week 4 readings - Acoustic Ecology and Soundscapes

"Soundscape as a System and auditory Gestalt" by Sabine Breitsameter

The sound researcher and composer R. Murray Schaefer, in The Tuning of the World - 1977 , coins the terms soundscape and acoustic ecology.  

    soundscape - the sonic envelope which surrounds a listener.  includes all sounds, even small and distant ones.  creates a consciousness for often ignored sounds. " The sonic representation of living material and immaterial presents in a certain space or place.” - Breitsameter

        “To see the landscape with the ears.” - Schaefer

    acoustic ecology:  explores environment as a conceptual approach or mindset, allowing sound to be deeply considered.  reveals the sonic interdependencies between living things and their environments.

        e.g. - air pollution —> less sound bounces around through air, more encumbered —> quieter forest —> also kills some vegetation and forest life —> even quieter forest 

        oppositie example - noise pollution. e.g. loud spaces like bars, lead to hearing loss and strained vocal chords, and acoustic ecology thus considers all of these effects (communication difficulties, physical damage, loss of sonic diversity)

       Schaefer argues that urban noise pollution is a harmful waste product, in particular is characterized by the values of industrial life and technology - air conditioner hums + construction + non-stop motors = efficiency, mobility and consumption.

    thus acoustic ecology becomes a political consideration.

        “Soundscapes provide information on an environment’s natural and social consistency, and allow to draw inferences about its priorities, deficits, and power structures.” - Schaefer

       opponents of Schaefer’s attitudes on urban noise counter that his ideas are overly romantic, technophobic and aesthetically normative.

soundscape is a plurality.  a conversation.  its diverse elements exert influence on each other.

acoustic ecology draws listener, sound, and environment together.  

     Schaefer finds that the historical development of soundscapes favor the visual, and societal conditions heavily impact our sensory perception. He believes ugly and tedious sounds gain ground over the beautiful and stress-free which lead to more general well-being and health.   Thus we collectively develop the sense over time that the auditory senses are ‘background’ and it becomes harder for us to develop sensitivities in this regard towards life/media/art

Malcolm McLuhan

    The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962)

        The medium is the message, and is a field.  The field’s elements effect each other, and so it is an open system that transforms and adapts and incorporates everything.

       the mosaic approach - attention to all sounds at once.  “Instant total awareness.”

        mosaic approach is prerequisite for enabling an ear-centered approach to perception.

gestalt - an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

       before the term soundscape was popularized..

       -->         !!! "The ear world is a world of simultaneous relationships.” -McLuhan  !!!

                    -thus listening becomes a formative activity, requiring the listener to endeavor to alternate between methodologies - analytic and selective, synthesizing and integral.

               similar to the approach you take when listening to polyphonic music too.

one of McLuhan’s big idea was we need to understand media as an environment.

and a specific idea of his from Narcrissus Narcosis - denial of the audile tactile by a society that has become addicted to images and despises that which is audible.

        we’re nullifying, dumbing, blunting, our ability to hear.