Now I will do nothing but listen …
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or
Sounds of the city and sounds out of the city, sounds
of the day and night. ….
– WALT WHITMAN, Song Of Myself
The soundscape of the world is changing. In today’s world, mankind is experiencing a new soundscape that we have not previously encountered in our short span on this planet; radically different. These sounds that differ in intensity and quality are warnings of a sonic imperialism, spreading to all corners of the world. With the interior migration of workers from rural to urban (myself included) it can come as a bit of a shakeup. What with car engines, alarms, sirens, drunks and come-what-may.
Essentially, urban living (even if I do live in a small town) is the soundscape I am referring to – I grew up on a farm, so, I found my way to H’gate and currently reside in the town centre – living here is great for the amenities, but there is practically a thoroughfare outside my window and I have no real recollection of what the soundscape was like on the farm except for when I go and actively listen whilst back there.
Pneumatic drills, Public Address systems and passing traffic.
Noise pollution is now a common term. It seems the global soundscape has reached a kind of apex in its vulgarity. There is one question that I keep asking myself: what is the relationship between humanity and our audio environment? Once we realise the answer to this question – how would it equip us to face living on a busy road (like I do)?
Noise pollution results when people do not listen carefully. Noises are the sounds we have learned to ignore. Noise pollution is being fought with noise abatement – this is a somewhat negative approach – but we must seek a way to find environmental acoustics as a positive study.
When we know this, an appreciation of the total sonic environment can give us the resources for the shaping of a global soundscape. In many ways, field recording is the middle ground between art, science and town planning! The science of sound and how to appreciate it – all the way to how to ‘tame’ it.
The most important artistic revolution of the last century (in my eyes) was that accomplished by the Bauhaus, the celebrated German school of the 1920’s – and, then literature followed suit about 90 years late with Flarf Poetry. Both Bauhaus and Flarf bring aesthetics to machinery, mass production, the every-day, digital and throw-away culture we live in today.
The study of the Soundscapes and field recording is an interdisciplinary pursuit involving musicians, acousticians, psychologists and sociologists – people who would study the world to find humanity’s place in their sonic environment. This study consists of documenting important features, of noting differences, parallels and trends, of collecting sounds threatened with extinction, of studying new sounds before they are public, of finding what sounds make different people tick (for me – I love the sound of the Blackbird who sits outside my study window at dawn). This is why I collect sounds.
One final question (well, two questions): is the soundscape of the world an indeterminate composition over which we have no control, or are we its composers and performers, responsible for giving it form and beauty? Orchestration is a musician’s business – but isn’t it up to us to undergo a paradigm shift and start seeing – not the music in the global soundscape – but the global soundscape as music?