Sound maps and the representation of audible space

Tschirhart, Peter Louis, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Puri, Michael, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Maus, Fred, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Coffey, Edward, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Bluestone, Daniel, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This dissertation constructs a critical and cultural history of the “sound map,” a notational practice that can be defined in two ways: first, as diagrams, spatial graphics, or geophysical representations that adopt sound as their thematic object; second, as a way of thinking, a specifically sonic consciousness, that situates the interaction between sound and space as co-productive. Acting as a conceptual bridge, sound maps link the idea for a “soundscape” back to the complex realities of sound’s transience: its weather-like properties, which make sound difficult to study and impossible to root. Each chapter links sound maps to a particular theoretical or cultural moment. The first locates the conceptual development of the sound map among the work of Harvard physicist Wallace Sabine, whose acoustical research yielded not only useful quantitative models, but provocative visual demonstrations of sound’s tendency to change as it moves through and interacts with the physical environment. The second and third chapters conduct a critical analysis of urban and environmental sound maps — from the publications of the World Soundscape Project, to “Noise Exposure Maps” overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration. In addition to proposing a broad typology, these chapters work to disentangle the visual form of sound maps from the methodologies used to construct them. The fourth chapter studies how composers during the mid- and late twentieth century utilize sound maps as a discrete notational element, one that opens new possibilites for creative action and embodied performance. The fifth chapter traces the influence of sound maps onto the work of utopian cyberneticist Nicolas Schoffer, whose provocative vision for the city of the future asks us to consider how sonic indeterminacies might be re-composed dynamically, and in real time, to make urban life sound more pleasing.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
sound map, critical history, cultural history
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