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Presentation by Pamela Jordan in the ASCA Aurality Seminar organized by Emily Hansell Clark and Barbara Titus. Contact: Emily Hansell Clark

Event details of Practices of sounding history
Date 11 May 2021
Time 16:30

Pamela Jordan, “Practices of sounding history”
Tuesday 11 May, 16.30-18.00, online
Registration link:

One of the primary challenges facing conservation of an historic place, be it recent or ancient, is identifying the site’s full constitutive context(s) through time and what meanings they once held. Fields concerned with human-shaped environments have experienced a sensory turn — including experiential archaeology, soundscape studies, phenomenology in architectural design, and intangible heritage. This human-centered perspective has opened up considerations of context to sensory experience beyond the physical integrity of structures. Such work faces many challenges; envisioning a building’s historic appearance often is much easier than imaging how it sounded. Yet concluding that practice or ancient experience of place is inaccessible because a site is in ruins would be premature, an inference largely based on visual cues, on the perceived absence of evidence.  

This talk will discuss how sound can be employed to research past built environments and what new understandings can be revealed towards improved conservation practices. Ongoing research at the Berlin Wall Memorial in Berlin, Germany and the ancient sanctuary to Zeus on Mount Lykaion, Greece will show how the intangible layer of the site can bring forward a new reading of the past architectural and cultural context of the site, rendering original practices and experience researchable by focusing on the site’s sonic interface. Embedded in this standpoint is the necessary expansion of what constitutes historic artifact: instead of discreet architectural remains in neutral scenery, the site can be considered a built landscape in totality, with buildings, natural features, and inhabitants creating a full-sensory built environment that is capable of reflecting past conditions. Relational analysis of the contemporary soundscape can reveal fully intact sonic dynamics while the physical setting is largely changed.  

Rooted in architectural practice, the research methodologies that will be presented meld heritage conservation, architectural design, experiential archaeology, acoustics, and soundscape analysis. There is no single strategy for researching past sonic environments; each site demands a new combination of research tools and sources, from archives to architectural assessments to binaural field recordings. Both case studies make evident the defining role of sound to place and reveal that the full historic context cannot be grasped without considering its inherent sonic dimension to trace the possible meanings behind historic experience.

Pamela Jordan is a licensed architect (USA, LEED AP) who uses sound-based methodologies to analyse and recontextualize historic built environments, including ancient sanctuaries, places of worship, military installations, infrastructural ruins, and cultural landscapes. Her work is grounded in independent research, institutional affiliations and collaborations based in architecture, acoustics, heritage, art, and psychoacoustics. The results of her research have featured in academic, peer-reviewed publications, applied research studies, and contemporary art spaces and exhibitions. She is the guest-editor of “Sounding Heritage”, issue 9.2 of Change Over Time (2021, University of Pennsylvania Press). Her research has been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (DE), the HEAD Genuit Foundation (DE), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NL), and the Society of Architectural Historians (USA). Pamela holds master’s degrees in architecture and historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and is an NWO-funded doctoral candidate at the University of Amsterdam’s Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology.