Sounds and their representations

by Sylvie Laroche + Laure Brayer

Four years after the winter school on “« The representations of the sonic urban environment” », this intervention will be the opportunity to review the evolution of the question through examples of recent research and teaching works.

First of all, it is on the basis of ongoing research on the urban boundaries of the Greater Geneva that the modes of representation of sound perceived, captured and measured sound will be presented. In order to characterise the fields of study from a physical (physical approach to acoustics) and sensitive (sensitive approach to sound environments) point of view, different forms of representation of the sonic dimension are tested (sketch, text, diagram).

In a second time, by taking up to resume the thematic of the boundary, we will make three proposals to address the question of the representation of sound:

– Tracking the sound at the edge of the media: what can we hear from an urban atmosphere at the intersection of a text, a video and three labeled photographs?

– Llistening to the sound at the margins of the image: in the film representation, what is the place of sound in the dialogue it creates with the image?

– Playing to talk about the representations of sound: what (playful) devices to put in place to be able to exchange around on the sound experience of a familiar environment and the representations one has of it.

download the pdf of the conference

Translation :

Laure Brayer (in English)

Merci à l’équipe d’organisation. Si nous avons été invitées pour parler de la représentation des sons, c’est probablement dû au fait que nous avions organisé la 3ème Winter School.

Deux questions : Comment représenter visuellement la dimension sonore d’un territoire ?
Et qu’est-ce que ces représentations peuvent nous apprendre sur un espace urbain particulier et ses ambiances ?

Workshop : caractéristiques sonores d’un espace au cœur de Grenoble. Premières étapes d’un diagnostic sensible.

Actualisation depuis 2015. 1) Sylvie, lisières du son – elle travaille actuellement sur Genève. Comment identifier les lisières du son.

Sylvie Laroche (in French)

Thanks for the organising team.

Identifying and representing the edges of sounds

At the interface between commercial private space and urban public space, at the border between urban and natural milieus, we can identify active sound/sonic limits.
These limits/edges can be identified through capture, measurement, description and representation.

We aim to consider these immaterial edges as one of the conditions to develop opportunities for urbanity between fragmented environments in the contemporary city.

Indeed, it is about characterizing the edges of sounds in the urban environment (contrary to fixed/specific edges). They can be separate from fundamental delineations between different programmes and functions. They can also be different from visual limits.

I tried to grasp the connections between the different milieus, to identify the characteristics of these thresholds and to identify whether the edges represented places in themselves, whether the limits formed a space, a location. To this end, I want to know:

If we can identify the thickness of these limits;
How the limits of the sound forms allow to characterize spatial forms;
How the limits of sounds can question our experience in an environment/a milieu.

I worked in particular on the question of sound edges in 3 research projects (cartophonie, urban edges).

The first exploration was carried out during my research internship for my Master’s degree.

Grégoire Chelkoff had offered to go back to the situations that were identifies during the “architectural sound prototypes” research in 2003, and to re-record situations of limits, inclusion and articulation. In this study, the scientific team were defining “edge situations”, i.e. configurations where the listener can change their sound environment by moving in a way that cannot be understood as articulation as defined or by orientating their body ever so slightly. Example on the screen, wooden floor. No change in the architecture, but the sound recorder’s position changes the situation. LIMIT.

Second example:

It is thus possible to switch from a situation (A) to a situation (B) and to come back to (A) almost instantly, without fundamentally changing the reference architectural space. Therefore, it is the potentiality of immediate reversibility that is mainly at stake. It is not necessarily connected to a physical limit of the space to cross: some sonic situations delineate a soundscape by themselves (a crowd, for example). In terms of use, this category mainly questions the interactions, in particular verbal ones (intelligibility limit), and the active or phatic modalities of relationship to others.

We can mention examples such as the situation on the pedestrian bridge over the Isère, which would allow to differentiate two distinct sound situations depending on which side we choose. We can also mention the sound phenomena at the parapet walls of the Bastille that lead to a tilting between two sound worlds. Sheets were elaborated (as shown on the screen), built forms, sensory phenomena, public practices. Different documents to illustrate. The goal was to highlight the scope of our own sound emissions, but also to understand the influence of the position of the sound recorder in their perception of limits.

The second exploration was carried out during a research study on the Isle-d’Abeau. (new town built close to the Lyon-Saint-Exupéry Airport)
The research had two objectives:

  • –  The first was to answer the questions: does the new town have sound memory? How is it formed? This territory was described by Yves Chalas as a satellite-city, producing an interlock of built and natural environments, of old buildings and new neighbourhoods, of traditional practices connected to contemporary uses.
  • –  The second objective was to represent the elements that were collected on the field and this sonic memory. We chose to establish a qualitative “CARTOPHONIE”, allowing through an infographic representation to access the sequences selected as instructive on phenomena or effects specific to the listening situations/memory on the Isle-d’Abeau. Shown: interface that took a long time to start. Plan, section. Every time, sheet to describe the elements with sonograms. In other words, a representation that allows to somewhat recover the listening. Hinging on texts, pictures, sonograms and soundtracks, the making of this representation tool required a lot of time. Listening sheets were established for each selected sequence.

At the end of these two projects, I can say that we mobilised:
Different media, with experiments involving maps, sections and plans,
Including illustrations, sketches, sheets, sonograms,
Defining interfaces that are available from inside or for the general public, with

cartophonies (

I would like to mention that these representations, such as cartophonies, are not yet another soundmap to build a sound ambiance atlas. Not the point here. We aimed more to rely on CRESSON’s own criteria, like sonic effects, to contextualise them within the stakes of the research projects.

I will continue now with one – third – last project, about another research subject. Take a step to the side compared to the edges. Current research: CSTB on the one hand, Epia on the other hand (Geneva) – ecology, management of nature.

Not a limit between urban/natural environments, but a meeting instead.

We aimed at defining the urban boundaries of the Geneva metropolis, to determine:

  • –  The places and milieus stemming from the association between natural, cultivated and/or developed environments.
  • –  The continuities and grids of these lived places in Geneva. To answer these two points, the method proposed (cf. Geddes, Tixier – walking, representing, characterising) the apprehension of the urban boundaries through ecological, climate, urban, social and economic dimension, and the crossing of the different evaluations carried out by each researcher. On screen: walks. Crossing the information with maps on ecology, to study the evolution of tree heights, built environment, etc. Status of representation. Representation is not the aim in itself. Way to cross the different disciplines. Therefore, we elaborated a process that could be explained by this diagram. The iterative approach is based on land surveying, then the representation of the data collected, which generates an analysis on the characterization of urban limits. This approach continues throughout the entire project. Let’s take two examples of urban limits (recordings). In the first one, quite short, located in a natural environment (welcoming centre for migrants). On that day, important traffic, people inside the centre, we had sound sources that were very close to the ground (traffic), but the weather was bad to hear the surrounding environment, and the situation was not ideal to measure anything. Isolation – we could see the traffic, but couldn’t hear anything. We felt like we were lost in the middle of nowhere, while there was life all around us. Jérôme Defrance, our team’s acoustician, managed to capture and measure the sound ambiances at the edge of a building. We mainly have the weather effect in its context, i.e. we surveyed the impact of heat transfers between the ground and the air. In a second one, for those who can read sonograms? What kind of space? We are located near water (near Annemasse in France, with the agricultural space on the Swiss side), small hill that stops the sounds from traffic nearby. Within the edge and close to the farm. We can hear without seeing (compared to the first example, where we could see without hearing) – interesting to study those dynamics.

Work under work, to cross the data collected and other forms of representation to re-define the topic.

References – the representation allows us to have the macro-scale of the urban environment, as well as the micro scale. Sound parentheses.

We established the threshold effects generated between the urban limit and its surrounding context, as well as inside its perimeter. Inclusion phenomena, situations of sonic parentheses allow to grasp the inclusion and the articulation between natural and urban environments. In that case, propagation effects are interesting to identify, measure and assess.

By relying on these two examples, we can see the paths that still need exploring to represent the characteristics and roles of urban limits, as shown by these different diagrams on these sonic effects.

Dimension of diagnostic – conditions for the emergence of the sonic ambiance.
Prospective dimension – on what criteria can we work, to recontextualise and redefine the environments?

For us, it is about pinpointing the elements to highlight the sensory environment and cross them.

Question: Can you show us the sonic parentheses?

Answer: difference in colours. Sonic parenthesis: you are in an old town – square with arcades. Certain sound ambiance in that place. If you are under the arcades, you are a little isolated on an acoustic level. You are still on the square, but a little on the side. A place cannot have just one effect – too many criteria allow for an influence. What are the criteria to work on that phenomenon?

Every time we walk on the soundboard (Japanese example), there’s a sound.

Vertical lines? Blank spaces – parentheses. Those are references found on the Internet (Pinterest).

If the capture is dependent on the weather, how can we record? The point is not to create a soundmap and cover the entire field of study. Our aim is to highlight and note what is note- worthy, and the aspects we could affect later. Criteria, scopes, that can be highlighted for later. Understand how the elements are formed, not the sound fragment itself. What allows to feel isolated, etc., and less about recreating the sound.

About Cartophonie: how do you grasp the edges you’re talking about? How do you identify the edges from the listening, or are they visually represented? Do you think that some sonic effects appear more often than others in these edge phenomena?

àLimits, urban edges – contextualise via writing and diagram. Listening sheet imbedded into another listening sheet. Very few dynamic recordings. Almost always localised points. Hard to obtain dynamic recordings that showcase the movement.

Sonogram/spectrogram: you have the recording, you can access the time/frequency. The colours depend on the intensity of the sounds. It represents well the different landscapes – it looks almost like a postcard. We can recompose the sound ambiance of a place. Easier to re- contextualise that way. (Habit?)

Acousticians rarely like it: they want to work with sound speed, and the spectrogram doesn’t necessarily represent an added value. It doesn’t reveal/unveil anything specific, and it’s not easy to work on.

Question: Are high/low frequencies distinguishable, or are some blended into the background/missed?

Answer: It’s possible. She likes that representation because it represents well the context. But it can be faulty/traitorous.

Remark: You might be used to seeing that while listening to the recording. Not just like that? Answer: But I like it.
Parameters: Time, frequency, range
Laure Bayer (in English)

Pas spécialiste des lisières. Mais comme c’est le sujet, j’ai regardé des recherches passées.

Thème utilisé comme un prétexte pour montrer des façons différentes de représenter. Deux axes :

  • –  Traquer le son à la lisière
  • –  Ecouter à la lisière de l’image
    Complexité, paradoxes, qui peuvent enrichir les expériences et représentations. 1) Traquer
    Transect de Grenoble. Première année de Bachelor. Introduction à l’ambiance urbain 2016. Résultat d’une observation/représentation. Chaque étudiant devait étudier une place, 50mx50m. Décrire la perception de l’ambiance à cet endroit : texte + audiovisuel + 3 photos Une lisière (nord) : illustration de la cohabitation de deux mondes différents/distincts. Bastille – Grenoble. Point de jonction entre ville et nature, entre la plaine et la montagne. Topographie permet une élévation intéressante. La cohabitation est perceptible surtout au point de vue sonique. Bâtiment abandonné – institut de géologie et de minéralogie.

Ressemble à un belvédère, vue panoramique, on dirait qu’on est loin de la ville, extrait, isolé, éloigné. Lisière forte.

Video + son
Sensation paradoxale – dans et hors de la ville.
Texte : autre approche à l’ambiance perçue et le rôle du son à cet endroit.

Cette sensation, révélée par le son, est typique d’un seuil ambiant. (Chelkoff) – endroit ou moment où la configuration ambiante permet la perception de deux sortes d’ambiance en même temps.

Vision et audition ne suivent pas la même logique. Sensation de détachement d’une ambiance (visuel) même si on est encore dans la ville du point de vue auditif.

Lisière de l’image.

Le son offre une compréhension plus complexe de l’ambiance. Hiérarchie possible avec l’image. Distance entre voix et image, par exemple. On pense toujours que l’image ne suit pas le son. Hiérarchie. La façon dont on décrit, le vocabulaire, décrit le son en rapport avec l’image.

3 types de son :
– Visible à l’écran
– Invisible à l’écran (acousmatique)
– Son off (source absente et extérieure au monde visualisé)

Le son, et le son direct en particulier, est très important pour comprendre une ambiance. Notamment si on veut comprendre la dynamique et la temporalité d’une ambiance.

Regardez des extraits.
– Le son contribue à l’identité d’un endroit
– Le son révèle des éléments de l’image
– Le son révèle ce qui est invisible à l’écran ou extérieur à l’écran – Le son aide à comprendre les durées et les temporalités

Le son a certaines couleurs – exprimées par le son. Les couleurs révèlent l’identité de l’endroit. Impression de la couleur apportée par le son avant l’image.

1er extrait.

Les premières secondes sont confuses : train ? L’idée arrive rapidement, dès qu’on entend les sons. Mais après un moment, on se rend compte que le son ne correspond pas à l’image. On remet en question le point de vue et le point d’écoute.

2ème extrait.

Je fais souvent l’expérience, où je montre ce film sans le son, puis avec le son. Il semble que sans le son, l’attention va au centre (la vieille dame). Avec le son, on perçoit plus le groupe d’ados, car leur présence est plus forte au niveau sonore, et donc on les cherche à l’image.

Le son peut mettre en avant des éléments plus discrets visuellement.

3ème extrait. Le son peut révéler des éléments absents de l’image.

Si on se concentre juste sur l’image, on voit très peu d’activités. Le son direct, comme ici, qui représente la bande son, enrichit l’expérience (circulation, travail sur le bois, poules, voix, oiseaux). Ce qu’on entend ici est le taskscape. Selon Ingold, le son révèle les activités qui ne sont pas toujours visibles, mais présentes quand même. Elles donnent une forme à l’endroit.

Représentation de différents objets qui sont exprimés plus ou moins par l’image ou le son, certaines fois se contredisant l’un l’autre.

La tonalité/la couleur d’un endroit évolue constamment. Selon le rythme quotidien/saisonnier, des transformations s’opèrent. Le son direct permet de percevoir l’évolution d’une ambiance.

Combinaison image/son propose un espace complexe dans lequel l’attention se développe. Bien que le son soit toujours subordonné à l’image, il n’est pas additionnel. Il contribue à une façon de percevoir l’identité d’un endroit filmé, et le caractère complexe et métabolique de son ambiance.

Film notetaking
Representation = interpretation Conclusion (in English)
Thank you for having me!

Translation by Sophie Provost

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