This article aims to investigate the ways in which context-based sonic art is capable of furthering a knowledge and understanding of place based on the initial perceptual encounter. How might this perceptual encounter operate in terms of a sound work’s affective dimension? To explore these issues I draw upon James J. Gibson’s ecological theory of perception and Gernot Böhme’s concept of an ‘aesthetic of atmospheres’.
Within the ecological model of perception, an individual can be regarded as a ‘perceptual system’: a mobile organism that seeks information from a coherent environment. I relate this concept to notions of the spatial address of environmental sound work in order to explore (a) how the human perceptual apparatus relates to the sonic environment in its mediated form and (b) how this impacts on individuals’ ability to experience such work as complex sonic ‘environments’. Can the ecological theory of perception aid the understanding of how the listener engages with context-based work? In proposing answers to this question, this article advances a coherent analytical framework that may lead us to a more systematic grasp of the ways in which individuals engage aesthetically with sonic space and environment. I illustrate this methodology through an examination of some of the recorded work of sound artist Chris Watson.
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