The Journal of Sonic Studies

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

4.2 Rhythms - A Dynamic Perspective on Atmospheres

Jean-Paul Thibaud stresses how atmospheres are closely connected to embodied and temporal functions. We do not passively sense an atmosphere; the atmosphere sets the tone of a situation and resonates with the sensing body in constantly shifting consonant and dissonant relationships (Thibaud 2011). In the search for shared words to talk about atmospheres, Thibaud points to metaphors related to sound and music, revealing a common structural relationship to the temporal in both the worlds of sound and atmospheres (Thibaud 2011: 1). Sound and theories of sound and listening could therefore lead to concrete methods of working with the dynamic aspects of investigating and designing atmospheres.

As presented in our article “Designing Dynamic Atmospheres - Highlighting Temporality as Design Concern within Interaction Design” (Højlund and Kinch 2012), the translation of a temporal awareness into concrete parameters operational in a design process presents a challenge, when working with atmospheres, in interaction design. Temporality is often approached either as an unwieldy subcategory of other concepts like space or technology or as something fleeting and outside the body (Højlund and Kinch 2012). Addressing this challenge, we propose an elaborated connectedness of the temporal with the felt body, as atmospheres emerge in resonance with the body. This awareness can help the designer to rethink the temporal as an embodied way of experiencing the production of space and not only consider it as something fleeting outside us.

In his book Rhythmanalysis – Space, Time and Everyday Life, Henri Lefebvre uses rhythms as an analytical tool, describing how “everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm” (Lefebvre 2004: 69). Presence is therefore innately temporal in character and can only be grasped through the analysis of rhythm. It is important to note that “rhythm” refers not only to traditional concepts of rhythm related to sound and music, but also as constituting a pervasive phenomenon emerging in the ecology between human and surroundings.

The core concept of listening invites us to listen to the body, buildings, the environment, and so forth, in order to make us more sensitive to times than to spaces (Lefebvre 2004: 22), thereby expanding our awareness of phases, periods, shifts and recurrences. By listening to the temporalities and the shifts of a dynamic atmosphere, we can gain an attentive ear, enabling us to make sense and order of chaos by differentiating the multisensory inputs of the dynamic atmosphere. Attentive listening is obtained through what might be described as a sort of meditational practice, connected to an artistic practice, of engaging with the surrounding rhythms in order to resonate with them in a consonant way. We can only listen to and perceive our surroundings and their rhythms as being fast or slow in relation to other rhythms; and given that we are always in a body, the rhythms of the body are an important reference in our experience of an atmosphere.

This way of understanding rhythm changes the underlying presumption of the perceiver as merely adapting to the tonality of a place, and instead suggests that the atmosphere is not placed either inside or outside, but emerges in the shifting relation between the interconnected rhythms of the self, the other, and the environment. Through maintaining an awareness of these different conceptualisations of rhythms in the design process and by understanding the basic dynamic identity of the atmosphere as being connected to sound as phenomenon, the temporal aspects become parameters accessible in the design process.