Partial Space

Partial Space (1998) is an interactive sound installation consisting of an environment in which inhabitants perform a resonant space. By moving in the installation space, the audience triggers sine tones of frequencies that correspond to the natural resonant modes of that architectural, physical space. Sound becomes the medium for experiencing architecture.
The room is partitioned acoustically rather than rendered architecturally. There is a suggestion that the linear continuity of Cartesian space is here disrupted through sound. Our everyday experience of space is a product of our own bodily presence and behaviour. The body as an interface for space implies constraints in the way we stand and move. Resonance, which is notionally perceived as a simultaneity of partials and overtones, is conditioned by our listening modes. The resonant content of a physical space or instrument becomes restrained by our own listening intentions. Our ability to focus on particular partials when we hear complex spectra such as gongs, suggests a process of spectral deconstruction which arguably could be the very nature of our ‘creative listening’. In Partial Space, resonance is broken up, not unlike the way architecture breaks up Cartesian space. A process initiated by Alvin Lucier’s I am Sitting in a Room (Lucier 1995) exposes a room as a potential musical instrument. The system at play in Partial Space can be seen as an inversion of the room as sound modulator. The externally produced sound does not emphasise the room as a filter and modulator of an
arbitrary sound source (speech, in the case of Lucier’s I am Sitting in a Room), but rather, the notion of acoustic energy (in this case a translation of the inhabitant’s movement) triggers the resonant space to enact its presence at an audible range. By synthesising spectra that are directly derived from the site’s resonance response, the produced sound acts effectively as energy input and the perceived sound is the amplification of that input by the site. In other words, the site vibrates sympathetically with the source.
A recording of a noise-based impulse played into the space is used for spectral analysis. The resulting time-varying spectrum constitutes the basis for the creation of the interactive sound environment. The strongest partials provide the frequency content for a dynamic additive-synthesis environment. The spectral content of the reverberation time is elongated, allowing the perception of otherwise microscopic sonic events; the impulse decay event that lasts only a few seconds is extended to a twenty minute cycle. While presence in a particular area triggers the introduction of one partial, the inhabitation of that area disturbs the room’s spectrum, activating modulated spectra and ‘beating’ frequencies. The spectral simplicity of the generated sounds enables the perception of both individual partials and synthesis/harmonies achieved by the multiple inhabitants in the same space. The way in which Partial Space defines a somewhat ambiguous but immediate interaction mode opens up the possibility for behavioural traces to emerge. A sonic simultaneity is rendered by the presence of multiple users, establishing a sense of play and interaction between the inhabitants themselves. After exploring the installation for some time, each of the arbitrarily defined areas (eight in total) becomes identifiable with a particular frequency range – the fluctuating trajectory of a particular partial through time. This identification process can be read as the expectant result that allows some instrumental control by the inhabitant, and
therefore interaction with the environment and other inhabitants. An extrapolation of this process into a more refined system proposes that our ‘creative listening’ modes are externalised and reconfigure themselves as social behaviours.

from Rebelo, Pedro. ‘Performing Space’. Organised Sound 8, no. 2 (n.d.): 181–86.

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