Visualising the invisible

“A third characteristic of air or water is that it transmits vibrations or pressure waves outward from a mechanical event, a source of sound waves. It thus makes possible hearing what we call the sound; more exactly it permits listening to the vibratory event.” J. J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (1986, p.17)

One November morning in 2012 I went to Battersea park to investigate a suitable site for an experiment set by Dusan Decermic, Course Director of the MA Interior Design at the University of Westmister. He called the project ‘Horizon’.

There aren’t many people in the park first thing on a Saturday morning so it’s much more quiet than during the day. As a result I became a lot more conscious and aware of the sounds around me and as the disruptive noise of a plane passing overhead overpowered the pleasant sounds of the birds and the atmosphere of the park, I began to imagine what the site would look like at this very moment should the impact of the vibrations created by the sounds be rendered visible. Could I visualise how the sounds made me feel and how I perceived the changes in the atmosphere of the environment around me?

 

In order to relate sensory perspective to sound I used a spectrogram of the sound wave as the basis for photographic manipulation of the environment. Sounds are emitted at different frequencies, vibrations travel through the environmental medium and are reflected by its surfaces, creating distortions. It is therefore possible to provide a visual reference of the site as it is disrupted by the sounds passing through its environment like a snapshot capturing distortions in the atmosphere.

The site was chosen for its covered canopy on one side, with the shaded foreground area akin to an interior space, and its distinct lines of sites leading to the ‘outside’ space. The ‘interior’ boundaries are determined by the position of the trees, comparable to columns punctuating the site, as well as the lower elements in the background. The tree in the middle ground also acts as a focal point while the proximity to paths, river and city means that it is receptive to sound disruptions and propagation. Depth perceptions follow the lines of site guiding the gaze from the foreground towards the horizon.

The sound wave and spectrogram illustrate the duration and frequency of an actual recording made on the site. The recording includes the sounds of birds, a plane passing above and the sounds I made while walking through the site and taking photographs. These are referenced by corresponding symbols on both the diagram above and the spectrogram. The sound of the plane is shown in blue and green and it is clear that the sound intensity increases as it passes directly above, into the foreground of the vertical axis, and decreases when it moves away into the background. The sound of the birds is mostly in the middleground due to the position of the trees but it is overpowered by the plane as it passes above. The sounds I make are located in the foreground of the horizontal axis.

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