2 Exploring Soundscapes

Although my understanding of sound is shaped by cultural sound studies, my project has been influenced by archaeological sensory studies at a theoretical level. Nevertheless, my work looks and feels more like the historical sound studies projects I discuss in section 2.3.

2.1 What is Sound?

This may be a strange question to ask. After all, sound is all around us. We know it intuitively. Sound is noise is sound is noise is sound... It is a phenomenon resulting from the movement of objects; sound is vibration; it is a wave. We have an intuitive understanding of sound, often invoking some sort of scientific explanation.

Mark Grimshaw and Tom Garner argue that the "acoustic definition" of sound as a wave makes no room for the experience of sound.1 Ihde similarly notes that acoustic definitions "eschews the ambiguity that arises through individual cognition and perception, the personalization of sound that is part of our hearing experience."2 The sound theorist Johnathan Sterne argues for an approach to sound studies that challenges our understanding of scientific explanations of sound solely through decibel levels and the biology of human ears.3 Understanding sound as a solely physical phenomena pathologizes listening and fails to account for sound as vibration, cognitively understood through art, writing, or visualization, and even imagined or remembered. Any understanding of sound, theory, cultural approach, or research method is entirely historical. For instance, we can use a simple dichotomy between hearing and listening: to hear is to receive sensory input from noises in the world around us; to listen is to ascribe meaning to noise as sound. This dichotomy can be used as a metaphor for historical method. One could argue that historians merely hear the past without actually listening. Historical theory is imbued with visual tropes, namely the gaze (but no tropes for the other senses).

The film theorist Michel Chion identifies several ways we listen. Casual listening (the most common mode of listening) allows us to gather information like identifying voices, for instance.4 Sounds have multiple sources and we identify them in different ways. Semantic Listening is listening for understanding, like reading is to a writing text.5 Reduced listening abstracts context and takes the sound itself as an object where we identify pitch (an inherent characteristic of sound).6 Chion’s categorization of listening is important because it allows us to think about the different ways we experience sound. In other words, the act of listening changes depending on the context of our situation. For my Pembroke publics, they know they are hearing industrial soundclips in my website, but their personal histories affect the impact of sound in recalling and shaping memory. They can listen to a current sound of memory that was once heard in experience.

Chion's specific categorization detracts from exploring the experience of listening. Individuals know their own experience of sound. At best you can describe sound as a sphere that surrounds you. Like visuality, it is a complex human experience. Perhaps a better question to ask is what is it like to experience sound?

2.1.1 A Phenomenology of Sound

Phenomenology gives us a framework for understanding how various media influence sensory experience and their impact on memory. Phenomenology acknowledges that everything is interpreted through current experience. Stuart Eve notes the importance of Husserlian phenomenology in trying to understand past experience as an archaeologist: Husserl's phenomenology was concerned with the process of consciousness as a temporal activity.7 This is a difficult task for phenomenologists studying their own experience, let alone researchers studying people who lived thousands of years ago. For Ingold, temporality comprises experience since the process of landscape is shaped by temporal human activities. Temporality and historicity merge in the experience of those who, in their activities, carry forward the process of social life.8 For Hodder, humans and things exist temporally in entangled webs.9 In the temporal sensation of these webs we form meaningful experiences. Archaeologists are trained to understand material culture as existing in systems of four-dimensional relationships. Phenomenology is not a rigorous methodological standard or theoretical framework. Indeed Eve acknowledges that Husserl's bracketing may be impossible since we cannot know what 'they' thought at all. Rather, with phenomenlogy we can at least try to "acknowledge the possibilities" of human experience.10 Husserlian phenomenology is about being attentive to the sensations that shape experience. The Proust Effect may only work depending on the value an interviewee gave to heard sounds throughout their life. Likewise, those who never experienced Pembroke's industrial atmosphere will nonetheless shape a particular historical imagination influenced by sounds heard in my website. Following Eve, the goal of my website shifts away from a traditional phenomenology of "modeling the active participant... towards modeling the features of the landscape under study that offer different affordances to the perceiver."11 By focusing on the affective sensation of sound, I am creating an industrial soundscape that attempts to reproduce the sensations of the historical landscape.

2.2 What is a Soundscape?

Sound studies as a cohesive field began with R Murray Schafer's iconic 1977 book The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Schafer defined the soundscape generally as "any acoustic field of study."12 Specifically, a soundscape consists only of those things heard, not seen.13

It is easy to trace the historicity of Schafer's soundscapes. Schafer developed his practice in the 1970s, when concern grew over negative human impact on the environment. Schafer focused on noise pollution and critiqued urban Lo-fi (distorted, diverse noise) soundscapes for their abundance of noise. The cacophony, Schafer thought, overwhelmed our auditory cortex, obscured our attention to specific noises, and left us unable to fully listen to our environments. The field of sound studies has since critiqued Schafer's approach to soundscapes. Even Schafer's contemporaries disagreed with him. The philosopher Don Idhe tempered this prevailing view of sound in the opening of his 1976 philosophical work Listening and Voice.

It is not merely that the world has suddenly become noisier or that we can hear farther, or even that sound is somehow demandingly pervasive in a technological culture. It is rather that by living with electronic instruments our experience of listening itself is being transformed, and included in this transformation are the ideas we have about the world and ourselves.14

As it happens, Ihde's work was not as popular amongst sound researchers as Schafer's Tuning of the World published just a year later. Ihde's argument has become more widely recognized in sound studies in recent years. Digital platforms offer us entirely different realms of experience. Nathan Jurgenson argued in his 2012 article "The IRL [In Real Life] Fetish" that the "idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline."15 Jurgenson argues that the proliferation of virtual environments has given us reason to appreciate the 'offline' world and that the virtual and reality are thus more connected than some have argued.16

Schafer's philosophy of concern over listening has led some projects to 'merely' reconstruct soundscapes. We must be critical of our digital projects as, to a degree, works of art that will impact our audiences. Perhaps the most relevant critique comes from Jose Iges in his article "Soundscapes: A Historical Approach."

"By the trompe-l'oeil (deceive the eye) and, more importantly here, in our concern with sound, by the trompe-l'oreille which present us with a clichéd yet inconsistent image of the world. An image which serves as a description but is not operative, as it does not provide us with the tools to construct this world of reference. It is like memory: it allows us to remember and organise personal experiences, but not to live any similar experiences or those on which it draws."17

With the recent growth of interest in how soundscapes can capture reality, Iges critiques projects that presume they can 'recreate' soundscapes by meticulously reconstructing the historical variables of an environment. Iges continues his critique.

[A]ll the authors of this genre present composed images, and ultimately use the sounds of the acoustic environment as the richest, most plural synthesiser possible. Even if they use complete, apparently unmanipulated sequences... the manipulation lies in the way the microphones are set up and specific venues chosen. In short, it is a kind of sound mirage: an acoustic image which may aim to represent the reality in question, while actually presenting a distorted reflection which, at best, captures the aroma of the original. Only by deliberately erasing the memory of that original can we embark on a composed soundscape with any probability of success. We could go as far as to say that in these works, memory appeals to forgetfulness to endow the work itself with aesthetic meaning. 18

Iges argues that soundscapes appeal "to forgetfulness" because they are exclusively digital works of art. Soundscapes are entangled in their own history of technology: sound studies only exists because we can record sounds. There is no soundscape outside of recorded audio. Soundscapes "are the sum of multiple times which merge into just one... they also comprise multiple spaces."19 Iges shares Eve's concerns over bracketing: it is not certain that by modeling the landscape we can produce similar sensations that past people felt. But this should encourage researchers to construct reflexive soundscapes. Even Iges created a soundscape of Madrid through urban recordings. Iges urges critical reflexivity for sound studies researchers that requires accepting the recordings and soundclips of our work as 'merely anecdotes,' but nonetheless attempting to create soundscapes.

While we may now challenge Schafer's assertions, the crux of his argument remains undeniably essential to sound studies: listen to your environment. The only way we can understand sound is to experience it. Sound studies challenges our conditioning towards visuality as the most important cognitive process. What if, instead, we focused on listening? What if we were attentive to the past and mindful about history? Even Ihde, who took a different approach to sound than Schafer concluded that mindful attentiveness to silence is the only appropriate response to sound studies. For "waiting is a 'letting be' which allows that which continuously 'is given' into space and time to be noted. 'Silence is the sound of time passing.'"20

2.2.1 Against Soundscapes

In 2007, Ingold critiqued the rigidity of soundscapes in an aptly titled article "Against Soundscape." Sound for Ingold is a phenomenon of experience, not an object or material that is perceived. "We do not hear a soundscape," Ingold remarks, but experience the process of landscape.21 Why should we create a 'scape' purely reserved for sound when sound is landscape. Ingold uses his phenomenological understanding of landscape to critique soundscapes for their implication that experience is comprised of sensory pathways. Rather, like breathing, sound flows in our experience.22 Ingold's critique is at least now discussed in sound studies and becoming accepted by many, specifically Mark Grimshaw and Tom Garner. Their study of sound applies here because, for them, sound arises through task in virtual landscapes. As video game sound designers, they manipulate sounds to engender particular responses. But the location of sound is not an objective, observable, concrete fact. They argue that "what has been described as the sound source on screen is merely a product of belief."23 We cognitively place sound in our environments.24 Soundscapes for Grimshaw and Garner, then, is a more imaginative process (see section 3).

We must take Iges' and Ingold's critiques seriously in tandem with Proust's comments on the function of sound in memory. In Proust's final book, Time Regained, it dawns on him "that a work of art is the only means of regaining lost time."25 Because soundscapes, however limiting, are affective works of art with the power to evoke sudden, involuntary memories. And through these involuntary memories, Proust argues, we evoke incredible aesthetic experiences.26

2.3 The State of Sound Studies: Current Projects and Potential

While the focus on cultural sound studies promoted by Sterne et al. in his paradigmatic Sound Studies Reader is integral to this project, I have drawn upon ideas from several projects in archaeocoustics, a field that studies the acoustics of space and material culture. My website combines the concern in sound studies over how sound and memory influence each other with the focus in archaeocoustics on the relationship between the experience of sound and sites/artefacts. In my case, this is a virtual site that contains visuals from newspapers, photographs, video, text, and an interactive map that attempt to enhance the experience of the 'scape' element of my soundscape. Below, I will outline several key projects with different goals that have influenced my project and how I have approached soundscapes.

The Guggenheim Museum's Still Spotting project is a crowdsourced initiative where users tag locations on a map of New York City with descriptions of the local soundscape. Their interactive map contains no sound in it whatsoever. The Still Spotting project implies an important question: why must sound be heard as content, from a tangible source? Sound encompasses environment. It can be described by voice, heard or read in text, or even heard in one's head.

Stuart Eve researched embodied Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in his project Dead Men's Eyes. Eve created an augmented reality system "built using a smartphone, an Arduino microcontroller and a Unity3D application."27 Using the Unity3D video game engine, he reconstructed Bronze Age British huts in an attempt to see what one might have seen at that time. Whereas Eve's work concerns visuality, he incorporated sounds in his visualization. He included auditory markers at house doorways - such as sheep grazing - which changed how he viewed the landscape.28 Eve currently experiments with ancient smellscapes. Using the same microcomputing platform, Eve augments the landscape with wafting smells. As he comments in a blog post, "Not only can I walk around the modern day Bronze Age landscape and see the augmented roundhouses, hear the Bronze Age sheep in the distance, I can also smell the fires burning and the dinner cooking as I get closer to the village."29 Eve's work makes an important point about our experience of landscape: it is not merely a visual experience, and incorporating other elements of reality changes the nature of that experience.

Jeff Veitch does archaeological research at the ancient Roman site of Ostia. Veitch's research explores how noise sounds in ancient spaces. Veitch played several clips of Johnny Cash's God's Gonna Cut you Down with different reverbations in the Baths of Neptune. Veitch claims that "[b]y using a contemporary song, the focus shifts to the changes created by the space, not the authenticity of the sound... The music is only a tool, which conveys architectural information."30 Veitch's approach is similar to the archaeologist Tara Copplestone's method of photobashing. Copplestone writes that photobashing is "a technique by which one takes photos and applies various techniques such as painting, filtering, overlaying and otherwise obliterating the original photo through manipulation."31 In these terms we can liken Veitch's approach to a 'soundbash' whereby a space's 'original' sounds are 'obliterated'. Veitch's research is important because he is less concerned with the authenticity of sound than its experience in space.

The acoustics of architecture is a popular area intersecting archaeocoustics and cultural sound studies. The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project recreates John Donne's 1622 Sermon in St Paul's Churchyard. The project "uses architectural modeling software and acoustic simulation software" to recreate how the sermon would have been heard from different locations in the Churchyard of the Cathedral.32 On their website, users can select variables including location in the yard and amount of people to hear the recreated sermon. The project shows how environment and location effected hearing around the Cathedral and shaped Donne's audience. This work thus allows historians to understand who Donne's message was primarily for.

The historian Emily Neumeier's Ottoman History Soundscapes project explores how sound can be used to evoke nostalgia.33 Neumeier recorded the sounds of historical sites around Istanbul. She examined how sound has been used to control space. For example, voice was controlled in the Ottoman courts as a performance for the visitors of the Sultan. Hundreds of people were forced to remain silent, viewed like statues. Neumeier also notes how sound can tell us about Ottoman political history. The call to prayer that resounded through Istanbul changed from Turkish to Arabic over the centuries. Sound, then, is telling of historical change. The introduction of steam boats changed the way the landscape was experienced. For the first time, residents could see Istanbul from the water as the sound of the steam boats filled the city. The Istanbul soundscape is an entanglement of the past and present. Neumeier attempted to record areas of silence but was continually interupted by the sounds of tourists. Neumeier realized she could not recreate the past soundscapes as present sounds flooded the landscape.

In terms of archaeocoustics, Veitch notes

Most people haven’t spent hours listening to tracks, adjusting the EQ or reverb. Most of us don’t connect what we hear with the space we hear those sounds in. And most of us don’t think about the space that is created in the post-production of making a record. At the same time, it’s a great exercise in relating acoustic discussions to different spaces.34

However, we must also problematize these projects. When the goal is 'recreating' space, as Veitch does, we fail to acknowledge that landscape is a fluid experience, not something to be reconstructed. Maybe it is a semantic argument, but representation is a more forgiving word that acknowledges our inability to ever recapture a moment that once existed as a concrete entity. On the other hand, the St. Paul's project made important discoveries about Donne's audience by digitally recreating St. Paul's Churchyard. Reconstructing sites may not be important to my project goals, but that does not make it unimportant scholarship. The past is comprised of many experiences and we thus need to make our purposes explicit to users.

The Roaring Twenties maps the relationship between sound and urbanization in 1920s New York. The Roaring Twenties introduction explains its approach: "Letters, forms, photographs, sound motion pictures, and other kinds of artifacts cumulatively constitute a network of content and context that engages the visitor's historical imagination. The goal is to enable each visitor to chart their own unique journey through this material and thereby transport themselves back in time, constructing a historically-oriented mindset through which to perceive the images and sounds."35 The project correctly identifies the affective experience of a multi-media environment to engage users in a particular historical mindset. They argue that to "recover that meaning [historicized listening] we need to strive to enter the mindsets of the people who perceived those sounds, to undertake a historicized mode of listening that tunes modern ears to the pitch of the past."36 My project is similar because I want shape my listeners historical imagination through sensations produced by sudden sound.

By using noise complaints to show that urban sounds had a substantial negative impact on New York residents in the 1920s, The Roaring Twenties project alludes to noise as a threat. The successfully challenge nostalgic reactions to modern noise pollution that idealize old New York by showing how wrought New York has always been with noise pollution. But they connect historical noise pollution to virtual noise pervasiness in the present, citing that people tune themselves out with smartphones and iPods. This is an unfair and lazy use of the past to make claims about assumed negative effects of contemporary technology. Michael Bull discusses how iPod users shape the aesthetic experience of the urban landscape through audio choice. Bull argues that by choosing what sounds inhabit landscape, portable media "energizes" and transforms "mundane space," making it more affective.37 Portable media is a serious element of human experience. In that same light, however, the project shows that simply because noise is ubiquitous does not mean people treat it unconsciously: New Yorkers worked in urban landscapes; residents understood their sonic environment; industrial workers listened to their machines for feedback. They challenge the idea that ubiquity means accepted and 'background' - that people perform tasks unaware of their sphere of sound.

Each soundscape project I have presented recognizes the relationship between space and sound - whether a map, virtual reconstruction of archaeological sites, or embodied virtual reality. My project explores the relationship between sound and space differently than most sensory studies projects by focusing on the relationship between sound and memory with living Pembroke residents. The next chapter explores how I attempted to sonify the Pembroke landscape.


1 Mark Grimshaw and Tom Garner, Sonic Virtuality: Sound as Emergent Perception (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 30-31.

2 Don Ihde, Listening and Voice: A Phenomenology of Sound (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976), 5.

3 Jonathan Sterne, ed., The Sound Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2012), 5.

4 Michel Chion, "The Three Listening Modes" in The Sound Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2012), 49.

5 Ibid., 49-50.

6 Ibid., 50-51.

7 Stuart Eve, Dead Men’s Eyes: Embodied GIS, Mixed Reality and Landscape Archaeology (BAR British Series 600, 2014), 11.

8 Tim Ingold, "The Temporality of Landscape" in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (London ; New York: Routledge, 2000), 157.

9 Ian Hodder, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 89, 101.

10 Eve, Dead Men's Eyes, 12-13.

11 Ibid., 16.

12 R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape; Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 1994), 7.

13 Ibid., 8.

14 Ihde, Listening and Voice, 5.

15 Nathan Jurgenson, “The IRL Fetish,” The New Inquiry, June 28, 2012, http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-irl-fetish/.

16 Ibid.

17 José Iges, “Soundscapes: A Historical Approach,” CEC | Canadian Electroacoustic Community 3.4, accessed March 29, 2016, http://econtact.ca/3_4/HistoricalApproach.htm.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ihde, Listening and Voice, 113.

21 Tim Ingold, “Against Soundscape,” Autumn Leaves, Double Entendre, 2007

22 Ibid.

23 Mark Grimshaw and Tom Garner, Sonic Virtuality: Sound as Emergent Perception (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 51.

24 Ibid., 38.

25 Crétien van Campen, The Proust Effect: The Senses as Doorways to Lost Memories, First edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 17.

26 Ibid., 16.

27 Stuart Eve, Dead Men's Eyes, http://www.dead-mens-eyes.org/.

28 Eve, Dead Men's Eyes, 113-114.

29 "Archaeology, GIS and Smell (and Arduinos)," Dead Men's Eyes, May 2013, http://www.dead-mens-eyes.org/2013/05/.

30 Jeff D. Veitch, “Johnny Cash in the Baths of Neptune,” Ancient Noise, November 23, 2015, http://jeffdveitch.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/johnny-cash-in-the-baths-of-neptune/.

31 Tara Copplestone, "Making things: Photobashing as Archaeological Remediation?," Gaming Archaeo, November 12, 2015, http://blog.taracopplestone.co.uk/making-things-photobashing-as-archaeological-remediation/.

32 "Overview," Virtual Paul's Cross Website, http://vpcp.chass.ncsu.edu/.

33 "The Ottoman Empire's Sonic Past," Ottoman History Podcast, November 2015, http://www.ottomanhistorypodcast.com/2015/11/ottoman-sonic-history.html.

34 Veitch, “Johnny Cash in the Baths of Neptune,” http://jeffdveitch.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/johnny-cash-in-the-baths-of-neptune/.

35 “The Roaring Twenties,” http://vectorsdev.usc.edu/NYCsound/777b.html.

36 Ibid.

37 Michael Bull, "The Audio-Visual iPod," in The Sound Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2012), 199-200.