Sounding Dome Sauna


Shawn Decker and Jan-Erik Andersson - Sounding Dome Sauna


This public art project, a collaboration between Finnish artist Jan-Erik Andersson and myself, is one of several artist-designed and constructed saunas that were part of the SaunaLab project, one of the many projects that made up the City of Turku's (FINLAND)  European Cultural Capital 2011 activities. Our sauna project was placed in the Turku city pool, where it was visiting by many many people during the entire summer of 2011.

Jan-Erik designed and constructed the structure of this wild sauna, and my part of the project was adding the sound, both inside and outside.  The sound is driven by both the heat and humidity of the inside of the sauna. The outside sounds are designed to reflect the wild exterior of the sauna - whereas the inside sounds are more meditative and philisophical - reflecting the "serious" nature of the Finnish sauna tradition. Overall Jan-Erik and I worked two years on this project - one of our most substantial public art collaborations to date.

The inside sounds respond to the heating and cooling cycles of the suana, via temperature sensors, with seperate sounds for each cycle ("hot" and "Cool" drone sounds, elemental sounds such as water, wind, waves, etc.).  The inside acoustics of the sauna also are important.  People sit on chairs inside each of the "cloves" of the garlic.  The sounds are then transmitted down each of these cloves - which acts like an acoustical  parabolic reflector, focusing the sounds around the listener.  Many of the environmental sounds seem to come from behind you, and all around you as you sit in the heat - a very immersive experience.

The outside sounds come from speakers in the metal "horns" at the top of the sauna.  They are triggered with the sudden gush of rise in humidity when water is thrown on the heater and these sounds evoke the wild exterior of the sauna, and are quite loud (teapots bubbling, steam valves releasing, large machinery turned on and "winding up", large ship horns, etc.).  There are of course time limits for the "big event" sounds - so that people don't go crazy just throwing water on the heater to try and retrigger these sounds over and over.

All sounds are produced from a set of 80 or 90 seperate sound files that are mixed live according to the sensors, random choices, etc - so the sounds, while made up of the same elements, are always changing.

Below you will find more images, links to both the inside and outside sounds (at least an idea of what these sound like - in the actual sauna the acoustics have a major impact on how they sound, with the garlic-shaped bulbs guiding the sound "around" the listener like a parabolic dish - making sounds come from behind you and creating an incredibly immersive sonic experience)

inside sounds:


outside sounds:


And here is an interview with Jan-Erik and I that Saunalab did this past fall:


And here is a video of the project made by Jan-Erik:


more images:

    Shawn Decker and Jan-Erik Andersson - Sounding Dome Sauna    Shawn Decker and Jan-Erik Andersson - Sounding Dome Sauna    Shawn Decker and Jan-Erik Andersson - Sounding Dome Sauna    Shawn Decker and Jan-Erik Andersson - Sounding Dome Sauna