Hi-fi architecture: a concert hall, a lecture room, a sound stage. A great deal of acoustic engineering and formal design decisions goes into the production of these spaces. The remaining spaces we inhabit, the everyday architecture of hallways, kitchens, lobbies, and public streets--these are largely not designed from an acoustic standpoint. Less than lo-fi, which would suggest some sort of technology for directing sound, the majority of our environments could be described as no-fi architecture. Sound is often considered in the no-fi case to be an irritant, to be eliminated if it is to be paid attention to at all.
Why bother with engineering an environment for precise listening when the occupant--a passerby on the street, a visitor to your home or office, etc--is not engaged to listen as a concert hall goer might be. The occupant of a no-fi environment must first have a desire to listen.
Rather than giving up on the no-fi environment, and while recognizing that design is a premium commodity which makes hi-fi architecture attainable only for user group who will pay for it, architecture, landscape, and sound intersect in an uncharted middle ground. I am calling this new ground "lo-fi architecture".
Hi-fi and lo-fi take their root in sound engineering, in both recording and playback. In general we like our sound to be more authentic, more "true" to artist's intention which leads to a vast engineering effort to perfect the recording and equally perfect the dispersion of the sound into individual listening environments. So why would anyone favor a "down-graded" sound, either intentionally stripped of its fidelity or of a lower quality due to a lack of economic means?
One answer to that question lies not so much in aesthetic preferences as it does in a punk, culture-jamming practice. In lo-fi audio and music, this is exemplified by circuit bending. Circuit bending is the technique of modifying a circuit board to produce (or unleash) sounds that were previously "locked up" in the circuit. Musicians and noise artists particularly enjoying warping toy keyboards and all manner of things.
Circuit bending as a material practice could translate up in scale to the built environment. How can the landscapes we live in, which are becoming ever closer to being mass-produced, be re-wired or "bent" by the user? Moving beyond the metaphor, designing for the sonic environment at large is a tangible domain for individual experimentation.
|DEMILIT experiments acoustically with stormwater pipes on the street|
Tinkering, rather than designing, is the mode of sonic reclamation of our built environment. But even the tools of tinkering are designed--subwoofers, amplifiers, speaker wire. Lo-fi architecture seeks to enable a building's occupants or a street's pedestrians to shape their experience, using the tools readily available on the market (the bombastic detritus of sound from a car amplifier escaping the car, for example). Listening intently then to these un-listenable or otherwise uninteresting environments may just reveal a hidden soundtrack to our lives. It may also tease out the politics of sound in the public arena - who controls sound, how is it controlled, and to what ends.