Sound enhances the way we perceive and understand space. In the city it does this by connecting the realm of public space to the private and intimate space of our minds. Sound gives any space, interior or exterior, its identity and is an important navigation and orientation tool.
Yet actually identifying a space aurally is difficult, especially in busy cityscapes where incessant noise erases and blurs the traces of other sounds. This, however, was the first task the participants of contemporary music and art promoter Sound and Music’s Ways of Hearing project were asked to carry out. This was the inaugural workshop that kick-started a national programme of sound exploration and research.
In all, 36 sound artists, acousticians, designers, policy-makers and researchers took part, grouped in three distinct research city hubs: Bristol, London and Leeds. As well as bringing together these professionals to explore the relationship between sound and built environment, Ways of Hearing aims to help individual practices with a specific interest to develop new design approaches, processes and innovations in sound.
The Ways of Hearing project can be defined as an experimental platform aiming to provoke new research and creative ideas combined with sound technologies. It also focuses on the cross-disciplinary intersection between sound, architecture and the arts. It was co-produced by MAAP (Media and Arts Partnership) a Leeds based public art consultancy directed by Sue Ball that played a crucial role on structuring the methodology of the programme and the selection of participant artist. This was coordinated with John Kieffer and Richard Whitelow from Sound and Music. The name Ways of Hearing came from a workshop that MAAP initiated in 2005 with American sound artist Bill Fontana.
As part of broadening the spectrum of sound exploration and creative investigation on a national scale, Sound and Music invited Arup and Blueprint to be project partners for Ways of Hearing. It also established a substantial network of local partners including Opera North and Lumen in Leeds, Musarc in London, and Arnolfini and the Architecture Centre in Bristol.
After the initial two-day workshops, which were run by a core group of practitioners brought in by Sound and Music to support each city group, participants had a week to finalise and submit their research proposals. They then had a further eight weeks to work on their projects.
Although the workshops were designed for experimentation and work-in-progress research, some projects reached completion during the process, while others continue to develop.
In the November issue we take a look at five specific research projects from the Ways of Hearing, which illustrate the wide spectrum of theoretical enquiry and practical creative research engendered.