Site & Sound: KIASMA

Architect Steven Holl’s design for KIASMA, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki is informed by the concept of Chiasm, an intertwining of perception and bodily movement articulated by philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. On the occasion of the 2005 International Association for Philosophy and Literature conference, I was invited to present my response to Holl’s design. Intertwining the visible and the invisible, I produced an audio essay, a sonic portrait of KIASMA composed of sounds generated by and in all spaces of the building, from the public exhibition spaces and lobbies to the boiler room, elevator shafts and service areas. Architecture as organ, as flesh, animated by its users, brought to life by its occupants in a visceral encounter where the body of architecture and the bodies of individuals mutually produce and consume one and other. Organized by movements that suggest themes of membrane, structure, breath, circulation, impulse/reflex and digestion, the composition plots a course through the museum as if the listener were a parasite passing through the body of a host. The recordings were engineered to capture the unique acoustic characteristics that define each space. The resulting composition is an analytical synthesis based on my subjective experience of Merleau-Ponty’s theories and Holl’s museum design. The project premiered in KIASMA’s theater, and has also been developed as an installation and audio CD.

Site&Sound is an ongoing sonic investigation of the relationship between architecture and it’s inhabitants. All spaces have unique acoustic characteristics, which are determined by their size, shape and material constitution and become evident through the production of sonic events. I am interested in acoustic orientation, that is, how we use our under-appreciated sense of sound to explore space, as well as theorizing the improvisational methods by which we consciously or unconsciously produce and claim space, making it our own by enacting sound events in order to navigate without vision.