Louis Dandrel can be considered one of the pioneers in what could be called sound design for everyday life, with a project track including the acoustic design of gardens, train stations (he created the first sonic logos for the French train company SNCF) and cars. Earlier in his career, he was music critic at the renowned Le Monde and director of France Musique. More recently, he founded the goup for sound design at the IRCAM in 1999. Having a strong background in music and literature, he has a broad and rich understanding of questions related to aesthetics, and also a healthy distance from all the buzz of hot topics in research and design. He received me in the studio of his own sound design company Diasonics (on their website you can also find more information on Dandrel’s designs).
Our discussion focused on artistic and designerly ways of creating sounds for the everyday. Louis Dandrel is a strong advocat of reaching for more than purely informational sound design, rather he sees it as a way to give the objects a voice. However there are many obstacles to this. First of all, there is the need for expensive simulation techniques, (e.g. using Ambisonics-like spherical soundstages) in particular for designing sounds in an architectural context. This is connected to the difficulty of transferring the qualities of a sonic experience by other means than itself. Referring to visual analogies does not really help much, rather it creates new problems. And sonic prototyping is still barely researched (in my own work I explore real-time improvisational soundmaking strategies, and Ekman & Rinott have explored “vocal sketching“).
Secondly, from his long experience he confirmed how little understanding sound design generally meets. This problem originates already in a lack of sonic education. If there’s any sound-related discourse, it seems entirely dominated by noise abatment also see this CBS report for some related “issues” and possible “solutions”). In particular in relation to sounds for electric cars this might turn out to be disastrous, as there seem to be very few serious attempts to approach the question from a “true” design perspective (see also the Interview with Ludovic Germain for a similar conclusion). A designer always works out a whole experience, which includes questions of identity and aesthetics, Dandrel summarized it with the metaphor of the designer imprinting his or her style onto the form/fuction unity.
This seems like a vicious circle: The challenge of expressing sonic qualities may link in many cases to a lack of understanding sound, in particular of understanding the great potential that sound has in design (that’s how I see it, at least). This in turn leads to sound being undervalued, which again prevents it from being properly regarded in most design tasks. This again leads to sound as “waste of the industrial age” (to quote from the CBS report above) which results in a reflex to just avoid it instead of designing it properly.
Designing something properly includes an appropriate vocabulary and a way of establishing relationships betwen sensory experience and meaning. Dandrel emphasized that meaning does not only refer to information, but to a quality of sensory experience as well. It was encouraging to hear from him, that my terminology has a potential to contribute to a common language between sonic qualities and qualities of interactive experience.