Researching the Landscape through Sound Art

Covadonga Blasco

The Project “Unsightbare”: Sound Thoughts on the Landscape at Klein Glienicke


“Close your eyes, prick your ears, and from the softest sound to the wildest noise, from the simplest tone to the highest harmony, from the most violent, passionate scream to the gentlest words of sweet reason, it is by Nature who speaks, revealing her being, her power, her life, and her relatedness so that a blind person, to whom the infinitely visible world is denied, can grasp an infinite vitality in what can be heard.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Spaces Speak. Researchers Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter used this phrase as their title for one of the most influential and inspiring studies on aural architecture and soundscape in the 21st century. This strong message was followed by a provocative subtitle encouraging the reader to open their ears to “visualise the world from its own sounds”[1]: Are you listening?

In this study, Blesser and Salter define conscious listening to environmental sounds as “active listening”. Its practice, they warn, allows memories and emotions to emerge, which drag the subject to change into what they feel, constructing, at the same time, a mental image of the world. In other words, the sound gives form to the virtual image corresponding to the source that emits it, thus revealing the existence of the heard reality.

Having overcome its univocal definition as an unquestionably visual and pictorial reality, the landscape is now understood as a set of social, political and environmental forces and relations located in space. This is how architect Stan Allen describes it, for whom landscape, besides being the place where culture and nature meet, is a territory shaped by time through different patterns or forces of occupation.[2] For Allen, “learning to read the landscape”[3] is a task facing architecture in the contemporary world.

The line of research on the relationship between sound and landscape entitled Twittering Machines – whose main aim is the invention of instruments, cartographies and poetic images that, through sound,[4] allow us to read the space and time contained in the territory – forms part of the group of studies that undertake the task of reading the landscape.[5] My Situated Sound Objects method has been deduced from various practices and experiments carried out over ten years following this specific line of research. To obtain a sensitive reading of the forces that traverse a given place, this method of landscape study combines classical strategies to represent space (models, cartographies, maps, field recordings, etc.) with the visual and sound arts, giving rise to a series of artefact-machines which, once shaped and constructed as a means of investigating a specific landscape, move away from their practical origin to acquire an autonomous meaning as a piece of sound art.

The project “Unsightbare”: Sound Thoughts on the Landscape at Klein Glienicke is the result of research into the boundaries and sounds of the landscape around Klein Glienicke Palace. It was carried out between July and September 2023 at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin as part of the JUNGE AKADEMIE fellowship programme. After analysing and studying the cadastral movements associated with the landscape and socio-political decisions that took place in this territory during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the existence of a line made up of invisible boundaries that silently contained three hundred years of history was discovered.

It’s time to read the landscape. Are you listening?

[1] Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter: Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing Aural Architecture (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006), p. 15.

[2] Stan Allen: “Situated Objects: Architecture and the American Landscape”, 2020,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Máquinas de gorjear: instrumentos para la representación del concepto paisaje sonoro, (Phd thesis, E.T.S. Arquitectura (UPM), 2020),

[5] Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, “Two Twittering Boxes: A spatial intermediary for studying the soundscape of the past”, Displacements Journal, no. 2 (January 2018): pp. 191-201.

Three Elements of Klein Glienicke’s Landscape: the Invisible Fence, the Berlin Wall and the King’s Road

fig.1: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Study sheets made during the research phase
fig.1: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Study sheets made during the research phase

Glienicke was an important leisure resort for the German aristocracy from the 18th century onwards. Karl August, Prince von Hardenberg (1750-1822) commissioned the architect Karl Friederich Schinkel (1782-1841) to carry out the first renovation work on the interior of the existing palace on the site. In 1816, the prince called upon the landscape designer Peter Joseph Lenné (1789-1866) to design a pleasure garden in the English manner. To retain control of the view towards Potsdam, Lenné persuaded Prince Carl of Prussia to buy the estates adjacent to Glienicke Garden in 1824. Thus, Schinkel was able to significantly improve the interrelationship between the garden and buildings. Prince Carl’s possessions formed the cadastral map that has survived to the present day.[1]

Following common rules of English landscape gardening, Ludwing Persius designed an “invisible” fence for Glienicke’s Garden that would delimit its various sections and boundaries. The design, dated 1840, is a gradient lattice that loses density as it grows in height.[2] Barely visible from the distance, this fence is now hidden in the foliage surrounding the palace. For most of the main entrance from the Berlin-Brandenburg road, the fence accompanies visitors on the left as they walk along the path leading to the palace’s entrance portico.

When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the Klein Glienicke Garden remained on the West Berlin side, while the Wall surrounded the village of Klein Glienicke for years. Consequently, during the years of Germany’s division, part of the concrete Wall bordered the garden’s properties. Today, the area closest to the garden where the Wall once stood has been transformed into a leafy path for cyclists and walkers, with photographs along its route to the bridge that crosses into Babelsberg Park, commemorating this historic era.

The Berlin-Brandenburg road is also well known for its importance during the Cold War period. At the end of this route, the Glienicke Bridge served as a place of exchange for spies captured by the Western and Eastern Blocs. A few metres away from the bridge were the confluence of the Glienicke Palace boundary and the Berlin Wall. On the road, at the juncture of the coordinates 52.413211 and 13.096552, the invisible Persius fence extended northwest into the Glienicke Garden, while the Berlin Wall extended southeast. The fence and the Wall were aligned for thirty years, separated by a road.

Every situated sound object is based on a rigorous study of the place from which it emerges. The cartography and plans produced to contextualise and represent the relevant historical data collected in the research phase were compiled into a series of fact sheets that served to show the origin of the invisible condition of the boundary under study (fig. 1).

[1] Susanne Fontaine and the Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg, (eds.), Glienicke Palace and Garden, Royal Palaces and Gardens in Berlin (Berlin/Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2011).

[2] Jürgen Julier, Susanne Leiste, and Margret Schutte (eds.), Schloss Glienicke. Bewohner ‒ Künstler ‒ Parklandschaft., 1987, p. 373.

The Situated Sound Object No. 52.413211, 13.096552

fig. 2: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Instrument, Berlin, 2023
fig. 2: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Instrument, Berlin, 2023

Sound Object No. 52.413211, 13.096552 reproduces the spatial relationship of the invisible boundary found – abstractly reconstructing the topological relationship between the Berlin Wall, the fence and the road. It consists of an instrument (fig. 2) and a vinyl record (fig. 4).

The instrument consists of two 75-centimetre-long prismatic pieces representing two borders on a scale of 1:20: the invisible fence designed for the Klein Glienicke Garden and the Berlin Wall. Temporally, the pieces are located on a summer day between 1961 and 1990, the period in which the two borders were aligned. The two prisms are aligned on the same surface, leaving a gap between them, which corresponds to the road separating the two buildings (Königstrasse – The King’s Road) (fig. 3). Visitors can listen to the amplified sounds of the countryside that once surrounded the fence and the Wall by bringing the microphones in front of the instrument close to the instrument. A chorus of cicadas – simulated by an inner electromagnetic field – emerges from each of the “invisible” borders, revealing the soundscape that has survived unchanged throughout history.

During site visits, attention was paid to the sensory forces and architectural elements of the garden, with two aspects of particular interest: the collection of porcelain collected in the palace – including vases, cups and plates decorated with picturesque scenes from the garden – and the sounds of the environment surrounding Schinkel’s buildings and the adjoining fields. Along the walks around the Klein Glienicke garden structures, there is a constant buzz in the summer months as the countryside becomes wilder and the grass taller. The sun, increasingly present due to rising global temperatures, invites crickets, cicadas, mosquitoes, grasshoppers and bees to intensify their song. On both sides of the road that links Berlin to Brandenburg, the constant buzzing sound of insect activity in the countryside becomes a familiar background sound that becomes imperceptible when the ear is immersed in the landscape.


fig. 3: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Instrument: invisible fence detail, Berlin, 2023
fig. 3: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Instrument: invisible fence detail, Berlin, 2023  

During the research carried out on the porcelain collection, a plate dated 1826 was found, decorated with a panoramic, rotating image of Glienicke Garden based on a watercolour that the painter Wilhelm Schirmer (1802-1866) had produced a couple of years earlier. Prince Carl commissioned the piece as a gift for his sister Charlotte. Three examples of the plate were made by the Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM) in Berlin. Today, after the disappearance of the only remaining copy in Germany in 1939, a copy is preserved at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.[1] The beauty of the object and the unusual rotating format in which the painting is depicted were the trigger (and the confirmation) that the place hid a rhythmic or sonorous interest contained in the garden. The circular image that serves as the cover and base of the 12-inch vinyl record presenting the sounds recorded at the site in July and August 2023 has regained its dynamic essence. The sounds of the environment surrounding the visitor are presented by playing (and rotating) the image of the place itself.

[1] Wasilissa Pachomova-Göres: Preußische Landschaften im Spiegel des Porzellans ‒ oder noch ein Wort zur Kunst der Romantik. Mitteilungen der Pückler Gesellschaft 18. Heft ‒ Neue Folge ‒ 2003. Berlin: Pückler Gesellschaft, 2003, p. 36.

Video 1: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Unsightbare: Three sound recordings of Klein Glienicke in the summer of 2023, 12-inch vinyl record, Berlin, 2023
Video 1: Covadonga Blasco Veganzones, Unsightbare: Three sound recordings of Klein Glienicke in the summer of 2023, 12-inch vinyl record, Berlin, 2023

A New Reading of the Place: The Time of the Landscape’s Sound Dimension

Between 1939 and 1952, John Cage composed a series of works entitled Imaginary Landscape No. 1 to 5. Five pieces are characterised by incorporating the amplified sound of the environment into the composition. It’s a method of musical creation in which the sound is arranged and manipulated at the moment of the concert thanks to the first mixing consoles.[1] Cage constructs, through schizophonic and acousmatic processes, a compositional system in which the “imaginary” part is achieved by simultaneously mixing the representation and presentation of the environment’s sound.

As in Cage’s imagined landscapes, schizophonia[2] and acousmatic processes are the fundamental principles that underlie the Situated Sound Objects. In the case of the sound object resulting from the study of the Klein Glienicke landscape, the mixture of abstract and real sound situations displaced in time and space – the field of cicadas emerging from the instrument, overlapping with the sounds of the environment recorded on the vinyl – makes it possible to generate a new virtual image of that landscape. The image-cliché (the picturesque, the Wall, the spies, the English garden, et al.) is attenuated in the listening, giving way to the image-sensitive.

The construction through active listening of an image that is simultaneously contemporary and imperturbable imposes the need to deny the visualisation of the representation of the landscape. Now contained in boxes, the landscape is condensed into an abstract gesture revealing the real meaning of things.

The reading of a landscape is condensed, then, into listening to a simple line.

[1] See

[2] R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, VT (USA): Destiny Books, 1993, p. 273.