupling device

Paradox – Architecture is, by necessity, both poetic and pragmatic

Parameters – In architecture: literally a boundary. Parameters are embodied in natural laws, regulations, client expectations and our own lack of imagination in decreasing order of rigour.

Porosity – Discussed by Walter Benjamin when describing city characteristics, such as social, spatial and temporal organization. As one thing permeates another, merging old with new, interior and exterior, and the diffusion of public and private. Urban indeterminism…

Proportion – The relationship of things to each other, or parts of a thing in relation to the whole.

Reciprocity – the state in which the part and the whole define (and re-define) each other.

Punctum – Is a cut or point of incision into an existing formal condition which brings new and often unintended meaning and reorientation in the viewer

Resolved – the state when the identity of the whole of a design is present in its parts, and the parts exhibit a unifying presence in the whole

Rhyme – in architecture the repetition of a similar motif

Rhythm – buildings have been alluded to as ‘frozen music’. Regular or irregular repetition – their variation evoking an image of musical time

Skin – refers to the external façade or outer layer of a building, can also refer to the inner lining to hide or reduce the effect of a crude construction

Spatiality – the void, the nothingness, the ‘in between’ that when bought into existence and given shape by the solids that define its limits becomes invested with its own apparent qualities

Stasis – the dynamic of architecture is driven by the tension between stasis and movement

Symmetry – in its ancient sense, the term meant harmony, not the mirror-like connotations the word holds today

Tactility – refers to a texture that can be experienced both physically and visually

Telos – architecture adapted ‘Telos’ to mean becoming rather than being. Working toward an end rather than the final resolution

Temporality – the ephemeral, the transitory and the evanescent caught up in the moment. The past and present do not denote two temporal segments but two coexisting conditions, the present which continually passes and the past which is also continuous and through which all presents have passed

Threshold – an architectural element with deep social and emotional significance. It acts as a transition zone between outside and inside, as an idea of ‘entering’ a different space

Transition – is a shift from one place, state or condition to another (Transitional space)

Transformation – concerns change in the nature, function or condition of things. It is the name of the architectural game. Converting ideas into representations of themselves giving substance to the abstract and indeterminate – what is designed in 2D space is realized as a 3D structure

Transparency – to reveal underlying structural detail. Often used to create ambiguity rather than clarity.

xyz space – defined by first and third angle projection, plan, section and elevation suspended in a glass box. (point, line, plane and solid). Our eyes have been taught to recognize the third dimension in nature and such learning blindfolds us to other ways of seeing and portraying space. (Donald Kunze)