A few comments at the end of a recent post reminded me of something from David Toop’s Ocean of Sound, an excellent and highly recommended survey of “sonic history,” focusing on ambient music, post-Debussy.
Roughly midway through Toop’s book we find this review by composer Paul Schütze: “Recently listening to Thomas Köner’s Permafrost,” Schütze writes, “I found that by the end of the disc my sense of aural perspective was so altered that the music seemed to continue in the sounds around me. Tube trains passing beneath the building, distant boilers, the air conditioning, and the elevator engines had been pulled into the concert. This effect lasted for about forty minutes during which I could not get anything to return to its ‘normal position’ in the ‘mix’ of my flat.”
What would have been yet more fascinating, however, is if Schütze had been wrong. What if the disc, in other words, had still been playing – and he didn’t live anywhere near the Tube, nor did his building have elevators…? What if those subtle and distant architectural sounds had actually been part of the CD?
This would be music as the illusion of architecture.
You could move into a house without a basement – so you purchase this CD, or download these tracks, and you uncannily achieve the sonic effect of having more floors below you. Or perhaps you want an attic, or even a next-door neighbor: you would buy soundtracks for architecture, architecture through nothing but sound.
For instance, think of the Francisco López album, Buildings. Buildings is “a work composed entirely of sound fragments López procured while wandering around big buildings in NYC,” recording the “sounds of elevators, air conditioning systems, cables, pipes, air ducts, boilers, clocks, thermostats, video cameras, and so on.” (You can actually listen to a brief excerpt).
So instead of an addition, or a home renovation – you would commission a piece of music; and for as long as that music is playing, your house has several thousand more square-feet… and a Tube line nearby… and distant boilers…
(With thanks to Dan Hill at City of Sound for pointing me toward Buildings).