Homogeneity and Heterogeneity: two approaches for designing spatial sound by Jeffrey Hannam

View the full dissertation


My research explores the process for designing and reproducing spatial sound through two personal sound-design projects: Pilate (2006) and Metamorphosis42 (2009). Located within the context of design, it explores two modes for spatial sound composition, which at its heart contemplates the potential for the phenomenon of the sound experience to guide the design and reproduction of spatial sound using electroacoustic techniques. The intent is to convey an approach to sound design, by combining the concepts with the tools and techniques used in sound composition, to create an impression of space that is perceived by the listener. This process has enabled me to draw a distinction in approach between my projects, based on the concepts, tools and techniques I apply in the act of making, to guide my work. In emphasising the sound space relation, the notions of the ‘homogeneous’ and the ‘heterogeneous’ emerge. I apply these terms in my research, to embody the essence of a compositional methodology, explored through an analysis of my projects and by engaging with a process of reflection and listening.

On this basis, my research suggests that the notion of the ‘homogeneous’ builds on the physical relations of sound and space through an experience of sound within space. If our experience of sound in a real-world scenario can be considered coherent, then, in the context of a sound design process, my research proposes that a ‘homogeneous’ approach to sound composition seeks to faithfully reproduce the perceptually coherent sounding qualities observed in the real-world. This approach is predicated on the fact that the sensations of sound are the result of vibrating materials. The displacement, which occurs at the material surface, creates a pressure wave that moves through the atmosphere interacting with other materials within the environment. As a consequence, the pressure waves that reach our ears come from all directions, not just one and the physical qualities of the materials the pressure wave interacts with – their size, shape and density, for example, directly influence how sound is perceived.

The notion of the ‘heterogeneous’ builds on the internal relation of sound and space – the space within sound, and how the physical and imagined qualities of space are interchangeable which conveys a dynamic and complex sense of space. A quality of this approach is that sound is suspended in its own time and space through a poetic re-imagination – an interior space in which sound is decoupled from its physical source. As François Bayle (2007, p.241) writes, ‘a sound from a transducer is like no other’. I interpret this as a way to think about the reproduced sound, which sits beyond the physical. I use the term ‘re-imagination’ to emphasise that the listener is not passive, but instead an active body engaged in this contemplation of sound. On this basis, the heterogeneous is not one singular homogeneous image bound entirely by the physical nature of the source. Instead, it is an affective experience that is bound to our senses and our emotions, reaching our ears through a patchwork of sounds that collide in space and time creating a transformation that occurs at the boundaries of perception.


Share this artefact