Oxford Place: Resonances

I want to recall the questions that I asked at the beginning of my last post:

Are we more ‘in the world’ or ‘in space’ when we are in resonance?

Does space become a different entity when we experience it in this way?

More generally, does space become a different entity when we experience it through sound?


In February 2016, I conducted some creative experiments which use resonance in conjunction with the idea of a ‘sonic constant’. My aim was to find a space and explore its resonant potential. I wanted to calculate its resonance frequencies and use these as a foil through which to experience the space. The idea was that resonance would become my medium and my means for creative exploration.

Through the East St Arts Temporary Spaces Program, I acquired two empty storeys of an office block in central Leeds (see top image). The top floor consisted of one large space, whilst the basement consisted of three smaller, joined spaces. There was also a spiral stairwell. As it was completely empty, the space was relatively coloured and responsive.

I installed six Genelec 1029a loudspeakers in the space. They were relatively evenly distributed, three spread evenly on the upper floor and one in each of the smaller joined spaces on the basement floor. Using a Max/MSP patch and an acoustic measurement microphone, I took an impulse response of each loudspeaker from a fixed position.

I then explored different ways of activating the space using the resonant pitches that I had uncovered from the impulse responses. I wanted to explore the effect of resonance and the ways in which the space could be explored sonically through movement.

Have a look at the videos below. I recommend that you use headphones rather than loudspeakers.



Oxford Place, first floor

Oxford Place, first floor



Oxford Place, basement

Oxford Place, basement













moving in and out of resonance: single formants

In this experiment, I wanted to be able to compare the sensations of different resonances throughout the space(s), and I wanted to experience the sensation of moving in and out of resonance—to convey what the resonant response of a space feels like, or make ‘being in resonance’ emergent to a listener.

Some more questions:

Do the different sized and shaped spaces have starkly different resonances?

Can the visual differences between the spaces be conveyed sonically?

What do they sound or feel like?

I chose the strongest resonance (by amplitude) from the impulse responses taken from each loudspeaker measurement. Each loudspeaker plays their corresponding resonant frequency as a single sine tone into the space. These are detuned and retuned just enough to bring them in and out of resonance. This was usually by just a few cents, so a variation in pitch was not clearly audible and the detuning was perceived more spatially than in terms of pitch.

In this experiment, the space(s) are occupied by a series of pitches, each of which (when in resonance) issues a different somatic experience. Some were felt in the chest, some the entire body. The smaller spaces were more ‘felt’ than the large ones. I imagine that this was because the strongest frequencies of the larger space would have been too low for the frequency output of the loudspeakers that I was using.

The resonances of other spaces bled into each other. You could still perceive them quite clearly individually, but there was lots of interference. This experiment might have worked well in a series of separate but conjoined spaces of different sized as then the resonances would be more isolated.


all loudspeakers, all formants

In this experiment, I wanted to explore the resonant complexity of the space. The impulse responses across the six loudspeakers recorded roughly 90 frequencies. In this video, each loudspeaker plays back all of the resonant frequencies that it respectively recorded in the impulse response as sine waves.

The result is a configuration of frequencies so complex that it is almost conveyed as a single sound. What isn’t so apparent in the video is that there is variation in the sound with movement, which was much more apparent in the space itself. It felt like moving through a 3-dimensional sound structure, but the complexity of it let it down as the sound felt homogenised.

It would be interesting to represent what the sound is doing visually as a way of connecting the listener to how the sound is situated in space.

Many of the recorded frequencies were above the Schroeder frequency, so there was little experienced physically. The Schroeder frequency is the frequency above which, resonant room frequencies stop being perceived as distinct as they are so high up the harmonic series.

This experiment doesn’t link us to resonance explicitly, or to the space necessarily, but was extremely interesting as an effect. Small movements of the head resulted in starkly different sonic experiences—this was due to the interference patterns resulting from the amount of high frequencies in play and their short wavelengths.

This experiment was interesting, it doesn’t allow us to think about how we are experiencing a connection to space through sound.



one loudspeaker, all formants

This is just one loudspeaker on the main floor of the building playing all of its harmonic content, the sonic field is a three-dimensions harmonic structure: some points in space are harmonic, some beat, some are null, some are single pitches. walking around the space activates this in a number of ways and the effect is fascinating. The characteristics, size and ratio of the three-dimensional structure is dependent on which resonant frequencies are played into the space. More movement is required to explore the null and loud spots of lower frequencies as they have larger wavelengths, whilst a small movement of the head might be sufficient to move from a null spot to a loud spot of a higher frequency.

Here you get a real sense of thinking through sound, or moving through listening. The variations in resonant pitches can only be explores by walking and moving. Listening leads movement, and movement leads awareness. I felt myself asking all sorts of questions, where is that pitch coming from, where does one pitch start and the other stop? Where is the sound coming from? Which pitch is currently most prominent in my awareness? What patterns am I noticing? Do I hear different pitches in different spaces? Definitely evident when you get to different spaces that frequencies become more prevalent.

In this experiment, I took my own intuitive route through the space, guided by listening. I kept comparing what I was hearing to my position in the space, but the two somehow didn’t relate. It felt as though I was in an altogether separate ‘sound space’ that could only be negotiated by my ears.