I’m nearing the end of this series of possible “summer listening” options, and — I suppose — the end of summer itself is coming into view. And, as it happens, this series ends alongside another ending of quite a different nature.
The idea for this series began in the midst of the pandemic, when we suddenly found ourselves sheltering in place. Instead of thinking about sheltering or hunkering down, I started thinking about the idea of being “in place,” and wondering about the place I found myself... how could I escape being in the place I sheltered. My journeys safely afield on walks confronted me with something quite different, though — the notion that I really didn’t listen very much to my neighborhood, apart from the sound of the air conditioner turning on, backup sounds from the delivery trucks that suddenly appeared in great number, and the more vocal neighborhood dogs. Somehow, I’d become a stranger to what was within a stone’s throw of my own house.
I was surprised to realize this. Despite all the past weeks' work of collecting and present some interesting diversions from quotidian listening, it’s been informed by the fact that I’m one of those people who, from an early age, came to think of listening as a mode of imaginative transport. As I’ve mentioned, it started with a record of humpback whale recordings, and extended to shortwave listening and sound effects/audio production records from the Public Library that dropped me into Parisian cafes, stormy arctic mountainsides, and seashores thousands of miles from my Midwest home. The truth is that I’ve completely destroyed several Songs of the Humpback Whale LPs over the years, and collected every single copy of Irv Tiebel’s Environments recordings I could get my hands on. (In fact, you can now grab yourself copies of all 13 of the amazing Environments Series recordings now as an Apple iPad/iPhone app).
So how did I find myself an acoustic stranger in my own neighborhood? As I pondered this and while thinking about what to end my summer listening series with, the news came to me of the death of R. Murray Schaefer, the Canadian composer. His writings on acoustic ecology transformed me from someone who thought of listening to the world as a form of imaginative transport to something very different. And I found myself with a place to begin: reading as a path to listening.
Listening Between The Covers
My colleague Darwin Grosse has written a wonderful introduction to a great anthology of writings about artists who use the soundscape and field recordings in their artistic practice that I commend to you, but I'd like to step back a bit to mention a few earlier works that really stake out the field, and a few that engage with the soundscapes of our age with respect to the structures we make.
It all starts with R. Murray Shaefer's book, The Tuning The World, the first place his ideas are laid out, and the first place we find the word "soundscape." It's a tough one to find used, but never fear — the follow-on Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and The Tuning of the World takes the themes of the original and extends them in practical ways that can reorient your ears and your thinking at more popular prices. That work set the stage for all those who came after: from the great site recorder and acoustic ecologist Bernie Krause's The Great Animal Orchestra to the elucidation of matters ecoacoustical in Almo Farina and Stuart Gage's Ecoacoustics, and on to considerations of ways that man-made structures participate and interact with the soundscape in Emily Thompson's The Soundscape of Modernity and on to the more practical outlines of Jan Kang and Brigitte Schulte-Fortkamp's Soundscape and the Built Environment. The notion of the soundscape has moved from something we listen to and think about to something we think with.
Organizations and Resources
In the years since R. Murray Schafer first founded The World Soundscape Project along with Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax, Howard Broomfield and Hildegard Westerkamp in the late 1960s/early 1970s, interest in the soundscape and its capture and preservation has grown to embrace a number of groups who not only archive and curate soundscape recordings, but provide helpful resources for people wishing to make their own site recordings:
- The World Soundscape Project
- World Forum for Acoustic Ecology
- natureSOUND Map (their site is down at the moment, but open up their Contributor's page and chase down the links. By the time you're done in a couple of weeks, the site will probably be back up).
- BBC 3 Soundwalks
Listen Up! (Soundscape Sites)
Okay - you've been really patient. Let's get on to some great Soundscape listening sites! The first stop is the motherlode: The British Library Sounds archive Environment and Nature page: a truly amazing collection of Soundscapes, recordings of all varieties of Water and Weather, some early examples of wildlife recording, and voices from the animal world.
If the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision's Radio Garden, page won your heart back in part 1 of this series by letting you jump around all over the world, I've got just the thing for you (if on a slightly smaller scale).
Radio Aporee drops you onto a satellite photo dotted with sites you can click on to hear and commune with. Although its contributors aren't scattered to the four winds (what? No North Korean playground recordings?), it's still great fun. You can turn it on and let it run and be whipsawed from place to place all day - a most dislocating kind of delight.
Cities and Memory is another "click here to hear here" site, with an interesting twist: every location on the sound map features two sounds: the original field recording of that place, and a reimagined sound that presents that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new. You're free to explore places through their actual sounds or explore reimagined versions of what those places could be (or both).
There are some really amazing individual practitioners out there well worth hearing.
And by the way - if any of you know where I can lay hands on the magazine/CD of Electronic Sound Issue 79 on field recording, I'd love to hear about it.
Aaron Ximm's Quiet American project started its life traveling far afield, and has since relocated and concentrated on creating work closer to home. It's wonderful stuff.
A Final Word
I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot, or unaware of many other amazing sources for your listening. I hope you'll add them to the comments. Please. While I hope you’re found something diverting or worthy of attentive listening, it’s my fervent hope that your investigations don’t end when the evenings cool and the leaves begin to fall; while so much of our discussions here on the Forums are about creating audio and video and the patient work of finding solutions in the name of making things, I hope that I’ve given you a moment’s pause here and there to listen to the sounds – broadcast, made, and faithfully recorded – that fill the place in which you live and move and have your being.
Thanks for reading this far, thanks for clicking on whatever links caught your fancy, and thanks for listening. May we all be worthy stewards, scribes, and makers in the midst of the astounding diversity that surrounds us. And, as a parting gift, a soundscape of a place which was, and will be at some future point: Notre Dame in Paris: