Monday, 12 March 2012

Acoustic Territories by Brandon LaBelle

In 2010, a book by Brandon LaBelle entitled Acoustic Territories was published by Continuum Press. The book explores the idea of how sounds demarcate different kinds of territories or spaces, and considers sounds in terms of social relationships and the architecture of modern, Western society.

Although the Sonic Wallpaper pieces will be presented in public contexts, the idea ultimately is that they will relate to and be about domestic space and the domestic practice of home decorating. Interviewees have mostly discussed wallpapers in relation to rooms inside the home; and one theme which is important to MoDA includes "the design and decoration of ‘ordinary’ homes of the early and mid-twentieth century". Therefore, for the purposes of thinking about Sonic Wallpaper I am most interested here in the chapter in LaBelle's book which deals with the soundscape of the home and I have developed a worksheet for our learning resources page which explores both his texts and my own ideas pertaining to the relationships between domestic space and sound.

The section of LaBelle's discussion which is most pertinent to the Sonic Wallpaper project contains his thoughts on the roles of home-decorating and sound in constructing the "psychic centre" that constitutes "home" for most of us [italics mine]:

Against the growing metropolis, and the intensities of modern labour, the home became a place for alternative productions, outside or against the modern commodity - a place for re-establishing a psychic centre. Domestic space became a haven, refined through object collecting, interior design, furnishing, and a general spatial ordering that might renew a feeling for the material world...

...The home is an activity in continual development that brings many important pleasures and comforts as well as difficult labours. What it aims for is regulated by the notion or image of the individual or family unit, and the expression of values therein. In this way the home gains identity by reflecting back to those who occupy its spaces a set of meaningful expressions. Designing the home then is immediately reflective of needs that are physical as well as psychological and emotional. Such perspective carries within it a sense for auditory clarity, where order is equated with quiet, and the maintenance of domestic life with audible regulation. To come home is to seek refuge, however consciously, from the uncontrollable flows of noise and the harangue of the exterior.

- Brandon LaBelle, Acoustic Territories, 2010

LaBelle goes on then to talk about what he terms the "aural warmth" which we associate with the home and its aura of safety and protection, and points out that not only is home "where the heart is" but also "where the ear is".

LaBelle's description of the emotional needs served by the home are very easy to relate to the interviews which I conducted exploring responses to wallpaper. Participants in the project made many observations based on how wallpaper would shape the feeling of a room - reflecting LaBelle's assertion that we organise our domestic space in order to instate "a set of meaningful expressions" which literally make us feel "at home".

I am very interested in LaBelle's observation that order and retreat are associated sonically with quiet, and in terms of finding where the ear and the heart are in the home, I wonder how this idea will shape the development of Sonic Wallpaper?

Thinking back to my last post - about the sounds at the Dentist's - you may remember that in the end, it was the quiet, ambient recording of the atmosphere inside the practice which I preferred most in the context of creating sonic wallpaper? I want to evoke, imaginatively, the rooms and worlds which were conjured by interviewees when they looked at the wallpaper collection at MoDA, but I also want to work in a way which is sensitive to the ideas about society and place which LaBelle outlines in his book.

I think there needs to be a certain quietness and length to the sonic wallpaper pieces; that as well as conjuring up many different kinds of rooms and interiors, the compositions will also have to consider the sonic context of the home. Could most of us live with the sound of an ultrasonic descaler whirring away against human teeth? However interesting that sound is? Yes? No? Maybe? Or are the subtler sounds which we associate with boredom, waiting, and contemplation more appropriate both in terms of the sonic needs of domestic space, and the quietitude of wallpaper itself?

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