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5-Minute Interview: Dr. Barry Blesser

Aural architecture is the practice of choosing what attributes a space or virtual space should have in order to suit the needs of the inhabitants in that space.

Dr. Barry Blesser

Dr. Barry Blesser

Dr. Barry Blesser, vice president and director of engineering, 25-Seven Systems, Boston. 25-Seven Systems is a market-focused audio, technology, and user interface company. Blesser recently released his book, “Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?” which focuses on aural architecture.

Pro AV:In your book, you use the term “aural architecture?” What does it mean?

Blesser:  It's the practice of choosing what attributes a space or virtual space should have in order to suit the needs of the inhabitants in that space. It's not necessarily designing the physics of the space, but knowing whether the space requires high reverberance, or if it's a space where someone is entering the room and should be announcing him or herself with the sounds of footsteps reflecting off of the walls. This practice determines what people need to have in order to feel good in the space.

Pro AV:Do you think architects will ever design for the “aural” experience, as well as the visual one?

Blesser: Probably not. For one thing, the visual experience is really controlled by architects. Human beings don't produce light or influence the visual experience when they get into the space, whereas aural architecture is actually a combination of the person who designed the space and the behavior of its inhabitants. It's also very hard to capture aural experiences, whereas visual experiences can be captured in a picture or a book. If you want to know what an architect has done, he puts a book in front of you. There's no equivalent of putting an aural architecture book in front of someone. It's very difficult to get people in the architectural community to appreciate being an aural architect. I've had very enthusiastic responses in lots of other disciplines and fields. The audio, video, media, electronic, and music people think it's neat because I'm providing an intellectual foundation and formal language for how you deal with spatiality, which is the experience of space.

Pro AV:Can a traditional architect be an aural architect?

Blesser: Yes. I've found a few, and they're often very frustrated because nobody has ever taken them seriously. Maybe 5 percent of architects have training in acoustics, and they're actually called acoustic architects. They're very much second-class citizens, but there are a few exceptions. Designing concert halls is often taken more seriously, but even there, they're not always taken as seriously.

Pro AV:What type of special training would be required for aural architecture?

Blesser: There are actually two pieces to aural architecture. There's acoustic architecture, which is really the engineering and science of designing a space with specific properties.

The second part requires a person to be part social scientist, anthropologist, and sociologist. The architect has to figure out what properties work for the inhabitants. For example, if you have an aural architect in a restaurant, he might need to decide how close people have to sit in order to have a conversation with each other.

Pro AV:Why is aural architecture so overlooked as a design tool?

Blesser: Sound is a very difficult subject. The major difficulty with sound is that you can't hold on to it. If I'm speaking to you, the sound is gone once I finish a word. Yes, you might be able to remember it, or at least in the 20th century you could record it, but traditionally there's been no way to hang on to it. The language of sound is very difficult and almost neurologically impossible. You have no natural language because of its transient nature. If you look at a lot of words that audio engineers use, they're borrowed from vision. For example, ‘that sound was clear,' ‘transparent,' or ‘soft.' All of these terms came from other sensory modalities.

 


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