This week, one of the readings we were presented with was the Introduction of The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World by R. Murray Shafer. The text opens by describing our changing world and how certain sounds and soundscapes are disappearing over time. Shafer also addresses the phenomenon of “noise pollution” with a tone of urgency. It sounds like a discussion about the global environment, does it not? Shafter then goes on to describe the various concepts of human’s most creative production of sound, music. He explores the subjectivity of the nature of music and how that can influence or be the product of the welfare of a society.
The part that engaged my attention the most was when Shafer begins describing soundscapes, and the role sound and hearing have played throughout human history. Soundscapes are essentially an auditory photograph. However, there are limitations to soundscapes in this aspect because they cannot record the precise detail of a moment from far away as a photo can. They are auditory records that, at times, require a trained ear to be usefully interpreted. As they have progressed through time, Western cultures have shifted to relying heavily on sight to intake most of the information about our world and our environment. For a large portion of human history, the only way knowledge was communicated and passed down through generations was auditorily. There are still numerous cultures that function in that way.
One thing that this discussion of soundscapes reminded me of was the rather large role they play in the study of anthropology. There are ethnic groups worldwide whose culture is deteriorating at an alarming rate, and these deteriorations include losses of certain sounds linked exclusively to those cultures. Recording soundscapes is a means of preserving aspects of those cultures by keeping a record of their music, stories, and most fundamentally, their languages.
I believe that this practice of preservation can also be applied to the natural environment in some cases. With the destruction of natural habitats around the world, recording soundscapes may be useful in preserving records of non-visual information about how those natural spaces and the animals that inhabited them functioned. In addition, noise pollution is just one more form of invasive contamination of the natural environment that not only affects humans but hearing animals as well. Ultimately, it is important to remember that the world may be perceived by living beings in more ways than through sight and touch. This should be taken into consideration when discussing the future of this planet.