Toward an Embodied Roman Place (Space): Henri Lefebvre & Roman senses

I presented a paper yesterday, at the Senses of Place conference put on by Sensory Studies in Antiquity at Roehampton Univeristy, London. I was a bit jet-lagged so, my oral presentation was not quite as clear as I would feel it could have been. The presentation was recorded so, when the video is available I will post a link on the blog. The manscript of the presentation is posted below.

Toward an Embodied Roman (Space) Place: Henri Lefebvre’s Interpretation of Roman Senses

Jeffrey D. Veitch

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‘For reasons I am unaware of, I have always preserved a very strong sense of my own body. Stronger than the majority of those I have questioned. It is inspired by a kind of wisdom that can only be called instinctive or organic. My body knows what it wants, what it needs (even in love, although here the causes of the disturbance pile up – which could be said to be alienating). I know which boundaries mustn’t be pushed through work or fatigue, and the stress from eating and drinking. When I exceed these bounds, it’s because something is not right: I want to punish myself, destroy myself. It is to my fortunate bodily makeup that I own my unshakable health and vitality. Neither my lucidity nor my thoughts are foreign to this body; it is my body that reflects, that tries one thing or another, not an ‘I’, a ‘cogito’, a ‘subject’, a cerebrality lodged in my brain. Philosophically, this practical experience is similar to Spinoza’s arguments concerning the unity of space and thought, and the materialist statements found in Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and Nietzsche’s aphorisms in The Gay Science.

I owe to this attitude not only a kind of solidity through the labyrinth of contradictions but also an absolute resistance to the external causes of destruction and degradation. This is part of physical and mental health. I believe that it is to this that I owe my long-standing interest in space, an interest whose conceptual and theoretical formulation has taken shape very slowly, but cannot be reduced to that formulation. There is also a poetic side to this, and a poetic practice, that attempts to vivify the entire body with all its rhythms and senses (it is not a question of giving in to a nostalgia for nature or of emphasizing the use of one of our senses – sight, for example – or of exalting the sensory organs in general). In almost methodical fashion, although there is no method in the strict sense of the term, what I refer to as ‘poetic practice’ intensifies lived experience by associating it with the perceived world, by accelerating the interactions and interferences of the body and its surroundings: roads and streets, countryside and cityscape, forests and metal, lakes and streams, and stones’ (Lefebvre 2014, pp. 34-5).

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Henri Lefebvre was 72 at the time of writing, or more precisely dictating to his wife at the time, this passage and it comes at the peak of his writing on space, when he is most active in 1973-4. This was the culmination of over a decade of writing on space, urban and rural sociology and everyday life in the transition to modernisms urban totality with six books being written between 1964 and 1974. Pointedly autobiographical, the passage draws together a series of theoretical formulations that are central to what I will argue is Lefebvre’s sensory-spatial theory.

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To label Lefebvre’s spatial theory sensory is a bit at odds with common rereading of Lefebvre, which owes more to David Harvey and Ed Soja than to Lefebvre (see Harvey 1973; Soja 1989, 1996). However, at the core of this personal reflection is a theory of the senses and body in the production of space, or place-making (Yi-Fu Taun’s discussion of ‘place’ implies Lefebvre’s spatial triad, Taun 1979).

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I want to suggest that a rereading of Lefebvre, following this autobiographical passage, indicates the way the senses and body are central to his spatial theory and this theory offers key insights into our interpretation of past environments, whether built, natural or imaginary.

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As an example, or case study place, I will draw on one of Lefebvre’s own favourite examples, Rome. ‘Roman space, though encumbered by objects (as in the Forum), was a productive space’, Lefebvre states in The Production of Space (1991, p. 237). Again and again, Lefebvre draws on the ancient world in the formulation of spatial history in both Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment and The Production of Space, as well as in his other urban writings.

In this paper, I will therefore set out the central pieces for Lefebvre’s spatial-sensory theory, namely 1) the total body, 2) senses as theoreticians and 3) poetic practice drawing on Lefebvre’s own use of Roman space as an examples. At its base level, this is a combined rereading of Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment and The Production of Space, although I will open up Lefebvre’s own theoretical formulations for conversation with some more recent discussions and other theorists.

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Total Body

The total body, in Lefebvre, is made up of the spatial qualities of the body, which indicate the ambiguity of the body as occupying a space and producing a space (Lefebvre, 2014, p. 149). Lefebvre restates this duality as a natural body (physical, material, using gestures and members) and a social body (using language), as well as another duality of energetic processes (accumulation and expenditure of energy) and infrastructural process (receiving and storing information) (2014, p. 149). These two dualities are useful in setting out the place and role of the senses within Lefebvre’s total body, as well as leading to his critique of the readability of space.

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‘Among the Romans, 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 the social framework; in other words, public and private were not yet separated, and the public did not yet have the unpleasant, almost ridiculous, character it has assumed in our society, where the social and socialisation are generally met with disapproval. […]

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‘Take, for example, the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. This enormous space, 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. A succession of rooms followed one another along an axis, which served as both hallway and vestibule and which led to a gigantic open-air pool more than half an acre in size. This followed by a vaulted hall, also surrounded by pool. Around the large pool were palaestrae, gyms, and massage rooms, together with a variety of sporting and domestic paraphernalia for the patrons (client, visitor, consumer – none of the words are suitable). Once they had warmed their muscles, the patrons crossed a series of rooms, the heat increasing as one progressed, to ultimately reach the caldarium. Even today, the building themselves appear to be characterized by a degree of luxury to which our own cultural institutions and stadiums appear to descend from barbarians and puritans, more ascetic than they are subpar. What can we say about the interior? The pools were a marble lake surrounded by colonnades, covered with mosaics of which the statues were reflected. The rooms contained flowing fountains, colonnades, niches decorated with statuary; paintings and mosaics adorned the surfaces of the walls, which were covered in stucco and precious materials (onyx, porphyry, marble, ivory). The baths contained, in addition to the gymnasiums and palaestrae, a number of rooms devoted to physical development, promenades, works of art that turned those rooms into museums, and spaces for permanent exhibitions. There was also a park were visitors could meet and talk, and a public library. No one was excluded from partaking in this luxury (women were admitted on certain days) from the slave to the emperor himself, who made the baths his personal project and who was not adverse to making use of the sumptuous palace he had offered the people of Rome’ (Lefebvre 2014, pp. 136-7, emphasis my own).

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For Lefebvre, it was the cultivation of the body and mind within the gestures of bathing that produced the ‘most original architectural creation’. Body and mind within the social framework of Rome marked the spatial practice and activities.

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Lefebvre was not the only one to emphasise these aspects, although the two books shown here mark distinct differences in approach and argued meaning of architectural design. For Lefebvre, the total body of brain, gestures, sensory organs, needs to be considered, and the body’s plurality of interpretative, creative and productive processes recognised. This has implications for understanding space, as space does not present an intellectual representation, arising ‘from the visible-readable realm, but that it is first of all heard (listened to) and enacted (through physical gestures and movements)’ (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 200). MacDonald, as has been noted, emphasised the movement and action of street space in the second century CE, although I do not think his urban armature gives enough credit to physical interaction in the street space (and is dependent on the visible-readable correlation). Sennett, in contrast, wants to draw political implications for today from the physical heard and enacted space of the city. While an interesting notion, spatial histories, along with sensory histories, are much to pluralistic for such endeavours. What results is an underdeveloped imaginary of city space (in MacDonald’s case) or an overcooked political agenda set out in moral terms (Sennett).

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Lefebvre falls back on a dialectical relationship between spatial practices and productions of space, which entails a pedagogy of the senses and body. The experience of space is first and foremost the sensory perception of space. This is not to place sensory perceptions before the social and cultural spatial relations (‘proxemics’ in Hall’s terms). Certain spaces, led by the total body, provide opportunities for the body to break from the spatial and temporal constrains of labour, the division of labour, localisations of work and the specialisation of places (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 384). In this way, the physical body takes on a critical role as generative in the production of space (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 384; 2014, p. 149). In this way, the pedagogy of the body and senses is founded on the second point in Lefebvre’s spatial-sensory theory, the senses as theoreticians.

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Senses as Theoreticians

Reference is made to Marx and Nietzsche in the opening passage for their materialist approach in Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts and Nietzsche’s aphorisms. These two theorists (and Lefebvre uses them as theorists, more than as philosophers or thinkers) suggest a particular form of theoretical engagement. Although Lefebvre draws them together, I want to focus on what each provides in the next two points of Lefebvre’s spatial-sensory theory. In sum, Marx pushes for the senses as theoreticians, while Nietzsche indicates that the action of such a theorisation is poetic practice.

As active in the production of space, the senses become theoreticians. Lefebvre draws this idea from Nietzsche and Marx:

‘The truth of space thus leads us back (and is reinforced by) a powerful Nietzschean sentiment: ‘But may the will to truth mean this to you: that everything shall be transformed into the humanly-conceivable, the humanly-evident, the humanly-palpable! You should follow your own 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’ (Lefebvre, 1991, pp. 399-400).

For Marx, the senses, and sensory organs, are not passive receptors, simply responding to what is around them. Instead, the senses, like labour, create objects and, in the cases of the senses, create reality, which is a social construction (Marx, 1992, p. 352). Following Marx, the senses are active in the creation of objects, as well as the creation of the human senses (Lefebvre, 2016, p. 127).

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The sensory organs, as conceptualised within Lefebvre’s total body, are critical theoreticians of space. The senses work on an object on the model of human labour working on raw materials. Marx makes a critical distinction between human labour and sensory perception, which is fundamental to each form of work. The distinction is that sensory transformation of the object is in terms of potential meanings, rather than the object as artefact (Feenberg, 2014, p. 46). Lefebvre, for his part, is breaking down this distinction in terms of space; human beings both produce spatial meanings and spatial artefacts. The senses can therefore be conceived as theoreticians, being both produced by the social relationships, the division of labour and gestures of work, and raising these productive relations to a critical level through the sensory perception of objects. For example, noise, as out-of-place sound, can also define the limits of understanding, being unpatterned or unknown sounds, beyond the horizon of meaning, that will in time (through repetition) become known (see Truax, 2001, p. 97).

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The mapping of transmission loss, the amount of sound that passes through a material, can therefore relate to the conceptualisation of geographical limits of auditory understanding, a literal horizon or threshold of auditory perception. In this way, the measurement of acoustic properties of architectural interventions by Augustus become measurements in conceptual and social horizons of audibility.

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Poetic Practice

Nietzsche, for Lefebvre, provides a practical and theoretical model for using ‘the body as a guide’ (Lefebvre, 2014, p. 103; see also 2016, pp. 122-26). Lefebvre comments that Nietzsche’s emphasis on visual metaphors to constitute abstract thought, which over time has reduced thoughts and actions derived from the other senses, is one of ‘Nietzsche’s great discoveries’ (1991, p. 139). We can reformulate Lefebvre’s four points, from The Production of Space, on Nietzsche’s discoveries in relation to the senses: 1) the actions of metaphor and metonymy are guided by the body’s experience of space through the senses; 2) expression of this sensory/spatial experience is constrained by an overreliance on visual metaphors, limiting language’s ability to express the total body; 3) the mental and social architecture of language, constrained by readability-visibility, is constantly reformulating connections due to the limits of its expression; 4) power, in the form of social and political structures, are aligned to visibility by the implicit reason and logic in visual metaphor and metonymy, their ‘common sense’ understanding.

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The twin critique of visual metaphors, what Lefebvre refers to as ‘visibility’, is a critique of ‘readability’. How do we ‘read’ the urban arrangement and architecture of the Roman period? Lefebvre cites Roland Barthes’ five codes for reading a text (hermeneutic, proairetic, semantic, symbolic and cultural) and applies them to the experience of Venice (Barthes, 1990; Lefebvre, 1991, pp. 160-1). This raises two unexplored areas when decoding is constrained to reading and texts (a visual object): on the one side, the body and, on the other side, the power (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 162). Due to constraints of space, I will leave power for discussion elsewhere, but I find Foucault’s use of ancient sources, especially the Stoicism of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, a interesting comparison in terms of the body, governmentality and issues of space/place. Central to the argument here, Lefebvre emphasises the body’s experience of place through the total body of the senses,

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‘[w]hen ‘Ego’ arrives in an unknown country or city, he [sic] first experiences it through every part of his body – through his sense of smell and taste, as (provided he does not limit this by remaining in his car) through his legs and feet. His hearing picks up the noises and the quality of the voices; his eyes are assailed by new impressions. For it is by means of the body that space is perceived, lived – and produced’ (1991, p. 162).

The perception of space by the body is part of spatial and social practices, which are excluded from the codes of reading and writing according to Lefebvre (Lefebvre, 2014, p. 125).

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Within this argument is a critique of certain formulations of interpreting urban forms or places. The most common, and referenced in ancient history and classical archaeology, interpretation of urban space and place along the lines of readability and visibility is Kevin Lynch’s conception of ‘urban image’ and ‘mental maps’. Lefebvre is not the only one to critique this formulation and Tim Ingold (2000) critiques Lynch’s ‘mental maps’ directly as a product of a modern cartographic conception of place:

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‘It is rather that the world of our experience is a world suspended in movement, that is continually coming into being as we – through our own movement – contribute to its formation. In the cartographic world, by contrast, all is still and silent. There is neither sunlight nor moonlight; there are no variations of light or shade, no clouds, no shadows or reflections. The wind does not blow, neither disturbing the trees nor whipping water into waves. No birds fly in the sky, or sing in the woods; forests and pastures are devoid of animal life; houses and streets are empty of people and traffic. To dismiss all this – to suggest that what is excluded in the cartographic reduction amounts, in Monmonier’s words, to a ‘fog of detail’ – is perverse, to say the least (Wood 1992: 76). For it is no less than the stuff of life itself. Were one magically transported into the looking-glass world behind the map, one would indeed feel lost and disoriented, as in a fog. But the fogginess is a function not of the amount or density of detail but of the arrestation of movement. Detached from the flow of which each is but a moment, details settle like an opaque precipitate upon the surface of the earth. Little wonder, then, that the cartographer feels the need to sweep them up, or that the navigator prefers to brush them aside in plotting a course!’ (Ingold 2000, p. 242).

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In Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, Lefebvre criticises readability through the reversal of the practice of reading (2014, p. 125). In order to read architecture, there must be an assumed message or code within the building or urban form and since it is addressed to people (another assumption), it can be read and compared to writing (Lefebvre, 2014, p. 125). Lefebvre points out, however, that in practice the operation is reversed (2014, p. 125). It is not the building or space that is decoded, but space decodes the social practices of human beings. Human beings transmit a plurality of codes, which are not all directed at the intellect, such as emotions, passions or feelings. Architectural space refracts messages in the form of injunctions, proscriptions and proscribed acts, rather than signs; that is to say, architecture refracts social and spatial practices (2014, p. 125). Architecture, in this process, intensifies certain messages and transforms them into rules and assigned gestures, spatialising social practices and defining ‘places’ (2014, p. 125). In this case, the senses are not directly referenced by Lefebvre, but can be incorporated into the process. If architecture produces living bodies, part of that production is a range of sensory hierarchies and practices. At the level above sensory perception, language of space (point 2 in the reformulation of Lefebvre’s points) is taken for experience (sensory perception of physical space) and perceived to reflect ‘common sense’ sensory hierarchies, in this case, based on visual metaphors (in modernity). This links the history of the body to the history of space through the development of the senses within a given periods, cultures or other differences in spatial practices (Lefebvre, 1991, pp. 195-6).

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The senses as theoreticians and poetic practice critique the architectures of power through the senses, body and gestures. As argued, the senses as theoreticians are tools for critical thought and open up subversive responses to the strategies of the state and power. Foucault and de Certeau hover in the background behind that last sentence and offer comparative conceptions to what I am arguing is at work in Lefebvre. In historical terms, Lefebvre argues that the senses as theoreticians reveal the logic of visualisation that developed over centuries and eventually was built into cities and urbanism and is the central point in the middle of The Production of Space. Poetic practice critiques the actions and gestures that take place within the theoretical space opened up by the total body. For Lefebvre, the issue was to draw out the active, creative and productive side of the senses and body, the total body, to open up space to all its possibilities. At the end of Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, Lefebvre suggests that the total body, sense as theoreticians and poetic practice set out a direction, echoing the ‘sense’ at the end of The Production of Space, for a revolutionary orientation of life (2014, p. 149). Here Lefebvre brings his own theory to the present situation of capitalism. For us, as ancient historians, archaeologists and classicists, the direction of such interpretations is a conceptualisation of the past. A past understood through the total body of sensory perceptions and imaginary conceptions, indicating hierarchies and strategies of power based on the senses, and enacted in the everyday sensory-spatial practices of ancient peoples.

This Summer on the Bike

It has been very quiet here on Ancient Noise, as I am currently in the final push to get my thesis submitted by the end of the month. Instead of giving an academic rundown of all the things that have (or have not) happened over the summer, I wrote a short bio piece about one of my non-academic interests and its relationship to my writing process (plus, it involves some summer updates). So, here we go… this summer on the (new) bike:


Somewhere in my second year of university I realised that I would always ride a steel bike frame. Part of this realisation was the fact that I loved 1970s and 80s Italian bikes and another part was an acceptance of the way I ride. In the words of Rudy, ‘You’re five foot nothing; a hundred and nothing pounds’. Naturally, and thankfully I enjoy them, I am a climber. I like the long days in the saddle and the gruelling challenge of hills. Don’t get me wrong, I love a fast sprint and racing the clock, but in that year I realised that I loved riding on my terms and those terms were classic steel.


As a result, I purchased one of my all time favourite bikes: a 1984 Ciöcc Performance. The bike was made the same year I was born (in fact, it left Italy the month I was born). It had full Campagnolo Super Record groupset and the Italian colours engraved on the stem, seatpost, and chainring. It was beautiful! I would spend hours riding in the hills above Chico, CA and looked forward to the Chico Wildflower Century in April.


The Ciöcc got me through my undergrad years and came back home with me for my first master’s degree. It was in those years that I settled into my writing and riding routine. I learned early in my MA that I could not just research and write all the time. I needed a space to mull over everything that I was taking in. The Ciöcc was that space. As I started to write my MA dissertation, I would go to class and work in the library in the morning. After lunch, I would go for a ride and spend a couple of hours on the bike.


At the time, I lived in the East Bay Area and I had to climb a hill or mountain in the first 10 miles of any ride. I would push myself on that first climb, getting my body warmed up. Then, I would settle into the rest of the ride, letting my mind wander as I took in the scenery. It was in this mind wandering that I would go over the steps in my argument, as I wound my way up the Berkeley hills or I would reflect on my current writing as I raced out to Mt Diablo. The physical movement and matching mental movement went together. I found that riding would clear my thoughts and draw out important points I had not fully realised. Once I was back, a cold beer (as it was summer in CA) and notebook brought the mental cycling to life on the page.


Fast forward 6 years, I am in the final stages of my PhD, which entails a lot of writing… 100,000 words kind-of a lot. I had bought a aluminium bike, as it was cheap and had good components, but it was starting to strain under the number of miles I was riding it. I had got into the routine of around 100 miles a week and, while still in good condition, my bike was showing the signs of these miles. In the back of my mind, I wanted the Ciöcc back. I had sold it after moving to the UK to cover some unexpected short finances and missed the feel and response of the bike. Plus, my current writing routine had lost some of the hours on the bike that had supported it in those earlier years.


That’s when I saw the Road Logic. I have always been a fan of Tom Ritchey and many of the other Bay Area cycling legends. (I met Gary Fisher by accident when I was invited to a bicycle garage sale at his house) Classic steel frame reinvented for today, that’s what I was after and that’s what Ritchey does. I found a Road Logic at the AlwaysRiding site that was in my budget (helps that the Ultegra/carbon fork version was £1 more than the comp) and went for it. The folks at AlwaysRiding were great and got me some matching bar tape to my Brooks saddle to make the Road Logic just that bit more classy. Now there are some striking similarities in the aesthetics of the Ciöcc and Ritchey, which I quite like. But more than this, the Road Logic has the feel (although it is considerably lighter than the Ciöcc) of riding that I love. As the saying goes, ‘Steel is real’.


Today, as I wound my way through Hertfordshire, I was struck by what I was doing. I was stressed about finishing a PhD in Roman archaeology, riding (possibly) my all-time favourite bike through the English countryside. When did I ever think I would do any of that? I revelled in the thrill of rolling along the country roads and the quick decent into north London. I find myself, once again, back in the routine of mentally cycling through the final edits and arguments of my thesis. And once again, grateful for a bike that makes those rides so enjoyable.


It’s been about a month since I got the Road Logic and I will pass the 500 mile mark this week. It is also about two weeks until I submit my PhD. So, you can guess what is ahead…


Podcasts & Sound Production: Hardware

As a first-year undergraduate student, I was enrolled in electrical engineering and worked in sound production. My ‘plan’ was to get picked-up by sound production company and drop out of school to work on band tours. Parts of the ‘plan’ worked out, I worked for a couple production companies with numerous bands; others did not, I never dropped out of school and, in the end, have spent more of my life in school than not.

I start with that brief bio to add some context to the rest of this series of posts. Recently, there have been several conversations around topics of ‘sound production’ (usually, not using that term) and podcasts. A friend asked for some recommendations on technical hardware and several people have asked me about preferences for editing software. These two different elements are tied to each other in production and I want to layout some of my preferences, as well as some of the things to think about in terms of producing good quality recordings for Podcasts. In this first post, I want to discuss the basic elements of hardware and go through pre-recording stuff. In later posts, I will talk about audio editing, some tricks and good practices in recording, and things to do after you have recorded your show in the editing process.

Hardware Basics

Podcasts are relatively simple to put together and can be done easily with a minimal amount of ‘stuff’ (hardware and software). What is slightly more complicated, and takes up the most time, is the behind-the-scenes work of editing. Therefore, I want to briefly discuss the hardware and pieces that go into the recording, and then turn to the editing in later posts. I’ll put links to recommended hardware and software throughout all the posts. I am Mac user and the availability of GarageBand in Apple software packages means I will make reference to that program, as a baseline. Other programs are available and there are some really good free, open-source options (LMMS being a great one).

The basic circuit layout is a person speaking into a microphone, which is connected to an audio interface via an XLR cable. The interface connects through USB to the computer and the software allows for mixing the sound input and track recording. My perfectionist-side thinks that using microphones is better than computer built-in microphones, as it allows you to single out issues and edit them without causing further problems. So, taking a basic interview as what is being reordered, you will need: 2 microphones; 2 XLR cables; 1 audio interface (USB cables are usually included), computer with recording software. Most audio interfaces have a headphone jack (1/4 input, not a mini-jack phone type headphones), which is helpful for editing and setting levels before you record.


There are 2 types of microphones: dynamic mics and condenser mics. Dynamic mics are versatile mics that do not require power and are made up of a coil of wire set in a magnetic field. The Shure SM58 is a standard performance mic that is pretty rugged and does the job (built around voice amplification). Condenser mics require power, which it draws from the audio interface, and uses a diaphragm to conduct vibrations. If you go with a condenser mic, you will need to make sure the interface has ‘phantom power’. Most interfaces do, but check, otherwise the mic will not work. Condenser mics are usually slightly more expensive, but in general ‘pick-up’ more sound than dynamic mics. Blue makes a USB version of the Snowball, in which case you do not need an audio interface.

Mics are also described in terms of their directional pick-up settings, either cardioid or omnidirectional. Cardioid mics pick-up sounds from the front, while omnidirectional will pick-up sound from all sides. Cardioid is probably best, as I prefer 1 mic per person. You will also need cables: XLR the type and 20 ft is a standard length (although, you probably do not need that long a length)

Now some placement and best practices for mics: if you have a dynamic mic you need to keep it close to your mouth (about a hands distance). The mic has a limited range of pick-up so, if you move away from the mic or if you turn your face, the sound will drop. You want a consistent volume and this requires you to limit movements and face the mic. Condenser mics will pick-up more sound and so, you do not need to be quite so, on the mic. The trade off is that it also picks-up more background noise, which can make the recording messy. In this sense, the place where you decide to record is also important. If it is a noisy room there are some tricks you do to cut out some of that noise, like using a gate (I will discuss using gates in another post, as it requires some explanation).

Now, I mentioned above that I prefer a mic per person, rather than trying to catch everyone with one mic. This is an issue of control, as each mic has a separate audio line allowing you to set the gain (volume) and EQ for each. If one person is louder/quieter than the other, the separate audio lines can be ‘mixed’ (referring to the act of setting or adjusting the audio mixer) to produce a balanced volume. I am sure we have all heard the either to loud or to quiet voices, which strain the listener. (In many ways, the best audio is unnoticed. If I had a great show, the folks in the audience would hardly notice what I was doing.)

Audio Interface

Audio interfaces are the bit that converts the microphone single into a digital single. Most have some basic features that are helpful in getting things set. Most are similar and have mic inputs (usually 2 but you can get 4), gain (controls the volume of the incoming single), headphone input and volume control, and (most) have a ‘monitor’ controls for recording over playback (for music recording).

Audio interface tips: you want the audio single coming in to be high enough that you have space to work with. This does not mean turning the gain all the way up, but making sure that the person talking peaks into the yellow range (‘Peak’ is audio lingo for the loudest noise). If you are hitting the red (the highest level), you will begin to distort so, make sure you are not turned up to the level (it’s also bad for the longevity of your equipment).

You will want both lines to sound balanced. This does not mean that each line will be at the same level, but you want then to sound about the same. You will quickly learn your own starting level the more you record, but it is always good to double check before you start recording. The better balanced the levels are when you record, the less time you will have to spend fixing the balance during editing.

Your other option is to hire a sound engineer to do all the editing…

Interfaces: M-Audio M-Track II; Behringer UMC202HD; PreSonus AudioBox iTwo

Bundles (Interface, headphones and mic): Presonus iTwo Recording Bundle (; M-Audio Vocal Studio Pro (

Feel free to contact me, if you have any questions or want recommendations for specific things. In the next post, I will discuss some of the basics of audio recording software.


Registration Open for Religious Movement and Sensory Experience in Antiquity!

Registration is open for our upcoming conference Religious Movement and Sensory Experience in Antiquity, 12 June 2015. The conference fee is £10 and includes tea/coffee and lunch throughout the day.

Click here to register

Conference Program: Religious Movement and Sensory Experience (12 June 2015)

I posted the program for our conference, Religious Movement and Sensory Experience in Antiquity, on the conference page (as well as Registration should open soon and there is limited space so, keep an eye out here or on the Liverpool Classicists list for the registration email.

I’m excited for the conference and look forward to some great papers. It will be interesting to bring together a variety of scholars working on similar themes in diverse contexts. Should be a great day!

Current Reading

Current Reading

Since it’s a bank holiday weekend and I’m spending my time catching up on work I need to get done, I thought I would quickly post on my current reading, as all of it pertains to non-classics topics right now. Most of this reading pertains to my methodology and intro chapter. So, here we go:

Urban Studies: I picked up Henri Lefebvre’s Toward An Architecture of Enjoyment, edited by Stanek (2014) and de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, translated by Rendall (1984). Both of these theorists are at the centre of my approach to urbanism, spatial theory and everyday life. It was good to revisit de Certeau’s work, as well as read the recent publication of a book Lefebvre wrote in 1973. Lefebvre’s Architecture of Enjoyment is a great reminder of some of the points Lefebvre develops in Production of Space (published the year after Architecture of Enjoyment). It is interesting to see certain ideas fully developed in Architecture of Enjoyment, that are not as clearly argued in Production of Space.

Sound Studies: Don Idhe (2007, 2nd ed.) Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound; Barry Truax (2001, 2nd ed.) Acoustic Communication; Brandon Labelle (2010) Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life; Jacques Attali (2009, originally published in 1977) Noise: The Political Economy of Music; Robert Jütte (2005) A History of the Senses: From Antiquity to Cyberspace; and Matthew Gandy, BJ Nilsen (eds.) (2014) The Acoustic City. Still working my way through these…

I also picked up a new camera! I had a Nikon D60 from 2005-6 that had traveled with me to Africa (several times), Europe, and all over North America. It was a great camera and I loved using it. However, it has been slowly acting up (the auto focus was noticeably slow and not able to focus) and it was getting harder and harder to use. I looked around at a couple different compact DSLRs and CSC cameras and went with the Canon EOS M (the 3M should be out soon so, got a great deal on the old model). Its small, like a point and shot, but has changeable lenses and many of the DSLR functions. I’m excited to test it out this week, as I’ll be headed to Canterbury Cathedral for a Spatial Humanities workshop Tuesday and Wednesday. For now, it’s back to the books.

Ancient ‘House Parties’ or Explaining the use of crowd noise predictors

Currently, I’m still working on my chapter covering internal acoustics of various spaces in Ostia. My last post touched on the role of doors in shops, one of the spaces I analyse, and now I’m working through the various forms of residential structures, mainly houses and apartments. I pulled an older study of apartments and houses in Ostia off the shelf and started going back through bits of study, especially the authors discussion of particular apartments. While the architectural discussion was useful, I was more fascinated by one of the appendices, which had every building in Ostia with the authors calculation of inhabitants. Each building had a suggested height (# of stories), number of flats and total number of inhabitants. This was just the sort of random list I find fascinating and started playing around with the population numbers. Where was the densest population in the city? Which building had the most people? What was the average number of people per building in each of the five regions of Ostia? And finally, what would the range of noise levels if I ran the population numbers through a crowd noise prediction formula?

This final question lead me to start yet another spreadsheet with the all the buildings and their corresponding crowd noise prediction levels. As expected the range of noise levels was fairly consistent, as the per building population numbers were also fairly consistent. But once I had my spreadsheet, I figured I would map the predictive noise onto a few neighbouring buildings and see what would happen. I quickly realised that I had a couple of problems I need to address. Was I going to assume all the inhabitants were in the same space, as the crowd prediction formula assumed, or would I rerun the formula for each individual habitation on each floor. Thus, and for the sake of entertainment, I assumed that each building had it’s own ‘house party’ with all the inhabitants from that building in one flat! It was perfect! An ancient frat party in each building and now I had something even better to find in mapping the sounds. Where would you go to read a book away from all the noise? Having looked at the acoustics of the internal spaces and having worked out the noise levels for my ancient ‘house party’, I sought to find the quietest place where my ancient equivalent would go to get away from all those people.

I’m not sure how my supervisors will feel about my referring to crowd noise predictions as ‘house parties’ but it was entertaining.