Soundscapes: HMC, Hoch Shanahan Dining Hall, 2-23 5 pm


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Location: The Hoch Shanahan dining hall is located in the middle of Harvey Mudd College’s campus. Within, the hall is primarily serviced by a single, large, open room. Though as tall as two story buildings elsewhere on campus, the hall itself is only on the ground level; within the dining space, the ceiling is very tall. The north wall is entirely windows or glass doors, and the ceiling is broken by skylights. The food service area is separated from the seating by a wood paneled structure that supports drink machines. In both the dining space and the service space, the floor is tile. The chairs are plastic, and the tables only appear wooden on the surfaces. In the food service area, counters are chrome or otherwise metallic, with sneeze guards all around. At the time of recording, the dining hall was several minutes into Sunday dinner: not the most populous meal, but various bodies entered and exited the hall and various areas, sparsely filling seats and eating.

Recording Setup: The microphone was placed on a table in the center of the dining area, pointed away from the north windows and slightly up, almost aiming at the open space above the service area. The table it was on had no people sitting at it, but surrounding tables were occupied.

About the soundscape:

At the time of the recording, the Hoch is quiet compared to it’s usual buzz of human activity. Still, there was a general hum of people talking almost constantly present; this is a keynote of the space, and is so typical a sound that it is tuned out almost to background noise. Similarly, intermittent clattering can be heard. This comes from both silverware on plates in the dining area, and the shifting of serving platters in the back. These clinks and clacks are an archetype, since the space is foremost a dining hall which means food and the presence of these utensils to consume it. Various signals are present as well. About 5 seconds into the recording (0:05), a beep can be heard. This is an individual “tapping into” the dining hall, arriving for dinner. At 1:05, a chair scraping against the ground is heard, signaling the arrival of someone else to a table. The sounds coalesce into a clearly social space, but still one primarily for dining. It is arguable whether or not any soundmarks are present in the recording. One may argue that the distinct laughter heard at 0:14, sticking out from the background noise, is a sound of joy. It may be worth preserving, as it s a characteristic only achievable in a relaxed, open atmosphere. But it may also be just a signal of the individual’s amusement, conveyed and then dissipating into the background again.