Sound and Scent in the Garden
Organized by senior fellow and professor of landscape architecture at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, D. Fairchild Ruggles.
Sound and scent are temporary sensory experiences. The actual things perceived by the senses are often more permanent, because they are made of durable materials, because they have been renewed through cyclical practices, such as agricultural planting, or because they have been deliberately preserved, as in well-tended gardens and designed landscapes. The built structures themselves may endure, and the visual effect of a garden or building can be reproduced in pictures, even when the thing itself disappears into ruin. The pursuit of permanence is one of the reasons that designers and historians treat gardens and landscapes primarily as visual problems that can be represented on paper. But such visual representations do not express anything about the sound or scent of a garden. That must be supplied by the imagination, memory, or lived experience.
But how does the historian capture those sensations except through words which survive in manuscripts, itself a visual medium? Aside from stating that a flower is fragrant, how can the historian elucidate on its specific scent, beyond stating that it is sweet or pungent or that it smells like something else, incurring a circular pattern of description? Can the historic soundscape of a garden with running water and nightingales be recreated for ears that are accustomed to the loud hum of air conditioning and the roar of car engines?
The symposium explores the perception of gardens and landscape through sound and smell, and also taste (which is connected to smell). The ephemerality and temporality of both hearing and olfaction make them difficult to study: for a sound or a scent to be reexperienced, it must be reenacted, engaging the body repeatedly. The enactment is also spatial, because sonic resonance and the sniff of an odor occur in space. In gardens, the body must be in proximity to the plants or objects that emit the sound or scent, and the garden is often designed to enhance this, with enclosing walls and paths that lead towards flower beds and fountains. Thus, in addition to occurring in space, sound and smell can affect the design of spatial environments.
Topics that may merit investigation:
· The iconography and semiotics of sound and scent. Must sound or scent be understood in phenomenological terms or can they have a semiotic function? If semiotic, is it in the sense of referring to other sounds and smells, or can it refer to ideas and things typically expressed by other senses?
· How the brain processes sound and smell; how this essentially physical process has determined the value of each sense in the academic hierarchy; and how this affects our analysis of gardens.
· The role of class in the senses: is sight equated with the intellect, education and therefore registering as higher class, while smell is associated with labor? Are sensory gardens “lower” than architecture?
· The problem of ephemerality: visual images can capture forms, but how can we discover the experiences of sound and scent which are as ephemeral as the garden’s plants?