Sound as art

Sound as art


There are several forms of art. Sound is definitely one of them. In my graduation year, studied interior architecture, I wrote a thesis about sound. It was called ‘De stem van het gebouw’, translated as ‘The voice of the building’. I experience sound like something wonderful, mesmerizing and strange at the same time.



I did research to sound, what the influence of sound is on us and how we can use it to make a room/ space feel better. With the research question ‘A sound plan, a meaningful contribution to architecture?’ I gave arguments for the application of a sound plan within architecture and an explanation of how to do this. Which I substantiate with factual and philosophical proof why it is of great value for the user.


In the introduction of my thesis I write:

‘If you state that everything that is in a room belongs to the interior, then I do not only mean the inside shape of the room and the furniture, but also the sound, smell and light. If that were not the case, you could take away all the light in a room and then experience the room the same way. Or play a sharp tone without affecting how you feel about that space.’

I will not write my whole thesis here but this sentence above explains for me how important sound is and how it influences our feeling.

I write about the option of getting some annoying sounds out of architecture and adding some new sounds, this in different ways. Whereby it’s good to say: I’m not talking about music.
Sounds made by the users of the room, opening/closing doors can be manipulated by using different materials in that room. So you can make the room sound bigger than it is. Or we can add real sounds thinking of the sound you have while having your house standing next to a park, like bird whistling outside. So next to our exterior design, our interior design, the light plan, we now add the sound plan for our building.


I also did some research about ‘sound and blind people’, because they get a lot more information from sound than most people do. We also get information from sound, like a beeb when the dishwasher is ready. Or another example is the vacuum cleaner, it sounds different when the bag is full. But for the blind, it even tells them where the wall ends, if the room they are in is a big space or rather small. We normally do not realize that sound has so much to tell.

What the next quote also says, sound tells us way more in one moment than sight does.


‘Sight isolates, whereas sound incorporates;
 vision is directional, whereas sound is omnidirectional.’

– Juhani Pallasmaa


I end my thesis with a conclusion about adding and manipulation sound in architecture. A part of this conclusion I will write here;

‘Apart from the fact that sound in itself can be very strongly determining the atmosphere, it is above all the combination of the different perceptions that make an experience intense and give the feeling that something is really complete, that the whole design is right.’

‘Adapting, adding or removing sound can strongly influence people and change the experience. The different relationships that exist between sound and space offer many positive possibilities for architecture, which can be further discovered and shaped.
Sound is a large playing field that we can easily shape and steer towards the atmosphere and the feeling that we want to achieve.
In any case, sound influences the space and the experience of the visitor in this space. The big variation in which sound is or can be present in a room makes it necessary to design it in a good plan; what role do we want these sounds to play. As an (interior) architect, we cannot afford to leave this aspect to chance.’


Sound artist

I went to a lecture from the sound artist, Cilia Erens. She told us a lot about sound and how she turns it into art. She is mainly fascinated by the daily sound, not especially music.
Erens does not look at where the sounds come from but only listens. I find this a very interesting phenomenon because I always tend to look for the source of the sound: where does it come from, what makes the sound?

I learned that sound can also be space. That you can hear the space. You hear on what kind of material you are walking, how far away the walls are etc. Only by hearing the sound you already know a lot about the space. Even if you don’t know that you know.
Erens makes different kinds of art with sound, for example sound walks, and we had the privilege to experience one.
The actual environmental factors were banned. With an eye mask and headphones on I was listening to this piece of art.

The sounds that came out of the headphone were in 3D, it sounded like the sound came from different directions, like how you normally would hear street sounds. That was very intense and also a little frightening. The sound was of a circular walk through China, from an extremely busy city to a small neighbourhood.

I was there, I was really there! Felt myself walking there and experienced it completely. I had disappeared from the here and now. Or rather, I had another here and now. First I heard the sounds of the greatness of a metropolis, sounds of transport and hasty life. Slowly I leave the sounds of the city behind me and I walk into a smaller neighborhood. The sounds of the cars disappear into the background. Suddenly a man shouts loudly from behind, I’m shocked.
I hear people walking and talking around me. The streets become cramped alleys. I not only hear this, but I really feel it. That’s how enormously I experience it. At some point I noticed that even my legs started to move on my chair, they thought they are walking.

This is how you experience sound as a human being.


My ‘obsession’ with sound

I am quite sensitive for sounds, sometimes a little bit of sound can be too much for me. But I also do love sounds. For example in Lisbon if you walk from the city centre to Belém you walk under the bridge, Ponte 25 de Abril, and the sound that it gives is amazing. For me, it’s like the noise my thoughts make the whole time but then as an external zoom sound. It also sounds like a big swarm of bees behind me. I don’t know why but this sound makes me happy, it makes me calm (not if it were really bees). Maybe because it represents this big world where everything goes fast and I can decide to sit still and listen to it.


More often there are moments I can truly and deeply get happy from sounds. Ones I was getting of the train and walking under some stairs with a lot of other people to go to the exit. This gave a weird hollow sound. I loved it.


It are more those daily sounds, not music, not temporarily short sounds, but those ongoing sounds that make me wonder.

One time on the beach on the background I heard this cosy fire burning, I heard the crackling of the fire, it made the whole beach moment perfect. Sunset, beach, the sound of the waves and the fire. But then my brain took over and was curious where this fire sound came from. It was not a fire at all, it was a string on the flagpole that was making a noise while it was hitting the flagpole in the wind.


Do you know…?

… that they did research about sound and the influences on us and they found out that if they play German music in supermarkets that more people will buy German beer or when they play French music more people will buy French wine.

… that the rings of Saturn also make a sound? It is quite calming and I know some people that use this sound when trying to fall asleep.

… that there are people that are the opposite of me, they hate sound. It is called misophony, literally ‘hatred of sound’. They have an extreme disgust, horror, hatred or anger with certain “normal” sounds, often sounds that people make, like breathing or eating sounds.

… there are sounds that even I don’t like; There is a part in our brain, the amygdala, that plays a central role in processing disgusting stimuli and regulation of anxiety. We associate high tunes such as scratching and screaming with danger. Especially sounds with frequencies between 2000 and 5000 Hertz are very unpleasant. So that’s why a lot of people don’t like the sound of scratching your nails over the chalkboard.


So I think sound is very important in our lives, it gives information, can change our emotions and has clearly a big influence on us.
Besides that, I think in every above discussed way you can see ‘managed sound’ as a form of art. The sound-art itself made by an artist, the art of how we can influence people with sound, and a sound plan in architecture is also a form of art.


Last but not least, sleeping sounds

If there is one sound I really hate it is snoring. The annoying fact about it is, people don’t do it on purpose, mostly they are not even aware of it.
But when I am sleeping in a hostel and my pillow starts to vibrate again because there is someone snoring so loud in the room then I know it again; I hate this kind of sound.


Thesis 'de stem van het gebouw'


Intrigued? You want to know more about sound, about how sounds work on our emotions, about sound in architecture or just interested what I write more in my thesis.


Buy ‘De stem van het gebouw’ now! – as e-book

(at the moment only in Dutch, I will try to get it in English as soon as possible. If you want to have it in English please do contact me so I know how much demand there is.)

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Email me at the contact page with the subject ‘Thesis e-book’.

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