The odd thing about recording is that your end product, the music, isn’t exactly real… it is a process that allows replication of something that has gone on before: The music etc is played live and a snapshot is taken. Also, you may know that the recording process cannot capture every single aspect of what the sound was like when you took that ‘snapshot’. Current technology is very good at trying to emulate the original sound and you could argue that it does it so well that the imperfections are not even noticed, especially to the non-musician.
However, there are aspects of live music that the face-value capture of sound encapsulates with great difficulty. Think about listening to a great busking band on the street. You have the excitement of stumbling upon the performance; the personalities of the performers as they interact with the crowd, verbally and with their instruments; the collective experience of being part of a crowd; your own state of mind, if you are on holiday for example; and all of the sounds and feelings associated with these aspects. Then there are the more physical aspects: the way the sound of the different instruments reverberate around the buildings (even depending on where each musician is sitting), the qualities of that reverberation (imagine the difference in sound of a cathedral to your living room); other sounds working with/against the music intentionally or otherwise; even the state of the air could influence the total experience. You then buy a copy of the band’s CD as the experience was so wonderful but, although the CD may sound good, it just isn’t the same.
The total experience (the actual music added to these aspects missing from the CD) is atmosphere (which I go on about all of the time!) and modern recording technologies can even go a long way to accounting for this; think about those realistic reverbs for example. To my mind, maybe a change in focus is what’s needed to get closer to this elusive ‘atmosphere’. When recording, maybe don’t think of it as recording music; or even as recording a performance. Maybe think about the process as recording an experience. This combined with keeping an open mind about what you can use to achieve this may produce even stronger results. Music in particular tries to reproduce the thoughts and feelings of the song-writer using abstract methods (communicating with a guitar is very different from talking!), so why not extrapolate this to the whole process rather than just the sound-making? You could even take this to the extreme by reproducing the atmosphere of a performance without actually including the instrument being used, although this would be a little silly if you are recording a virtuoso violinist because they are technically brilliant, for example! Obviously, the balance of sound reproduction and atmosphere would have more real-life applications…
So, that finally brings me to the more overt topic of this post. Architecture could be said to be one of the unsung heroes of the life experience. We take it for granted that buildings, trees, and the rest of our surroundings are ‘just there’ but as any architect will tell you, these surroundings mold our lives and our life experience/atmosphere. Therefore if we are thinking about the recording of music as above, it follows that we should take time to notice how sound interacts with the spaces it is immersed in. This could go further than just putting the sounds in a reverb that emulates the space, and many musicians work with furthering this idea (for example Gustav Holst tried to describe the planets of our solar system in his music ‘The Planets’ using an orchestra; The band The Gathering used samples of crowd noises and street noises in their album ‘If Then Else’ to manipulate the atmosphere).
Thinking about how sounds interacts with architecture or the environment may not lead to placing sounds in a space as such, but it may also deepen an understanding of sound by looking into it’s real-life behaviour, which could loosen-up a musician’s perspective and therefore increase creativity. For example, watch this you-tube video of a fantastic sound-art installation and see what you learn…
Also, think about the application of sound within the architectural field. Have a read here for some actual buildings/projects that have been designed to work within an environment that takes sound into account. A couple use fountains to put up a mask of ‘white noise’ (which contains sound from all frequencies- i.e. the ‘snow’ on blank analogue TV channels) to cover traffic noise; a classroom was also designed to reduce spill of outside noise whilst emphasising the frequencies that the human voice occupies; raised portions and physical barriers evade noise and different materials sound differently when walked on. Related to this, there are companies out there that design sound for business, taking every sound made within the company’s remit a part of their brand i.e. you wouldn’t use a noisy, clangy metallic floor in a shop that specialises in massage or meditation.
Of course, this is a two-way street as well. Musicians and sound recorders can learn from sound in the real world and architects can learn from musical idealism i.e. calming soundscapes may be used in a massage parlour so maybe the building can be constructed in a way to emphasises these sounds.
So, if you are a music fan see if these ideas change the way you listen to music; musicians out there, maybe try thinking about sound differently and see if it enhances your output; and if you are involved in any aspect of creation think about how sound is as much a part of experience as your chosen field is and how careful thought around it can enhance the end product.