Silophone resonance: architecture to play by phone

“It’s hard to miss,” says the Montreal Mirror.

“Stroll west along Montreal’s Old Port from St-Laurent and you’ll see it standing defiant like a 45-metre, steel-reinforced middle finger in the face of the surrounding gentrification. Abandoned in 1996, Silo #5 has received a new lease on life thanks to two young Montreal-based artists known as [The User]. Using strategically placed loudspeakers, microphones, next-level telecommunications technology and the building’s 22 seconds of natural reverb, Thomas McIntosh and Emmanuel Madan converted the Silo into a giant interactive sound installation, playable from anywhere with a good Internet connection.”

Now known as the Silophone, it “combines sound, architecture, and communication technologies” – another way of saying that it’s architecture you play by phone. (Incidentally, Thomas McIntosh – one half of [The User] – studied -yes- architecture).
As NPR’s “All Things Considered” describes it, McIntosh and Madan “channel sounds via phone and the Internet into the silo. Sounds bounce around the Silophone… and a microphone picks up the echoes and returns them to the listener. (…) The silo’s chambers reach up to 10 stories high and have an impressive reverberation time of more than 20 seconds. Even simple sounds are transformed into something completely different.”
This not only architecturalizes the North American phone system in an interesting way, but it telephonizes Quebecois architecture.
NPR continues: “Silo #5 was built in 1958 and has been called a masterpiece of modern architecture. The building has three separate sections, joined together by elevated corridors.”

And now it’s a musical instrument.
Meanwhile, in a recent post on BLDGBLOG, the BBC program *Coast* was cited – but you may or may not have noticed that the website for that show’s first episode featured something called “sound mirrors”:

“These three concrete ‘listening ears’ range in size from 20 to 200 feet in size. They were built between World War I and II: designed to give early warning of incoming enemy aircraft.” While not able to be played by phone, as it were, the Kentish sound mirrors very clearly relate to the topic of resonance as an architectural phenomenon – about which I hope to post again soon.
It would be interesting to consider, meanwhile, whether it’s possible to build a structure like the Montreal Silophone, but with an extraordinarily long internal resonance period.
1) You could say something, for instance, and let it echo round, feedbacking and folding into itself through curtains of reverb – until your mate comes by the next day, records the noises, filters it somehow, writes down what you said and there you go: it’s the world’s most labor-intensive intercom system. Conversations on time-delay.
2) You could build it on a particularly windy area of the Canadian shield

– and you could pierce the outer walls with windows attached to small alcoves attached to small doors in such an exact way that the wind, at every moment of the day, is always playing certain notes. By the time the notes have stopped resonating, maybe two or three days later, maybe even two or three weeks, more wind has come along and the tower is never silent. Certain storms have certain sonic signatures.
3) To torture bats you could release them into the silo in an extreme gale and then – [censored by the ASPCA] –
Finally, if you like abstract electronic music inspired by architecture, check out this CD by Savvas Ysatis and Taylor Deupree. And, since the company that put this CD out appears to have gone bankrupt (?), any budding entrepreneurial types out there reading BLDGBLOG surrounded by heaps of Benjamins who might want to start a music label dedicated to architectural phenomena – *Soundtracks for Architecture* – give me a shout…

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