Prosthetic Audio Technology, 'Third Sound' and the Sonic 'Place Bridge'

Exploring the relationship between the sonic environments which we choose to inhabit and the role of memory on our unique and personal constructions of place.


‘let us cross a large modern capital with our ears more attentive than eyes’
(Page 25-26, Russolo, Luigi, ‘Art of noises futurist manifesto’ (1913))


This paper is an attempt to understand the importance of our aural senses on our personal constructions of place, investigating the phenomenological relationship between; sound signifiers and previous experience.
The paper’s focus will be on the role of portable audio technology in creating ‘place bridges' through the auditory via memory. Looking at the relationship between the ‘IPod’, the creation of the Freud’s ‘heimlich’ and Simmel’s ‘metropolitan personality’. Investigating how the bridging of place in memory contributes or detracts.

Using Lefebvre’s trialectic of social spaces an understanding of three productions of ‘sound’ will form the basis for the methodology:

First space - Perceived space :: First sound - Perceived sound (Live sound)

Second space - Conceived space :: Second sound - Conceived sound (Composed, recorded sound)

Third space - Memory space :: Third sound - Remembered sound / Imagined sound (Memory sound)

This typology of ‘sounds‘ will act as a basis for understanding the varying inputs and possibilities of everyday sonic life and the subsequent affect this has on our reading of the urban environment and personal constructions of place. The paper will look at this through a phenomenological study of portable technology, more specifically the ‘IPod’ and to a lesser extent mobile phone. Investigating notions of how the two input ‘sounds’ affect our personal constructions of place, and how they are capable of forming what ultimately becomes a place-time bridge through memory. The following table demonstrates the presence of the typologies of sound in existence when using personal audio technology.

For the ‘IPod’ the paper will look at how an accumulation of ‘first sound’ from the physical environment and ‘second sound’ from composed auditory, and the resultant ‘third sound’ can lead to a very different mental construction of place and even a dual place. It will look at implications of this dual place on Freud’s idea of the ‘Unheimliche’ or ‘Uncanny’ through the possible creation of the dwelling and proposing potential implications on ‘metropolitan personality’ disorder.

For the mobile phone the paper will look at an audio input from two ‘first sound’ sources; your immediate sonic environment and the auditory you hear through a live feed connection. It will look at the implications of this on our perceptions of place and inhabitation of a mentally created dual place. Parallel design work will aim to demonstrate how this theorized phenomena of ‘place bridges’ could work in an installation context. This will focus on the design and construction of a series of nodal sound dome installations to inhabit forgotten spaces around London. Each node will contain auditory windows into other nodes. The project aims to bridge these disparate locations through memories of those walking past and interacting, memories triggered by live feeds and uncanny sounds.

For the methodology the thesis will use Lefebvre’s ideas on the ‘“knowledge” of space’ through Soja’s texts, in particular; Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. For the phenomenology surrounding memory and the city the paper will be relying on texts by Steve Pile (Real Cities) and Anthony Vidler (The Architectural Uncanny). General discussions about sound and our reading of the built environment will be informed be Brandon Labelle, whilst more specific discussions about the use of the ‘IPod’ will be aided by Michael Bull, Don Ihde and Jean-Paul Thibaud.

As this paper will largely be a phenomenological study into memory and the ‘IPod’ and the possibility of the creation of ‘place bridges’. It will therefore not concern itself with the in depth science surrounding the effects of memory on auditory cognition, but however I feel it is important to understand the basic process of how sounds are registered and the importance of previous experience on this, this will be discussed in brief in chapter_01.

It is my hope that this thesis should ultimately open a window into how this phenomenological notion of ‘place bridges’ allows us to inhabit two places at the same time; ‘first place’, the world in which we are physically inhabiting and ‘third place’, the world of memories.

The paper goes on to conclude the following:

Memory and imagination contribute hugely to our auditory sense of place, this place is often made up of two disparate places, the place in which we are in and memory place. Personal place through the auditory is created by often two, if not all three ‘sounds’: first sound (live sound), second sound (recorded sound) and always third sound (Memory / Imagination sound). The latter being the unstoppable result of processing first and second sound.

The ‘I-pod’ creates the ‘heimlich’, Making us more able to absorb urban stimuli and reduces a shutting off of the city (‘metropolitan personality’). Through this creation of the ‘heimlich’ the ‘IPod’ creates the dwelling, contributing to our personal attachment to technology - the need and requirement to be able to step into the memory space and the ‘dwelling’ whenever we like. By listening to certain pieces of music at certain times you can create triggers to places. You could potentially preprogram memory place?

Portable technology holds the key to Soja’s notion of the ‘Aleph’. It can trigger a memory place leading to this spatial temporal collision. This in turn opens up imagination, we can view place and time from all angles only in memory place, influencing how we receive and perceive the present, effect our actions and ultimately influence the future. ‘Third sound’ through the bridging into a memory place is a transformative sound/place.


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All contents © Elena Thatcher. 2017, except where noted.