Non-Personal Places Edita Dermontaité Jul 2016 - Aug 2016
Edita Dermontaité is a doctoral researcher at KU Leuven/LUCA School of Arts and at the moment she is working on a project entitled “From Non-Visual to Visual Information in Non-Personal Places” which includes the investigation of the creative process, creative writing and the production of an art work. She researches the soundscape of the present-day: non-personal, public, urban sounds in non-personal places. Her aim is not to express the need to distance ourselves from them, even if we are overwhelmed with many sounds, many movements, even if we complain about noise pollution and hide within ourselves, within music or nature. On the contrary, she seeks to show that there is freedom in the way we relate to them. Therefore, Dermontaité personalises sounds by connecting them with personal memories, by making associations, by transforming sounds into personal objects. She seeks to express that personalised sounds can make non-personal spaces, that emits them, and the relation with them both personal and intimate.
In Overtoon, 2016 July-August, Edita was working on a part of this research. Her goals were (1) to expand the concept of sound/place personalisation, (2) to work with sounds of an unfamiliar, non-personal space: the WTC building, (3) to gather information, and (4) to examine the WTC building as a “beta” public place in order to find new approaches for further research.
During her residency she studied and observed her own way of personalising sounds. She was listening, recording, noting, drawing, remembering, collecting sounds/noises emitted by elevators, escalators, doors, conditioning systems. The WTC building revealed itself through “interaction”, through reflection in a formal, generic and scientific way, through a non-personal approach. She started to inspect the subject (sounds and the building itself), Dermontaité was a biologist, who observes animal behaviour. The WTC building was an organism, that “breathes” and makes sounds, and she was examining it. A biologist keeps the distance and she kept the distance. However, this generic approach brought her, the observer, closer to the soundscape and the place. The more time she spent there, the longer she listened, the more intimate her experience was, the more memories it brought. Time turned the building into a rather familiar and welcoming soundscape, as many noises reminded her of home-like experiences she had before. Finally, it became a “relationship”, a mixture between something very personal (remembering, becoming attached) and something very un-personal (a building, a thing).
In the end Edita became her own experiment, as she could observe herself in her own process. She concluded that (1) a natural method of dealing with a non-personal place is a non-personal approach, (2) personalised sounds could make a place personal, and (3) personalisation is a process based on observation. This type of process and how it is experienced will supplement her further research.
On non-personal places (from the diary, 22nd July 2016, Overtoon, the WTC, Brussels)
A non-personal place is any place that is unfamiliar, distant, makes you alert, makes you act differently, the place that might be uncomfortable, confusing. Places we rush through, like streets, places where we stay temporarily, like stations, places we dislike, like hospitals. If there is no space for personal interpretation, we have no inner contact with them. When does it change into something personal? When we “make” them home-like places, when we create new memories or remember old memories while being in them, when we get to “know” them better. Non-personal places are like hard-drives: if we have to buy one and we go to a store, all hard-drives there are non-personal, we don’t really distinguish them, we just might like or need one more that the other. When we buy one, we personalise it by creating new data or transferring old data to it. So we save, create and re-create memories, but in an actual non-personal place we do it through listening, touching, smelling, looking, interacting, moving, by processing information we receive through them, by creating connections based on our own knowledge.
On Sounds and Memories (from the diary, 5th August 2016, Overtoon, the WTC, Brussels)
Almost every sound connects to a certain memory or an experience of a person. In “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias” Foucault writes about the mirror as an utopia, a placeless place. He is not talking about sounds, or what sounds might trigger, it’s not about personalisation of non-personal places through sounds and hearing. However, it makes me think of a sound as a mirror. I can “see” myself in a sound, because it reflects on certain feelings and experiences I had before. This mirror, is not real, it’s in my mind as a thought. At the moment of this thought I do discover my absence from the place where I am, as I was in my mind remembering. However, it does not disconnect me form the place, on the contrary, it connects me with it, because I just filled that physical space with my personal feeling and now I can connect with it through that feeling the next time I pass by. For instance, the sound of an elevator can trigger a memory of a visit, a conversation, a trip, and a feeling of joy, boredom, nervousness, anticipation. Assigning meaning to a sound personalises it and outer sound becomes inner. When many of these links are created, the sound of that elevator becomes a “language”, a coding system which allows to interpret and relate to it, it becomes a tool for (re)mediation between a person and his surroundings.
On Sounds and Forms (from the diary, 23th August 2016, Overtoon, the WTC, Brussels)
It is important to create tangibility, to visualise, to create a form. Seeing makes it “real”. Seeing the unseen strengthens the impression: “[He] even suggests that the different senses facilitate and enrich each others’ analysis of the world . . .”. For instance, our mind and our memories are intangible as they are, we make them tangible by connecting them with objects. We keep photographs, letters, postcards, we bring knick-knacks from abroad in order to remember moments, people, places, feelings. Sounds are similar. We can listen and create personal impressions in our mind, but if sounds are gone, there is nothing to bring impressions back. We can record, but recording is intangible, it needs a form itself. If sounds had forms that connect to experiences, feelings, memories, we could, as well, keep them together with our photographs and letters.
 Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias”. Architecture/Mouvement/Continuité 5, 1984
 Cole, Jonathan. Foreword to a “Second Edition in Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses” by Cytowic, R. E. 2002, xi