Modelling the shopping soundscape
Journal article, 2011
This article’s pivotal theme is: “How to compose a site-specific sound-art installation for a commercial space in order to improve conditions, while taking perceptual, social, aesthetical, temporal and spatial criteria into account”
The interdisciplinary, art-based research approach is derived from the concept of acousmatics, i.e. the process of apprehending any sound, the source of which is invisible. Acousmatic perception concerns the everyday identification process; when lacking visual contact with the sound source, we automatically seek references, such as social (what produces the sound and what is my relation to it?), aesthetical, spatial and temporal (e.g. orientation and demarcation). The acousmatic concept identifies phenomena based on individually, culturally and spatially conditioned experiences.
Today, a shopping culture dominates urban space. Indoor malls expose us to all types of acousmatically perceived sounds: jingles, signals, music and muzak from public loudspeakers, mobile devices, etc. In this respect, one could claim that the soundscape of the shopping culture embodies an acousmatic environment.
In 2009, the research and sound-art group Urban Sound Institute (USIT) created a permanent sound installation in a shopping mall (Gallerian) located in downtown Stockholm. This installation serves as a case study for the present paper. The artistic assignment involved the creation of a meeting place without material devices as well as the enhancement of the overall atmosphere. The research objective was to elucidate different qualities of the sound installation in regard to the acousmatics of the shopping mall, promoting discussions on the articulation of sound-space configurations in relation to time and site-specific context, issues on musical-architectural qualities as well as objective, subjective and inter-subjective interrelationships between the experience of the sound-art installation and the experience of the shopping mall soundscape. Other applied, interrelated concepts are metabolic environment and masking- and cutting effects.