Music City Excesses: Phenomenological Thresholds and Nashville Noise Regulations
In this essay I will be exploring phenomenological connections between private and public interpretations of urban sound. First, I will briefly outline a theory of perceptual excess wherein the listener is unable to interpret sounds according to intentional auditory categories. I argue that listeners respond through various acoustic techniques that intentionally change the way spaces sound, reforming acoustic orders. I will explore this in the case of Nashville, Tennessee’s urban noise ordinances. Its constructed identity as ‘Music City’ requires strategic maintenance to ensure that certain sounds are given priority (institutionalize live music) while others are suppressed (pre-recorded music) or marginalized (busking). The specificity of these laws indicates a capitalist cultural nostalgia as well as a fundamental preference for perceptual stability for residents, tourists, and lawmakers alike. A common logic is drawn between the subject as a phenomenological individual and the subject as a listening/governing state. The ability to predict and control which sounds will be heard, to sustain a certain acoustic order, highlights the problem of the listener’s perceptual stability in the context of urban noise and silence.
Auditory and Technological Culture: the Fine-tuning of the Dancehall Sound System “Set”
This paper describes how sound engineers in Jamaica fine-tune the huge and powerful dancehall sound systems to achieve their best auditory performance. This provides an example of how cybernetic systems combine musical and technological processes. The phonographic apparatus of the set utilizes three basic material electromagnetic processes: (1) power; (2) control (Bateson 1987) and (3) transduction (Simondon 1992). The sound System engineers fine-tune with a technique of compensation, described in terms of two corporeal sensorimotor practices: (1) the kinetic motor process of manipulating the value of particular components, or substituting one for another and (2) the haptic sensory process of monitoring the auditory output of the set. Further, the engineers are engaged in (3) evaluating or skilled listening (Sterne 2003) for the particular sonic qualities such as “balance,” “weight” and “attack” that the fine-tuning aims to achieve. Engineers learn to evaluate, select and combine sounds in the sociocultural milieu of an apprenticeship – as elements of a communication system (Wilden 1972).
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 18th International Conference on Systems Research, Informatics & Cybernetics. 7 to 12th August, 2006, Baden-Baden, Germany.
Modelling the Shopping Soundscape
This article’s pivotal theme is: How to compose a site-specific sound-art installation for a commercial space in order to improve conditions, while taking perceptual, social, aesthetical, temporal and spatial criteria into account.
The interdisciplinary, art-based research approach is derived from the concept of acousmatics, i.e. the process of apprehending any sound, the source of which is invisible. Acousmatic perception concerns the everyday identification process; when lacking visual contact with the sound source, we automatically seek references, such as social (what produces the sound and what is my relation to it?), aesthetical, spatial and temporal (e.g. orientation and demarcation). The acousmatic concept identifies phenomena based on individually, culturally and spatially conditioned experiences.
Today, a shopping culture dominates urban space. Indoor malls expose us to all types of acousmatically perceived sounds: jingles, signals, music and Muzak from public loudspeakers, mobile devices, etc. In this respect, one could claim that the soundscape of the shopping culture embodies an acousmatic environment.
In 2009, the research and sound-art group Urban Sound Institute (USIT) created a permanent sound installation in a shopping mall (Gallerian) located in downtown Stockholm. This installation serves as a case study for the present paper. The artistic assignment involved the creation of a meeting place without material devices as well as the enhancement of the overall atmosphere. The research objective was to elucidate different qualities of the sound installation in regard to the acousmatics of the shopping mall, promoting discussions on the articulation of sound-space configurations in relation to time and site-specific context, issues on musical-architectural qualities as well as objective, subjective and inter-subjective interrelationships between the experience of the sound-art installation and the experience of the shopping mall soundscape. Other applied, interrelated concepts are metabolic environment and masking- and cutting effects.
We Three, Kinged: Crowning the Aural on 9/11
This study examines the present predominance of visuality in relation to narratives of 9/11, concluding that aurality, typically undervalued in such conversations, is a more accurate and effective representation of 9/11-as-event. Within the broader field of 9/11 aurality, three specific examples are subject to more lengthy analysis in terms of their original context and their presentation to audiences via popular media: the voices of pilot-hijackers Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah, the impacts of those jumping from the burning World Trade Center towers, and George W. Bush’s 14 September 2001 speech delivered from atop the rubble at the World Trade Center site. 9/11 aurality, then, succeeds where the visual imagination fails, allowing its account of the event to persist generationally, its internal logic to exist rationally, and its chief interlocutor, Osama bin Laden, to continue the discourse verbally.
SOUNDMAPPING: Critiques And Reflections On This New Publicly Engaging Medium
Soundmaps have captured the imagination of acoustic communities, libraries and radio stations alike. These interactive maps have placed soundscape collections and research in a more public and interactive space than ever before. However, does this new form reflect some of the polarizations of past sound projects or are there new fractures to be considered, such as gender, economy and the domestic/public divide? This paper will reflect upon the challenges and hierarchies that have developed alongside this new medium and will begin to critique and question this new form of sound engagement.
On the Performance of Sound. The Acoustic Territory of Post-War Sarajevo
This article concludes a research on the acoustic territory of post-war Sarajevo and a history of its acoustic performance. It will demonstrate the results of the investigation of the participation, contribution and perception of the selected soundscape in terms of its socio-political context.
The research focused on two primary questions. First: can urban sound be a direct mirror image of the underlying socio-political condition and, thus, a performance of its source? Second: can, therefore, political peace have its own sound?
For this research, the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was chosen. There were two main reasons for its selection, one geographical and the other historical. Sarajevo lies in a narrow valley and is surrounded by hills, a geography comparable to an old Greek amphitheatre, with many of the same acoustic implications. On the mountaintops surrounding the city, you can hear the total sound image as well as detect singular sounds. During the war, between 1992 and 1995, these mountaintops were occupied by Serbian military forces, creating a circular front line without exit that isolated the city from the rest of the country and the world. This led to the assumption that Sarajevo must have a unique and rare acoustic history.
Reflections on Sonic Environments
At home, whether in the study or in the bedroom; outside, while shopping or jogging; at a dance event or in a gym – we are always surrounded by sounds. Sounds of (background) music, sounds of sirens, the silent drone of a PC, buzzing mosquitoes during a sultry night, sounds of neighbors, footsteps at the front door of my dwelling, sounds produced by my body. Accidental sounds or results from sound design; disturbing or pleasant sounds; attracting attention or registered (almost) unconsciously …
This essay consists of 15 short reflections on sounds in our everyday life, sounds which were topical while working on this contribution. A kind of sonic diary.
A Sonic Paradigm of Urban Ambiances
This paper intends to investigate urban ambiances through focusing on the world of sounds. Although the aesthetics of everyday life implies employing the whole human sensorium, making it difficult to artificially separate the information received from the individual senses from each other, I explore what can be learned about an ambiance when we just listen to it. In other words, how and under which conditions is it possible to develop a sonic paradigm of urban ambiances? The basic argument is to consider sound as a particularly efficient medium to investigate and develop an account of urban ambiances. Various ideas will be explored in order to answer this question, involving theoretical, epistemological and methodological arguments. Three main directions are accentuated: the first one relates to the tuning into an ambiance, the second relates to the unfolding of an ambiance, and the third relates to the situating within an ambiance.
The Consideration of Personal Sound Space: Toward a Practical Perspective on Individualized Auditory Experience.
This is an account of personal sound space, a way of describing the auditory environment of an individual that emphasizes their conscious participation in a dynamic social exchange within that space, which is meant as a theoretical groundwork for further empirical research. The concept draws on ideas from across cultural studies to articulate a form of individualized auditory experience latent in the discourse. The term is structured into sound space, personal space and personal sound, whose concepts are explored individually as well as integrated in the collective term. Sonic experience is framed as a dynamic spatial-social complex whose conceptualization involves culturally informed ideas of territory and authority. This is compounded by attitudes of property and agency reinforced by the proliferation of personal audio technologies.
Editorial: Aiming for an Impossibility?
If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, theorizing about sound must be like running about interior design. It would be useless, a hopeless endeavor that would not lead to any insight into the phenomenon under analysis. Nevertheless, stubborn as we are, we are convinced that it is possible, and even necessary, to attempt to articulate, through language as well as through other means, sound and sonic encounters in all their diversities.