A lecture by Sabine Schäfer based on her research work, during Wiretap 6.07.

The TopoPhonias represent a spatial sound art which includes the architectural space into the artistic concept. As an intermedial art form, it works in a substantial manner with both the dimensions of space and time.

In this approach, the digitisation of the sound material used in the composition plays a particular aesthetical role, as well as working with a space-sound controlling system which can process multi-layered and distinct spatial sound movements across a number of loudspeakers. Such a system is the practical basis for the production of my spatial sound installations. It was established for my artistic work by the systems designer Sukandar Kartadinata in 1990 to 1992 and has since been developed into a 32-channel, fully digital system.

The topophonic installations create specific sound spaces which substantially include in the composition the real movement of the sound in space. The individual levels or layers of the sound composition are, so to speak, folded into the outer space and placed into or moved through that space via a matrix of loudspeakers.

Dia     sound warp  - scetch

As one example, have a look at this sketch:

Three levels of movement (called level A to C) are the main components of the spatial sound installation Sound Warp.

Level A consists of a matrix of 15 loudspeakers arranged in the form of an eight, suspended three meters above the floor. Its specific dimensions are determined by the size of the floor. Along this line of loudspeakers, sounds flow in an endless loop.

Level B is made up of 6 loudspeakers on stands distributed throughout the room. They are not arranged in any particular order and radiate sounds in different directions. They may be regarded as single objects to be encountered as the visitors make their way across the room. These separate sound sources provide a number of fragments of sounds and texts.

The basic volumes have been arranged in such a way that as the visitor approaches a particular sound source, text fragments become understandable and sound materials can be localized. During the visitor while crossing the room, the visitor experiences continuous change between clearly perceptible and diffuse atmospheres.

The third component, level C, is used to provide the grounding tones, so-called aura-sounds, of the room. It constitutes a "canvas" for the sound layers resounding from the loudspeaker configurations described above.

Specific features of this spatial sound art are the free distribution of the sound sources in the architectural space, and thecompositional sound space which has been extended by the real movement of the sounds. The experience of the sound events moving in the space is not only aimed at an intensive spatial experience, but it also becomes an experience of time. The movement in space becomes time. Or, to put it differently: the sense of time is realised as a sense of space. The movement simultaneously creates the imagination of space and time.

Now a short audio example; let us listen to one part of the spatial sound installation TopoPhonie No.3, which was first exhibited in 1996 at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw.

Audio example/ 8-channel                TP #3 (Kugelmotiv)

In the past 10 years of my artistic work, several different types of installations have developed which each have different intentions, like for instance the  traversable or the concert-like SpatialSoundInstallation, the walked around SpaceSoundObject or the traversable SpaceSoundBody. Because of the theme of this Wiretap 6.07, I want to focus today on the traversable SpatialSoundInstallation. Their articulation is most immediately inspired by the characteristics of the respective architectural space. In the second part of my presentation I will show two related videos and present one eight-channel spatial sound composition from the project SONIC LINES N` ROOMS. This is a recent work which I realised last year together with the composer Joachim Krebs in the context of our joint project.

First however a short, general introduction about the traversable spatial sound installations which will be followed by a brief presentation of different such installation projects.

Each traversable spatial sound installation aims at the creation of a specific space-time continuum. Importantly, the virtual sound space and the real space amalgamate into a single condition. The aspect of permanence means that these conditions achieve a certain authenticity of the 'Real' as they remain the same and continuously repeat.

Real space and moving sound space create specific synergies for the recipient, as the imaginary space unfolds inside the real space. The 'real' spatial borders are, in some way, negated. There is an initiation of mental processes which, although they are imaginary and unconnected, are evoked by the staged 'real' location with its respective sound architecture. A specific space arises in order to make the perception itself specific.

We live in an extensive interior reality - our invisible body - and exist in a lived-in space that is repleat with specific qualities. Therefore, there is a permanent expansion of the borders between inside and outside, which are anyway not tied to the skin, and between the body and the world. The artificial, virtu-real space of a traversable spatial sound installation enhances these expansive tendencies by fusing the fundamental human perceptions of space and time into a single condition.

Architectural space and spatial sound installation presuppose the same conditions of reception: the traversability of the space, the permanence and durability in time. Thus, the aesthetic experience can be extended into a wider context.

Let me move on to some examples of sound installations


Dia     LOST - sketch

LOST is developed for architectural spaces which have long reverberation times and big heights. One can say, in this case the architectural space is converted into the resonant body of the spatial sound installation.

This sketch shows the glass-covered coutyard of the Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe, and extremely high (ca. 12 metres) and, given the height, quite narrow courtyard. The size of the space and the bare walls that give off strong reflections give the space a powerful and bouncing echo. These specific characteristics inspired me for the design of a sound installation which uses the space as a huge resonating body and which acts by means of 'large-size' sonic gestures.

The loudspeaker configuration of Lost is characterized above all by the angle formed by the loudspeakers (level A). This column, which is prolonged on the floor, represents the most important component of the installation in the inner court. Along this path, masses of sound crash down and, in certain phases, reascend the column.

In the room, the visitor is sometimes surrounded by a sound loop moving along a semi-cycle formed by loudspeakers (level B) counter-pointing the sounds crashingdown.

Level C transmits the sound tableau for the three-dimensionally moved sounds of levels A and B.

Audio / CD      LOST


Dia      TPPlateaus - Ansichten 1-4

TopoPhonicPlateaus is a traversable spatial sound installation which is premised on a veiling of the architectural space. The complete covering of the walls with black Molton [?] achieves an almost complete neutralisation of the architectural space. At the same time, the Molton cover causes a very dry acoustics. It creates a kind of black box which now offers the opportunity to create a comprehensive loudspeaker body which includes the entire space. This new spatial sound body can act in a highly nuanced way as the localisability of the sound and the finely structured texture of the sound can be distinguished.

Dia     TPPlateaus - sketch

The sound body consists of a configuration made up of 27 loudspeakers combined with a computer-controlled grand piano.

The loudspeaker configuration is made up of three components:

  • 1st: an outer circle consisting of 15 loudspeakers starting at the right edge of the stage and finishing at the left edge of the stage. The loudspeakers are positioned at a successively increasing, then again successively decreasing height.
  • 2nd: Two columns consisting of 4 loudspeakers each, which oppose each other in the inner space. Here, the heights of the loudspeakers are staggered.
  • 3rd: Four aura loudspeaker boxes which have been placed in each corner of the room. This group of loudspeakers provides an acoustic ground in the room, transmitting the bass frequencies.

The computer-controlled grand piano is present on the stage. It is synchronized by a computer with the loudspeaker configuration.

TopoPhonicPlateaux is a sound-light body in which the acoustical and optical conditions continuously change. Electro-acoustical sound, instrumental sound, human voice and noises (i.e. every kind of audio material) are interwoven with one another and give rise to a complex speech character which breaks down boundaries and establishes itself between traditional genres such as electronic music, radio play or "musique concrète".

The digital synchronization of the piano with the loudspeaker installation has the effect of combining the heterogeneous levels of sound to create one sound-body "playing" together. The loudspeaker ensemble together with the concert-style grand piano and the lighting give rise to sound-light territories which again open up new scenes, and create metamorphoses.


Dia     Klangzelt - vorne

Die Außerkraftsetzung der architektonischen Wirkung wird mit dem RaumklangKörper 'Klangzelt' aus der Künstlerpaar-Projektreihe SonicRooms stringenter etabliert. Dieser Körper stellt eine Art künstlich installierte 'Hörinsel', ein Raum im Raum dar.

Dia     Klangzelt - innen

For instance, by the interior of this three-dimensional sounding body which is - easily as well as effectively - separated from its surrounding space by a double fabric cover, the visual aspect of the artistic design of space and time is excluded to the largest possible extent - an aspect, by which the auditive reception of the artificially created virtual SonicRooms is intensified.

Dia     Klangzelt - glühendes Dach

As visual contact, a crucial premise for orientation and localization, is prevented by thin draping which is impervious to light, but permeable to sound, it is possible to create unreal-imaginary "SensorySonicRooms", where actually moving sounds, which are perceived only by the ear, are experienced as an amorphous continuum of fleeting and unpalpable conditions and acoustic atmospheres.


Dia     SLNR - Logo

Ich kommen nun zum zweiten Teil meines Vortrags, in dem ich Ihnen das Raumklanginstallations-Projekt SLNR vorstellen möchte.

SLNR was a commission by the Contemporary Sound Art Festival Donaueschinger Musiktage 1999. Joachim Krebs and I were invited to create a spatial sound installation for the vault basement of the F. F. court library.

We developed two so-called ConsistencyplanMaps for this project. Map #1 shows how the SpaceSoundBody of this installation is structured and what are the intended possibilities for development in terms of sound-movement aesthetics. Map #2 gives information on the aesthetic concepts of the 32-track spatial sound composition.

Ich werde vor allem die Struktur des RaumklangKörpers beschreiben und - angesichts der knappen Zeit - nur kurz auf die Raumklangkomposition eingehen, sowie zwei Videos vorführen und abschließend eine der achtkanaligen Raumklangkompositionen aus SLNR vorspielen.

Dia       KonsistenzplanKarte # 1 - Der begehbare, viergliedrige RaumklangKörper

The composition of the SpaceSoundBody is inspired exclusively by the architectonic character of the performance space: the vaulted cellar of the Fürstlich Fürstenbergisch Hofbibliothek (the main library). This vaulted cellar is structured in four parts consisting of two interconnected rooms. Both pairs of rooms are separated by a corridor. This ground plan results in a dually symmetrical arrangement.

Since the two artists have already been working for three years on various collaborative sets of projects and forms of installation or, to be more precise, installation-types, the development according to dually symmetrical thinking of a four-membered Installation-Body which combines two different forms of installation was immediately apparent.

From the project series SonicLines, which consists of SpaceSoundObjects which may be walked around, two SpaceSoundObjects were created with linear constructions of loudspeakers;

Dias: Raum 1 + 2

and from the project series Sonic Rooms, which consists of traversable SpaceSound installations, two configurations were created where loudspeakers are placed close to and along the wall and the receiver (ie the visitor) imagines him/herself in the interior of a soundbody, completely surrounded by sound.

Dias: Raum 3+4
Dia: Karte #1

On the Consistency-plan Map #1 the arrangement of rooms can be seen, numbered from 1 to 4, beginning lower left, and outlined in each respective sector, are the loudspeaker constructions in the single rooms of the vaulted cellar. Each group of eight loudspeakers is configured in each room and are numbered in order on the map in the appropriate sector (room 1: loudspeakers 1-8, room 2; loudspeakers 9-16 etc.).

Each of the four rooms has specific patterns of movement.

Both SpaceSoundObjects of rooms 1 and 2 are characterised by gyratory movements of sounds on the object lines. In room 1 it is primarily a dual (1) multilinearly reflected gyratory counter-movement and its diverse variations. Room 2 on the other hand has, as sound movement intrinsic to the object, the dual multidimensionally directed gyratory up-and-down movement with variations. Room 3, as an example of a traversable SpaceSoundInstallation, represents amongst other things the dual rectangular zigzag movement (up and down) on two levels, while in room 4 real sound movement in space can only establish itself on a higher level as elliptical circular-movement.

SLNR    Video 1 + 2

Sehen wir nun zwei Videos von SLNR. Die Raumklangkomposition strukturiert sich insges. in 4 RaumklangMilieus. Davon hören wir zuerst das RaumklangMilieu #4 kombiniert mit Videoaufnahmen des Raumpaares, in dem die RKObjekte installiert sind. Daran anschließend RaumklangMilieu #4 kombiniert mit dem Raumpaar der begehbaren Raumklanginstallationen.

In experiencing SpaceSound, it is significant that about 80% of sound materials can be heard simultaneously in all rooms; as a result, the specific sound-space which the real movement produces is perceptible and an acoustic specification of the single rooms in relation to each other becomes possible. This impression is intensified still further due to the  different respective arrangements of the loudspeakers from which arise typical real sound movements.

Die Sampling-Technik bildet eine wichtige Grundlage für die Raumklangkomposition. Leider kann ich aus Zeitgründen auf deren Ästhetik und Bearbeitungsverfahren nicht näher eingehen. Deshalb sei hier nur erwähnt:

The only raw sound material in Sonic Lines n' Rooms is amorphous, animal-natural-utterances and sounds as well as heterogeneous everyday noises from the human milieu and environment. However, there are no vocal sounds directly from humans nor are there sound materials produced synthetically in some manner or other, in this electroacoustic SpaceSoundComposition both of these were completely excluded.

The so-called "artificial sound milieu" are formed in a quasi acoustic amalgamation process. That is, a temporarily existing, specific mixture of sound substances and particles create dynamically driven SoundEnergyStructures in symbiotic diversity which always start from the middle (mi/middle lieu/place), by means of self-impelled, proliferating self-intensifying loops.

The essential point is that no alteration, processing or even alienation whatsoever of single sound substances is carried out, only the inner dimensions and perspectives change, quasi mutating, whilst the relations between pitches, rhythms and timbres remain the same.

Thus one can say that the sound substance is not changed but, ultimately, only the receiver's perspective and dimension of perception changes.

SLNR    -       8-kanalige Fassung  16 min.
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