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Sound Womb

Audition provides us with information about the sorts of objects that populate the environment, about what those objects are doing, and about how they interact. Audition furnishes us with 360° awareness of a three-dimensional spatial field and directs the orientation of visual attention toward the sources of perceived sounds. When you listen to headphones, you voluntarily forgo that audition, substituting that audition for something else. But what?
— Preface to "Here, Hearing: On A Sound Womb"

The Chamber

I constructed a very large, acoustically dampened cylindrical chamber (8 ft tall and 6.5 feet in diameter). The chamber is encased in sheet metal, fitted with a pre-hung hollow core door, and lined with high density foam and acoustic fiberglass (with acoustically transparent loose-woven blankets draped over the fiberglass to prevent splintering upon contact). The foam is also placed on the floors, which throws the subject’s balance. The ceiling is draped with fabric to create a sort of tent-like dome ceiling. The idea in constructing a cylindrical space was to avoid right angles and horizon lines, which help orient sighted experience and reflect sound in certain way that was inconsistent with my project. Once the door is closed, no light leaks into the space. In this way, the subject is deprived of sight and audition is thoroughly altered (I didn’t build an anechoic chamber/vacuum, so it is not perfectly silent…silence, it seems is a sort of Utopian idea because even in an anechoic chamber, once can still hear the somatic sounds of their heartbeat and other organs).

Binaural Audio


Must Be Heard Through Headphones

The chamber is only half the project. I designed it as a controlled environment for listening to a series of binaural experiments, which require headphones in order to reproduce their effects. I used in-ear binaural microphones to record various sounds. Binaural microphones replicate the way the hears ear, specifically the way the ears localize sound spatial vis-a-vis inter-aural time and intensity levels. I also ran selected samples through software, and used its binaural processor (messing with certain moving angle functions) to map an effect similar to the manual recording onto a stereo recording (split into mono-files).



I made this project in a little over 4 months, on top of a college workload. I am a fast and willing learner.  I applied for a grant, and got the funds to make it happen. I can make things happen. The whole time I was making it, I had no idea whether or not the final product would really work the way I wanted it to, but I took the risk. The whole process was exciting. Not only did it work (thank goodness), but it sparked so many rich conversations and I learned a lot from my subjects. Everyone uses headphones and many subjects said they would never think of headphones the same way again. In this, I felt the project achieved its goals. A new experience and a new way of thinking about a technology.