Author Archives: Sam Frantz

Pomona Skyspace Reverberant Space

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Location: Dividing the Light skyspace installation, west side, Pomona College, Claremont, CA

Description of the space: The Skyspace is a permanent architectural installation by James Turrell consisting of of a square courtyard enclosed by metal columns surrounded by palms and ferns, and encircled by the Lincoln-Edmunds academic building. The roof of the space has a square opening in the center to allow viewing of the sky. There is a large square fountain

Recording setup: The balloon was placed approximately two feet from the west edge of the central fountain, three feet above the ground, with the microphone placed at the same height three feet away from the balloon.

Reverberation time:
30 dB decay: 0.3 sec
40 dB decay: 0.6 sec
Decay to background level: 0.4 s
Minimum: 3.6 s

Acoustic description:

The balloon pop provides an interesting picture of the Skyspace’s reverberance. The pop seemed to have a certain richness to it–a richness that would not be present if the space was fully enclosed. This semi-enclosure in terms of walls and other hard surfaces being present, but spaces open to the outside also being present led to a unique auditory perception of the space. The sound was also scattered by various small objects, like the benches. Moreover, not only did the sound of running water underlay the balloon pop itself, but it was also evident in the reverberation. In essence, an integral part of being inside the Skyspace is noticing how sounds (from the water and otherwise) reverberate, and this characteristic was made particularly evident from the balloon pop.



Lounge of Wig Hall



In general, the soundscape in Wig’s common room is integral to my experience at Pomona–the sounds surround me as I am working on homework, spending time with friends, or just simply relaxing on my own. Sometimes, I will practice jazz piano on the piano located in the common room, contributing my own unique aspect to the fullness of the soundscape.


The concepts of keynote, soundmark, archetype, and signal posited in R. Murray Schaefer’s work involving soundscapes are present within my Wig soundscape. Most importantly, the constant “drone” of students either socializing or collaborating on schoolwork is ubiquitous and serves as keynote. This “drone” provides a sort of foundation for the soundscape, as the common room wouldn’t feel very “common” if this aspect of socialization wasn’t present. The same droning, however, easily fades into the background and may even go unnoticed by many. Furthermore, signals–circumstantially purposeful sounds–are also present as the occasional beep of the front door being unlocked heralds people entering, and students yell to get the attention of others. Sterne’s idea of soundmark–a sound that has unique implications to those involved in the soundscape–is also present in the hall in the quiet humming of the air conditioning units, which represents to Wig residents an escape from the heat of the rest of the building. Finally, an archetype–an aspect of the soundscape which relates it to sociocultural implications–is present, as the general experience of college is represented through the archetypal nature of the soundscape as a whole.


As Sterne posited in his “Sonic Imaginations,” sound, and the study of such does not exist as an inward pursuit–it supplements and is supplemented by a plethora of other disciplines. As such, the soundscape within the common room of Wig Hall supplements and is is intrinsically connected to the general “college experience” that all of its residents have–sound is just one piece of the immense puzzle of experience.


Addendum: I wrote the description of my impressions of this soundscape near the beginning of the semester, but the soundscape recording itself was made over a month later. Naturally, then, a shift in the characteristics of the soundscape would be expected. The variety of sounds that was represented in my explication wasn’t present to the same extent in the recording–an important feature of this recording is the sound of a pool game going on. I initially described a soundscape where students were transitioning to college, but the recording itself captured students who were already immersed in the college experience.