Milieux Sonores: Sound and Imaginary Spaces

Next week we begin the installation for Milieux Sonores, an exhibition of sound installations exploring space presented in conjunction with swissnex San Francisco, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, and the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology (ICST) at the Zurich University of the Arts. It consists of five installations sonically recreating imaginary spaces. Come to the opening reception on Sept 11 to meet with the artists and give a first listen to this set of immersive sound works.


Opening Reception at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts
11 Sep 2010 from 7:00pm to 12:00pm
Suggested donation: $5 to $20
Exhibition Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4pm-7pm through November 19, 2010.

Note: Marcus Maeder is live at swissnex San Francisco on September 9, 2010, to discuss the exhibition.


Gray Area Foundation for the Arts
55 Taylor Street, San Francisco
(415) 843-1423
Map and visitor info

From the rooms we imagine when we hear our noisy neighbors across the wall to the echoes that bounce off mountain cliffs, sound and space combine to create mental landscapes that become important parts of our environment. As developments in media technology make these virtual spaces and soundscapes ever more present in our lives—think video games, GPS applications, and audio surround — they are increasingly the subject of cultural theory study. Rarely have these concepts been explored in media art exhibitions, however.

Milieux Sonores, which premiered in Zurich in 2009, was designed to create imaginary spaces that could be shown in actual places as exhibition architecture. Participants, who included artists, composers, and sound designers often working in teams, were issued the following challenge: Build an imaginary space. The resulting five installations make use of cutting-edge audio technology developed at ICST Zurich to propose very diverse solutions. At Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, they all become part of a dark, mine-like space defined by sharp black shapes jutting out from gallery walls. Listen for yourself through November 19th, 2010.

With support from Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council. Stay tuned for upcoming related events.

Presumed Wind Loads (Mutmassliche Windlasten): Yves Netzhammer and Bernd Schurer

Yves Netzhammer and Bernd Schurer created an installation that transcends synthetic virtual reality. It consists of a table set in a small room. The space inside four open drawers has gained independence and broken free, collected in four pillars that project up to the ceiling. The pillars emit sound, turning the four objects into acoustic inner space. Netzhammer and Schurer write, “Tables are social instruments used to verify our proportions and distances. Through the components of the installation, the imaginary space switches latently between the inside and outside, with drawers represented by pillars and the communicating elements cushioned with pillows. The vertical projections between the inner and outer surfaces delineate an acoustic inner space. This supports the imaginary architectural space through an audio-collage. The symbolic use of sounds and the question as to how one space relates to another within a system are part of the process of creating a new world, heterotopia, engaging in dialogue with the imaginary space and examining the experience of touching the various (spatial) objects.”

Flow Space: Daniel Bisig, Martin Neukom, and Jan Schacher (ICST)

Flow Space is an audiovisual space created by surround-sound, video projection, and interaction forming an immersive media experience. A touch-sensitive interface offers an intuitive, contemplative interaction with swarms of sounds. Various options are provided, each with its own performance, sound, and visual representation. Ambisonics surround technology is used for three-dimensional sound projection and spatialization. Flow Space is the fruit of three research projects at the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology within the music department of the Zurich University of the Arts: The Interactive Swarm Orchestra project, the Immersive Swarm Spaces, and the Musical Gesture project.

SoundSpots: Rob van Rijswijk and Jeroen Strijbos

At first glance, Rob van Rijswijk and Jeroen Strijbos’s SoundSpots resemble oversized Plexiglas lamps. Only when one stands directly below one of them do the “lamps” reveal their auditory secrets: the listener is submerged in a sound-bath of musical eruptions. SoundSpots consists of traditional and parabolic speakers focused on a single point to create a walk-through sound environment, i.e. a spatially distributed composition. As visitors move around the installation, they experience their own version of Rijswijk and Strijbos’s composition as the sound generated by normal loudspeakers mixes with the sound originating from the speaker above them.

Four Adjoining Rooms (Vier Nebenräume): Felix Profos

Four Adjoining Rooms is a completely darkened room consisting of four imaginary adjoining acoustic spaces. The only discernible elements are a seat, headphones, a navigation trackball, and projected visual navigation. Composer Felix Profos writes, “Being alone in an empty room surrounded by adjoining spaces, from which muffled sounds can be heard is a fascinating situation in which listening (without being able to make out exactly what is going on in the adjoining spaces) comes into its element. The most nondescript sounds are charged with meaning and begin to shine, and the remotest events become related to one another. I have long yearned to have this condition within reach, perpetual and undisturbed. The project is an attempt to achieve this goal. However…the advantage of this project is that here, time does not slip irretrievably through our fingers: we are free to stop at any given point in time and listen for as long as we like…”

Perimeter Gray: Jason Kahn

Jason Kahn’s installation, Perimeter Gray, is the only work that is not directly placed in the exhibition rooms but instead sits on the facade of the Gray Area Foundation. Here, taut wires pick up electromagnetic and acoustic vibrations outdoors—specifically from the inner courtyard of the barrack grounds—and transform them into sounds. The modified signals from the acoustic environment around Gray Area are played back outdoors via various loudspeakers mounted in the same location. Thus, the sonic space of the street is enriched with its own transformed sounds. Jason Kahn writes, “The focus of my sound installations lies in our perception of space through sound. I see space as a sculpture shaped by sound. The emphasis is not so much on the sound that I bring into a space as on the space itself. My installations seek to heighten our perception of space. Today, we often try to shut out the world around us. We are faced with simply too many sounds and too many images, resulting in an information overload. In my work, my aim is to empower visitors to perceive a given space, sensitizing them not only to its sound, but also to the general perception of the place.”