Making the walls quake as if they were dilating with the secret knowledge of great powers
Katarzyna Krakowiak’s sound sculpture Making the walls quake as if they were dilating with the secret knowledge of great powers is the amplification of the Polish Pavilion as a listening-system. Rather than creating a new space, the artist’s proposal for the Architecture Biennale takes an empirical turn, taking the existing interior as its point of departure, with all its deficiencies and imperfections guiding the work. The art is in the “naked building”—presented through sculpture as a complex sonic process that generates, transforms, and transmits sound. Studies in the natural acoustics of the Polish Pavilion offer several ways to perform the amplification process. Architectural
micro-deformations of the building’s walls and floor, the renovation of the ventilation system, and reinforcement of the resonant frequencies serve to bring this latent acoustic experience to the fore. The focus is on the secret but audible knowledge inscribed in the niches, apses, bays and vestibules, full of long-acknowledged deficiencies and forgotten paradoxes. None of the sounds in the Pavilion are alien to the building. They are all always already there. Yet, once amplified, the familiar ambient sounds become alien themselves. Beyond the visual and the material, they compel us to hear what was always there—the others just outside the walls. Hence, the real subject of the work is essentially the entire architectural complex that is home to four other pavilions: Egypt, Romania, Serbia, and Venice.
1. Reverberation and Resonant Frequencies
Acoustic measurements performed by Andrzej Kłosak revealed the Pavilion’s strong reverberation, lasting over 6 seconds. In the empty room, measuring less than 200 m², human speech is on the threshold of what is recognizable—even three meters from the source. It is due to the interior’s excessive reverberation rather than insufficient volume of human speech, that public openings staged inside the Pavilion typically require a PA system. To pinpoint this acoustic effect, the resonant frequencies of the Pavilion’s main hall are reinforced, further diminishing the recognition threshold of speech—and thus making even regular conversation difficult.
The building’s materials (brick walls, marble floor) as well as the symmetrical, rectangular form of the interior cause the sound to reverberate endlessly as it is reflected vertically. In such cases, sound sources are practically untraceable. Voice seems to be coming from everywhere, even if the speaker is standing just a meter behind one’s back. To enhance the experience of being immersed in sound, the floor and one of the walls are tilted at a slight angle. The introduction of a different material (a wooden floor) and the incline itself will also influence sound propagation. With 50 sound sources, the interior of the Polish Pavilion will take the visitor to the heart of an unknown, unfathomable realm of sound.
The central elements of the sculpture are the surfaces, designed based on a reverberation model depicting which sound waves are reflected and propagate inside the Pavilion.
2. Ventilation System
Katarzyna Krakowiak dismantled the existing artificial ceiling—which was mounted for the few last exhibitions to cover the skylight and ventilation system—in order to streamline the air trajectories. One of the main discoveries during research into the Polish Pavilion was that words uttered on the roof, reaching the interior through ventilation holes, are much more understandable that those at floor-level. In this way, the ventilation system opens the pavilion both to the surroundings of the building, as well as to other pavilions. For the sound sculpture, ventilation pipes are used to bring sounds traveling with the air from adjacent pavilions into the Polish one.
3. The Niche, the Vestibule and the Walls
The acoustic probing of the pavilion revealed a plastered apse, located right opposite the main entrance. Now it is presented in full view and restored to its original acoustic function, that is, to reflect the sounds appearing in the vestibule. The vestibule itself is a transition area between the exterior and the interior of the pavilion. To mark this process of transition—no more than a few steps—the passage is soundproofed, drowning out the ambient sounds and thus emphasizing the acoustic function of the vestibule, as well as preparing visitors to experience her sculpture aurally.
The final gesture was to stage a “live sonification” of the vibrations of the walls of the entire building. The trembling of the walls is translated into sounds, and made audible in the space of the pavilion together with the trembling of selected parts of the building. A network of sensors and cables entwines the entire architectural complex, including the façades of the adjacent pavilions, marking the continuity of sound as a phenomenon.
Michał Libera, Exhibtion Curator