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  • The Room TrickSound as Site
  • Manuel Cirauqui (bio)

Magical halls, still waiting for the right magician

Rudolf Arnheim, Radio

Non-visuality and depth are two material aspects intrinsic—though not equally obvious—to any sound recording. At the risk of being schematic, one could say that the typical “blindness” of the aural medium is inevitably paired with an element that conveys, like a cipher, the spatiality of a recorded event or performance—and this, regardless of the caution one may have in identifying every sound object as necessarily a sound recording. For such a “depth” or spatiality seems to reappear as an effect, a structural mirage, an analog to the “illusion of meaning” in the semiotics of language. It demonstrates the particularity that, in the sound medium, spatiality can at the same time be indexed (by a set of transitive traces) and suggested (by the coexistence of aural layers, background noises, reverberation, etc.). Additionally, it can be summoned in recorded language, as in Alvin Lucier’s haunting words “I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in,” in his early masterpiece from 1965.

What we may call the structural transitivity of the sound recording—the listener’s a priori assumption that a recording is “of something,” something past that was, inevitably, in space, even the space of a machine—still emerges in radical cases where spatial indicators (background noises, directional sound, reverberation, etc.) have been minimized, obliterated, or simply don’t exist. Furthermore, such a ghostly transitivity pervades even the playback of a perfectly unused, blank, magnetic tape. Thus a soundscape, an image of a scene no matter how abstract (the dark inside of a box, or a closet; an elevator cage; the list is infinite) may emerge by default as an effect of the intrinsic architectonics of notes, sources, and layers in sound recording; an effect accrued especially when a voice or other bodily markers are included in it. This problematic gains complexity when considering that, on the one hand, the idea of a “recorded space” often conflates with that of the space of production of the sound object itself; and, on the other, that the emergence of spatial signs and remnants in sound recording happens always in subordination to another space—the one where the listening experience occurs. [End Page 1]

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Gavin Bryars, A Listening Room, installation view at Château d’Oiron, France, 1993. Courtesy Gavin Bryars.

[End Page 2]

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Juan Muñoz during the live performance of A Man in a Room, Gambling, at BBC’s Studio One, Maida Vale, London, 1997. Project commissioned by Artangel. Photo: Stephen White.

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Live performance of A Man in a Room, Gambling, at BBC’s Studio One, Maida Vale, London, 1997, with Gavin Bryars Ensemble in the foreground and Juan Muñoz sitting at the back of the room. Project commissioned by Artangel. Photo: Stephen White.

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The aural medium proceeds by invasion.1 Perhaps the most elementary among architectural illusions in sound is that of a simple room projected onto another, the superimposition of an extraneous, recorded space onto the listener’s. The following essay aims to shed some light on the relation of solidarity between those spaces (the recorded space, that of the recording, and the listening space) as expressed by a handful of works made, with one exception, in the past three decades: recorded texts or scores that are not necessarily “music,” nor “audio literature,” nor “sound art,” but contain the three, and which address the topic of architectural illusion in sound from both analytical and fictionalized perspectives. In addition to Lucier’s landmark I am Sitting in a Room (1965), mentioned above, Juan Muñoz’s Building for Music (1993), Robert Ashley’s Pillars (2007), Gavin Bryars’s A Listening Room (1992), and Muñoz’s A Man in a Room, Gambling (1992, produced in collaboration with Bryars), propose variations on the way sound recordings can convey, spell, and map out their self-awareness of spatial issues within their very medium.

Such exemplary works utilize the spatial qualities...


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