Acoustics and Ocularcentricism

At the end of my last post I commented that “It feels strange working visually to produce something that is going to be used to model noise”. Equally I find the same is true when reading articles discussing acoustics in the past when they use graphs and plans to illustrate acoustical features. I am taking this blog to explore some of my thoughts on acoustics and how it is visually explored. This is by no means a polished exploration just some thoughts I have had.

I know on some level I struggle to understand them as I’m not an engineer and don’t work so much with the mathematical modelling of acoustical spaces. However, I do wonder if this is more to do with the Ocularcentric approaches currently employed in archaeology to feel the need to make a graph to demonstrate our ideas. This quote from Devereux and Jahn (1996)“it is instinctively felt that sound is too immediate and ephemeral” highlights to me why we might feel the need to work in visual display. By discussing acoustics in terms of its visual display to some extent we are making our results more “scientific”. Having equally seen a hand clap described as “a single loud percussive noise” (Waller 1993) I feel we are trying to move beyond the more phenomenological areas of working in Archaeoacoustics.

My other concern is that we are imparting our interpretations of the past with a modern mindset. Most of the spaces being discussed are monuments or sites from prehistory would they have been understood in the same visual depictions that we are using to demonstrate the spread of sound?

Despite these thoughts I equally agree it is very hard to describe the results of this kind of work without graphs and plans to demonstrate clearly what we mean. As seen in my previous post I myself have to visually model a room to be able to acoustically model the space, this is how the technology has developed.

A lot of the work done in Archaeoacoustics has been trying to line up Acoustical phenomena with visual stimuli. The most obvious example is the large body of work undertaken on Rock Art sites these include but are in no means limited to the Radio 4 documentary NOISE, (Reznikoff 2008; Waller 1993; Scarre & Lawson 2006). Rock painting is not the only application other papers also link “impressive visual backdrop[‘s]” (Watson & Keating 1999) to acoustical interesting spaces or examine spaces both a visual and acoustical way to compare the results (Wozencroft & Devereux n.d.). These are all fascinating and I am generally intrigued whether the locations were chosen due to acoustical phenomena already present in the natural environment or whether the construction of a site was intended to produce acoustical affects. Today acoustical engineering forms a subject in its own right. This does not mean we can entirely predict the acoustical properties of a building; we cannot model in the same way we can the aesthetics. Buildings are still constructed with errors in the acoustics. For example this lecture theatre has had to have the acoustics adjusted (the fabric boards, an absorbing material, cover holes in the wall designed to scatter sound).

This leads me to believe that most acoustical properties related to monuments are accidental creations rather than created in the design. A modern example of this is the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s cathedral (see Here for more details). Then potentially once discovered these properties are exploited or further explored in future constructions.
I presume that considering even now with knowledge of how acoustics can be manipulated we don’t always get it right that the latter idea wasn’t true.

Devereux, P. & Jahn, R.G., 1996. Preliminary investigations and cognitive considerations of the acoustical resonances of selected archaeological sites. Antiquity, 70, pp.665–6.

Reznikoff, I., 2008. Sound resonance in prehistoric times: A study of Paleolithic painted caves and rocks. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 123(5), pp.4137–4141.

Scarre, C. & Lawson, 2006. Archaeoacoustics, Cambridge: Oxbow Books.

Waller, S., 1993. Sound reflection as an explanation for the content and context of rock art. Rock Art Research, 10(2).

Watson, A. & Keating, D., 1999. Architecture and sound: an acoustical analysis of megalithic monuments in prehistoric Britain. Antiquity, 73, pp.325–36.

Wozencroft, J. & Devereux, P., Landscape-perception. Landscape & Perception project 2007-2012. Available at: http://www.landscape-perception.com/acoustic_mapping/ [Accessed July 11, 2013].

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What is lived experience?

It has been a while since I blogged, I have been distracted by my upgrade corrections and beginning new chapters on acoustics and literature reviews.

I began this blog a few months ago while I was in Chicago. I realised that I hadn’t ever set my work in its theoretical context and specifically avoided defining what I meant by lived experience. Today I have been updating my profiles on various websites and this blog and realised that since I started this blog my aims had changed and developed quite a lot and as such I needed to write a post to reflect where my thoughts were.

I had been straining to avoid defining what I thought about lived experience and I think this has been due to the attempt of avoiding linking my work too deeply with Phenomenology. This is essentially due to in my mind the somewhat “fluffy” image that phenomenology creates. While I agree that as archaeologists we do need to consider the experiential aspects of sites but as Stephen Murray stated we need to “reconciling our experiential responses with the task of dealing with buildings as entities that can go beyond the written document in providing vital access to the past.” (Murray 2008: 383).

For this thesis it is taken to mean how people understand the world around them, not based on some preconceived scheme but through experience: how they move, their activities, everyday paths and places and memory. This means that the documentary and physical evidence are not enough, because the past is subjective, memory: both personal and inherited are important.

My intention is to use digital technologies as a mechanism for visualising and auralising these experiences while using the reflecting ways of thinking about lived experience to critique the results.

First renders and thoughts on beams

I had a supervision yesterday with my supervisors Prof. Matthew Johnson and Dr. Graeme Earl where we discussed the first renders I had produced of my model so far. These images just detail the internal space: windows, fireplaces and doorways, and my first attempts at putting a roof and floors on the building.

I had been reading a lot around the subject of timber building construction to try to understand the appearance or these types of building. My first port of call was Richard Harris’s Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings this excellent little book explains the construction of these buildings in great detail with lots of helpful, clear diagrams. Based on his writings I started to plan the distances and shapes of my beams and how they would slot together. The following image is the results. I have just added some basic textures and materials to the renders to give an idea about the space that is not bright pink. I also realise that my smoothing groups need playing around with a bit.

Shape of beam bays

Internal beams upper floor

Ground floor showing beamed roof

A window and fireplace from the upper floor

The space the beams need to cross is quite short (about 5m) so there was no need to think about having to bridge the gap using a tie beam or similar approach. The distance the bays are placed apart does not seem to be set. I choose to space them evenly across the entire span about 5m apart as this “looked right” based on photos of other Medieval Roofs I had been using for reference (see below). Before spacing them apart I had to also consider the shape of this part of the frame. I had been looking at the above images of roof beams and decided to not go with a Crown Post and instead use 2 slanting Queen posts.

Wilmington Priory timber roof

Portchester Castle

Brockhampton Estate: The Great Hall

Presenting these images to Graeme and Matthew highlighted a few errors. Matthew suggested that the angle I had used for the Queen Posts was much too slanted, which is indicative of later buildings. Instead he suggested that it would be much more interesting to include a Crown Post or make the Queen Posts vertical.

As there are a number of options instead of just making one decision about how the roof is structured Graeme suggested that instead I create a number of different models with different roofing options, including a crown post and not, moving the number and position of bays around a bit to see if there are any obvious options for lining them up. We also discussed whether there would have been a ceiling concealing these beams. I had always assumed that the rooms would be open to the roof as this is common in halls. I had not really considered putting a ceiling in place on this upper floor.

What I had not considered was how much this changed the appearance of the upper apartment. Until now I had been thinking about them as looking fairly similar situated one above the other. However. when the roof is in place it will transform the upper apartment making it feel much larger and more open. Whereas the lower apartment will feel much more contained.

The second discussion point coming from the meeting was in reference to the beams and how decorated they were or not. We had been discussing them in terms of ornamentation of the type found at Ightham Mote (see previous blog). I asked whether, considering the lack of architectural ornamentation found at Bodiam, the beams, which would be cheaper to carve, would also be devoid of decoration. I had been thinking about it a lot as I need to decide whether I am going to shape them sooner rather than later. Matthew suggested that the question was even more complex as unlike a lot of slightly earlier buildings the household was not a peripatetic one, it was solely based at Bodiam. Which we would have assumed that more of the building would be decorated as it would not have had to have been moved around. So wondering whether the more decayed areas of the building are as plain as the rest of it is a very hard question, which I have yet to find an answer for.

3/10 things you didn’t know about Bodiam Castle: Ornamentation

Unlike at Ightham Mote ornamentation on the architecture at Bodiam is virtually none existent. Despite the scale of the building and its presence in the landscape there is just one piece of decorated stonework remaining: a leafy boss.

Leafy Bpss

Again unlike at Ightham it is not on display in an obvious entrance or public room, it is concealed in the on the right side of the gatehouse on the second floor. It is not in a room, but more of a passageway which only remarkable feature (other than the boss) is one of the new style gun loops. It is so concealed that few visitors notice it (and even so called experts *myself* spent a good morning wandering around looking at ceilings before I found it!).

Size of Room

It is curious that it is found in this location. As I have already stated at Ightham the majority of the ornamentation is on the public areas of the building. This area of Bodiam is so concealed it is not a display of ostentation as it is in other buildings. It is so concealed and so small we have to question why it is there. The room is tiny it could even be considered a corridor, its only feature is that the gun loop lighting it overlooks the gatehouse: which have been suggested as some kind of porters lodge use. The room itself is very dark even during the day, there is no space to sit in the room, or anything to do there except look out the gun loop. It required such a trained eye to find it it seems wasted here in this part of the building.

Ightham and ornamentation

Much of this blog so far has concerned itself with Bodiam Castle and the work I am doing there. I have just completed a week of fieldwork in Kent and on the first day I spent a morning at Ightham Mote. My intention was to photograph various areas around the hall and see how the roofs are put together.

Ightham Mote, Kent

While looking around I began to think about the experience of entering the great hall. Unlike at Bodiam Ightham has much for ornamentation on the structure of the building. There are decorative panels around the doorways and most importantly a series of engraved faces at the bases of the roof arches. These face in a range of directions and feature different characters. The first of these would have been encountered at the entrance to the hall these feature two (now somewhat eroded) faces. On another entrance in the courtyard the two faces are both gurning one looking sad and the other happy. The two faces on the entrance to the hall could have depicted similar features.

Smiling face to right of door

Sad face to left of other door

Closeup of one of the faces

Entrance to Great Hall faces can be seen on the archway

Other entrance from courtyard

Once through the door you now enter a new entrance room whereas just after the initial construction you would have entered directly into the hall. Another of these faces now greats you from directly opposite the entrance. This one is positioned as if he is holding up the hall. He looks under great strain. This could have links to the idea of lordship in feudal society. It could give suggestions of social status. It is also interestingly positioned at the lower end of the hall.

Figure opposite entrance

As one turns into the hall from this position there are two more sets of faces at the bases of the main beams in the hall. One set at the centre of the room look intently up towards the head of the room. This could be another architectural social cue. The building could be giving instructions through the architecture to those entering it. These figures show how those sitting below are meant to act towards their lord.

Figure at centre of hall

At the very head of the room are two final figures each with large shoulders again holding up the roof. These are looking back down the room at those seating below it. These ones are harder to read. They to some extent look like they are wearing masks.

Figures at head of hall

At Ecclesiastical sites architecture provides visual cues to convey social expectations particularly about what behaviour is expected or what they are expected to be thinking about. In an age where most people were not literate an image or visual cue would convey and have much more meaning than the written word (Woolgar, 2006: 179-180)(D. L. C. Clark, 2007). These figures might be being used to convey similar information about what is expected of the illiterate in this context.

Reference

Clark, D.L.C., 2007. Viewing the liturgy: a space syntax study of changing visibility and accessibility in the development of the Byzantine church in Jordan. World Archaeology, 39(1), pp.84-104. Available at: http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&doi=10.1080/00438240601148798&magic=crossref||D404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3 [Accessed October 29, 2010].

Woolgar, C.M., 2006. The Senses in Late Medieval England, London: Yale University Press.

Ambiguity

Over the last week I have been continuing working on the elevation, after an illuminating discussion (baby tutorial!) with Grant Cox I realised I had been thinking about modelling in the wrong way instead of working from the largest size and inputting features into it, I should be thinking about the smallest parts and building out and up from them. As a consequence I have been building each window individually and expanding the walls out from these frames which I have found a much easier method for creating the complex shapes and dealing with the chamfers.

Following this amazing discovery I have completed the entirety of the eastern wall and stuck it all together which took a lot less time once I had got the hang of it!

I have to begin to think about accuracy and ambiguity. While producing the surveyed area of the building I found that I had to make decisions about parts of the shapes of windows that had been worn or broken away along the edges. I found I was thinking that obviously the edge of the window would have been straight… something that I do not in actuality know. For example this window the edge of the window is much dilapidated I know that at some point on some of the windows of this type bars ran across them and these were probably removed (forcefully) after the castle was abandoned causing much of the damage. But how much of the damage can I rebuild just by looking? To get around this problem I have been comparing the windows to others of the building where evidence for the bars still exists forming a fairly accurate edge and shape for the frame. I need to keep in mind what decisions I am making about rebuilding these shapes and think about how I am doing it.

Photo of window

Survey Data of the same window

Moving on from these areas which I have survey data for I have to think about my method for rebuilding windows in areas firstly where I know there are standing remains for such features and then secondly for where there are not. Building windows on the northern and southern walls has been and will be reasonably easy using a small amount of conjecture, I have photos of the windows themselves taken from both the interior and the exterior, positioning them will be more challenging, I have been using a combination of images and lining up planes in the 3ds max model to try to position them in line with window positions on the eastern elevation.

Much more tricky will be the western wall which is no longer standing. I know positions for windows at basement level (however, this does not indicate position for anything on the upper floor as can be seen from the eastern wall). I also can see evidence for one window seat from the lower level which is a good position to start. I also know that I will have to include the entrance to the spiral staircase on this wall, which links the great hall and both sets of apartments. Currently I have examined other areas of the building with windows overlooking the corridor such as the following, from these I should begin to be able to justify the style of window.

Overlooking from western range

Windows overlooking courtyard from Kitchens

Window overlooking courtyard from Great Hall

I have also been looking at other reconstructions of this area to see how other people have pictured the scene. The main image that appears was produced for the National Trust Guidebooks and was also reused in John Goodalls book: The English Castle. Which uses the same windows that are pictured above. (note: I will be critiquing this image in more detail later when it comes to decorating and furnishing the apartments.)

In essence I need to begin to be thinking clearly (and carefully recording) every decision I make about the construction of the rooms as their construction particularly from this point on will include an element of ambiguity.

Soot

Last week I took myself on a trip to Kent and Sussex as I felt the need to collect photos of various aspects of the areas i’m looking at Bodiam. As I was making such a long journey I decided to roll it together with a trip to . I viewed the visit as a trip to have a look at how spaces were laid out and filled during the period and to use it as a possible basis for how I will begin to decorate my finished rooms despite being both Royal and of an earlier date.

The rooms themselves are fantastic, richly coloured and filled with beautiful pieces of furniture. I suppose I always had the idea that rooms were always white based on how many are presented now and how they are pictured in books and other reconstructions.

The Great Tower at Dover Castle

The other thing I noticed which hadn’t appeared (in my memory) in a lot of images was the presence of lots of soot above all of the fireplaces. At Bodiam the fireplaces, open to the elements, have all been washed clean. Whilst at other properties I suspect many of them are kept clean as part of the daily conservation tasks, or no longer have fires burning. It made me think this is something I need to remember to include, as a lot of models produced are often too clean and don’t accuratley represent the nature of life and buildings when they are being lived in.

Soot above the fireplace at Dover Castle

Hello world

This first blog post I will use to quickly fill in the gaps of what I’ve said I’m aiming to do and what I’ve actually done.

I have been playing around with starting a blog for a while and I must admit it is more for me to keep track of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it than for anyone else. I think my aim is to keep my digital ideas categorized separately so those with a lot more experience can quickly skip over the pain staking things and only read the (hopefully) interesting results or ideas of what I’m doing.

So to begin I am about to embark on my first project of modelling the private chambers at Bodiam Castle. These can be seen in this image (thanks to Prof. Matthew Johnson for the photo)

To start on this I took part in a two week field season in April 2011. I worked with Penny Copeland, James Miles, Pete Wheeler and the Arch2024 students to produce the east elevation of the castle using a total station connected to AutoCAD using TheoLT.

This completed elevation I proceeded to import into 3ds max. I will be using the survey data as a guide to shape my model of the rooms. I am currently exploring different methods of building up the shape of the rooms (the position of the walls and their heights). I have tried using lines to draw around the edges and am also experimenting using Standard primitives and using them to create Pro-Boolean objects. I am also trying to begin to cut holes into these completed walls as I think this will help determine which option is better suited.

I have also been thinking about the issues associated with the data. The survey data is incredibly detailed because of this I am having a hard time making decisions about how closely I should follow it and also how to interpret a number of the lines. This has led to lots of discussion with Alice Watterson (http://digitaldirtvirtualpasts.wordpress.com/) about the process of reconstruction and how we can bridge the gap between our observation of the site today in the present, and our visualisation of the past. It has also led to me questioning how I can fill in the gaps of my data (where walls no longer exist) and how I can build this uncertainty into my visualizations.