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Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? — Experiencing Aural Architecture

by Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007
437 pp. Trade, $39.95
ISBN: 0262 026055.

Reviewed by Florence Martellini
58 Dewsland Park rd, NP20 4EG


The book is divided in three main sections, which are as follows:

1. A definition of what an acoustic space is and the theories underlying aural perception, especially, those linked to cognitive psychology;
2. The author’s experience as a designer of electronic audio equipments and the ways in which acoustic spaces’ behaviours can be modified;
3. A return on some of the subjects of the first part to expand on their social and evolutionary phenomena.

Unfortunately, the author’s undoubted expertise in the field of electronic acoustics and the depth of his analyses get lost in a tedious prose and an apparent lack of aim for the book. It is not clear to whom the book is addressed and what the author aims to achieve. He dwells on the psychological/sociological meaning of hearing and, then, on the technical artefact available to modify the acoustic behaviour of a space. However, he does not provide any applicable tool or formula that an architect or practitioner of space design could use in his or her job. Although the book provides some very important insights in the way people communicate using sound, one can wonder whether the designers or restorers of architectural spaces who are not highly specialised in the subject would embark or would want to embark in such a lengthy book, only then to have to look elsewhere for practical solutions. This book is the equivalent of a book on lighting aimed at the acoustic domain, and it far exceeds in length anything that this reviewer has ever seen on that subject.

The author acknowledges in the first few pages that the human mind is biased towards visual sensation rather than auditory. He then embarks on a long journey to try to convince the reader to train to increase his aural awareness. There is no doubt that a considerable richness in perceptual experiences is thus lost, but one wonders if the readers, and or the laypersons living in such spaces, would be prepared to spend the time to acquire the high level of proficiency that he continuously mentions, citing always blind subjects as examples.

There is a continuous confusion between the words ‘to affect’ and ‘effect’. The author always uses the later somehow either showing that his ear is not as finally tuned as he might like to believe or that his editor was not up to the task to clarify the meaning put behind these words. Finally, despite the fact that the book appears to have been written by two authors the text is all in the first singular of only one of the two authors.



Updated 1st June 2007

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