Thoughts on Resonance

I am interested in the ways that we can experience space through resonance. 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? Can we use resonance as a medium through which to understand and interrogate our spatial environment and, our place within it, and our relationships to one another?

Resonant frequencies are frequencies whose wavelengths match the dimensions of a given space. They energetically reinforce themselves and are perceived as significantly louder than a non-resonant pitch. As a resonant frequency is self-reinforcing, it is not perceived as emanating from a particular location in space. The sound source feels encompassing rather than localised.

To be in a space which is in resonance is to be modulated by that space. It is to feel the dimensions of that space. It is to become part of the fabric of that space. It is to realise that space is not something that we are in, but something that we are inextricably part of and something whose quality is contingent on our condition, our physical dimensions, our position, and our awareness.

Resonance conveys space as a sonic experience. The qualities of this experience differ considerably from Euclidean notions of space. Rather than a set of points in three dimensions conceptualised in the visual domain, we experience a quality in a moment, something arguably more visceral than tangible; felt rather than imagined. Surely this leaves a different impression on the psyche? The resonant pitches of a space are sufficiently low that they are felt considerably in the body as well as being sensed by the ears.

Spaces have many potential sonic topologies –both in the frequency and time domain– an unseen world to be explored. These create a new kind of architecture in a space, and possibly a new way of understanding of that space. The question is, are these ways to complicate a spatial understanding which is already visually evident, or are these maps with the potential to guide us to under explored and valuable perspectives on space?


Resonance as a Medium for Exploration

To what extent can resonance be a medium for the creative exploration and understanding of space?

When different resonant frequencies are played into a space, a lattice of null points and loud points are created (see top image from Wallace Sabine’s Collected Papers on Acoustics). This acoustic interference distribution ‘signature’ is unique to the relationship between the position of a sound source and the shape and material construction of the space in which it is situated. Resonant pitches (intrinsic to a given space) and their intensities relate to points in space. The work of Michael Brewster creates these interference distribution signatures in rooms using loudspeakers. He refers to his works as ‘sound sculptures’.

It’s time to critically explore the use of resonance in sounding arts. What actually is it? Is it a compositional technique? Is it an acoustic phenomenon? Is it a spatial or a sonic experience? What do its various uses aim to reach towards?

I want to use resonance as a tool to critically investigate the act of listening in a spatial realm, couching it as something which link us with space through sound: spatial listening as a way to critically assess the act of listening.

The exploration of sonic resonant topologies is only possible through listening-led-movement; ‘doing through sound’. I want to place an emphasis on this process of exploration: An active exploration of space, led by the ear, that relates to memory and position . Any memory of this exploration of space relates to sensation rather than image. Every movement that alters the body’s position in sound-space has a unique sonic implication.


Sound as a Condition for Exploring Space // Sonic Constant

Here, I want to introduce a concept, which is pertinent to the exploration of resonance—that of using a constant sound to explore a space. Ordinarily our experience of sound –and awareness of its spatial attributes—is ephemeral: when we shout or clap, we hear a momentary spatial response. Or when we talk, perhaps we are aware of a quality; a deadness, or a resonance. The ephemerality of these sound experiences doesn’t allow for an exploration of their tensions and dimensions, they don’t allow us to hear a sonic moment from different perspectives.


What happens when we pose sound as the condition for exploring space?

How can we pose sound as the condition for exploring space?


If we emit an unchanging sound signal in a space, the ‘ephemeral’ changing nature of sound is removed, and the space becomes point of focus. The tensions and characteristics of that space are explored through sonic feedback whose change is activated by movement; or the altering relationship between sound-perceiver (person) and (resonant) space. This is a process of active spatial listening.

A sonic constant provides a new medium through which to explore space; one which is inherently spatial and contingent on movement. A sonic constant is a framing of space. A space can be ‘framed’ sonically in limitless ways. We might create a sonic constant with a consistent tone, or multiple tones, or we might use rhythm.

Here, space and sound almost seem to swap roles: what is normally ephemeral becomes constant (sound), and what we might normally perceive as fixed and unmoving becomes a set of potentialities that can only be discovered by movement.

In a sense, here space becomes something which is ephemeral and momentary; we are not dealing with being in space, we are dealing with becoming. The more we are in a state of becoming, the greater our awareness and understanding of this way of approaching space.