Architecture is Frozen Music

Acoustical Portrait: A Frequency Analysis of The Bass Museum for the exhibition, SOUND (2008)
by Gustavo Matamoros
This video piece is both a composition and document of the process i use to generate an acoustical portrait of a given physical space. Though interesting in itself as an artistic experience, the information generate by this process is also crucial to the development of strategies for creating site-specific acoustic installations and for designing sound art exhibitions for a site. The data collected in this video facilitated the task of selecting and preparing sound works for our group exhibition SOUND to work in such an acoustically difficult space as The Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. SOUND was a site-specific curatorial project supported by Knight Foundation in celebration of Subtropics 20
© 2008, Gustavo Matamoros. Subtropics Editions.

Architecture is Frozen Music: The Process of Capturing a Acoustical Signatures
by Gustavo Matamoros

There is an entertaining way of capturing the resonant sound signature a particular architectural space that is similar to fishing. Take a microphone, attach it to a pole, connect it to an amplified speaker and move it around a room until you hear feedback. The tone you hear comes out of thin air and makes audible a particular feature of that architectural space. Change the microphone’s position and you may find another tone. Taken together these tones are a elements of that space’s acoustical signature.

I learned this activity from Russell Frehling back in the mid 80’s. It is a very important step in the creation of his sound installation work. He mentored me informally during this period while I assisted him with some of his pieces. Since I found ways to incorporate the technique into my own work and to use it as a tool for design and experimentation.

Resonant Frequencies are part of what Russell defines as the “acoustical signature” of a space. When playing them back into the same space I think about them “being right at home”, and therefore excellent tour guides in their aural description of the surroundings.

These resulting tones respond to the architecture and not to an arbitrary scheme such as the tempered scale of whole tones and half steps adopted as a standard in Western music—which in modern times uses 440Hz as the reference frequency for the tuning of the note A4 (the Stuttgart pitch or ISO 16). So the acoustical response from a space with a prominent resonance at 450Hz (11.16Hz above Bb4) will impose acoustical biases on an instrument’s sound different from those imposed by another space in which the prominent resonance is 442Hz or 319Hz or 100Hz—none of which coincide with tones in the tempered scale.

I have documented several spaces along the way, most of which contain unique microtonal relationships in their sound signatures which when heard through headphones a perfect-pitch-abled ear may hear as being out-of-tune. What strikes me the most is the natural tendency for these mathematically unrelated (or out-of-tune) tones to get along when interacting within the physical space that produced them.

Somewhere in the context of this kind of conversations are hints about what may define what I often perceive to be an acoustically beautiful space, both quiet or filled with sound.

Gustavo Matamoros
June 21, 2006