How to Build a Sound Park . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bruce Odland


Some years ago, Michel Redolfi was to build a Sound Park, and asked me if I could write a set of guidelines for architects and planners in such an endeavor. Realizing that after so many years of visual domination, there would be great difficulty even conceiving how to operate sonically, I wrote the following.

Guidelines for a Sound Park, Bruce Odland

In the current culture we are SO visually oriented that great care must be taken with the use of visuals, they must ALL be controlled from a hearing point of view, otherwise they will be merely misleading clues, in effect, disinformation which will point the visitors in the wrong direction, back at the visual culture.


In the sound park, ears must lead, and eyes must support- reversing the normal ratio in all public and private places. Unless this ratio is reversed in favor of hearing the park will replicate what is out there already in the visual world and will loose its power, based on counterpoint of the senses, based on its oposing point of view, justification of all elements sonicaly.


Sonic justification of all elements must be rigorous. We are so susceptible to visuals, that in fact the entire planning, budgeting, approval of a sound park will inevitably, as all projects, be a purely visual process. Therefore much care must be taken that the end result is primarily sonic, with visual supports.


All shapes, materials, concepts, people flow, advertizing, structures, landscape design, representation to public must be justified on sonic principles. Otherwise the stray and random and convenient visuals which adorn every surface of our culture will invade, dilute, and mislead preying apon our senses just as they do in the culture at large. Allowing this to happen would render the Sound Park innefective and self-canceling.


it should be conceived as a shelter from stray, convenient visuals, so as to emphasize hearing as the primary communication. Visuals should only be conceived as support clues, and should be kept to bare minimum. Where they are employed they must meet sonic criterion. Do they represent a vibration, a waveform or another aspect of sound as a supportive educational role? Or are they themselves a sonic material for propogation, transmission, reflection, reverberation of a soundwave? If so they may be built. If not they should not be built, as they will be misleading.


All construction should be conceived as amplifying or deadening soundwaves and the materials should make easy visual identification of these principles. Is the shape or material easily visibly readable as an acoustic material or shape which reinforces or absorbs sound? If so it can be used, if not, no. The minute a material is chosen for primarily visual reasons, it undercuts, and misleads.


For this reason greatest care should be taken in contracts with architects, planners, contractors, etc, to define these sonic goals in contractual terms, as otherwise they will be in their cultural "normal" or what they think of as "neutral" position, which is of course, pro-visual to the exclusion of all other senses. The norm is to choose materials and shapes with no concern whatsoever to their sonic properties making sonic nightmares as they normally do without any sonic thought or sound based design. We see and hear the results of this type of thinking in every city. ie, a reflection of the visual bias, and sacrifice of the sense of hearing.(The visual bias of modern architecture promotes the use of glass and steel and parallell walls of enormous proportion which cause standing waves, high decibel reflections of all frequencies and result in inhumane loud environments with low intelligibility for human scale communication.)


The sound park should be built with the receptor in mind. It should be designed backwards from the human capabilities for hearing.  This extraordinary sophisticated range and depth of hearing evolved over millenia, and was adapted perfectly for the needs of hunter gatherer times. It evolved to operate with extremely low noise floor threshold, to determine location within 1-3, to diferentiate a million levels of loudness from just above the sound of the atom, to just below the atom bomb. Human ears can detect the direction and type of feathers on a flying bird at the distance of 500m and tell the size and shape of a space in total darkness.


However all these capabilities dissappear in the 80dB chaotic environment of a city with its out of control noise floor, its stray emergency startle response signals, and its total lack of planning for the human hearing system.


In the design of a sound park which will communicate especially to the ears of the visitors care must be taken at all times to provide a listening environment which enhances human abilities and receptivity to acoustical events at all levels.

Therefore each element introduced to the site, both practical and artistic, must be tested for not only its intended sound, but for its unintended ones.


For instance, if lights are introduced, they must not buzz. They must make light without making sound. If there are soda machines, they can keep the soda cool, but will not be allowed to set up a sickening de-tuned drone that overwhelms other sounds, as commonly happens. Loud buzzes of air conditioners, electrical systems, conveyor belts, elevators, air handoing, disc drives, fans of all kinds, motors of all kinds must be treated with the same care.You get the picture, the entire environment must be sound designed.


If this is not done, then we loose the lower 50% of the visitors hearing, because a uncontrolled noise floor is allowed to accidentally wipe it out, and this is the most sensitive part of the human hearing.We would loose the most sophisticated half of our sonic communication, as routinely happens in most urban soundscapes.


Thus the physical design of this sonic obeservation environment must be created with the greatest care with a decompression chamber at the entrance. visitors will need to shed the trauma of our normally unplanned soundscapes (such as the transport in which they arrived) and enter the very unusual experience of a sonically designed environment, and allows visitors to shed the trauma of our normally unplanned environments and beging to listen.


What we typically see around us is a reflection of the visual culture. The sounds we normally hear are byproducts of this visual culture, not designed as sounds which might communicate, or enliven our sonic environment. To be in the experience where the sound is actually designed will then be a quite unique experience. Every opportunity to reinforce this shifted senual mix should be undertaken. Therefore the type of sound art which is primarily visual should be avoided as misleading. (such as using a loudspeaker in a painting as a visual object and calling it sound art). Care must also be taken to avoid misleading the senses with visual thinking which is "about sound". The experience of the sounds should be directed to the ears not the eyes, and sound itself should be thought of as the primary medium. The challenge of communication will be to strip back the ordinairy visual language, and present instead the stripping back of the ordinairy visual language and to present instead a clearly thought out alternative of sonic language.