Standing on the sidewalk in front of the machiya (“townhouse”), my sonic sphere is shaped by cars, bicycles, footsteps, voices, and everyday objects. Each of these sounds are reflected back and forth between the facades of this narrow side street, creating an even denser environment. They approach, peak, and veer off again in clearly defined dynamic envelopes and spatial vectors. I can identify the source of these sounds with my eyes; all auditory events are transparently linked to visual events. While the streetscape may remain anonymous, there is no sound which does not potentially concern me. Just like sunlight, wind, or scents on the street, sounds hit me directly and immediately.
The street is still audible as I pass through an entrance in the machiya’s thin walls. Beyond it, however, the sensory scene is a totally different one: The air is cool, the light is dim, the acoustics of the house are dampening those of the street. The invisible outdoors appears a safe distance away, becoming almost domesticated by the “coloring” of the house acoustics. In this protected indoor environment, an acoustic niche opens up. My every step and even the rhythm of my breath become audible. I am no longer just listening for sound sources; I am adding to them.
As I slide the shōji screen to the side and step through to the garden in the back, the acoustic horizon opens up once more. The city reappears, but only as a distant drone in the sky. Its sounds are blurred and do not concern me anymore. I wait. After a while, a bell is delicately triggered by the wind. A crow passes overhead. A siren howls in the distance. Sonic figures continue to crystalize from out of the continuous city drone. Sounds drift into the garden as leaves onto a neatly raked ground. This tiny, enclosed space holds limitless potential—call it silence, if you will.
Ninigi, June 2015
Text & Sound: Ludwig Berger
Animation: Matthias Vollmer