The Clough Terrace: An Intimate Oasis

Emerging from the fifth floor of the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, the terrace garden provides asylum to those wishing to escape the serious, and studios environment of the floors below. The arching trees carpeted by sedums and tall grasses form an oasis, perfect for intimate conversations, or gathering ones thoughts. This oasis is complemented by the sound scape’s perceptual fidelity.

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The air conditioners on the roofs of Van Leer and Bunger-Henry buildings produce a ceaseless hum that defines the keynote of the terrace. The two air conditioners are distinct with one being smooth, and high pitched, and the other being dull and mechanical. The hum is quickly forgotten but its importance is crucial in overpowering other sounds that compete to reach the ear. It is also isolates different sections of the terrace allowing for a feeling of confidentiality to coexist with the terrace’s open layout and expansive views.

As a result many groups can be talking simultaneously on different parts of the terrace and it is only possible for each group to here that another group is speaking, but not the actual content. Intelligibility of the sound and semantic listing is only possible between two parties, with intimacy.

Listen for yourself!

In addition to the air conditioner’s hum the background sound is also composed of organic sounds such as the chirp of crickets and the wind rustling through the grasses and the trees. At dusk the thermal mass of the concrete radiates heat causing the crickets on the terrace to produce higher pitched and faster paced chirping then the crickets that can be heard in the grassy areas below. These organic sounds aid in the peacefulness of the terrace.

Listen for yourself!

Every so often a honk of horn, a train blowing its whistle, or a group of students bursting out into laughter on the side walks below, will cut through the background sound. Due to the infrequency of these other sounds, they tend not to detract from the intimacy. They rather prevent the feeling of complete isolation, by forming a moment of connection to others outside of the terraces immediate space.

The intimacy of the terrace relies heavily upon the role perceptual fidelity plays in the space. Perceptual fidelity is what causes the background sound to be the dominant factor in deciding how the space works. Perceptual fidelity reduces the ability of unique sounds to distract due to the distance between the source and point of audition. Perceptual fidelity also explains the terraces ability to use the background sound to split the terrace into sections of confidentiality.

Silence is not the Ideal Soundscape for Productivity

 

The 4th floor of the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons is a study location frequented by many Tech students. The space is always “buzzing” with a white noise that provides the ideal backdrop for finalizing a lab report due to the 5th floor at noon or reviewing for that calculus quiz in Skiles at 3:05. Many noises contribute to this soundscape—the ding of elevators, the clamor of feet ambling up and down the central staircase—but the babbling of voices is the keynote sound that makes the Clough a perfect place to study.

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Though conventional wisdom preaches utter silence as the best promoter of productivity, the noise of the Clough offers something that silence cannot—stability. In a sparsely populated soundscape, such as the Library, the squeak of a chair can radically alter the entire soundscape, shattering concentration like a pane of glass. In contrast, the chatter of the Clough creates a soundscape that is difficult to alter, discouraging selective hearing and promoting sound as an aid to productivity. Voices from all levels of the building bounce from concrete face to concrete face, mixing and mingling to create an unintelligible hum of conversation. The constituent signals comprising this hum have been blended so thoroughly that decoding any information regarding their original content or source is near impossible. It is a uniform and indistinct sound that does not lend itself to semantic or causal listening and allows the brain to focus fully on comprehending a text or composing a paper.

Yet, the amalgam of human voice that is the soundmark of the Clough is not entirely void of meaning. It retains a bustling timbre that is insidious. It chants “there are things to be done.” It energizes on the subconscious level and provides the vigor necessary to accomplish the tasks at hand. The next time you are getting ready to crank out a big paper, skip the Library and employ the excited hum of the Clough as the backdrop for your toils.

“Zzzz? Or Humm? To Sleep or to Not to Sleep?”

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At 10AM, the bean bag room on the fourth floor of CULC is full of the sound of sleeping students.

The bean bag room of the fourth floor of the Clough Building is created to provide comfort, while completing school work or potentially studying for the next quiz or exam. But considering the soundscape and environment of the space, does it really fit the task of studying or working? After observing the soundscape of this small area both in the Morning and at the Night, I can say that the subtle changes in the sounds in the morning and at night play an enormous role in students completing tasks. In the morning, around 10 AM, the area can be described as a musical bustle (According to John Cage, “Music is sounds.”) While the area, is very much secluded from the outside sounds, it can still be inherently heard inside the space. The student or professor whose shoes generate a rhythmic stomp, or the chatter of the study groups all create a soundscape of bustle and movement. Personally, the sounds of the bean bag room in the morning remind me of the Apollonian view of music , which consists of external sounds that illustrate “the harmony of the universe.” The soundscape contributes to the overall effect of you studying effectively and/or working efficiently.

On the other hand, at 10 PM, the soundscape shifts to an almost deafening silence. The silence along with the gentle hum of the air conditioner, which I feel was a keynote for the space, in fact caused me to doze off and to not engage in any studying or work. What is so interesting for me was that during this time, I was exercising more fidelity than intelligibility during the time of 10 PM than of 10 AM. My ear witnessed the entire landscape and absorbed the sounds of everything, without looking to a cause or source behind it, which I believe adheres to the fidelity principle described in chapter 22 of the Sound Studies Reader. On the other hand, at 10 AM, the soundscape of the bean bag room made me intelligible to certain sounds. For example, I listened more to the sounds generated by the people who were passing by instead of the sound generated by the air conditioner or the tap of a pencil. With all this being said, I believe that in order to effectively study in this work space the sounds have to include movement and drive away from ambient silence, but to sounds geared to a rhythmic tempo that promotes working and studying. But, others may beg to differ, what do you think?

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