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The Journal of Sonic Studies
Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 6, nr. 1 (January 2014)Marie Højlund; Sofie Kinch: ALARMING ATMOSPHERES - EMBODIED SOUND HABITUATION AS DESIGN STRATEGY IN A NEURO-INTENSIVE CARE UNIT

To refer to this article use this url: http://journal.sonicstudies.org/vol06/nr01/a02

6. Concluding Remarks

When acknowledging the dynamic habituation process of atmospheres as an essential part of finding one’s place and of feeling as an integrated part of an environment, it is important to reflect on how different contexts and different target groups call for different strategies in the search to help this process through design. In calm and familiar surroundings, the rhythms of the body can adapt more easily to the rhythms of the environment (Horowitz 2013: 189), and therefore a more traditional approach to atmosphere design, as in a traditional stage setting, could be effective (e.g. through slowly changing colours, lighting candles, or playing calm background sounds). The claim presented throughout this article is that slow and calming rhythms presented to visitors in an alarming atmosphere would not be felt to be in coherence with the predictably aroused and tense bodily state and rhythms. Therefore, it would be ineffective in synchronising the rhythms of the environment with the rhythms of the visitor.

Habituation typically happens almost automatically in environments where we spend a lot of time, through a gradual and slow adaption. As a patient in an English hospital puts it: “Well, I guess as with whatever environment you become familiar with, you gradually lose the acute sensation that you first get. I mean, you can really be overwhelmed with the noises … Gradually, that fades, and you can almost not notice it.” (Wainwright and Wynne 2007: 14). In the brief time of a short visit to an alarming atmosphere, this process cannot take place. Experiences derived from our case study indicate the positive effects of an active and engaging habituation process, which set the ground for a quicker habituation process. In an environment where sound is one of the main stressors, we therefore suggest a strategy based on embodied sound habituation. The user is given an opportunity to not only listen to differentiated sounds derived from a chaotic soundscape, but also to control them through embodied gestures, to synchronise them with her own rhythm, and be able to shift them to background awareness when faced with more important tasks.

Looking at existing solutions, which can be primarily seen as implementing positive distractions, through the lens of dynamic atmospheres as presented throughout this article, at least two insights are of paramount importance:

  • A hospital is not one uniform place with one type of static atmosphere. Calming music, art, and lights are only relevant and useful in specific atmospheres, at specific periods of times, namely the ones where people are capable of taking in calming and gentle impressions.
  • Existing solutions mostly aim to improve the well-being of the individual patient through tactics such as diverting focus from certain aspects, those which seem undesirable or unpleasant, of the surrounding atmosphere and bodily presence, with the unfortunate result that communication and interaction with others actually becomes more difficult. By designing solutions aimed at the shared social atmosphere, other groups in addition to the patients are also be considered.

Our contribution, therefore, has been the articulation of a design strategy that does not try to create a temporary distraction, but acknowledges the basic need of the user to feel that she is an integrated part of the environment, resonating with the surroundings in a consonant way. This strategy might be relevant in other alarming contexts and with other target groups, but this would require more testing and evaluation to insure the durability of the proposed strategy in future work.