A New York Times article: “Dear Architects: Sound Matters.” It concerns the qualitative information and emotional sway architectural sound has on us all.
"Nearly half a century ago, the critic Reyner Banham wrote “Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment,” in which he meditated on how heat, air, light and materials create habitats that variously influence our experience of buildings. He stressed the fact that such environmental considerations should be “naturally subsumed into the normal working methods of the architect.”
To Banham’s list can be added sound. We talk admiringly about green or energy-efficient buildings, with roof gardens, cross-ventilation and stairways that encourage residents to walk, because good design can aspire to improve public health. But we don’t talk nearly enough about how sound in these buildings, and in all the other spaces we design, make us feel.
Acoustics can act in deep, visceral ways, not unlike music (think of the sound of an empty house). And while it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly how, there is often a correlation between the function of a place or an object and the sound we expect it to make.
So an expensive, solid wood door sounds better than an inexpensive hollow one, partly because its heavy clunk reassures us that the door is a true barrier, corresponding to the task it serves."
It’s also highly relevant to our instruments. Our sound makers also make sounds not separate from but in unison with those they’re intended to make. The sounds they make can reinforce qualitative merits and strengthen our affection for them: the satisfying muted click of the Push 2 buttons; the warm, muffled physicality of a piano’s wood, felt and tempered steel in an interplay hidden from view. The sounds they make can also further highlight unconsidered, poor design and mar our affection for them: the comically resonant (and cheap) buttons and keybed on Elektrons and the Moog Sub 37, respectively, turning them into a new sort of drum machine.
It’s worth contrasting how attentive to sound Apple is. When designing their mouse, they didn’t like the frictional sound it created when moved across the table. So they reconsidered materials and geometry to create a frictional timbre that embodied the qualitative traits and emotional meaning they desired.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the instrument makers most manifestly embracing and exalting design, Ableton, Teenage Engineering and Monome, also make instruments that sound palpably great for the player, not just the audience. These sounds don’t make it onto recordings, but they are an inherent part of our relationship with the instrument. We always hear it even if no one else does.