Reflections on Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience: Contemporary and Classical Perspectives, Part 3: Sensory Experience

‘Among the Roman’s, until their long decline, we find a powerful sense of civic involvement that connected individuals to the city. The most important pleasures were experienced within a social framework; in other words, private and public were not yet separated, and public did not yet have the unpleasant, almost ridiculous, character it has assumed in our society… [The Baths of Diocletian in Rome], covering nearly fifty-seven acres, was a small city in the City of Cities, and surrounded by a vast park. Intended to cultivate the body as well as the mind, the Roman baths are one of the most original architectural creations that history has known… Even today, the buildings themselves appear to be characterised by a degree of luxury next to which our own cultural institutions and stadiums appear to descend from barbarians and puritans, more ascetic than they are subpar.’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 136-137 (emphasis mine).

Sensory experience was the last theme of the conference Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience. In the last two posts, I took up the themes of theory and methodology, which overlapped in several key ways. However, sensory experience moves the discussion outside of approaches to material and physical sources and into the realm of the sources themselves. In the previous posts, I argued for the senses as critical tools in theorising space and society. Methodologically, the senses are reflexive, requiring inventories that shift due to space and time. The senses also serve as thick descriptors of the reflexive nature of space and society. Sensory experience entails the combination of space, time and reflexivity. In a way, sensory experience is the result of a sensory theory and methodology of the body in space. To that end, let’s see where the theory and methodology of the previous posts have to lead us in terms of sensory experience.

Sensory Experience

I began, once again, with a quote from Lefebvre. In Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, Lefebvre draws on the Roman baths as some of the ‘most original architectural creations’ of a space of enjoyment (137). As discussed in the first post, Lefebvre has a broad definition of architecture that includes the physical building as well as the feelings, desires, pleasures that it entails and the space it produces. In the context of Lefebvre’s exploration of enjoyment, the Roman baths do not have enjoyment as their goal; rather the baths allow it, prepare for it and lead it (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 151). We can easily substitute experience for enjoyment. Sensory experience is not the goal, but rather a product of the space.

The body takes the central position in this respect and Lefebvre sees this placement as requiring a new paradigm (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 150). Lefebvre suggests a ‘pedagogy of the body’ that ‘would connect the conceived to the lived (and conversely), assumes a form of qualitative knowledge still in a state of germination and promise. Rhythmanalysis, for example’ (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 149). The invocation of rhythmanalysis draws the senses and time into this pedagogy of the body, the rhythmanalist ‘thinks with his [sic] body’ (Rhythmanalysis, 21). This further elaborates the nature of Lefebvre’s tripartite division of space between the conceived and the lived. The conceived is the body, or space, of scientific knowledge of anatomy, or of physiology, which is focused on the subject, while the lived body, or space, is one of imaginary appropriation and makes symbolic use of the body’s objects (H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 39-40). The knowledge derived from the connection of the conceived and lived is sensory knowledge. Lefebvre draws on smells and musical metaphors to describe the rhythmanalist’s methods and emphasises the measurement of space by the body (Rhythmanalysis, 21, 27, 33). The senses bring with them a multiplicity of meanings (sens), which can mean ‘sense’ or ‘meanings’ (Rhythmanalysis, 32; cf. translation by Kofman and Lebas, Writings on Cities). But this is exactly the point. There are a multiplicity of senses and meanings, which the body constantly negotiates, interprets and reflects upon. Sensory experience is the multiplicity.

This sensory experience also entails a multiplicity of times. Lefebvre draws a distinction between linear and cyclical time, however temporalities extend beyond this simple division (Rhythmanalysis, 30). Doreen Massey argues for the reintegration of space and time within a conceptualisation of space-time, that is seeing the spatial form of social relations constituted in time, as well (Space, Place and Gender). Massey draws on contemporary physics to conceptualise space-time as n-dimensional (see her quotes in the previous post). By this way of thinking, social relations who constitute space are dynamic and simultaneously coexistent in time (D. Massey, Space, Place and Gender, 265). Time, like space, has a perceived, conceived and lived element (to use Lefebvre’s division). This is a useful way of drawing together the elements of space-time, the body and the senses into the concept of experience. The body interprets the multiplicity of sens, both meanings and senses, which constitute space-time, as sensory experiences.

To return to the Roman baths, the site is one of multiple temporalities. Daily routines of bathing were based on different times of attendance. Changes to temperature in the bathing rooms further differentiated the temporality of the space. Choice was another factor, especially choice as to which bath one attended. Other temporalities are evident, such as construction and maintenance in the inscriptions. Naming of baths connected the location with a family, person and time. Fires, extensions or contractions of the space also mark temporalities. Yet all these times, overlap with the space of the baths. The mediation of the temporality and spatiality of the bath was the sensory experience of the bath. Bathers moved through the different rooms from cold to warm, as well as from areas of activity to more passive areas. Movement serves as the basis of interpretation of the space-time of the baths. Informed by the senses, the body moved through space-time in both the present, as well as being drawn into the historical pasts and other time through interaction with inscriptions, statues, mosaics and other pieces of art. As Lefebvre notes, there was a social framework that Romans experienced, which gives clues to the way society worked (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 136). The sensory experience is implicated in the production of history through its mediation of space-time (D. Massey, Space, Place and Gender, 254). Here we come back to Lefebvre’s point, by way of Nietzsche and Marx, that the senses are the theoretical tools by which we produce and interpret space-time. This history of sensory experience is the history of space-time, a history of movements.

Reflections on Sensory Theory, Methodologies and Experience: Contemporary and Classical Perspectives, Part 2: Sensory Methodologies

‘What I propose to understand by ‘architecture’ is the production of space at a specific level, ranging from furniture to gardens and parks and extending even to landscapes… This sense of the term corresponds to the way it has been used since the beginning of the twentieth century, which is to say since architects began to design furniture to express their views and present their projects on what is commonly called ‘the environment’ – although I shall be carefully avoiding this expression because it has no precise meaning and has been corrupted by abuse.’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 3.

 The second theme of Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience was methodology. In many ways, the overlap between theory and methodology was constantly negotiated by presenters and respondents, which lead to fruitful points of contact and divergences. In particular, much of the discussion centred on the concept of ‘atmospheres’, drawing on the works of Tonino Griffero, Peter Zumthor and others. While I found the discussion helpful, it, at times, lacked a spatial grounding. No surprise, I was drawn to Soja, Lefebvre and Massey and I want to explore the way atmosphere might lead to methodologies which bring together senses, space and time.

Sensory Methodology

There is no singular sensory methodology, a point brought out in the range of speakers and respondents at the conference. Robin Skeates presented on fieldwork and archaeological practices from a sensory perspective, highlighting three key elements of reflexivity, inventory and thick description (Sensory Archaeology). While particular to archaeology, these three elements are useful in critically engaging with the methodologies discussed, especially the concept of atmospheres. I open this post with another quote from Lefebvre, as I find his expanded definition of architecture to be similar to atmosphere, but the crucial dimension of space is shot through Lefebvre’s redefinition. Martin Walton’s presentation (The Silent Transformations of Rosemary Lee’s Meltdown with a response by Helen Slaney) brought the challenge of the senses and space to the forefront in discussion of Rosemary Lee’s Meltdown, a choreographed performance by Dance Umbrella in London’s Brunswick Square (2011). Stillness and silence opened up affective space in urban space. As discussed in the previous post, the senses served as interpreters of the change in atmosphere of the space. The separation of ‘space’ and ‘atmosphere’ highlights the distinction implicit in the discussion, namely that the two elements were distinct. The discussion was reminiscent of Soja’s description of secondspace (Lefebvre’s conceived space), a space of imagination, reflexive thought or symbolic representation (overview in Postmetropolis, 10-12). The space was altered through the affect of the performance, or the atmosphere changed the quality of the space in the act of performance.

I like the emphasis on agency; the act of performance does something to space (as I am also keen to keep the ‘something’ ambiguous). Here reflexivity takes on importance. Atmosphere is a reflexive term, building on the social action of participants. I want to extend the reflexivity to the space of action, as well. I should note that many of the presenters and respondents would agree with this and I do not wish to imply that they were opposed to object or architectural agency. This is also at the base of Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space. Starting from the body, Lefebvre notes that there is a possibility of multiple codes and encodings (citing the visual, or the sensory, or the communication in space), without privileging any one, since there is no encoded architectural or spatial effect (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 151). The reflexivity of architecture coincides with the reflexivity of the senses (Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 41). As a methodological pointer, the body as interpreter of space uses the senses to interpret atmosphere. In my own work, I stress the role of architecture, in Lefebvre’s broad definition, in social construction, while the senses are interpretive tools, which are used to analyse the process of social construction.

The reflexivity of senses, spaces and social constructions was further brought to the forefront in Matthew Nicholls’ response to Ben Jacks, who first raised atmosphere as a theoretical concept. Nicholls focused his response on his own digital reconstructions of Rome, which lack the social reflexivity implicit in atmosphere. The visual dependence of 3D reconstruction has yet to move beyond the display of already known facts of space (usually in Soja’s firstspace sense). In this way, atmosphere is completely missing from the reconstruction and spatiality is no better than a hyped-up 2D plan. This tension was brought up by Jacks in response, noting the unease he has with VR, AR and other reconstructions. My own unease comes from the reduction of lived space to what Lefebvre calls a ‘lunar landscape’ where space has lost the ability to attract and tempt the user with objects, people, encounters, or enticements and adventures, namely space without atmosphere (H. Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, 603). Or as Massey comments,

‘A first requirement of developing an alternative view of space is that we should try to get away from a notion of society as a kind of 3-D (and indeed usually 2-D) slice which moves through time… Instead of linear process counterposed to flat surface (which anyway reduces space from three to two dimensions), it is necessary to insist on the irrefutable four-dimensionality (indeed n-dimensionality) of things. Space is not static, nor time spaceless.’ –D. Massey, Space, Place and Gender, 264.

My own discussion of reconstruction in terms of sound requires not simply a model but the archaeological detail of the site, space or building. Materials, dimensions and construction methods, as well as decoration are all necessary in order to place sound with in the model. The same should be done for the producer, which is also a function of time, of the sound to even closely approximate the soundscape. In this way, my own method entails a fair degree of inventory, as well as reflexivity in the inventory itself. However, to only include inventory (categorisations, lists, etc) or reflexivity limits the possibilities of the methodology.

I am somewhat less inclined to thick descriptions, although I do see the use and value in Skeates’ own work (see his An Archaeology of the Senses: Prehistoric Malta). My emphasis on space and spatiality however, indicates a different form of thick description. The importance of the interaction between senses, space and society coincides with the importance of mediation. As Lefebvre states,

‘[t]here is no sensation without mediation or activity, and, therefore, no sensation as such, no sensation without appreciation with its implicit judgement. Pure sensation has never existed. Immediacy is found within the bounds of the sensory, within the indiscernible ambiguity of the sensory and the sensual. It is also found beyond it, in the unity of the sensual and the sensory of a space.’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 115.

A sensory methodology, like a sensory theory, needs to grapple with the way sensory modalities mediate space and time. Space and time are at the centre of experience, which I will deal with in the following post. However, the bringing together of the senses and society in space has methodological implications for understanding senses. In particular, it is the ‘mixity’, as Doreen Massey puts it, of space, where a multiplicity of histories are brought together in specific places, that produce tacit knowledge gained through the senses (D. Massey ‘Cities in the World’, in City Worlds). In this way, the multiplicity of histories can be told as thick descriptions of space.

In a way, the senses serve as thick descriptors of space. Spatial work and architecture, in a limited sense of buildings, are mediators between the sensory and metaphysical perception and conception of objects, but fail to mediate between the sensory and the active perception of space (H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 95). Taken as thick descriptors, the senses serve to construct specific places and times, that is atmospheres. Lefebvre makes reference to this possibility in a footnote, noting that noise, as the residue of sound, can be taken as means of constructing ‘contexts for a life to be created (‘moments’)’ (H. Lefebvre, Metaphilosophy, 303 n.7). Writing thick descriptions of the senses are therefore one methodological approach, which can serve to encapsulate the complexity of senses and society for any given period.

In the next post, I turn to the theme of experience, which draws together much of the discussion from the last two posts. The role of sensory experience in theorising and formulating methodologies is central and needs further nuance than often given. The movement here from theory to method will continue to experience. In particular I have mentioned the centrality of time, the senses grounded in space-time and can serve, again, as a useful tools in understanding the experience.

Reflections on Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience: Contemporary and Classical Perspectives, Part 1: Sensory Theory

‘The truth of space thus leads back (and is reinforced by) a powerful Nietzschean sentiment: ‘But may the will to truth mean this to you: that everything will be transformed into the humanly-conceivable, the humanly-evident, the humanly-palpable! You should follow your senses to the end [Eure eignen Sinne sollt ihr zu Ende denken.]’ Marx, for his part, called in the Manuscripts of 1844 for the senses to become theoreticians in their own right. The revolutionary road of the human and the heroic road of the superhuman meet at the crossroads of space. Whether they then converge is another story.’ –H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 399-400 (emphasis mine).

I spent the end of last week, Friday and Saturday, at a conference titled Sensory Theory, Methodology and Experience in Canterbury hosted by my own department, Classical and Archaeological Studies. The two days were full of great discussion and presentations on sensory studies from a variety of disciplines, although anthropology was notably missing. However, I walked away with several questions about the role of three themes in the title: theory, method and experience. I found myself frustrated and enlightened by the way these themes were brought together or played off one another. Here, I want to take of each in critical conversation with my own approach (I was not a presenter or respondent) to the senses. I have broken-up each theme into an individual post due to constraints of space and time. This first post will be more theoretically driven, than other posts on the blog, which deal with physics and acoustics in practice, however the conference was primarily focused on cross-disciplinary discussion and therefore much of the conversation was theoretically informed (those that know me, know that I am very at home having theoretical and theory driven conversations). I will tackle methodology and experience in the next couple of posts, although all three play off each other continually. With that, let’s jump right in!

Sensory Theory

I started with Lefebvre’s comment on Nietzsche and Marx because, for me, it offers a key clarification of sensory studies, namely do we study the ‘senses’ as objects (‘things’ in the world, categorising the smells, tastes, touches of a particular time or place) or do we use the senses as theoreticians to understand a social or cultural group? For Lefebvre, it is the latter. The senses offer tools for analysing the way space is perceived, conceived and lived (to use Lefebvre’s tripartite division). Monica Deegan, the first presenter (Researching Time, Senses and the Urban, co-presented with Astrid Swenson), brought this point to the forefront, commenting that the city, or urban, was first and foremost experienced through our bodies. The role of the body would return again and again in the discussion, but what struck me was the immediate recognition that senses overlapped, while at the same time combined to interpret the urban (or any other form of landscape). That is to say, our bodies and sensory modalities make the world cohesive, although not always in a linguistical manner. Our senses, then, are the tools used in the social production of space (to use Lefebvre’s terms again). Here, we come to one of my own interests that were only briefly touched on. If the senses are the tools for interpretation, then the senses can be theoreticians in their own right, as Marx indicated.

This requires us to set aside the categorisation of senses into lexical groupings and instead use sense perception as a theoretical approach to the ancient world (or any time period). For me, this is where the acoustic measurements are useful as spatial abstractions, which can be related to bodies in space. A particular space can be measured to indicate the way the room effects sound. This measurement will give us a numerical indication that avoids resorting to linguistical categories (like loud, quite, soft, etc.). But even more important the measurement is a direct measurement of sound produced in that space. The direct correspondence allows for the limitation of possibilities. Certain sounds will cause fundamental problems for the use of the space. These limitations will also apply to the social use of the space, as well as its sensory experience. In a way, this brings us back to the lexical categorisation, although we have to pass through the body and its sensory experience. Again, Lefebvre was already aware of this feedback loop created by space and the senses:

‘Something is adjusted to each body, precisely to the extent required. Space speaks and does what it says. Is it the human being present in such a place who receives a message from that space appropriate to its meaning – contemplation? On the contrary, wouldn’t it be space that receives the perpetually confused message of the human being in search of life and truth, and that reflects back upon him, or restores it clarified and intensified?’ –H. Lefebvre, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, 11 (emphasis mine).

 Lefebvre’s question is apt, is it space than sends a message or human beings that send messages into space? In a typical Lefebvrean manner, he says both. It is the social activity, in this case contemplation, that creates an effect, which is reflected back by the space in which contemplation takes place. Place, in this sense, becomes a space and social actions in space. But it also is the sensory perception of space, social action and time. Yi-Fu Tuan, who was referenced in Deegan’s presentation, provides a helpful reminder of the experiential aspect of place (I know I said I would deal with experience in the last post). For Tuan, ‘space’ and ‘place’ are differentiated by experience (Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience). Drawing on a conversation between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg on visiting Kronborg Castle in Denmark, in which Bohr relates the difference in feeling the castle assumes when thought of as the place where Hamlet lived, Tuan sets out to understand the aura of ‘place’ described by Bohr (Space and Place, 4). Here, again, sensory modalities are social and cultural constructs, which produce non-communicative experiences, experiences that are indescribable. In this case, sensory studies offers a way into these experiences, a way led by sensory theories (not theories about the senses, but the senses as theoreticians).

Tuan makes a distinction that connects with the Roman world, as well as being part of the discussion following the final presentation at the conference (Louise Richardson on Distinguishing Senses: Naturalism and Non-Naturalism with a response from Clare Batty and Kelli Rudolph). Space is known through movement, while place is pause (Space and Place, 6, 12, 179-83). Several presentations touched on aspects of movement, anywhere from walking to theatrical performances, to traffic and cart movements, not to mention combinations of these, such as the York Corpus Christi plays that were moving shows performed in the 14th century (Annette Kern-Stälher, Engaging the Historical Archive of Sensation). However, in the final presentation, which followed the discussion of the York plays, a presentation of non-Naturalist categorisation of senses was given (analytical philosophical approach). Richardson commented that a non-traditional categorisation of the senses, Piers Plowman’s in this instance, could be possible, but that it was unclear why ‘walking’ could be a sense. The categorisation depends on a specific definition of ‘sense’, but that was the problem. Definitions are part of the social, cultural and experiential construction of a given group. That is to say, sensory perception will be different for different social/cultural times, as well as spaces (the second being more important for me, at times). Space, as Lefebvre’s approach encapsulated in the quote above, is theorised through the senses. Abstracting the senses from space, to analytically categorise them, reduces the categorisation to box ticking (if, then statements, listing propositions, etc.). Those who know my own interests will not be surprised to hear I disagree with this line of enquiry. Senses, as spatially and socially formed, cannot be reduced to words and texts, which often fails to adequately describe sensory experience (a point made by several other participants). In this case, movement is a mode of interpretation of the environment. This is a point made by de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life:

‘[Ordinary practitioners of the city] walk—an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.’ -M. de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 93.

 I do not like to see movements as ‘texts’ for the exact point that de Certeau makes in the second half of the quote, that is movements cannot be read. However, it does open up the possibility to see movement as an interpretative process of spatial negotiation. In the same way the senses interpret space and time so, movement do the same.

In my own work, the idea of movement as an interpretive tool comes to the forefront when looking at the language of noise in Latin. The most common term for loud noise (strepitus) was associated with busy activity and confused movements, while silence (silentium) had the connotation of stillness and lack of movement (Veitch, Acoustics of Roman Ostia, 44). The close connection between sound and movement further emphasises the potential for the senses as theoreticians. The social construction of mobility in the Roman world produced particular movements (see J. Urry, Mobilities and R. Laurence, ‘Towards a History of Mobility in Ancient Rome’, in The Moving City). These movements were structured in the same way as sounds. The physical spaces structured movement and acoustics. In this way, by placing the physics of sound within the human body, a theory of auditory movement could be applied to the ancient world. My own PhD was the basis for my developing auditory theory, but the other senses could be offer different perspectives on the social construction of the ancient world.

In the next two posts, I will reflect on the topics of methodology and experience. In particular, I reflect on the discussion of Peter Zumthor’s concept of ‘atmospheres’ and my own desire to see architectural environments (the subtitle to Zumthor’s book) as part of Soja’s Thirdspace and Lefebvre’s expanded definition of architecture in Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment. In the last post, sensory experience is taken-up and I reflect on my own unease with the term (an unease not helped by Lefebvre).

 

Presentation: Sound, Space and Soceity: Urban Acoustics After Pompeii

I will be presenting a paper at the European Association for Urban History, Reinterpreting Cities, 13th International Conference on Urban Hisotry at the end of the month and as I was asked to upload a summary of my paper on the EAUH site, I have also posted it below. I have been busy finishing my PhD, which is now a full draft being edited for submission. In many ways, this presentation is a summary of some of the conclusions, although being a 20 min pres it does not cover everything. Anyways, here is the summary and key points I’ll be talking around Thursday morning, 25 August, in Helsinki:

[Opening Quotes] The production of space, according to Lefebvre, is just as much about the physical buildings and imaginary worlds as it is about the sensory activities and bodily functions.[1] For Lefebvre, the senses, especially sound, offer a theoretical tool by which to analyse the daily rhythms of the city.[2] While the production of space has come to the forefront of Roman urban studies, especially in Pompeian studies, the role of sensory activities remains minimally explored.[3] In this paper, the perception of sound serves to elucidate the urban space of Ostia Antica. Drawing on the theoretical work of urban geography, introduced by Pompeian scholars, this paper will argue that production of space in Roman cities was fostered by the acoustic inclinations of Romans. In this way, the paper takes ‘after Pompeii’ in two simultaneous directions. On the one hand, it seeks to build on the approaches tested in Pompeii; on the other hand, it applies a case study from a city that displays the architectural developments that immediately preceded Pompeii, namely the second century CE. Sound provides a critical tool to analyse the experience and interaction within urban space, as well as being an object of study within literary sources on Roman urbanism. The result is a better understanding of the changing perceptions and conceptions of urban space, beyond simply reconfigured urban space, either through construction or deconstruction.

[Sound & sources graph] The literary sources display a particular anxiety towards noise, especially the sounds of movement or the movement of sound. It is worth defining sound and noise, as these terms reflect a perceptual difference that is socially and culturally specific. Sound is any auditory stimulus that is interpreted by the human auditory system (ears, body, brain, etc.), while noise is unwanted sound, being an auditory judgement. In short, one person’s sound is another’s noise. The distinction is therefore a judgement, drawing on status, gender, age distinctions in relation to things experienced outside the perceiver.

[Juv. Quote] The social anxiety towards noise is manifest in two forms. First, noise complaints about the sounds of the city, in this case Rome specifically. Juvenal offers a pertinent example in Satire 3, were Umbricius complains that the sick die from lack of sleep due to the noise. The caput mundi, Rome, is filled with noise, making it the caput morbi, ‘head of the disease’.[4] For Juvenal, as well as Martial and Seneca, satire served as a social critique of the architectural changes to the experience of streets following the fire in Rome of 64 CE. [Street terms & sound refs] This is an important point in terms of ‘after Pompeii’. The building regulations (street widening, porticos and height restrictions) are evident throughout Ostia, but only minimally present in Pompeii.[5] The brief period between the destruction of Pompeii and the rebuilding and extension of Ostia was a period of intense construction, which also changed the perception of the urban space.

Noise complaints are connected to certain spaces, as well as certain times. The forum, via and vicus are most referenced pubic space in terms of sound, with semita and clivus all being over 10%. Most sound roots are connected with movement, which is the base of auditory anxieties. For example, strepitus carries the connotation of busy or stressful activity, while fremitus has connotations of animals buzzing or humming, such as bees.[6] In contrast, silence, sileo, is connected with non-movement, or stillness, which emphasises the combination of sound and movement. Through both etymology and associations, sound roots are connected with movement; to move is to make sound. The fluidity of spatial practices underlines the role of sound in defining space.

[Rumour terms] Sound anxiety also appear as anxiety over the movement of sound, in this case rumours, gossip and the like. Fama, either rumour or fame, is constantly on the move, restless and unstable.[7] The spatial boundaries of fama, therefore, constantly shift, or more precisely never stop long enough to be spatially fixed.[8] Speed is part of the moral topography of movement, as O’Sullivan has shown.[9] Running is characteristic of slaves and effeminate action, an association also connected to movement of fama.[10] In this case, rumours are the target of social control due to association with non-elite forms of urbanism, specifically neighbourhood groups, vici, and small gatherings in the forum, circuli.[11] [Augustus] These informal groupings were the sites of popular resistance in the late Republic, which were later incorporated into the imperial state; through the reorganisation of the vici and the control of movement in the Forum Romanum both in the Augustan period.[12]

[1] H. Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Verso, 2014, p. 484.

[2] H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Balckwell, 1991, p. 405; cf. Lefebvre, Rythmanalysis: Space, Society and the Everyday, Bloomsburry, 2013.

[3] E. Betts, ‘Towards a Multisensory Experience of Movement in the City of Rome’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Society, OUP, 2011, pp. 118-32; A. Haug and P. Kruez (eds.), Stadterfahrung als Sinneserfahrung in der römischen Kaiserzeit, Brepolis, 2016.

[4] Juv. Sat. 3.234-6; J. Hartnett, ‘Sound as a Roman Urban Social Phenomenon’, in Haug and Kruez, n. 3, p. 166.

[5] See S. Ellis, ‘Pes Dexter: Superstition and the State in the Shaping of Shopfronts and Street Activity in the Roman World’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), n. 3, p. 173.

[6] Strepitus, Hor. Carm. 3.29.12; Epist. 2.2.79-80; fremitus, Sen. Ep. 94.72; Vir. Geo. 4.216.

[7] P. Hardie, Rumour and Renown: Representations of fama in western literature, CUP, 2012, pp. 3-11; 248.

[8] R. Laurence, ‘Towards a History of Mobility in Ancient Rome (300 BCE to 100 CE)’, in I. Östenberg, S. Malmberg, J. Bjørnebye (eds.), The Moving City: Processions, passages and promenades in ancient Rome, Bloomsbury, 2015, p. 181.

[9] T. O’Sullivan, Walking in Roman Culture, OUP, 2011.

[10] Corbel 2004, pp. 107-139; O’Sullivan, n. 8, pp. 11-33; Hardie, n. 6, pp. 357-360; 387-391.

[11] Vici, R. Laurence, ‘Rumour and Communication in Roman Politics’, Greece and Rome 41 (1994), pp. 62-74; circuli, P. O’Neill, ‘Going Round in Circles: Popular Speech in Ancient Rome’, Classical Antiquity 22 (2003), pp. 135-76.

[12] Reorganisation of vici, A. Wallace-Hadrill, Rome’s Cultural Revolution, CUP, pp. 276-90; Forum Romanum, D. Newsome, ‘Movement and For a in Rome (the late Republic to first century CE)’, in Laurence and Newsome (eds.), n. 3, pp. 304-5.

Johnny Cash in the Baths of Neptune

This last weekend I tried a new form of presentation for my acoustic analysis. It was a short 10 minute presentation at Multitudo: a multisensory, multilayered and multidirectional approach to classical studies. I was part of the organising committee for the workshop and we were drawn to non-academic ways of presenting our research. I decided to test out a ‘reverse’ of my usual presentation style.

My usual: intro acoustics, physics of sound, maths, sums…; followed by discussion of spaces with plans, graphs and tables; finish with social-spatial implications.

 

This time I started with a sound sample. I played a 20 second clip of Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down. The clip was EQ’d flat, with no reverb. I then played 3 more versions of the clip, each set to the reverberation time and EQ of a room from the Baths of Neptune. I then showed one of my standard plans of the Baths with the reverberation times for each room colour coded. I asked the audience to try and figure out the relationship of the sound sample with the rooms on the plan.

It was a challenging exercise. Most people haven’t spent hours listening to tracks, adjusting the EQ or reverb. Most of us don’t connect what we hear with the space we hear those sounds in. And most of us don’t think about the space that is created in the post-production of making a record. At the same time, it’s a great exercise in relating acoustic discussions to different spaces.

I was asked in the question time why I picked Johnny Cash and not some choral, symphonic or even ‘ancient’ style music. I thought I would layout my response here, as it gets at some of my driving questions behind my project.

  1. I picked the Johnny Cash song because it is a simple track with almost no reverb or processing to start with. I used the first 20 seconds of the track, which is just foot stomps, claps, guitar and Johnny’s voice. The flat response of the song means that when I altered it to each room it would be noticeable and wouldn’t get lost in an abundance of different sounds.
  2. I needed a clip with some low end frequencies, which I could draw out for one of the samples. Johnny’s voice has a deep resonance, which showed off the long reverb and muddy character of the low frequency noise.
  3. I used a contemporary song, one I expected a majority of people to know, because I wanted to make a connection with the audience. In my answer, I said, “Playing a foreign sound, in a foreign space and asking foreign questions, is too much for an audience.” I am not interested in simply recreating ‘ancient’ sounds. By using a contemporary song, the focus shifts to the changes created by the space, not the authenticity of the sound. This is probably the main theoretical reason for the choice. My project uses acoustics to better understand the architecture and architectural history of Rome.
  4. Finally, it is way more fun to put Johnny Cash in the Baths of Neptune, than it would be to play white noise or a frequency tone. The music is only a tool, which conveys architectural information. While I could use any sound, I used something that entertained me, as well. It takes time, and a lot of repeating, to get the clips right. I picked a song that I could repeat without going to crazy…

I was impressed with the response and have been thinking about adding sound samples to more of my presentations. It was far more engaging, and we all need to be able to laugh at our presentations, thinking about Johnny Cash playing in a Roman bath complex, as a way to share what I’m researching.

Postgraduate Workshop: Roman Space and Urbanism, 11 Nov. 2015

I will be presenting on my current chapter this Wednesday, 11 Nov. 2015, at a Postgraduate Workshop at University of Kent. The workshop highlights some of the current work on Roman space and urbanism in the Classical and Archaeological Studies department by PhD students. The workshop is a part of a visit by Kent Institute of Advance Studies in Humanities Visiting Fellow Eric Poehler (UMass), who will give a keynote lecture. Details can be found here.

My presentation will introduce my approach to acoustics from archaeological remains/materials and its implications for understanding noises through Lefebvre’s ‘rhythmanalysis’. I use Lefebvre’s rhytmanalysis to bring together the multiplicity of sources for sounds and noises to think about everyday rhythms and life in Ostia.

I focus on the space of streets, although I draw examples from the Baths of Neptune and Portico di Pio IX at Ostia. The title, Inde caput morbi, is taken from Juvenal’s Satire 3, which I use to bounce some of the physics of sound findings off Roman writings on streets. It should be a fun afternoon and I’m excited to hear some of my fellow Kent PhDs presenting their work.

Sounds (or Noise) in Streets

In a previous post I discussed the influence of shop doors on the acoustics of the space. The basis analysis and methodology will be published in a forthcoming edited volume (hopefully in June). Recently, I have been exploring the acoustics beyond the facade or shop front and looking at street noise. Much of the methodological approach remains the same; dimensions and construction material form the baseline of the acoustic analysis. However, certain elements are missing in street canyons that mean sounds react in different ways to the space.

First, the lack of covered or enclosed space means that large areas will not reflect sounds. It is a basic feature of streets that they are open to the sky and rarely covered. In acoustic terms, this means that much of the sound will dissipate over distance, as opposed to being absorbed by the physical walls or ceilings, as happens in enclosed rooms.

Despite the lack of covering, the pavement and building facades will reflect and absorb the sounds and noises of the street. In contemporary acoustic design, traffic noise is the primary nuisance, which acoustic designers and architects try to limit. It was, in fact, the high levels of traffic noise that began the search for standard acoustic measures. Emily Thompson has a fantastic book, *The Soundscape of Modernity*, that charts the history acoustics as a field in the start of the modern period.

In terms of ancient streets, in a similar manner to enclosed spaces the types of materials can be assessed for their absorption coefficient, a standard measure of a materials ability to absorb sound. These basic elements can again be plugged into a predicative equation to measure the absorption.

The second deficulty with streets is the complexity of the arrangements. Even building facades present a complex sound field with various surfaces, materials and architectural features. In Ostia, several buildings have monumental entrances with pillars, columns, or pedestals and some times all three. These features will change the way the sound reflects off the surface. Even more problematice, although I do really like the challenge, is the widespread use of colonnades or porticos. The space of the portico is, again, partially covered and partially open. This means that sounds from the street can fill the portico, as well as sounds within the portico only being heard in close proximity to the space. The nature of porticos present their own acoustic character, quite unlike other street spaces.

It has been fun to explore the ways these acoustic features of streets, and porticos, can help us to better understand the street as a social space. I have just begun to map the effects of conversation noise in certain streets in Ostia and I will post an update as I write more about the street space. I will be presenting some of these findings this weekend in Umea, Sweden.

Panel Acceptance and Abstract Submission

I found out yesterday that a panel I was on was accepted for The Roman Archaeological Conference 2016 in Rome (16-19 March 2016). The panel is on Sensing Rome: Sensory Approaches to Movement and Space, which is right up my alley. I still need to sit down and write an abstract for my paper but it is provisionally titled ‘Structure of Noise: Aural Architecture and Movement in Ostian Streets’. It will draw together some of the upcoming work for my next chapter on the topics of movement, sounds and urban space.

I also submitted an abstract for Sound and Auditory Culture in Greco-Roman Antiquity, which will be 1-2 April 2016 in Columbia, MO. The abstract I submitted dealt with the interaction between architectural and archaeological reconstruction of acoustics and literary descriptions. This was a more theoretical and methodological paper than RAC, although it will still have plenty of plans, maps, pretty pictures and possibly sounds. I have been thinking about ways to present the architectural acoustic measures in audible form. I’m not quite sure how it will work but I have some fun ideas to related the maps and plans to audible sounds.

Religious Movement and Sensory Experience, 12 June 2015

The conference I am co-organising is coming up this Friday!

I am pretty excited to hear what our presenters have to share, as well as further network with the sensory studies in Antiquity folks. There is still some space left and it looks like it will be great day of discussion/research sharing among the growing number of sensory studies people in Classics/Ancient History/Archaeology/Digital Humanities. Details can be found here.

Courtyards in Ostia

The internal courtyard of the Caseggiato dei Triclini on the main street of Ostia
The internal courtyard of the Caseggiato dei Triclini on the main street of Ostia

Well, I’m almost done (fingers crossed) with the current chapter covering internal spaces in Ostia and the aural architecture of certain spaces. I touched on doorways in a previous post on common shops found along the streets of Ostia. I am now working through more complex buildings than the one room shop.

Another common architectural layout for various types of buildings is that of an internal courtyard. These buildings, referred to as insulae, are usually large, multistory and multifunctional, both commercial and residential. The courtyard was usually a communal space, but in some cases only accessible from the ground floor. Again, because of the common occurrence of courtyards and the various functions of the buildings, the courtyards are another prime space for questioning the way acoustics can be utilised in various functional settings.

While wrestling with ways of analysing an interior but open space, I came across a study of street noise and urban courtyards. It was an interesting look at the low frequency noise from streets being heard inside courtyards in urban settings. One of the aspects that stood out to me was the way the arrangement of the courtyard functioned as a resonator for certain frequencies of noise produced on the street. Simply put low frequency noises, which have higher wavelengths than high frequencies, would carry over the buildings and enter the courtyard. It seemed that the lowest frequencies could be heard at almost the same level in the courtyard as the street. Resonant frequencies, those frequencies that would resonant in the courtyard, produce increases in the sound level in the courtyard, while the sound propagation in street decreased. The study suggests that urban courtyards are not quite retreats from the noises of urban streets but in fact can be just as loud, even louder at certain frequencies.

Returning to Ostia, this suggests that the internal courtyards of certain buildings would have a similar reaction to street noise. Low frequency traffic noise would not happen in Ostia but other low frequency noise and resonant frequencies would still fill the courtyard. In certain cases, doors and walls could block some of the sound waves, although this would not stop all noises (remember that the low frequency noise would fill the urban courtyards even when there was no doorway from the street to the courtyard in the model). Here again, we get yet another occasion where places thought to be quite or removed from activity still react and are filled with noise. Some of the internal courtyards in Ostia now seem to be even more active spaces than I initially thought.