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
Ecologys Ecology ?
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 Ecologys 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.
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. Whats 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 its hi-fi state:
A communitys or environments 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 (Schafers
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 -
is not an acoustically balanced soundscape
which makes for an ecological society (Schafer) but
that an ecological societys soundscape is, by
consequence, acoustically balanced.
position is the converse of Schafers 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
- Im 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.
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
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. "Lets
make things better" proposes the Philips slogan
in their booklet . Ironic really, when the give away
alarm clocks only went bee-be-beep. I cant
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 Engelens 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
"Lets make things better" is a hypocrisy:
it only fuels consumerist attitudes, which with todays
global marketplace, means of production and capitalist
system, is largely unecological.
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.
Ecologys 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
Deep or Social Ecology ?
Any debate on AEs Ecology will necessarily involve
discussion on Deep Ecology. In the absence of a proper
ecological discourse within the WFAE, one might conclude
that its Ecology is Deep Ecology,
owing to Murray Schafers sympathy with the Deep
Ecology movement. 7 Schafers association undoubtedly
led to the participation of Deep Ecologys 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.
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
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 Schafers 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 ?
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
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.
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 projects committee members.
In the conferences 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 ones cultural and natural heritage).
must be acknowledged that Toregoe credits the Japanese
translation of Murray Schafers 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,
Schafers 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 its 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.
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
Biehl, Janet (ed.). (1997) The Murray Bookchin Reader.
Cassell, London, UK.
Janet & Boohchin, Murray (1997) The Politics of
Social Ecology; Libertarian Municipalism. Black Rose
Books, NY, USA.
Ali & Inoue, Yuichi (ed.). (1995) The Deep Ecology
Movement - an introductory anthology. North Atlantic
Books, Berkeley, CA.
Tim. (1995) Ecological Thought - an introduction. Polity
Press, Cambridge, UK.
Henrik (Ed.). (1998) Papers presented at the conference
"Stockholm, Hey Listen!" June 9-13, 1998.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Stockholm.
R.Murray. (1994) Soundscape - Our Sonic Environment
and the Tuning of the World. Destiny Books, Rochester,
R.Murray & Järviluoma, Helmi (ed.). (1998)
Yearbook of Soundscape Studies Northern Soundscapes.
University of Tampere, Finland.
authors (1993) Deep Ecology and Anarchism. Freedom Press,
Justin (Ed.) (November 1998) The New Soundscape Newsletter.
for Acoustic Ecology, University of Oregon.
1. Schafer (1994) p.237-238.
Schafer (1994) p.237. The author acknowledges the threat
to public health, and the disruption of natural habitats
caused by noise pollution.
The two case studies published by Patrick W.Jordan and
Heleen Engelen. Sound Design for consumer products.
Karlsson (1998), p.88-92.
When Catharina Dryssen asked at the Hör Upp! conference
who would describe themselves to as an Ecologist, I
recall two arms being raised.
Schafer (1994) p.240.
Hayward (1995) p.187
One might trace Naess influence on Schafer and
thereby on Acoustic Ecology back through Deep Ecologys
introduction to North America in the late 1970s
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
Drengson, Ali & Inoue, Yuichi (1995) p. xxii
Naess told of a similar anthropomorphic episode in a
forrest, when his happiness became that of the trees.
Schafer & Järviluoma (1998) Schafer & Järviluoma
See Nature, First and Second, Biehl (1997), p.38-53
Various authors (1993) Deep Ecology and Anarchism. p.37-46
A Stategy for Environmental Conservation Developed Through
the Concept of Soundscape in Japan. See Karlsson (1998)
Schafer (1994) p.239-240.
Biehl (1997) p.173
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.
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