After the success of the Hey Listen ! / Hörr Upp! conference and the regeneration of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE), the question which should now be foremost in the minds of the WFAE members is - What is Acoustic Ecology’s ‘Ecology’ ?

In the New Soundscape Newsletter (November 1998) Albert Mayr writes of his "uneasiness" with the term ‘Acoustic Ecology’ (AE), wishing further definition. Presumably, it is the use of ‘Ecology’ which, like myself, makes Mayr uneasy. This ‘Ecology’ is an appropriation which must be re-defined if it is to be of future relevance beyond a simplistic "catchy slogan for the promotion of our goals". Other members evidently share a similar concern: in the same publication, Johan Redström warns that without ecological clarification, AE could be confined to a type of "aesthetic moralism" - this is its greatest pitfall. ‘Acoustic Ecology’ and the complementary approach of ‘Acoustic Design’ as described by R. Murray Schafer, become problematic and in need of revision as the WFAE evolves from its aesthetical and musicological inception to comprehend the social and natural sciences. I believe that the WFAE has a useful contribution to make to the ecological agenda if it can assimilate Ecology’s current practical, theoretical and political concerns; that in doing so it does not have to divorce itself from artistic practice. Part of this assimilation process involves recognising that a phonocentric environmentalism is not necessarily ‘in tune’ with an ecological society.

Acoustic Community or Ecological Society ?
Schafer writes that, "the acoustic designer may incline society to listen again to models of beautifully modulated and balanced soundscapes such as we have in musical compositions. From these, clues may be obtained as to how the soundscape may be altered..." 1 To alter our soundscapes (presumably making them more ‘ecological’) by taking musical precepts as our model, could be described as fallacious. What’s more, is this not dangerously close to the aesthetic moralism that Redström refers to ? The basing of moral laws on those that we perceive in nature has been termed as the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ by some ecologists. If we want avoid a similar criticism of an ‘acoustic fallacy’, then the notion of, for example - what constitutes a ‘balanced soundscape’ needs to be pursued much further than it’s ‘hi-fi’ state: A community’s or environment’s soundscape may be ‘balanced’ acoustically, which is to say that each sonic event does not obstruct or interfere with the transmission or reception of an other (Schafer’s Acoustic Community). However, it could (more correctly in my opinion), be termed ‘balanced’ if those societies and their processes that make up the soundscape are in themselves ‘balanced’, in as much as they recognise and practice a social and environmental form of mutualism (ecological society). This then is my main thesis, that -

It is not an ‘acoustically balanced’ soundscape which makes for an ecological society (Schafer) but that an ecological society’s soundscape is, by consequence, ‘acoustically balanced’.

This position is the converse of Schafer’s as I understand it: that the soundscape is, in the main, an accidental by-product of society; that "society sinks to a slovenly and imperiled position" not "when the rhythms of the soundscape become confused and erratic" but primarily because of a social and economic inequality 2. Furthermore, it is surely only a minority that can perceive of the soundscape as a musical ‘composition’ and able to exercise the freedom to change their part. Rather than prescribing a universal concept of soundscape design - be it ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’, ‘informative’ or ‘uninformative’ - I’m suggesting it would be of greater benefit to enable or empower communities to organise (compose) themselves, the resulting soundscape thereby being the consequence of the needs and values of that community. We have useful examples in this direction through the work of Keiko Torigoe and the strategies employed by the recent Japanese Soundscape conservation projects (see later). My belief then is that changes in the soundscape are the product of changes in socio-ecological practices and that this is a crucial area into which our energies as acoustic ecologists should be directed; that whilst soundscape studies offers a useful indicator and tool by which we can examine and exemplify social and environmental deteriorate, it can at best only improve indirectly upon a small fraction of this situation.

Sound Design or Green Consumerism ?
Hör upp! s ‘ Sound Design’ day - was sponsored by Philips Corporate Design. The Philips presentation began with a composition by Horst Rickels for designed objects titled "Make ends meet". The conducted performance consisted of five women operating dual speed hairdryers (presumably Philips), five men operating electric-razors (presumably Philips) and another on electric-whisk (do Philips make electric whisks ?). The performance was a lighthearted yet well executed piece of electro-domestic-music-theatre, which drew our attention to the noises made by household electronic appliances - which are, after all, what Philips make and sell a lot of. As the performance drew to a closure, our attention was overtaken by the sounds of digital alarm clocks: at first there was one, then several... until there were maybe fifty alarms all sounding together which, unbeknownst to the audience, had been set and taped beneath our chairs. The audience were then told that we had to locate and silence all of the alarms before the presentation could continue. Having restored the room to some kind of sonic normality, we were then made a gift of the boxed digital alarm clocks (courtesy of Philips).

Apparently Philips have gone ear-minded - designing toasters, vacuum cleaners, alarm clocks and the likes with ‘better’ sounds; quieter, less obtrusive, and no doubt giving the user all the audible signals and reassurance he or she needs from a mechanical household item. "Let’s make things better" proposes the Philips slogan in their booklet . Ironic really, when the give away alarm clocks only went ‘bee-be-beep’. I can’t help but feel that Philips’ interest in sound is simply a clever piece of marketing or, to give it its proper title in this context, ‘Green Consumerism’. Sound ‘user-friendliness’ is yet another way to sell a product, to keep it ahead of the competition. Granted, these household electrical goods have a marginal, intermittent effect on the soundscape, but are the sounds of a sandwich maker or solarium 3, or a vacuum cleaner even, a social nuisance, let alone of ecological significance ? Compare the jet-aeroplane, road traffic, or amplified music ? I welcome Heleen Engelen’s ear-mindedness and her consideration of sound when designing such objects, but it is difficult to separate this from the larger functioning of a corporation such as Philips. Philips’ "Let’s make things better" is a hypocrisy: it only fuels consumerist attitudes, which with today’s global marketplace, means of production and capitalist system, is largely unecological.

Sound Environmentalism or Acoustic Ecologism ?
A large majority of those attending the Hör Upp ! conference, myself included, would not describe ourselves as Ecologists. 4 It is perhaps more correct to say that through the experience of listening to and working with sounds of the environment, we have moved towards a better appreciation and understanding of the soundscape and environment at large. Such ear-mindedness amongst the general public could be said to be the prime aim of the WFAE. It is a mistake to think however that because we are concerned for the state of the soundscape / sonic environment, that we can loosely qualify this as ‘ecological’.

Acoustic Ecology’s concern for the quality of the sound environment - noise abatement legislation, places and periods of quiet, design of sound oriented spaces & objects - is more a form of sound environmentalism than an Acoustic Ecology. Undoubtedly, these are important factors in our quality of life which therefore require our continued attention and pursuit . However, we could call these actions reform for the ear, where "[sound] designers move out into positions in government and industry...to effect numerous practical repairs to the soundscape." 5 Such actions seem an unending task and cannot really challenge the status quo . The long term objective then, which must be carried out simultaneously to these running repairs on the soundscape, is the furthering of an (Acoustic) Ecologism which (to borrow from Andrew Dobson) will "radically call into question a whole series of political, economic, and social practices in a way that environmentalism does not" 6

A ‘Deep’ or Social Ecology ?
Any debate on AE’s Ecology will necessarily involve discussion on Deep Ecology. In the absence of a proper ecological discourse within the WFAE, one might conclude that it’s ‘Ecology’ is Deep Ecology, owing to Murray Schafer’s sympathy with the Deep Ecology movement. 7 Schafer’s association undoubtedly led to the participation of Deep Ecology’s Norwegian founder and ‘father figure’, Arne Naess at the Hör Upp ! conference. Whilst it was a privilege to listen to such a prominent and influential scholar, I remain unconvinced by Naess’ philosophy. Despite Naess’ deep spirited address, there is a lack of discussion around ‘Ecosophy T’ (Naess’ own ecological philosophy), its influence on Murray Schafer, its implications on soundscape studies and Ecological thought itself.

Naess refers to a ‘shallow’ and ‘deep ecology. ‘Shallow’ is a reformist approach to environmental problems, such as the use of catalytic converters and recycling - technological ‘fixes’ which skirt the fundamental issues underlying actual causes. A ‘deep’ ecology refers to an approach which addresses these ‘grass-root’ problems. (We should note that whilst the terms of ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ ecology can be attributed to Naess, the distinctions between ‘reformist’ and ‘radical’ attitudes are employed widely outside of the Deep Ecology movement). Acoustic Ecology, as I have referred to it - as a kind of ‘sonic environmentalism’ - is by Naess’ reckoning, ‘shallow’; as it has not as yet positioned itself in relation to the ‘deeper’ ecological issues. For example, perhaps the greatest cause for concern in the urban soundscape is the level of traffic noise. A ‘shallow’ environmental approach might be to enforce laws restricting the level of noise during certain periods of the day and night, designing quieter engines, increasing petrol prices, or bypassing residential areas. Even the provision of an integrated public transport system might be said to be not radical enough. Fundamental questions need to be asked of the social, economical and political systems which determine (constrain even) the way in which people live their lives, and the ecological impact this has.

It is difficult to apprehend however just how ‘deep’ Deep Ecology (Ecosophy T) is, and how it really engages with these radical concerns: Naess’ Ecosophy seeks to better our quality of life and the ecological problematic by individuals undergoing a process of ‘Self-realisation’. This is achieved through a ‘deep questioning’ which proposes we work "on our inclinations, rather than preaching the subordination of our personal interest to an environmental ethic." 8 Our inclinations, according to Naess, are towards realising oneself as an ‘ecological Self’ - to elicit an intense empathy for other beings 9. Or, as Maria Anna Harley describes, in relation to Schafer’s work, "self-realisation through close contact with other humans and with the non-human ecosphere." 10 The ‘ecological Self’ is perceived as part of an ‘egalitarian biosphere’ in which everything - sentient and non-sentient - is of ‘equal intrinsic worth’, in which their are no boundaries between human and non-human. Is a Deep Ecological soundscape therefore one in which all sounds have an equal ‘intrinsic worth’ ? Surely, part of Acoustic Ecology should attempt to rationalise the benefits and detriments of sound ?

‘Biocentric’ views, such as those of Deep Ecology are criticized for debasing humankind to "plain citizens"; that there is an inherent contradiction in a deep ecological consciousness which eschews any ‘ontological divide’ between humans and non-humans, and at the same time exercises our evolved abilities of reasoning or ‘deep questioning’ and ‘Self-realisation’. In reacting against anthropocentrism and the notion of humans as "the lord and master of all species," Deep Ecology fails to recognise the highly evolved state of the human species within Nature - a position that Murray Bookchin has termed ‘Second Nature’ 11. It is only by making such a separation that any sense of accountability, or moral responsibility can be properly apportioned to human populations and their actions vis-à-vis the ecological problematic. Naess’ Ecosophy T is also denounced for its lack of environmental ethics and political ideology. Vehement criticism comes from Bookchin and supporters of his Social Ecology / Libertarian Municipalism. Here, I would refer readers to Brian Morris’ article Reflections on ‘Deep Ecology’ for a comprehensive critique of Naess’ philosophy. 12

Reading Morris, it becomes clear that the Self-realisation and change in lifestyle that Naess advocates may only be appreciable by the "affluent middle classes of Europe and North America" 13 and impracticable outside of such social circles. How Deep Ecology (Ecosophy T) takes on the real issues - social, political, and the ingrained capitalist economies at the root of the our Ecological problems (and hence in our soundscape) is not clear. Naess’ presence at Hör Upp ! however makes it imperative that the AE community achieves a better understanding of Ecological thought - polemicised by Deep Ecology and Social Ecology in this instance - in order to make their own evaluations.

Towards a Social Ecological Soundscape
Keiko Toregoe from the Soundscape Association of Japan made an encouraging presentation at Hör upp! The project, ‘Conserving 100 Soundscapes in Japan’, was undertaken by the Ministry for the Environment and Toregoe was one of the project’s committee members. In the conference’s book of papers, she writes "The aims of the project are to encourage the citizens and municipal governments all over Japan to recommend the soundscapes which can be appreciated in specific localities and which the dwellers wish to preserve or conserve for their next generations, to select 100 soundscapes out of the recommended ones as the symbols of the richness and wide variety of Japanese soundscape, and of Japanese nature and culture, and to support various activities based on the individual localities.... 392 applications were made by municipalities, 97 by other various groups such as NPO or NGO, and 249 by individuals." 14 What Torgoe went on to explain in her presentation was that the 100 selected soundscapes or soundmarks became publicly recognised sites of sonic interest within their communities. Moreover, through regular meetings, local groups were encouraged to monitor and manage their soundmark, for the benefit of the community and future generations (I liken this to a sonic heritage which is itself an integral part of one’s cultural and natural heritage).

It must be acknowledged that Toregoe credits the Japanese translation of Murray Schafer’s The Tuning of the World in 1986 as the inspiration and motivation behind the various projects embarked upon by the Soundscape Association of Japan. [Despite my points of criticism, Schafer’s contribution proves to be an indispensable and a far-reaching influence]. The ‘100 Soundscapes’ project does highlight however some of the inconsistencies when dealing with the Soundscape from a ‘hi-fi’ perspective. Toregoe lists that 74 of the nominations related to ‘sound of industries / traffic’, 11 of which went forward to the 100 soundscapes for ‘conservation’. Schafer himself recognises that some soundmarks, "may not always be beautiful"; a sound that may infringe by-law limits or produce masking effects for example, is exempt because it "performs a desirable community service and therefore presumably has an attractive symbolism" 15. In other words, there is a crucial difference between what a community might decide to be an important part of their soundscape - due to it’s identification with, say, some significant domestic, industrial/economic or cultural phenomena - and the notion of an acoustically designed community which privileges the sonic, or for that matter the theories of an acoustic ecologist.

The ‘100 Soundscapes’ project successfully raises awareness of and reponsibility towards the environment through its soundscape. This is achieved not by a ‘spiritual’ type for Self-realisation - that oneself is an equal part of the ‘ecosphere’ - but rather the identification of sounds as having a greater value or worth within a community / environment by that community. What may be of greater significance from a social-ecological point of view is that local community soundscape groups were formed and then encouraged to manage a nominated soundmark. This kind of assembly (small as they may be) allows for a further engagement with the wider needs of that society. There are interesting parallels to be drawn between this particular example of municipalisation and the popular assemblies proposed by the Libertarian Municipalism / Social Ecology of Murray Bookchin. Without expounding too much here (interested readers should read Biehl / Bookchin 1997), it is suffice to say that Libertarian Municipalism proposes community self-management - a "small, intimate scale of political life," explains Biehl, that "would allow people to become active citizens and recreate the public sphere, democratically making decisions on matters that affect their common life." 16

Bibliography
Biehl, Janet (ed.). (1997) The Murray Bookchin Reader. Cassell, London, UK.

Biehl, Janet & Boohchin, Murray (1997) The Politics of Social Ecology; Libertarian Municipalism. Black Rose Books, NY, USA.

Drengson, Ali & Inoue, Yuichi (ed.). (1995) The Deep Ecology Movement - an introductory anthology. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.

Hayward, Tim. (1995) Ecological Thought - an introduction. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Karlsson, Henrik (Ed.). (1998) Papers presented at the conference "Stockholm, Hey Listen!" June 9-13, 1998. The Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Stockholm.

Schafer, R.Murray. (1994) Soundscape - Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Destiny Books, Rochester, Vermont.

Schafer, R.Murray & Järviluoma, Helmi (ed.). (1998) Yearbook of Soundscape Studies ‘ Northern Soundscapes’. University of Tampere, Finland.

Various authors (1993) Deep Ecology and Anarchism. Freedom Press, London, UK.

Winkler, Justin (Ed.) (November 1998) The New Soundscape Newsletter. World

Forum for Acoustic Ecology, University of Oregon.

Notes:
1. Schafer (1994) p.237-238.

2. Schafer (1994) p.237. The author acknowledges the threat to public health, and the disruption of natural habitats caused by noise pollution.

3. The two case studies published by Patrick W.Jordan and Heleen Engelen. Sound Design for consumer products. Karlsson (1998), p.88-92.

4. When Catharina Dryssen asked at the Hör Upp! conference who would describe themselves to as an Ecologist, I recall two arms being raised.

5. Schafer (1994) p.240.

6. Hayward (1995) p.187

7. One might trace Naess’ influence on Schafer and thereby on Acoustic Ecology back through Deep Ecology’s introduction to North America in the late 1970’s via George Sessions and Bill Devall. The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy which is devopted to th DE movement began publishing in 1983 in Canada. See also Schafer & Järviluoma (1998) p.136-137

8. Drengson, Ali & Inoue, Yuichi (1995) p. xxii

9. Naess told of a similar anthropomorphic episode in a forrest, when his happiness became that of the trees.

10. Schafer & Järviluoma (1998) Schafer & Järviluoma p.137

11. See Nature, First and Second, Biehl (1997), p.38-53

12. Various authors (1993) Deep Ecology and Anarchism. p.37-46

13. Ibid. p.46

14. A Stategy for Environmental Conservation Developed Through the Concept of Soundscape in Japan. See Karlsson (1998) p.48-53

15. Schafer (1994) p.239-240.

16. Biehl (1997) p.173

Gregg Wagstaff is a sound artist from the North-East of Scotland. He is a part-time lecturer and researcher in the School of Television and Imaging at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee.

No part of the article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission of the individual authors.

 

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