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April 9, 2018 \ Studio
by Finbarr O’Dempsey

Permutations takes a haptic attitude towards acoustics, leaving space for the host venues of this touring installation to bring their own influence on both the acoustic and architectural impressions.


Permutations, is the outcome of a 4-year collaboration between designers, Andrew Skulina and myself, composer Freya Waley-Cohen and violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen. The project creates a touring installation of 6 chambers for a bespoke composition exploring ‘counterpoint’.

‘Counterpoint’ is a musical form, where multiple musical parts, having independent rhythm and melody, come together to form a harmonically interdependent piece of music. For Permutations, Freya Waley-Cohen wrote a counterpoint composition made up of six violin parts played by Tamsin Waley-Cohen. Each part is housed within its own freestanding architectural chamber and are installed together within a larger space – initially premiering at Snape Maltings where the project developed out of an Open Space residency.

Composer Benjamin Britten worked with Arup acoustician Derek Sugden to transform the former maltings at Snape into a world class concert hall. The pair were critics of the ‘pseudo-science’ behind modern acoustics and suggested that the experience of the architectural space has an equivalently significant impact on the impression on the audience as the precision of the acoustics. Following in this tradition, Permutations takes a haptic attitude towards acoustics, welcoming the influence of different host venues on both the acoustic and architectural experience.

Designed as a specialised kit-of-parts to facilitate transportation, each chamber integrates specialist speakers allowing the composition to reverberate through the timber lining of the interior like an instrument. Pivoting doors formed in sheathing plywood to one side, and a sinusoidal felt panel to the other to invite the audience to enter and alter the acoustics of each chamber at will.

This is consistent with a long tradition of ‘playing’ spaces by ear to adjust the acoustics to suit the piece of music, and the convention in modern performance venues of providing adaptable baffles and panels to adjust acoustics to suit different musical styles. An example of the former is the Bosedorfer Saal in Vienna, where it is said the acoustics were tested by a man on horseback clapping and listening for reverberation times whilst the building fabric was being repositioned.

The installation is touring during 2018 – 2019, and can be caught at Dartington International Festival, the Royal Academy of Music & RIBA North West.

Urban Design: the city and its public spaces is the crucible of civic life in a democratic society

April 3, 2018 \ Studio
by multiple authors

Urban space in the city is the most public forum that we have – and something always worth fighting for.