The Room as an Instrument


In Spook Country (2007), William Gibson still had fictitious artists to anchor virtual works in 3-dimensional spaces using spatial coordinates. Gibson‘s protagonists were able to see these works with special devices at their respective positions in space.

Those AREAS - that give the project its name - are defined in form and place by Christian Fennesz with NOUS Sonic, positioned on a digital representation of the Theatre of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York and covered with specially composed sound files. When the participants enter these areas within the Theatre, they hear individual sounds through headphones, depending on their location and behavior: The technological basis is a high-precision indoor localization of the listeners using ultra-wideband, the sounds are calculated and adjusted in real time in the respective headphones.


The space is thus recognized in detail in its real 3-dimensional structure – as well as the listeners in their movements: Based on this technological setting and using his style-defining mixture of field recordings, guitar snippets, ambient, noise and effects, Fennesz develops an interactive and immersive one multi-channel installation. As in 1997 with Hotel Paral.lel he again performs compositional-conceptual pioneering work with AREA: For example, dealing with the dimension of linear temporality - which has always been regarded as constitutive for music - is made possible by controlling of the individual auditory, changed through own movements in the direction of a non-linear, multi-perspective space-hearing.

Augmented Listening

In his quiet pieces like 4‘33, John Cage abstracted the given spatial sound (e.g. the noise generated by the audience) as the music of this piece and thus defined the room in its auditory naturalness as the work of art: With NOUS Sonic the human hearing is augmented in the original meaning. The system not only captures the macro-movements of the audience in the essentially silent space (walking through the virtual areas in the Theatre of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York), but also their micro-movements in the form of individual head turns and thus directions of gaze. If the observed AREA is laid out appropriately, actually inaudible (because it is too far away in the natural) can be simulated as audible: similar to the natural sound sources, Fennesz also positions the virtual sound sources in the room in AREA and can thus both imitate the natural and evoke the unnatural: As a partly irritating result, the listeners wander through their respective auditory uncanny valley.

Variable premises

Space is constituted ontologically not only by the visible, but also by the audible: filled with sound, the size of the room or the nature of the room can be assessed with closed eyes. Our sense of space can thus be influenced by changes in physical auditory laws: Up-down or near-far could be changed auditory contrary to the actual conditions and thus the perception of space could be inverted. In the case of Fennesz‘ AREA, immersion is thus taken further: in the early stages of corresponding efforts, it was about imitating and expanding nature as the archetypal form of immersion (synaesthetic approaches in Skrijabin 1915 or early digital implementations in Char Davies 1995). Fennesz now has artistically redefined the spatial variables perceived by hearing in AREA, which has been primarily visual, in comprehensive virtual reality systems, based on its immanent spatial and personal orientation: How big is a room, what is it like? Where am I, where have I been?

Auditory curated rooms – the room as an instrument

Fennesz sees NOUS Sonic less as another electronic tool, but rather as a conceptually applicable overall system to enable the participants to design their individual auditory spatial perceptions. The artist thus uses the space as an additional instrument; the AREAS and what is audible within would be the strings of this instrument, which are made to sound in the headphones by individually traversing the 3-dimensional shapes: chordal playing possibilities through crossfading of the areas included.

Dr. Gunther Reisinger, NOUS Wissensmanagement GmbH

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