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Listening to atmospheres


More and more, the world of art is becoming an attentive listener, as if a terra incognita remained to be explored, another state of the world to be discovered, and an unheard-of experience to be tried. A salutary revelation in which places resonate, and we are inhabited by sounds. This sensitivity to the auditory world applies both to recognized architectural works, as well as to ordinary urban environments, to a building that is considered remarkable, as it is to a square that is regarded as nondescript. In any case, it is a question of paying attention to our ways of living, of auscultating our forms of life, of listening to atmospheres. By listening, we are immersed in a moment of life, a point of existence, a climatic situation, an ambient landscape. We belong to the atmosphere of a place by experiencing its unique tonalities and imperceptible modulations. Thus, a whole world of nuances opens up to us, inviting discovery, with its intensities, variations and dynamics. Sound anchors us in the here and now of the experience, just as it transports us to a world of feelings and memories. In this regard, three principal features characterize ambient sound: resonance, performance, and consistency. Resonance reinforces or emphasizes the faculty of vibrating in unison with the ambience. This means getting oneself in tune with the surrounding world, entering into a kind of sympathy or harmony with it, putting ourselves on the same wavelength. As Jean-Luc Nancy1 so beautifully says: ‘Strike from the outside, clamour from within, this sound body, body of sound, begins simultaneously to listen to a “self” and a “world” which are both in resonance.’ Performance refers to the generative and dynamic component of the sound world. Sound is thus presented as the effect of an activity and the deployment of a movement, as the result of doing and time in the process of configuring itself. When we listen to a place, we inevitably feel the marks of time, not an abstract time, the time measured by clocks, but indeed a qualified time, in so doing. In his rhythmanalysis project, Henri Lefebvre2 rightly highlighted sound’s crucial role in capturing ambient dynamics. Finally, consistency reveals sound’s sensitivity to situations and its ability to hold together the different variables of a particular context. In the same situation, one may hear at once a crowd walking, the rain as it beats on the footpath, the reverberation of a mineral space, a friendly discussion in progress, or the noise of traffic off in the distance, etc. All of these voices intertwine and combine, creating for the listener a unique diffuse quality, an unusual emotional tonality, representative of the ambient situation. Victor Zuckerkandl3 spoke in this regard of ‘tonal coalescence’ in order to refer to the tendency of the sound world to integrate the diverse. What then of this capacity of sound to permeate us and affect us? How does sound invite us to experience a space? What of the atmospheric power of the sound world? Haroon Mirza’s artistic intervention at the Villa Savoye generates such queries and raises anew the question of just how we experience an atmosphere.
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hal-03244547 , version 1 (01-06-2021)


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Jean-Paul Thibaud. Listening to atmospheres. Guerra, Silvia; Illouz, Audrey; Fiévet Laurent. The light hours. Haroon Mirza? Villa Savoye, Lab'Bel; Suresnes, pp.27-34, 2016, 978-2-9537180-4-1. ⟨hal-03244547⟩
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