A Sonic Journey at Work

No music this time, let me describe the sounds of my workplace…

Where nails on fingertips tap letters and mice make snaps, the backbeat rattles with political rhetoric and discussions of space.  How light, sound, air and power effect people, work and productivity are our key concerns, and they shift our focus from the dry, incessant gust of a restroom fan in the distant, dry and airy background.

High windows and concrete ceilings draw in the low roar, clatter or sudden bursts of vehicle traffic below us as sound braves the building’s outer walls to seep into our line of hearing.  Even the softest shoes click twice against the office’s exposed cement ground, and echo distantly downward into the building’s fourth, third, second and first floor… disappearing slowly into the structure’s ambient vibration.  Even the lightest flick of paper from the far corner of our tall room launches oxygen atoms directionally, reverberating until lodged in mid-air somewhere in the vast, dense space of the room.  A telephone rings and interrupts the incessant shattering of silence.  One of seven potential voices speaks loudly enough to be noticed, but the atmosphere dampens others’ ability to hear the sounds emanating from the phone.

Clicks from the wide, still hallway.  Three knocks at the door pulse inward and outward from their origin.  Chairs shuffle as metal elements from within their frame tap against others, as plastic elements adjust in their place and springs uncoil the creak open.  Now shoes crack hard against the concrete, launching a signal outward for two understood purposes: to alert those seated that the door is being attended to and to alert the person waiting that they would be addressed soon.  A smooth metallic clack as the door is opened suddenly, and no sound at all at the opening of the door.  Polite and seemingly enthusiastic “hellos” are exchanged at higher-than-usual tones as a company representative enters the office with shoes deliberately chosen to splinter the rigid floor in announcement.

And it works like a charm.  My inner ear closes and opens as my head shifts upward at their presence.  “It’s good to see you again,” I practically sing as my voice reverberates lowly and pleasantly in meter toward their ears.  The A Capella chorus behind me echoes similar sentiments with a similarly sweet gauge over and through my body toward the doorway, and their crooning is met with bright, though deliberate smiles.  A shrill, scraping rasp jars the low melodies of fans and charming hum of amiable dialogue as the steel conference table chairs grate against the floor cruelly.

“I’d like to show you our new carpet samples!”  The cheery visitor chants steadily in a strangely energized tone of obligation.  And, as architects, we listen intently as her tone lifts and drops, questions are answered lowly, tighten in pitch for clarifications, or slow in meter for situations more complicated.

The incessant sounds of moments in Downtown Los Angeles, in our historical office building.

How does you workplace sound?  Can you describe it for me?