Sensuality and Proportion
a primer in sound for architects

the city as music - some conceptual tools

This is developed from the seminar at Westminster University and the lecture at Sheffield University, 2000.

The city is
about living together
about the great surplus of power and energy that results from concentration

the city can be viewed as an organism, a whole which is greater than the parts, and which adjusts and quivers constantly in different ways. In the case of London, as with many cities, its reason for existence and prosperity is the river, and the river has its own seasonal and tidal rhythms, its ebbs and flows, it patterns and eddies as it passes through the arches of the bridges, the sounds lapping or rushing waters and the sounds of navigation, the buoys and bells and hoots and whistles. London tames the river, through a series of natural and assisted interventions.


Poised in a balloon on a clear temperate day, above the city. Weightless
as the various individual activities merge into one, at a certain point the city becomes a single organism

city an organism containing sub organisms
city spaces, houses, rooms

civic spaces
connected to each other through sound: sound as a means of understanding the city in an over- visual age

The built form of the city if we could carve it by movement - the built form is non-movement.
Yet this tactile model of habitable space fails to account for the space above our head
the upper air
aural space

it is the information of this invisible medium which fills the space
space is aural

size of sound we can hear
17mm to 17m, the harmonic average is the size from ear to belly.
Not ear/brain sized:
we hear what is relevant to us

Hear with whole body
soles of feet
palms of hands
bones of skull
hairs on the back of the neck
as well as ears

Music about a particular kind of applied and embodied arithmetic: that sense which recognises the oneness, two-ness three-ness of things, that subdivides into halves thirds, quarters and so on and compares these quantities: again a very embodied mathematics: I have two eyes, one head, two legs, five toes, my body is divided into head, body, legs, and so on
and deals with the resonant frequencies of the various bits of the body, fingers, wrist, upper arm, whole arm, torso, and so on

Listening through making sound
lager louts in an Oxford quad - we fill a sound with space as a way of appropriating it
the sound of bells defining the parish:

Soundscape: bells the loudest man made sound before gunpowder
now many small explosions internal combustion engine - very noisy
the notion of protected, humane space

The sound of the city: cities founded on the Greek elements
usually water: London founded on water, connected geographically, economic prosperity through water
and water is the most common acoustic intervention in cityscape: its unpredictability in detail, in the behaviour of drops, and its predictability in larger quantities, in the direction of jets and so on.

city as an organism
sound connecting the various spaces within the organism
hear through whole body
hear through making sound
the soundscape of the modern city

©Marcus Beale 2000

Notes from a seminar presentation given 27/9/00 to the Sound Media Research Group at University of Westminster, John Eacott director

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