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Aural Multiplicities

Aural Multiplicities – How sound engenders space and electronic technologies transform it.

Sound is a bodily phenomenon by nature, and thus always spatial. It can be understood as a function of change of the physical world over time. It is a spatially determined, but also spatially determining force: spatially determined because it is formed and directed by the physical configuration of our material world; spatially determining because sound itself can change the state of our world: viewed from the perspective of physics it can set matter into vibration and ultimately effectuate movement. Psychologically it can exert influence on us humans in a variety of ways, can guide us and affect our actions. It touches us, and we can touch through it. Thus it represents a bodily connection to the world around us.

With this thesis I want to make the case that sound itself is able to engender space. Our physical environment is also an acoustic one, in which we are both transmitter and receiver. Thus exists an aural feedback loop between us and our surroundings. Electronic „modifiers“ that change our sensory perception of the world have penetrated various spheres of our personal and social space for a long time now. Immersion in such an „altered“ space is not just presupposed by the credibility of the modifications that take place, but just as much by the capacity of the new space to react to us. We ourselves must become modifiers of this altered space, just as we are modifiers of our physical world.

By establishing an aural feedback loop between us and these new spaces (akin to the one between us and the traditional physical world) the virtual alterations that are confined to our sensory perception can become an actual alteration. With today’s technological capabilities it is often impossible to deduct from the sound-waves of an auditory event if they originate in a simulation, a recording or an actual physical event. In either case they can touch us, guide us and affect our actions. The effect will be the same, and will entail emotional, intellectual and finally physical consequences, when the individual starts to behave under the influence of the new spatiality. Space is expanded and altered. The immediacy of hearing brings about that we can not elude it.

Part 1 of the written thesis treats the theoretical basis for an art project that was conducted in the course of this thesis and which is documented in part 2. Chapter 1.1 explains the physical basics of sound and the perceptual workings of human spatial hearing. Chapter 1.2 investigates the previous attempts of scholars of social science to describe our spatial acoustic environment. Chapter 1.3 builds upon this fundament and elaborates how our material world shapes the sounds it contains, and vice versa, how sound itself shapes our spatial environment through physical, emotional and social means. Finally Chapter 1.4 sheds light on the possibilities and consequences of an electronically modified aural space.

Part 2 describes the project “Sonic Manifolds”, which was conceived of the knowledge documented in part 1. It attempts to create aural spaces by means of a self-designed computer-controlled sound installation. By establishing a feedback loop between the physical Here and the artificial There virtual space becomes physically palpable for visitors. Since the visitor’s movements in the actual space receive an answer in the artificial simulation true aural immersion can take place. Dynamics and contrast are the defining elements of this environment, and movement and pause are the means to explore it. The ear is the organ that leads us. Through the interplay between diverse collocations and discontinuities in the configuration of the virtual space the core of what constitutes aural space shall be approximated.

Aural Multipicities at the website of TU Vienna.