On the Intersection Between Speaker Installations and Urban Environments: A Soundscape Design Perspective

On the Intersection Between Speaker Installations and Urban Environments: A Soundscape Design Perspective

Gunnar Cerwén (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3637-6.ch002
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This chapter deals with speaker installations and the potential to use such installations for designing soundscapes in cities. Through employment of a designer's perspective, eight intersections between speaker sounds and the environment in which they are installed are brought forward and discussed. The intersections were originally deduced by the author theoretically but have subsequently also been examined in relation to existing speaker installations. This chapter describes and exemplifies each of the eight intersections, which have been denoted as sound sculpture, sound space, atmospheric design, sound and light, sound binocular, sound postcard, interactive event, and retuning of soundscape. Discussions in the chapter cover the role of speaker-induced sound in relation to the notion of acousmatics as well as urban design.
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It has become increasingly popular in recent years to incorporate speaker sounds as part of landscape architecture projects, particularly in urban public space (See Figure 1). The development can be seen as part of an increased interest in architectural disciplines for the sound environment, along with technological developments in speaker systems for outdoor use. Speaker installations can potentially improve everyday soundscapes, as well as stimulating social interaction and visitors’ exploration in sound. The present chapter discusses the implementation of speaker installations in public space through a soundscape design perspective.

Figure 1.

Speaker installations are increasingly used in landscape architecture projects. The speakers in this installation at Solbjerg Plads in Copenhagen, are located in wells, from which varying sounds of nature play back at different intervals during the day. The installation was conceived by Danish architecture firm SLA Landscape. Photo/Illustration by the author. Sound: (https://vimeo.com/10976378)


It has been argued previously that, particularly during the modernistic era, consideration for sound was a somewhat neglected area in urban planning and design (Hedfors, 2003; Jakobsson, 2009; Pallasmaa, 2012, [1996]), and that focus was instead mostly on visual aspects. In a broader sense, this visual focus or ocularcentrism is a question that has been discussed also in connection with the western society as a whole (see e.g. Levin, 1993). Within this philosophical discourse, the historical role and position of the visual and the other senses are analyzed, and modernity has been raised as a potential catalyst for ocularcentrism. In the development of the modern western world, visual information was especially fitting, because the visual could be easily structured, overviewed and reasoned around, while aural and other sensual stimuli lack this clarity.

In landscape architecture, visual representations are dominating. Ideas are developed, communicated and presented predominantly through documents containing plans, drawings, sections and the like. The experience through other senses can be described in text. Other techniques, like video or auralization, can represent the sound environment directly, but these are not yet established in the field. This situation is likely to have an effect on where the focus is directed in design proposals (c.f. Corner, 1992; Olwig, 2004), as visual representations are more likely to stimulate discussions around visual cues.

The situation is problematic, given the fact that sound has been shown to influence health (Annerstedt et al., 2013; Basner et al., 2014), behavior (Aletta, Lepore, Kostara-Konstantinou, Kang, & Astolfi, 2016; Cohen & Spacapan, 1984; Meng & Kang, 2016) as well as appreciation of landscapes (Anderson, Mulligan, Goodman, & Regen, 1983; Carles, Barrio, & de Lucio, 1999; Preis, Kociński, Hafke-Dys, & Wrzosek, 2015).

Previous studies have shown that, in general, natural sounds such as water, singing birds or the rustling of leaves are perceived as pleasing, whereas technological sounds from for example traffic, industry and airplanes are negative (Anderson et al., 1983; Axelsson, Nilsson, & Berglund, 2010; Nilsson & Berglund, 2006; Yang & Kang, 2005). Sounds produced by human activity and social interactions tend to be somewhere in between, and more dependent on the specific situation (Cerwén, Pedersen, & Pálsdóttir, 2016; Meng & Kang, 2016; Nilsson & Berglund, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Soundscape Design: A term used in the chapter to describe intentional measures taken to improve the everyday soundscape, particularly emphasizing the perspective of landscape architects and urban designers.

Soundscape: Soundscape, or everyday soundscape, is a broad term with several meanings. In this chapter, soundscape is used to refer to the everyday experience of environmental sounds.

Speaker-Environment Intersection: This chapter describes eight intersections in which speaker sounds can interact with and become anchored as a natural part of the environmental experience. In other words, the intersections constitute different strategies by which to derive the counteracousmatic idea.

Speaker Installation: A term that was used in the chapter to define the extent of the topic. In the chapter, speaker installations include artistic works as well as works initiated by designers but not everyday uses like public announcement systems.

Counteracousmatic: A term that was introduced in the chapter to summarize the idea that the lack of audio-visual connection in speaker installations (acousmatics) can be replaced by other cues in the environment.

Site Specificity: The term is used to emphasize the contextual quality of certain speaker installations. Site specificity is an established term within the art world, where it is used to describe art that relates to a specific site.

Auralization: A computer-aided technique by which the sounds of a (future) environment can be simulated. A parallel can be drawn to visualization in which the visual aspects of an environment are simulated.

Ocularcentrism: A term used to describe a relative state of the senses in a society where visual information is given priority. In the chapter, this notion is raised in relation to urban design in the western world.

Masking: In this chapter, masking is used to describe a strategy for urban design in which added sounds are used to move focus away from unwanted sounds (noise). There are two different kinds of masking. In energetic masking, the added sounds are loud enough to make the noise inaudible. In informational masking, the added sounds draw attention and shift focus away from the noise but do not make it inaudible.

Acousmatics: A term that describes a listening situation in which it is not possible to see the original source of a sound being heard. Sounds that are reproduced with the aid of speakers are acousmatic per definition.

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