Yesterday’s Google Doodle celebrating Oskar Fischinger’s 117th Birthday (if you missed it, explore it here via your preferred Google browser) reminded me of my experience of walking on a Nightingale floor, or in Japanese ‘Uguisubari’, during my visit last month to Nijo Castle in Kyoto.
As part of the Japanese tradition of architectural planning and spatial composition, the Ninomura Palace complex at the Nijo Castle site is organized as a series of large multi-purpose formal pavilions surrounded and connected by covered hallways. These wide hallways have a famous security feature built into the wooden flooring that makes the floors chirp when anyone walks on them. Various construction methods involving the movement of metal cramps and nails under the timber floor boards make it impossible for anyone, even a stealthy Ninja assassin, to move along the hallways without being heard. (Marijke and Piet Patings’s website and e-book http://www.zen-garden.org ©2012 has a useful page about Nightingale floors here.)
Photography inside the Palace was forbidden, and this restriction allows visitors to focus their attention on the sensual experience of sound and movement. As you choose your path through the interior you hear each step around you – look ahead and you anticipate the sound of your future steps; listen behind and you hear the sonic traces of fellow travellers. A recording of the sound of the “nightingale floor” experience at another location in Kyoto has been shared on Wikimedia Commons here.
Both yesterday’s Doodle and the Nightingale Floor invite users to combine sound and space – either the virtual space of a grid of dots to be activated, or the real space of a hallway to be traversed. In each case the pathway is delightful.