This exposition addresses my experiments and contemplations with soundscapes, and especially background noises and frequencies of sound. I’m approaching background noise from a perspective of periphery and centre. My starting point as a research question was: Are there such things as peripheral frequencies of sound?
The research consists sound and video art experiments which I contemplate and reflect in the context of phenomenological aesthetics, acoustic ecology and existential semiotics.
At first, I approached this question from the view of places and cites that could be considered as peripheral or centres. My idea was to compare the frequency-ranges of peripheries and centres and look for differences, similarities, phenomena’s and aesthetically interesting findings. I wanted to make an installation containing sound sources that transmit certain narrow frequency-ranges recorded from different locations, creating combinations and contrasts between peripheral and central soundscapes. Installation would have been built in a way that audience could move in amongst of sound sources and altering their perceptions by changing position.
Pretty soon it came clear to me that I had no idea about what I was doing. I tried to approach the question from the perspective of acoustic ecology and thought I was researching the essence of soundscapes of different locations in general. Pretty soon I realized that this was not actually the case. Defining the periphery and central in the perspective of soundscapes and their frequency-ranges was first quite tricky question. I understood that it required a clear subjective decision about what I personally consider as a centre or periphery, and what these concepts actually mean to me.
In sound scape studies, acoustic ecology and acoustemology studies I could find many examples of differences in frequency-ranges found between for example city centrums and remote forest locations. In general this difference usually is the dominance of wide range of low frequencies produced by different machines, engines and vehicles in the city and the more high pitch frequency-range found in the forests and other remote places, considering wind in the trees, birds, floating water, or waves of ocean or lake.
This was a notion that one could easily come up with just reasoning or going in to these kind of urban or non-urban places. Urban and non-urban as a separation between peripheral and central was clearly not very interesting approach and gave me no interesting outcomes. I recorded city centrums, metro stations, suburban malls, forests, fields, intersections, my walk through the snow from the seashore to the local shop, Väre building staircase in the Aalto University, walk from bathroom to copy machine, air conditioning, fridge, weird irritating high pitch noise in Aalto campus area, construction work, my backyard, shaving my beard and what not. In the end all I could come up with was lots of sounds that I had no clue what to do with.
When reading the doctoral dissertation SOUNDS LIKE HOME: CROSSINGS OF PRIVATE AND
COMMON URBAN ACOUSTIC SPACE of Meri Kytö (Kytö, 2013) I realized that I had been looking in the wrong direction. Kytö writes in her text about private acoustic spaces and different levels of listening. The most private sound scape emerges when person is performing inner listening or “auditory imagining” (Kytö 2013, 17-18) which means persons imaginary listening of sounds without the external sound source. On the other end there is public, communal soundscape filled with different informational sounds. In this public sound space especially in urban communities there are also lots of different unwanted sounds such as background noises that complicate the exchange of acoustic information. Regarding to this issue Kytö states a question that what should we do with the sounds that are left outside the exchange of messages and information, and that are not wanted in the community. (Kytö 2013, 20) This made me think about the idea of peripheral and central sounds and peripheries in the axis of private and public. I also started to explore what could be these unwanted sounds and how do they affect my private soundscapes. If there are unwanted or somehow futile sounds, are they constructed by some certain frequencies or do they vary? Could there be unwanted peripheral frequencies amongst otherwise “useful” soundscapes and how do they affect me aesthetically?
Also reading Salomè Voegelins book Listening to Noise and Silence : Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, (Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2010) I realized that I’m working with something more to do with the perception, interpretation and imagination. Voegelin states that to hear is more as to discover as to receive. That sound never actually tells us the truth about the objects and phenomenas heard but as we listen we construct and fantasise the truth. He also writes about how the heard distance of sound object is not the actual signal of the distance between to objects but a heard phenomena of distance. (Voegelin 2010, 4-5) This made me approach the idea of periphery as an experience of listening the sound from the distant objects and especially the sounds coming from the objects that are not visual in the location they are heard. Sounds that affect the experience and essence of a certain place but are not particularly coming from or produced by any visible object in the space. I also got interested about the background noise where multiple different sound sources merge together creating a steady mattress of humming noise. This kind of noise typical for urban locations was something that I consider would most definitely contain a sound that you could see as unwanted or useless or so to say; peripheral sounds and frequencies. So I started to experience how I could make these peripheral sounds and frequencies useful, how could they affect my inner listening and auditive imagination in aesthetic manner.
In this research I focus on experiencing the affects of peripheral sounds into the visual perception of certain space. I have recorded the sound scapes of different locations and environments and filmed them at the same time. Then I have explored the soundscapes and extracted the different frequency-ranges and observed what kind of affects appear. After that I have gave myself a freedom to listen these frequencies and soundscapes with an imaginative, fantasising manner and produced alternative suggestions for these soundscapes by equalizing and effecting the sounds. Then I have made imaginative visualisations from the associations rise from these produced alternative soundscapes. According to Voegelin “Listening as an aesthetic practice challenges how we see and how we participate in the production of the visual world. Listening allows fantasy to reassemble the visual fixtures and fittings, and repositions us as designers of our own environment.” (Voegelin 2010, 12) By following this idea I have tried to produce somekind of alternative audiovisual worlds or experiences from the peripheral sounds.
At the contemplations around the idea of re-imagining these peripheral frequencies I have used the idea of existential signs developed by Eero Tarasti in his book Existential Semiotics (Tarasti 2000) Existential sign can be understud as a sign that is detached from subjects existence which of Tarasti uses the Heideggers term "Dasein". According to Tarasti these existential signs "detach them-selves from the world of Dasein and float in a gravity-less, transcendental space, only so as to become reconnected with it. It is precisely in such a process of de-parting and returning that signs come into continuous motion; they are no longer fixed, ready-made objects, but are free to take shape in many completely new ways" (Tarasti 2000, 19) In a way I see that periferal fequencies of sounds and especially different modes of noise, such as distant backround noises coming from a distance hold within them somethings that can be seen as such existential signs Tarasti states that when a subject interprets these signs it must enter the transcendence and when coming back from there this experience has affected the subjects Dasein and he or she may adopt new meanings and significations to objects and signs.
I see a resemblance to this theory in Voegelins idea about the noise. He states that the noise holds within the phenomenological and semiotic aspects. "Noise cannot speak, but knows there is a fragile relationship between its experience and the system of communication and longs to practise that relationship... it practises a signifying practice that finds no signification but continually builds a bridge between the structure for the articulation of meaning and the process of its experience, on which eventually and tentatively such a meaning might be formulated in its own formlessness." (Voegelin 2010, 75)
Trough these experiments and contemplations I attempt to define my subjective experience about what I consider as peripheral frequencies and how do they affect the formation of aesthetic experiences. I see this attempt is a more as a starting point for a research than any kind of result. So for I will continue to examine this idea in my work among other projects to come.
Exposition made by: Mika Kiviniemi
Salomè Voegelin. Listening to Noise and Silence : Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art: Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2010
Eero Tarasti. Existential Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001
Kytö, Meri. “Kotiin kuuluvaa : yksityisen ja yhteisen kaupunkiäänitilan risteymät .” University of Eastern Finland, 2013.
Uimonen, Heikki. Ääntä kohti. Ääniympäristön kuuntelu, muutos ja merkitys. Tampere University Press, 2005.
Big thanks to the people of the Experimental Scenography course which this research is part of, teachers: Liisa Ikonen, MaijuLoukola, Jyrki Pylväs and Pia Euro
and the fellow students: Anna Nurmela, Sanni Giordani, Virpi Nieminen and Titi Honkanen