The power of sound

On 15th March we joined an immersive session devoted to sound. The event took place in the Ducal Palace of San Martino Valle Caudina (Avellino) and it has been promoted by the society “Interzona” along with AIA, Acoustical Society of Italy. The sound artist professor Roberto Paci Dalò sensitized us to awareness-raising towards listening, pointing out that we live in a society where the dominant sense is sight, which brings an immediate response to reality. Visual-dominance condition should be regarded as unfavourable because it brings an imbalance due to the sensory development decline. What makes the difference between the hearing and the seeing ability is the impossibility to avoid a relationship between the hearing ability and the outside world because absolute silence doesn’t exist. When it seems you’re not hearing anything, you’re actually having contact with the surrounding reality through human sounds such as heartbeat or breathing, or even through nature sounds. In 1952, the American composer John Cage held an open-air concert in the rain: he remained silent for 4 minutes and 33 seconds without playing. His aim was to show that the real soundscape is formed by noises around us and we’re constantly immersed in it. Hence sound is a real world, we find it in a wide variety of fields. Sound is a key factor in the development of a cultural aspect in a society, for example being used to a town that tends to be quiet rather than a chaotic metropolis. Over the long term, acoustic habits constitute an important aspect in human life, and any changing can be considered as a stress factor determined by the powerlessness to isolate oneself from a noise perceived as annoying. In today’s society, in comparison to other ages, alienating oneself from acoustic surroundings and preferring to take refuge in one’s own sound world is becoming increasingly common: a symbol of this choice is the use of personal headphones, which leads to individual acoustic space’s construction. We can consider sound as matter, which ends up filling the space when it propagates. Thanks to Professor Gino Iannace, who is an expert engineer of acoustics in ancient theaters, we understood that years ago, more attention was given to the power of sound in building construction.  Ancient history is still full of questions for modern scholars,  for example, they ask themselves how it was possible to allow good acoustics in theaters or amphitheaters, which were used for assemblies and public performances.  Regarding the matter of acoustics in ancient times, one of the most famous myths is that of the “Ear of Dionysius”. This is an artificial cave excavated in the ancient stone quarry called “Latomy of Paradise”, under the Greek theater of Syracuse. It is said that Dionysius, who was the cruel tyrant of Syracuse, had the cave created to imprison captives, whose voices he listened to from the upper cavity. Nowadays the cave is still  known for being a very strong sounding board that can amplify sound up to sixteen times, which is peculiar. Although there are still many questions about the perception of sound in the past, the myth confirms that it has been an object of study. The Roman architect Vitruvius describes the fundamental principles about improving acoustics in theaters in his famous writing De Architectura, such as placing resonating vessels under the bleachers of the auditorium to make speeches more understandable or constructing the theater so that the corners were connected by means of a stretched wire in order to make the sound waves reach the ears of all the spectators. Nowadays, studies about sound are extremely different because they are not about how to make sound come through more clearly, instead they’re about how to improve its quality, to avoid damaging the hearing. At the end of the presentation, we had the chance to listen to some recordings of different sounds or to see an old vinyl playing. After that, we moved outside to take part in an interactive activity by using an app called “Open Noise” that allowed us to measure the sound pressure level in real time. Thanks to this special day we got to know the sound and its importance from a new point of view: sound is a natural force that goes beyond any modern definition and only by knowing it we can develop a balanced relationship with all our senses. 

di Elisa De Nisco, Chiara Guarino, Giada Goglia e Caterina Sguera

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