David Toop on making spaces out of sound
Musician David Toop suggested ways that sound articulates space at the opening last week of a new exhibition, 'Sonic Boom', which he has curated at London's Hayward Gallery. As a sound artist, Toop draws heavily on architectural influences. His most recent album was called the 'Museum of Fruit' after Itsuko Hasegawa's building in Yamanashi, Japan. His own work in the show is an attempt to acclimatise the gallery-goer gradually to a variety of sounds in the form of a 'decompression chamber' at the entry to the exhibition.
Thresholds are important to Toop. For him a space's atmosphere is often based on the entry experience, the point at which you are enfolded by your surroundings. Stansted Airport and the Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo Station both have this effect, says Toop: 'You pass through a threshold and everything is designed to make you fall into a kind of trance, to get you through the rituals of travel.' He hopes to create this in the Hayward - the exhibition as a journey through interlinking soundscapes.
Toop wants the gallery to 'resonate' and his whole-gallery 'composition' is a mixed habitat of sounds. Individual artists have tried to create their own spaces within it, but Toop fought against sound boxes and the separation of sounds. He prefers sound to draw the listener in - a favourite installation is from Max Eastley, where almost imperceptible sound adds a sense of concentration to the piece. He has focused on sharpening up our sense of hearing, by encouraging us to tune in to specific sounds - the amalgam of overlapping sounds that one hears in the city as opposed to the purity of birdsong in the country. The result has both the excitement and the dislocation of the city.
Toop demonstrated the ability of sound to articulate space with the vastly different work of Brian Eno and Christine Kubisch. Eno's Civic Recovery Proposal (Quiet Room) is a dark enclosed room with simple changing images. The ambient music makes it a space out of time - 'where your senses are intensified,' says Toop. The absorption leaves you dazed, unlike the delicate awareness engendered by Kubisch's work, Oasis 2000, Music for a ConcreteJungle. Toop describes this as a 'sound tent'. Through headphones the sky above the gallery's outside balcony comes alive with the cries of seagulls and the squawk of parakeets, transmitted via strips of audio wire strung across the balcony. The changing amplification determines the size of your own vivid audio environment, contrasting with the visual reality of the city in front of you.
Toop is attempting to create an atmosphere where our sense of hearing - normally peripheral - becomes primary to our perception to the point where we are 'immersed' in sound and music. 'Sound is abstract,' he says, but because sound originates from concrete forms, it is able to create spaces - as if the objects from which it comes are transported. The sound heightens the sense of the physical space, while remaining an abstract sensation.
David Toop's lecture was part of the events surrounding 'Sonic Boom' at the Hayward Gallery which runs until 18 June. Claire Melhuish is on holiday