Sol Lewitt and Listening


The sonic experience at MIT is one that students often choose to opt out of. GRTs readily provide free ear buds to ease the tension of noise control in dorms. Emails are sent warning students of how to best avoid the noise of constructing the new MIT.nano. Most students carry into the main campus space the sonic experience they wish to experience. Whether MIT predisposed Bose to the audio experience of headphones or the Bose discount decreased the financial barrier, the sonic experience of MIT has a component of individual fulfillment. Over the ear headphones abound, cloaking student’s experience of the infinite with a personal preference. In addition to skimming over the headphone style preferences of students, I often sport my own on the walks across campus. This practice cloaks the MIT campus in noise select to the individual; I wanted to push on the boundaries of this.

I choose to listen at the Sol Lewitt at the end of building 4. I sat on the benches of the first floor, with a view the courtyard and the colorful tiles. There are skywalks to the second floor with alcoves next to the physic’s Green center. Most students sat on the benches or directly on the floor, laptops out and ear buds in. Students sat quietly, ate lunch, and studied. There’s little foot traffic on the first floor compared to the infinite since there is no through way. While the space isn’t designated to be quiet, there’s very little conversation or noise from those inhabiting the space. The space is very unique and somewhat secluded, possessing a unique sound experience. This is why I selected the space: students have chosen to come to the space for its particular qualities, not just to get to another location. There’s also an unspoken agreement to maintain the sonic qualities of the space.


First, the experience was extraordinarily unusual for me. I don’t tend to sit somewhere on campus without my headphones or without another task. As noted, most of the other students had their laptops out and were wearing ear buds or headphones. So the experience of focused listening on campus was a challenge for me, falling outside of the usual MIT experience. I also felt very nervous making noise in the space; I went back to the space in the late evening and clapped while walking around.

I think that my practice of listening changed as I sat in the space. Noises that I would normally tune out as mere background, such as keyboard clacking, pages turning, and the running of air-conditioning, gradually filtered back in. I would relate it to the visual experience of putting on a new pair of prescription glasses. It’s not until you first try on the new glasses that you realize that your vision had degraded the details of your surrounding so much. I became aware of sonic erasure practice due to intermittent sounds. Doors opening and closing on the second floor were an apostrophe to the near quiet. My depth perception also changed due to recognizing the effects of the space on the sounds; I can only really relate this perception of space to vision.

Conversational sounds were distorted; they were most recognizable by being bookended by the sounds of entering and exiting the space. There is a perception of the space embedded in the sounds: noises from doors came from the second floor above me. I noticed that since I was actively listening, I would often turn my head up towards a door opening. I began to be process these noises as distinct from the drone of climate control and linked them to the action and movement that caused them. Phonomnesis was part of this linkage as I would imagine or recall the sound heard standing next to the door and compare this imagined noise to the one I heard in my actual location. I felt aware of the movement of others through the space, listening to how doors would creak, slam, or slow as people moved through the skywalks. Other inhabitants of the first floor space seemed stationary and unaware since they didn’t physically track or react to sounds. I certainly felt a physical shock when going back into the infinite because there was such an ensemble of sounds to link to particular quickly passing movements.


Again, I would relate this bodily experience of hearing to the migraines one can get from a new high prescription of glasses. I think that my experience of the Sol Lewit space was different, more bodily, than those who opted out of the sonic experience.

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