Experimental space

The notion of reverberation is linked to a measurement of the time it takes for a sound to decrease by 6o dB. Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin verb reverberare, meaning “to strike back, to reflect.” In the displacement of a sound from its source to the ear, only a small part of the sound energy travels in the most direct way. A large portion of the sound energy follows indirect paths, as it is reflected on the ground and the environment of the milieu: walls, ceiling, facades. Since these routes are longer, reflected sound energy takes more time than direct energy to reach the ear. This discrepancy is the basis of reverberation. […] The phenomenon that we just described in time can also be characterized in space: if we place a constant-power sound source in a closed or semi-closed space and measure the intensity of the sound source while moving away from it, we can see that the sound normally decreases within a certain distance. Beyond that distance, the intensity does not decrease further. This distance, which depends on the space, is called “critical distance” (CD).”

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Psychology and Physiology of Perception

In everyday practice, reverberation is omnipresent; even if measurements indicate weak physical variations, the correspondent hearing perception may be strong. The he average listener tends to valorize reverberation when he or she becomes aware of it, sometimes having the impression that sounds are interminable. In fact, because of air and material absorbtion, reverberation is always mediated. If reverberation was infinite – if sounds did not fade away and were never absorbed– a single sound would “circulate” constantly and the sound level would increase to infinity, making all communication impossible. Although limited, the reverberation of large spaces such as churches or concrete and glass buildings may illustrate this lack of intelligibility.

On the other hand, in a totally absorbant milieu it is difficult to be aware of space. In an atmosphere of quietness and absecence of sound, our impression quickly becomes unpleasant. We can hear our own heartbeats, and body sounds acquire incredible proportions. These impressions can be experienced in an anechoic chamber (an experimental space in which all reverberation is eliminated): the space seems to be squeezed in on itself, narrow and stifling, even if its physical volume is large.

Blind people listen for subtle variations in the reverberations from the sound of their canes in order to find their way and to detect a wall or an angle they are approaching. From this point of view, large, empty places are unsuitable for good perception of the sonic space. Reverberation frequently plays a role in our perceptions:

  • the perception of the presence of something or someone beside oneself (through the modification of the reverberated field)
  • the feeling of “collectivity” and the sharing of social communication (through the envelope it creates)
  • the propensity toward a narcissistic attitude as a sound mirror in situations of individual sound productions (singing or whistling in a bathroom, for instance).

HELD-Robertas-Trip-1985

Sociology and Everyday Culture

Reverberation is socially perceived as an indication of solemnity and monumentality. It signifies volume and large size. This monumentality can be sensed as functional and inherent to the use of some locations (cathedrals, concert halls) or as unpleasant and residual for others (train station halls, concrete underground parking garages). Reverberation is also perceived in terms of “resonance,” a term referring, in everyday speech, to reverberation in general. Through its architectural representation, reverberation is easily associated with various functions of power (religion, justice).’

In the domain of culture, reverberation is synonymous with a crowd. It is linked to large ritual or solemn gatherings in churches or sacred caves. Reverberation also plays a role in large press conferences, where, paradoxically it reduces the intelligibility of the message. In large spaces, a poor sound system may emphasize the shortcomings of natural reverberation.

Every epoch is characterized by specific types of reverberation linked to specific places, but a history of this effect remains to be written. Even if we consider the example of cathedrals, which are the oldest large enclosed spaces in the West, it is extremely difficult to have a precise idea of the diverse acoustics they contained because of the evolution of interior decorations and arrangements. The original reverberation is still unknown, and would be quite difficult to reconstitute.

Textual and Media Expressions

Reverberation is abundantly used in media expressions: horror and science-fiction films, westerns, and advertisements emphasize the connection of reverberation to large spaces, even if the location is often not adapted to such an effect (desert, interplanetary space). Reverberation can also refer to sociological aspects emphasized in the preceding locations (power, justice).

Augoyard, Jean-Francois & Torgue, Henry, eds. “Reverberation”, Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press. 2005. pp  111- 117.

Image 1: Al Held, Black Nile III, 1971. Via ArtNet

Image 2: Al Held, Roberta’s Trip, 1985. Acrylic on canvas, 243.8 × 365.8 cm. Via Brooklyn Rail

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The numinous dimension

“In keeping with the tendency of science to objectify the natural world, space, the numinous dimension, was gradually stripped of its mythic qualities and made an extension of earthly reality. An atlas of the year 1652 illustrates a halfway point in this process. Peter Heylyn’s World Geography places the moon in the same dimension of reality as the new territories of Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands; alongside them are maps of Utopia and Fairyland. New conquests and colonies fueled dreams of conquering space. In 1638 the Bishop of Chester published a book predicting the inevitable conquest of the moon by some airborne Drake or Columbus; what concerned the author was the pressing need for missionaries able and willing to convert the lunarian heathen. In the same year, and in 1659, popular romances by Francis Godwin and Cyrano de Bergerac described voyages to the moon that included the traditional layover in the Earthly Paradise setting. Instead of Eden, however, the paradisiacal locations were St. Helena’s Island and Canada. The numinous dimension had been thoroughly assimilated to the expansion of colonial empires.

the-moon

“The changing view of space paralleled the cultural transition from the belief in maternal nature to the modern concept of inanimate nature. With the objectification of space, nature is physically appropriated, while its numinous aspect is pushed off the map of a newly rationalized world. (An interesting side effect of all this involves the sense of – time. The numinous dimension was timeless and changeless. But when space became conquerable territory, time was also objectified. History became a charted map of exploration and conquest, while the future was more of the same, an automatic extension of the map of conquest. In other words, if you looked at Peter Heylyn’s map, you saw lands that had already been conquered, history and lands that hadn’t yet but would be, in the future.)”

Myths of The Final Frontier in The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Reality, by Sharona Ben-Tov. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1995. pp 90-91.

Image: FRONTISPIECE: The early modern moon. From Johannes Hevelius, Selenographia: Sive, Lunae descriptio; atque accurata . . . delineatio…. Early Modern Space Travel and the English Man in the Moon

Topology

A hybrid use tower located between Melbourne’s docklands and the city, questions contemporary digital form making through the creation of an evolutionary methodology for design.

highly-evolved1

“This hybrid use tower located between Melbourne’s docklands and the city, questions contemporary digital form making through the creation of an evolutionary methodology for design. The process operates directly on form, the first part generative and a second, morphological. The “starting topologies” are grown from a custom made program called skyScratcher, which necessarily fulfils the programmatic requirements of each building type. Whilst growing, these entities are programmed with desires – Commercial space is attracted to the city side of the building, and hotel and apartment spaces are attracted to optimal views. Their topological complexity is controlled by the speed at which the system grows as well as the strength of their individual cohesion. These “starting topologies” are then inserted into minimal surface energy optimisation software to negotiate their final positions and forms – an ecology of micro interactions produce the macro outcomes, which cannot be drawn or modelled in a conventional way. In this way of making, form is understood as having certain relationships and characteristics but is never explicitly described geometrically. This process offers a way of digitally crafting form through the characteristics, properties and energies of surface; as such surface becomes loaded with ‘intent’. This offers a significant departure from contemporary digital architectural form making, which typically avoids directly operating on form in favour of emergent pattern making. ”

Highly Evolved, 2004, Kokkugia

Glimpses of The Uncanny Valley

“Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori is not exactly a household name—but, for the speculative fiction community at least, he could prove to be an important one. The reason why can be summed up in a simple, strangely elegant phrase that translates into English as “the uncanny valley”.

“Japanese roboticist Doctor Masahiro Mori is not exactly a household name—but, for the speculative fiction community at least, he could prove to be an important one. The reason why can be summed up in a simple, strangely elegant phrase that translates into English as “the uncanny valley”.

“Though originally intended to provide an insight into human psychological reaction to robotic design, the concept expressed by this phrase is equally applicable to interactions with nearly any nonhuman entity. Stated simply, the idea is that if one were to plot emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement, the curve is not a sure, steady upward trend. Instead, there is a peak shortly before one reaches a completely human “look” . . . but then a deep chasm plunges below neutrality into a strongly negative response before rebounding to a second peak where resemblance to humanity is complete.

“This chasm—the uncanny valley of Doctor Mori’s thesis—represents the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting. The first peak, moreover, is where that same individual would see something that is human enough to arouse some empathy, yet at the same time is clearly enough not human to avoid the sense of wrongness. The slope leading up to this first peak is a province of relative emotional detachment—affection, perhaps, but rarely more than that.

uncanny-valley-1jpg

“The figure [in the] diagrams this curve of emotional response, plotting it (from top to bottom) first against how closely an entity’s motion resembles human movement, then against physical resemblance to human appearance, and last against a synthesis of the two. It is significant to note, judging from the relative depth of the curves, that Dr. Mori apparently considers motion more important than simple appearance, though he stresses that both are affected at least as much by subtle nuances as by more striking factors.

“The conclusion drawn by the good doctor is that designers of robots or prosthetics should not strive overly hard to duplicate human appearance, lest some seemingly minor flaw drop the hapless android or cyborg into the uncanny valley—a fate to be dreaded by all concerned. He maintains instead that a prosthesis or a robot should be visibly artificial, but smart and stylish in appearance, placing it somewhere near the top of the first peak. This ethos, incidentally, can be seen clearly in a great many science fiction and fantasy manga and animé stories.

“The same factors that inspired Doctor Mori to research and describe the uncanny valley and the rest of the curve to which it belongs are of immediate concern to any creator of fantasy or science fiction. Aside from the readily apparent potential for careful tailoring of a character’s or species’ “look and feel” to evoke a specific reaction from the audience, there are some perhaps surprising possibilities and consequences…”

Glimpses – The Uncanny Valley

You Are Here

“Geocaching was invented in May 2000, within days of the US Government switching off the security restrictions on global positioning systems that limited the accuracy of civilian receivers. A Portland computer consultant, Dave Ulmer, posted a message online that he had hidden a plastic bucket with software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot in the woods near Portland, says the author of Geocaching For Dummies, Joel McNamara. “He used his GPS receiver to record the latitude and longitude and encouraged others to try to find it,” McNamara says.”

“Geocaching is “a high-tech treasure hunt for adults” – at least, that is the most succinct explanation enthusiasts can offer. A striking mix of the latest network technologies, unregulated gaming and muddy-boots bushwalking, it’s an activity that didn’t exist nine years ago. Now there are about 1 million cachers who participate worldwide, an estimated 13,000 of them in Australia. More get hooked all the time.

“Cachers refer to the wider public – the uninitiated hordes ignorant of their secret missions – as “muggles”, after the non-magic folk in the Harry Potter books. A cache that has been disturbed or trashed is said to have been “muggled”.

“Science writer Darren Osborne, who has been geocaching since mid-2003, says: “When I started, it was very much a clandestine activity. There are a number of people who do like the secrecy of geocaching and want to keep it that way but as more and more people find out about it, it becomes a bit harder to retain that secret squirrel, Get Smart stuff.”

“It’s not really about the treasure hidden inside the caches – typically trinkets from $2 shops or small toys. It’s about finding it. Caches are not buried but they are concealed – in tree trunks, under benches, under stones, sometimes even in fence posts or landmarks.

[…]

“Geocaching was invented in May 2000, within days of the US Government switching off the security restrictions on global positioning systems that limited the accuracy of civilian receivers. A Portland computer consultant, Dave Ulmer, posted a message online that he had hidden a plastic bucket with software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot in the woods near Portland, says the author of Geocaching For Dummies, Joel McNamara. “He used his GPS receiver to record the latitude and longitude and encouraged others to try to find it,” McNamara says.”

Adult Hide and Seek, The Sydney Morning Herald

All is full of love

Bjork, robots… the uncanny.

“Modern concepts of the uncanny can be traced back to two major essays: Wilhelm Jentsch’s, ‘On the Psychology of the Uncanny’ (1906), and Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ (1919). 1919 also saw the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rutherford’s discovery of the proton, the first episode of the constantly re-animated ‘Itchy and Scratchy’(according to the internal history of ‘The Simpsons’) and the Theremin invented by its namesake, making it a good year all round. The ‘uncanny’ derives from the German unheimlich, loosely seen as meaning ‘un homely’. There are many readings and interpretations of the term, but many centre upon the concept of the animation of apparently inanimate objects, and can be applied to technologies including the animated image, the dislocated and disembodied voice when using a mobile phone, and the ‘uncanny valley’ of cybernetic automata.

“However, a base characteristic of the uncanny as argued by both Freud and Jentsch is that it occurs when animate and inanimate objects become confused, when objects behave in a way which imitate life, and thus blur the cultural, psychological and material boundaries between life and death, leading to what Jentsch called ‘Intellectual Uncertainty’- that things appear not to be what they are, and as such our reasoning may need re-structuring to make sense of the phenomenon.

“The simplest and most universal example of this is the reanimation of the dead; ghosts, zombies, poltergeist activity and communication from the ‘other side’ all form part of the psychology of the relationship that the living have towards the dead, and towards their own death. A corpse creates feelings of the uncanny as it is life-like (for it was once alive), and reminds the viewer of his or her own approaching death, the animate imagining the inanimate, and the possibility that the inanimate could be animated again.”

Technology and The Uncanny

You look smashing in that dress

By the year 2050, Levy claims, social attitudes and robotic technologies will have evolved to the point that “humans will fall in love with robots, humans will marry robots, and humans will have sex with robots, all as (what will be regarded as) ‘normal’ extensions of our feelings of love and sexual desire for other humans”

“In 1816, the German Romantic fabulist ETA Hoffmann published his unsettling short story “The Sandman”, in which a moody university student falls in love with and passionately woos a pretty but uncommonly reserved young woman, only to lose his mind and leap to his death when he discovers that she is in fact a cunningly built automaton.

“A century later, when Sigmund Freud wrote his essay on “The Uncanny”, tracing the various ways that corpses, ghosts, coincidences, and other things ambiguously suspended between one order of being and another can provoke unease and alarm, it was no accident that out of all the literary examples he could have chosen from, Freud picked Hoffmann’s “Sandman” for his Exhibit A. It was as true then as it is now: nothing says “creepiness defined” like the prospect of human intimacy with robots.

“This is apparently news to David Levy. Or if it isn’t, don’t look for the evidence in his oddly – very oddly – fascinating new book, Love and Sex With Robots. Levy’s thesis (and it’s precisely that: at the age of 61, after decades as a successful, self-taught expert on computer chess, he submitted this book by way of a dissertation to the University of Maastricht’s computer science department and came away with a PhD) is as straightforward as it is brazen.

“By the year 2050, Levy claims, social attitudes and robotic technologies will have evolved to the point that “humans will fall in love with robots, humans will marry robots, and humans will have sex with robots, all as (what will be regarded as) ‘normal’ extensions of our feelings of love and sexual desire for other humans”.

Want to do the Turing test in bed?