David Cunningham
Listening to the Architecture

Kiasma, Helsinki  February 2001

an installation within the the exhibition Transience
curated and organised by
Rita Leppiniemi, Michael Madsen and John Wynne

Installation Notebook link
Gallery Plan

Kiasma gallery concourse
The technology employed here is a system of 25 loudspeakers mounted on the massive 4 floor high wall of the main concourse of the Kiasma Gallery (see plan).  Each individual speaker is under the control of an automated routing system from a central control system (source is a ProTools system).  A microphone mounted in the space was routed to the speaker grid and a pattern of amplification was set up so that the speakers nearest the microphone gently begin to feed back - as the feedback builds, the automation is set so that that row of speakers are faded down and the next row of speakers come on, this process continuing until the end row of speakers.  So the feedback sustains and 'moves' through the space,  remodulating and shifting as the sets of speakers are activated and deactivated along the concourse.

As with The Listening Room, this installation allows the resonant frequencies of a room to become audible.  This process is modulated by very slight acoustic changes as people move around the room, by ambient sound, by humidity and temperature, by noises and by anything that causes air to move.
The sound is spatially differentiated according to the interference of amplified room resonances and the listening position.

Behind the apparently sparse minimalism is an attempt to work with natural complexity in a musical situation.  In sound, natural complexity is acoustic reflection, resonance, air moving in space and the generation of harmonics.
With this work I attempt to create a situation which allows people to listen very hard to the space they're in - making conscious an unconscious process. 

 A documentary fragment of a moment within the installation, recorded on 2 February 2001 
click on the speaker image 
audio fragment

aerial view

Designed, curated, and organised by Rita Leppiniemi, Michael Madsen and John Wynne
Produced by SOUND/GALLERY, Copenhagen
"Life  is transient; its joys are transitory; its hours are fleeting."
-from the Hypertext Webster Gateway (an online dictionary)
Transience addresses and (re)interprets the urban soundscape and reflects the transient nature of both urban life and of sound itself.

Transience fills the void at the centre of Kiasma via the invisible and inextricably time-based medium of sound, using a unique computerised diffusion system developed by the SOUND/GALLERY in Copenhagen to allow seven contemporary artists to 'choreograph' the movement of sound especially for this site and to explore time’s invisible correspondent, space.

What we hear is always influenced by where we hear it: the architectural dimensions, the physical materials from which the space is constructed, the presence or absence of people and the nature of their activities, the incursion of adjacent acoustic regions - all these factors (and more) combine to shape the sound that finally reaches our ears. The central core of Kiasma acts as a crossroads between all the exhibition spaces of the museum (both physically and acoustically) and as such provides an ideal archetype of the urban intersection. Even the name "Kiasma" refers to crossing or intersection; in Transience, both sound and audience are mobile as the artists explore every corner of the space and visitors are able to move freely through the resulting complex, shifting soundscape. Each listener’s experience is unique.

Transience is large in scale but at the same time ethereal; the work embodies the paradox of the urban environment, which generates a state of heightened sensitivity to sounds as signifiers while also demanding a highly developed process of selective listening. In acoustic terminology, transients are short-lived sounds caused by sudden changes: the works in this exhibition will exist as transients in relation to the existing urban soundscape, but the aim is to encourage a longer-lived heightening of sonic awareness, a shift in the way the urban environment is experienced.

The urban environment develops through a constantly shifting interplay of conscious and unconscious influences; the works in this exhibition navigate through this complex relationship, bringing the outside in and the inside out, both literally and metaphorically. At the two extremities of the interior/exterior divide are the works of David Cunningham and Disinformation. In Listening to the Architecture, the former uses only the live, real-time sounds of the space itself in a minimal meditation on its resonant frequencies. The sound material for Disinformation’s Stargate could scarcely come from a more distant source - radio emissions caused by disturbances in the sun’s atmosphere. The resulting sounds are used to explore the paradoxical ability of sound (often exploited by architects and urban planners) to ameliorate harsh or noisy acoustic spaces.

Jem Finer, co-founder and former member of the Pogues, has taken a literal approach in Ghostones, choosing to work with the actual transients produced by human activity and the reverberant disturbances they cause. Patrick Kosk divides the urban soundscape into horizontal zones as though imposing the grid structure of the Transience speaker system onto it before folding and interpolating the various layers of human and non-human activity.

In Arabesque, Øivind Weingaarde makes a visual analogy to describe the distinctive shifting of the boundaries of time and space in the urban environment which he describes as "a system of sense impressions in constant resolution." In contrast, Mikko Masaalo’s Anti Gravitational Device makes reference to an absent visual culture through the use of disembodied, gravity-defying screams from popular film and television.

My own work, Cry Wolf, explores the psychoacoustic effects of the electronic warning and reminder sounds that abound in the urban environment and asks if we can steer a course between irritation and anxiety long enough to appreciate the unique aesthetic of auditory warning design.

Transience reflects on the social and psychological meanings conveyed by the characteristic sounds of the city and explores how they communicate those meanings. It ponders the relationship between interior and exterior acoustic space and between large-scale architecture and the human form. Transience embraces the concrete while embodying the abstract.

John Wynne 2000

continue to:
Transience Site

Transience was made possible by generous support from the following:
Apple Computers, Finland

AVEK (Audiovisuaalisen Kulttuurin Edistämiskeskus)
The British Council
The Canada Council for the Arts
The London Institute/London College of Printing
Kulturfonden for Danmark og Finland (The Danish-Finnish Foundation)
NIFCA, Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art
NKKK, Nordisk Konst- och Konstindustrikommitté (The Nordic Art and Design Committee)
Opetusministeriö (The Finnish Ministry of Education)
Pohjoismainen kulttuurirahasto (Nordic Art Council)
Statens Musikråd i Danmark (The Danish Music Council)
Svenska Kulturfonden (The Finnish Swedish Art Council)

Special thanks to:

Lauri Anttila
Grønvold & Karnov A/S
Lauritz Holdø
Per Høier
Tolstrup Jakobsen
Steen Johannessen
Petri Kuljuntausta
Matti Nirkko
Claus Scheuer-Larsen
Susanna Sepponen
Mika Taanila
Sonja Wiik
Kiasma staff

continue to:
Installation Notebook

Gallery Plan
Transience Site

return to:
Activated Space