Resonating Silence Manchester City Library's reading room © MSB

Resonating Silence [work in progress]

In this collaborative project, artists Magda Stawarska-Beavan and Heather Ross
explore the tensions between the dominant architecture of Manchester City Library’s reading room, it’s acoustic
and the functionality of this building as a quiet place of study.

Libraries, as ‘sanctuaries of quiet’, are unique places, both culturally and acoustically: they soundproof our thoughts from the distraction and the noise outside their walls. But they also coerce us into behaving quietly, amplifying the sounds we make beneath their domed acoustic chambers. Manchester Central Library’s main reading room, placed on the top floor and filled with natural light, was designed to impose a state of quiet on the reader, with every small sound amplified by the unique acoustic of the domed roof. The amplification of the personal sounds of page turning, typing, coughing etc. turns the ‘silent’ reader immersed in their private experience into a performer within the public space of the reading room.

Stawarska-Beavan’s recordings delve into the different gradients of sound and silence, capturing the acoustic properties of the physical structure of the building, the sonic environment of the library created by its users, its technology and the noise of the city seeping in. Presented with an audio recording of this public space, Ross was invited to respond, through writing,to sounds heard and images conjured. This written experience of an unknown space was performed and recorded by Ross and then composed by Stawarska-Beavan, to produce a new onomatopoeic soundscape.