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Sound and the Power (2017)

Part 1, Sound as Authority

‘As the ‘father of acoustic ecology’ Schafer has been concerned about the damaging effects of noise on people, especially dwellers of the ‘sonic sewers’ of the city. His booklets The Book of Noise and The Voices of Tyranny are pleas for anti-noise legislation and urban soundscape improvements through reduction of potentially destructive sounds. Of the various publications Schafer released after his work with the World Soundscape Project, the most important is The Tuning of the World (1977) where he summarizes his soundscape research, philosophies, and theories. The concept, central to Schafer’s thinking, has influenced his composing. The background rhythmic structure for String Quartet No. 2 (‘Waves’) is based on the intervals at which ocean waves crest; the graphic notation of No Longer Than Ten (10) Minutes was influenced by charts made of Vancouver traffic noise.’

In a description of soundscape capacity to convey information, Barry Truax describes the sound as a mediator between the listener and the environment, he claimed that ‘ecology is the study of the relationship between individuals and communities and their environment. Acoustic or soundscape ecology is thus the study of the effects of the acoustic environment, or soundscape, on the physical responses or behavioral characteristics of those living within it. Its particular aim is to draw attention to imbalances which may have unhealthy or inimical effects.’ As the soundscape deteriorates, so awareness of the subtleties of environmental sound has withered in proportion. As a result, the meanings of sound holds for the listener in contemporary soundscapes tend to be polarized into extremes binary, loud and quiet, noticed or unnoticed, hi-fi or lo-fi. As John Backus believed that, ‘music (the virtual soundscape) is, in this context, used as a means to control the sonic environment rather than as a natural expression of it. Broadcast speech and music provide the same opportunity for control, turning the sonic environment into a commodity. Networks, transmitters and satellites extend the acoustic community across the entire planet, a fact that has been utilized for fair deeds and foul. Schafer refers to the latter use of sound as ‘sound imperialism’.

The development of acoustic ecology can also be regarded as a reflection in both ways of visual and aural cognition. Hearing actually is the most natural perception of mankind, even in the sleep. Human’s ears to deal with the detail of information, in fact, refers to a situation in which human are not listening for a particular sound, and when its occurrence has no special or immediate significance. David Paquette believed that ‘Truax links this type of listening with the notion of keynote sound, the ground element over which signals are heard. Keynote sounds, according to Truax, are a fundamental aspect of acoustic communication precisely because they are constantly present but perceptually ignored. Modern keynotes, for instance, are generally ‘flat-line or steady sounds’ as well as repetitive broadband noises that are quickly ‘backgrounded’ because of their acoustic properties.’ Due to such background and repeated sound, which leads taught people to ignorance of trivial sound, but also form a standard of control to quantify the quality of the environment. Schafer estimated that the battle between sonic expression and control was helping to increase environmental sound levels by around 0.5 to 1 decibel per year. The control of sound used as psychological significance to address the environment, which pushes environment to become a public battleground and suffers as much as its inhabitants.

There are rights to human and the right to the city (by Lefebreve), but is there any right to the sound?  As well as the right of sound or voice by an individual in the public space? Such questions pointed to that, there is political significance behind the sonic battle in the public sphere, according to Hannah Arendt, the idea she indicated in her book ‘The Human Condition’ that:

‘The vita active, human life in so far as it is doing something, is always rooted in a world of men and of manmade things which it never leaves or altogether transcends. Things and men form the environment for each of man’s activities, which would be pointless without this location; yet this environment, The world into which we are born, would not exist without the human activity which produced it, as in the case of fabricated It takes care of it, as in the case of cultivated land; or which established it through organization, as in the case of the body politic.’

Arendt’s interpretation of action provides some clues to political practice. Along with the extreme expansion of the contemporary state, the acoustic ecology has also been expanded.  Jurgen Habermas defined the notion of the public sphere as society engaged in critical public debate, also tried to solve the basic rights of individuals of controversy between democratic politics and liberalism by the co-originality of self-government. For Arendt and Habermas, both of them consider the public sphere as the common world that gathers people together and yet prevents falling over to each other. However, Chantal Mouffe believed that it is not possible to rely on rational communication and free public reason to produce loyalty to the common system to establish the proper basis. Mouffe demonstrated the idea of an adversary, which she recognized the political establishing our subjectivity under heterogeneous and conflict situation, but it also means there is a definition of the enemy. In this case, the public sphere is not kind or peaceful or rational domains for communication, on the contrary, there is the justification of individual to maintain their identity to political stance and position. The sound and voice from individual become the noise to the authority, also to everyone in public space. The noise becomes perpetrators of endless purists to justify, and an appropriate noise is a continuous dynamic process of development. The acoustic ecology here become the reflection of political conflict in the public sphere.

The physical and psychological cost emotion and formed the subject of residents is an epidemic of stress-related illnesses that reflects a struggle to adapt to a new way of living. As sociologist Robert Park wrote ‘the city is man’s most consistent and on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after his heart’s desire. But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task in making the city man has remade himself.’ David Harvey argued that the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, or the lifestyle we desire, or what aesthetic values we hold. In this case, people would form the subjectivity based on where they live. The ‘buzz’ of the city frequently refer to its noise, as well as its speed and activity. The noise it caused formed everyday life experience and imagination of living condition, the corollary that quiet and highly modernized environments-characteristics of hi-fi soundscapes are equated with boredom, conformity, lassitude. However, the noise becomes the opinion and technology, the quiet become the feel of subjectivity, rather than objectivity. The hi-fi environment represents a deep psychological fear to avoid the chaotical sound. As psychologist James Swan quoted in Gallagher offers, just sitting quietly in that atmosphere allows most people to process a lot of emotions and issues they have not been dealing with.

To speak or to remain silent: are they to sonority what to show or to hide are to visibility? what prosecution of meaning is thus hidden behind the prosecution of sound? Has remaining silent now become a discreet form of assent, of connivance, in the age of the sonorization of images and all audiovisual icons? Have vocal machines’ powers of enunciation gone as far as the denunciation of silence, or a silence that has turned into mutism?’

Modern building technology and economics have indeed shown almost total disregard for the fact that human beings need rooms with good living acoustic qualities while dividing relatively a line between the public and private. The technical not means of soundproofing, take the following solutions which are typical for our civilization: people are buried in rooms built out of concrete, and at the same time we develop highly sophisticated stereo and quadrophonic hi-fi technologies to allow some sounds to come alive in these spaces. In the theory of modern architecture, there rarely about the relationship between sound, space planning as a means to resolve social conflicts and problems. But even this effort was essentially dominated by the powerful hostility with which the Enlightenment regarded the human body.

John Rawls, in his text of ‘theory of justice’, indicated that universal inequality or inequality at the starting point may be inevitable in the basic structure of any society, a problem that any open-minded political system must address it at first. He made justice becomes the primary virtue of social institutions, while how to allocate silence and noise in the society always posted at the last and always involves the distribution of capital. Since the first similar case in the 1970s and 1980s, public policy researchers have used environmental justice to explain the environmental discomfort caused by racial and religious sacrifices. The noise is one of the topic discussed that the relative quiet became the pursuit of the goal of living. At the same time, silence and noise emphasize this point from the closest to the body: our ears are part of the head and our sensory system. If the concept of human rights has any objective basis, then the listening should not be different from any principles and ideologies of body and universal desires, such as without a personal permission, any person’s body and hair should not be infested by others. Is this problem of noise can be solved only by political ideas? If so, the noise is really subversive. On the voice level, it will subvert the right of free speech in some extent, but also would subvert the idea of totalitarianism, which holds that all major problems can be resolved as long as the regime is correct. On the acoustic level, the noise prompts us to solve human problems to meet the needs of mankind (machine, production, electrics) but also creates problems of listening continuously.

Part 2, The mediating role of sound

According to Jacques Attali’s book ‘noise: the political economy of music’, the music academics ignored or dismissed this book as noise. For academic professional music history and music theory to review this book, indeed, there are lots of loopholes. However, as Roland Barthes in his book ‘the grain of the voice’ stated that ‘Language, according to Benveniste, is the only semiotic system capable of interpreting another semiotic system (though undoubtedly there exist limit works in the course of which a system feigns self-interpretation — The Art of the Fugue). How, then, does language manage when it has to interpret music? Alas, it seems, very badly. If one looks at the normal practice of music criticism (or, which is often the same thing, of conversations “on” music), it can readily be seen that a work (or its performance) is only ever translated into the poorest of linguistic categories: the adjective. Music, by natural bent, is that which at once receives an adjective’.

Attali describes noise not only as a part of sound but also as the object to control, a neutral word that accepted by the human community and listened to repeatedly. He argues that, first, the essence of music is noise, second is listen to music actually implies a choice in noise. Make the choice to listen is not originally made by individual’s will, choosing to remove the ‘noise’ from the noise in order to make organized sound is an embodiment of the power. Control the sound, make choice between hearing and listening, essentially implied a noise from the power. Just as Adolf Hitler loves radio, through the speech to spreads ideologies. To choose the noise, created or controlling any sound are reinforcing a group of connects that the center of the power with its appendages. The noise, however, is disruptive for this centralization, as Attali’s perspective of the relationship between music and noise, music or organized noise is a choice to the existing power of noise, the emergence of other noise with its impact on power is fatal to the existing power, but maybe foresaw a more rational power and social structure. Therefore, the stability becomes core demand of power to maintains authority status, while eliminate or depress noise. Once the old power was subverted, the noise became music, old music is considered as new noise in front of new power, as Chantal Mouffe’s idea that different class and race are justified their rights and pursuit hegemony in the public sphere.

Attali stated four aspects for music, initially, it was used in ritual. At the expense of the ritual, noise is a weapon, music is to help acclimate of such weapons. Music in here is a guide to noise, a guide to violence, simulacra of sacrifice. The ritualistic and fiction of music derives from its usage in rituals, symbolically demonstrates the importance of correcting violence and imagination to harmony. That is pointed out sublimate individual’s imagination because of fear, the fundamental function of music is reflected pure order. Second, since the 18th century, the music from ritualized ownership into reproduction. Musicians are no longer serves a single or central power, and music turns into a product involved in exchange reappears in the concert hall. Music institutionalized as a commodity, earning relative autonomy, exchange value, and interpret labor. The right of attribution, usage, trade, and value are not creating order,  but rather make people believe the value existed not in the external exchange value. In reproduction, the product represents the order of purchaser and glory of capital. Third, the beginning of recording preserved reproduction, because eventually, recording aims to keep representation, but a large number of replicas destroy the meaning of reproduction. Live concerts are also replicated. The standardization crisis in the early 20th century, repetition has legitimacy, rather than represent power. Music thoroughly commoditized in front of repetition. The produce of music turned to stimulate demand of the public, buying hoarding of future use of things. The bestseller list in which people believe that the value of the product in the same choice, it leads the selection, establish value, destroy the difference in the production of a musical product. Background music becomes a silencing tool, repetitive music is also a social silencer. Last, New Revival of literature and art are not a new approach to create music. Firstly, music creation is purely for musicians personal pleasure, rather than ritualization neither exchange or copy. Secondly, in repetition, the difference cannot communicate to other, become own hedonism with our communication conditions. Third, composing is to avoid the impact of commercial control,  a producer from the production process could gain enjoyment. As Attali emphasized, after alienation, there is no enjoyment for musicians. The alienated enjoyment equivalent to consumers in fun of repeated hoarding leads to the creation of start point from power. In the composer network, this creative power could return to the musicians.  Simultaneously, as far as Paul Hegarty is concerned, ‘modern art does introduce noise, in the form of avant-gardism. Even if ultimately this adds to the teleological story of art, at any given stage from the 1850s onwards, some part of art was regarded as noise – as not carrying meaning, lacking skill, not being appropriate, being disturbing of morals, and so on.’ Modern art starting at the 19th century, in a content of degree to against traditional art form or liberated from the control by religion and power. Is also verified, the noise of the old become a new order, and silence is in which the relative existence in such process.

According to Attali’s discussion of music that indicated music and the preparation of any sound could be the tools to consolidate a community or group. Compare with the visual image or text, hearing to music or sound offers more permeable to people because the eyes could be close, but ears are still catching, neither be see, but cannot touch in the air. Therefore, in the political operation, music has particularly unexpected propaganda effects. If someone wants to know how much activity a party has at the grassroots level, the most direct way is listening to their voice. Once the ideology of the political mobilization and musical contents are too close, without the slightest left space to the interpreter have extra imagination, the music will soon become a tool for political services.

In this case, soundscape composers challenge their audiences to perceive music in the natural world in the way that can better understanding of the values of the biodiversity and ecological process behind. Pierre Schaeffer’s idea about everyday sound recording and processed it to the point of unrecognizability, he also promoted acoustic listening. The acoustic listening provides a way of everyday listening that involves an awareness of a sound source, rather than listening to signs about the purposes of acquiring information. Thus, musique concrete established not only for music but also a way to listen. By this mode of listening, the technology is a tool that offers a way to understand the nature of things. By expanding the limitations of traditional instrumentation, the electronic sound of mystique concrete allows for a new freedom for artists and listener, technology as sampling and sequencing enable compositions that borrow from a myriad of musical styles and even everyday noise. The invoking techniques of Russolo and Schaeffer opposed criticisms, such as the ideas of the technology of Adorno and Horkheimer that part of a large culture industry that induces social alienation and passive reception, empties meaning from life, and is controlled by a dominating and oppressive power.

The soundscape composition represents an idea that undisturbed nature by moving from a conception of music as about place to music that placed in itself. In this case, uses repurposes scientific technology to achieve real-world environmental sounds, aiming to instill a sense of connection between listener and place. The methods and contents of soundscape comping have gradually become diversified, but the purpose is always to reveal the meaning or intonation of sound in its social context, to appeal to listener’s semantic association. In several ways to practice also comes with their implications and challenges.

Field recording is the prototypical soundscape that intended for actual record sound from natural or urban environments. Composers can choose process the recorded sound in the studio, fragmenting elements from recording, manipulating or combining different tracks. In this process, required for some technological tools, at the basic level, a recorder, and microphone. In soundscape composition, the microphone can be seen as a type of instrument, similarly, like video with camera lens language, the uses of the microphone enhanced or distort one’s perception of specific parts of the sensory environment. As Hildegard Westerkamp’ sound work, ‘Kits beach Soundwalk’ The listener is placed at Kits Beach in Vancouver to hear waves and birds in the foreground, and a roar of city traffic in the background. The work is narratively telling a story, a listener would aware that what they hear from this track won’t be necessarily true. Christopher De Laurenti’s work ‘N30’, the artist walks through the streets of the city, recording the protests voice, shouting, screaming, slogans, tear gas and rubber bullets, intertwined sound vortex. In Christopher work, the soundscape separated from sound events and sound objects turns sound into symbolic messages to memory and represents a historical event.  Soundscape composition also emphasizes valuing the complexity of sound in an environment through the use of a microphone to move between soundscape. As David Dunn’s work ‘Chaos and the Emergent Mind of the Pond’, is not a representational document recording that freeze time in order to study, intensify experience or cherish the past, nor merely an audio of a place for listening, but allow listener to evolve an intrinsic relationship to a subject, such as the relationship between human and nature.

Sonification is uses of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data. Kramer who formed International Community for Auditory Display in 1994, claimed sonification that ‘the use of non-speech audio to convey information. More specifically, sonification is ‘the transformation of data relations into perceived relations in an acoustic signal for the purposes of facilitating communication or interpretation.’ Auditory perception has advantages in temporal, spatial, amplitude, and frequency resolution that transform data related to perceived relations in an acoustic signal for the purposes of facilitating or interpretation. Many different components can be altered to change the listener’s perception of the sound, and in turn, their perception of the underlying information being portrayed. Generally, an increase or decrease parameters is indicated by an increase or decrease in pitch, amplitude or tempo, but could also be indicated by varying other less commonly used components. This method could be observed in the conceptual art movement during the 1960s, through the work of John Cage, ‘Atlas Eclipticalis’, Cage’s uses chance and indeterminacy, combined the musical composition and chance music and score in papers. Another example, John Luther Adams’ work, ‘The place where you go to listen’, exhibited in gallery space that a real-time stream of solar and lunar cycles catching data from stations located Alaska converts to sound and color. In his work, there is a computer program making the choice for a sound that would represent the changes in each type of natural process, and Adams claimed the music in this work produced by natural phenomena, rather than a scientific demonstration. The uses of sonification in soundscape composition indicated that it must appeal to some degree of subjectivity in order to make it function, which means the work inherently reinterpret nature. Essentially, this concept emphasis interpretation depends on the subjective of a listener, since the sound is produced in a highly abstract way, the role of listener appears to be the key of contents.

Soundwalking is also a major in soundscape composition, the composer moves through their chosen environment, listening and recording the sounds they hear along the way. In this process, a composer might invite participants to take part in the experience. The spatial-temporal practice of soundwalking in its classic form involves a group focus on listening and walking in silence through an everyday environment, a model developed by World Soundscape Project in the early 1970s, under the rubric of acoustic ecology. As Murray Schafer stated, ‘… a good rule is to spread out the participants so that each is just out of earshot of the footsteps of the person in front. By listening constantly for the footsteps of the person ahead, the ears are kept alert; but at the same time a privacy for reflection is afforded.’ The techniques of composition as physical movements of recorder’s body, as they walk, stop, turn around, or change their pace, the perspective of soundscape shifts. In the field of urban acoustics, for instance, Jean-Paul ‘Thibaud’ in 2001 developed a method using the walk to complement metrological surveying techniques with recording the experience and perceptions when they move through space. Tim Knowles’ work ‘windwalk’ involved public participated in the creation of using mechanisms that harness the wind. Participations wore helmets fixed with weathervanes and moved around the city in a direction the wind took, traced by small GPS devices, resulted in live screen-based drawing on view in Taylor Square. Christina Kubisch’s ‘electrical walks’ began in 2003, with a wearable specially designed headphones that amplify electromagnetic field into a range of human hearing. Participants could hear anything from electricity, lighting, wireless networks, and cell phones. This work moves beyond merely presenting quantitative information from soundscape, but emphasize the shift in our perception of everyday reality that comes to listen to a familiar environment through the unfamiliar context.


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