themes + aesthetics.
Views from within the Barbican Estate are rarely arbitrary. Built on land reduced to rubble in World War II, the architects designed a series of introverted vistas, directing the eye inwards onto their own creation rather than out towards the derelict, industrial surroundings. Sound Views of the Barbican Estate is a conceptual and aesthetic exploration of this design. Through the deconstruction, manipulation, and re-contextualisation of the Barbican Estate’s natural soundscape, I have composed sound views, which direct the ear of the listener inwards. Much as the architects’ fortified design segregates those who occupy it from the space beyond the walls, these sound views should isolate the listener, displacing them sonically from the wider city, and offering a contrasting soundscape to that which is experienced outside the estate. I respond to the aesthetic of the myriad architectural vistas, making audible my own reaction to, and interpretation of, their visual characteristics. In short, I have created a sound world which I feel embodies the architecture’s imperfections and state of decay, and which parallels the ubiquitous distorted concrete facade.
The architectural views, alongside which the six electroacoustic miniatures are experienced, are panoramic and immersive, and range in depth. The viewer is invited to focus as much on the patterns and textures of their immediate environment as they are on the distant horizon. The listener is invited to do the same; not only to explore and deconstruct each element of the sound-world, but also to consider it as a whole.
Behind the six electroacoustic miniatures lies the idea of variation within a constant aesthetic, through the manipulation of limited source material. The Barbican Estate is constructed almost exclusively from poured concrete, resulting in a strong aesthetic uniformity throughout. The architects were not limited by this visual constraint, rather they exploited it, allowing the consistency of the facade to cohere their complex and contrasting designs. I took the natural soundscape of the Barbican Estate as my concrete, manipulating and distorting the sound, as craftsmen hand-hammered the Barbican’s pocked concrete facade. Each of the six miniatures are connected not only by their source material, but also by their sonic characteristics, and concept. Whilst each explores a different visual or conceptual theme related to the location in which it is heard, as a collection they may be considered simply as an exploration of the contrast that I observe in the architecture; contrast between stereotypes of beauty and ugliness, density and sparsity, angularity and curvature, irregularity and repetition, proximity and distance, movement and stasis, enclosure and exposure, light and shade, and between the transcendental and the unmistakably human.
The instrumental element explores similar themes, specifically those which affect one’s emotional response to the space. The contrast between stereotypes of beauty and ugliness seems equally significant in this context, specifically the paradoxical dissonance between the supposed brutality of the architecture, and the overwhelming sense of tranquility that I experience within it. Equally important is the relationship between memories and our emotional response to architecture, and the affect that each has on the other. My juxtaposition of electroacoustic sound upon instrumentation, to construct sound memories borne out of both visual and emotional experience, is a musical metaphor for this reciprocity.
Finally, I explore wider themes relating to the difference between our experience of sound and architecture. I make use of simultaneous compositional narratives, whereby multiple layers of sound, each of which develop independently of one another, are heard simultaneously. The listener may divert their attention between each individual narrative, or consider the sum as a whole, much as one might take in a view. The structure of the composition and the medium through which it is experienced also go some way to reconciling the inherent differences in the traditional experience of sound and architecture. The app allows the listener to simultaneously explore sound and space, and offers them a degree of autonomy to create and control a personal, spatio-temporal, sonic experience.
The sound view located at the end of Gilbert Bridge (overlooking lakeside and St. Giles' Church) is broadly acousmatic, exhibiting de-contextualised segments of the estate’s natural soundscape. I was intrigued to discover a musical component to the architecture’s environmental sound, from the harmonic drones of ventilation systems and draughty bathrooms, to the rhythmic modulation of dripping water. Similarly, commonplace sonic events like the opening and closing of a door, and the dense textures of human speech, are presented in this piece as musical experiences. A stark gesture is reiterated three times, a number which re-appears both musically and structurally throughout the wider piece.
The sound view positioned in the interior corridor between lakeside and the high-rise is constructed from recordings of electro-magnetic sound, emitted by the architecture’s myriad electronic devices. Explosive gestural passages, repetitive rhythm, and timbral density reinforce a sense of enclosure that I associate with the estate’s covered spaces. Sonic allusions to everyday sounds, such as the human voice and industrial noise, highlight the inherently acousmatic nature of the architecture’s environmental sound; the concrete structure’s considerable reverberance carries environmental sound far beyond its point of origin, a phenomenon especially observable in the covered passageways and corridors.
The sound view situated in Sculpture Court makes reference to isolated examples of curvature in the architecture, set against the predominately linear, angular structures that are often associated with the Barbican. This architectural flexure is clearly observable here, beneath the vast amphitheatre-like construction, or from outside the courtyard's curved perimeter. The piece also alludes to the architects’ implementation of stylistic tropes in their design, by referencing the sonic pallet of contemporary electronic dance music.
The sound view located in the covered walkway to the Museum of London is a musical interpretation of the view that it accompanies. Two compositional narratives fight for the listeners attention; periods of textural stasis and rhythmic repetition represent the foreground terrace of apartments, whilst contrasting gestural material represents the glimpses or windows on to the wider estate viewed through small gaps in the building’s pilotis. I constructed the piece by processing and manipulating material taken from the other five miniatures. As the view offers glimpses of spaces that have previously, or will later be seen in greater detail, so the listener hears disparate and deconstructed components of material that they have already heard, or will go on to hear later. Artificial reverberations re-enforce the intangibility of the physical environment when viewed from this perspective, and the manner in which the viewer imagines the space that is obscured from view.
The sound view placed in the sloping tunnel connecting Lauderdale Tower with the terrace below Seddon House is a meditation on two of the project’s wider themes: stereotypes of beauty and ugliness, and unity and disparity in the architecture. The listener is presented with a pointillist texture of disparate rhythmic, timbral and tonal patterns, which are consolidated at moments of musical unity before the texture is fractured once again, and their individual narratives continue. The contrast between visual stereotypes of beauty and ugliness is stated most explicitly in the final section, in which vacantly pretty pentatonic patterns are accompanied by distorted bursts of percussive sound.
The sound view heard on the terrace behind Brandon Mews refers to instances of repetition in the architecture, specifically regular repetition of irregular shapes and patterns. The time signature unsettles the music’s underlying rhythmic repetition, restating a simultaneously jarring yet hypnotic musical pattern. The music sounds playful and childlike at times, softening the often aggressive aesthetic of the architecture.