Jean-Francois Augoyard & Henry Torgue – Sonic Experience
In a word: this book is very rewarding reading: loaded with indepth theory and surprising new concepts about the classification of sound phenomena, it took 10 years to translate this work into english. Nothing for someone new to philosophical considerations about music, sound and noise, nevertheless the best summary in this area I know so far. I will give a little introduction to the thinking, but will come back to the book in later posts because there are so many ideas to start from that I can just scrape the surface of this research.
This multidisciplinary work focusses on the soundscape of urban live and attempts to analyse precisely the acoustic properties of all possible sonic effects in this surrounding. The first important thesis is that „no sound event, musical of otherwise, can be isolated from the spatial and temporal conditions of its physical signal propagation. Sound is always shaped subjectively, depending on the auditory capacity, the attitude, and the psychology and culture of the listener. There is no universal approach to listening: every individual, every group, every culture listens in its own way.“ In order to examine the sonic instrumentarium of urban environments, older theories do not realy meet the expectations of the authors. Namely the theory of the sound or sounding object (l’objet sonore) by Pierre Schaeffer and the concept of soundscape coined by Murray Schafer (funnily the pronunciation of both names is similar, thus it is a reprise in the definition of the book?) lack the applicability to explain and design all perceptible sound forms of the environment, be it noise or music. „The concept of the soundscape seems too broad and blurred, while the sound object seems too elementary (in terms of level of organization). (…) To use a linguistic analogy, the soundscape corresponds to the whole structure of a text, while the sound object corresponds to the first level of composition: words and syntagmas. We are short of descriptive tools to work at an intermediary level, that of sentence grammar or- to leave the linguistic comparison – the level of a code defining possible configurations between the three terms to consider in our observation: acoustical sources, inhabited space, and the linked pair of sound perception and sound action.“
The authors introduce the term „sonic effect“ that was first used in social science to integrate the fields of applied acoustics, architecture (urban planning) and psychoacoustics. In this thinking the environment is split into three terms: „environment“, „milieu“ and „soundscape“ that represent „the given, the interactive and the aesthetic and can be applied to any constructed space. The concept investigates the sonic effect in a specific context, whether it be the interaction between the physical sound environment, the sound milieu of a social-cultural community or the „internal soundscape“ of every individual.
This is quite a paradigm shift in terms of definition and interdisciplinarity, suddenly we can speak about the astonishment a sound effect can have on us, or the spatial propagation of sound in urban spaces and have a glossary of such effects at hands in the form of this book. Halfway between the universal and the singular, simultaneously model and guide, the authors deliver a taxonomy of sonic effects, a repertoire of acoustic phenomena that is distinguished between 16 major effects and 66 minor effects. The book can be read in different layers, depending on the interest and focus of the reader, the major effects are described from the perspectives of physics and applied acoustics, architecture, physiology of perception, sociology, musical and textual aesthetics and expressions. Not for the non-initiated and apart from some typographical errors the reading is inspiring for everybody working in the general area of sound. The authors aim to rehabilitate the auditory sensitivity is certainly sharpened through this work and the question is why it took so long to make this groundbreaking text known to the english speaking world.