External peripheral sound and noise


I address the heard phenomena of something that can be called as a background noise the external periphery or external peripheral sound. It is something that is basically not part of the seen environment but is affecting it. It is sound source or multiple sound sources that affect your present sound scape from a distance, beyond your visible perception. It differs from other senses in a way that the distance is perceived as a heard phenomenon, not the actual signal of distance between objects (Voegelin 2010, 5) You can't see things that are not visible to you and you can't feel or taste objects you can't touch but you may hear the auditive vibrations sent by them.

As an example in this page I use a sound of a freeway heard from the distance of 1.5km. I find it interesting because basically freeway itself does not transmit any sound, there is no individual source of sound that could be depicted and defined by the sound. It is formed by multiple different sounds coming from multiple different vehicles, ticks from the engine, vrooms from exhausting pipes, suction booms from air purifiers, fooms from the air molecules scraping the surfaces of the vehicle and most of all rubber tires smashing against the tarmac. All these sounds are in constant change caused by the movement of vehicles and alteration of wind. In addition to this there is massive amount of different echoes and reverberations bouncing from surfaces containing numerous amounts of different forms, materials and textures. Plus that many of these reverberating objects are also in constant movement. So you can easily state as a fact that this "sound of a freeway" is no way an individual object. Even though if I talk about the sound of a freeway, almost every even remotely urban person capable of hearing knows what I'm talking about.

This “sound of freeway” is affecting many places outside of its visual sphere of influence. For example it becomes the soundscape for many spaces that would otherwise be nearly quiet, auditively empty. While in the semiotic perspective one can argue that the sound of freeway basically is only signaling the distant presence of moving motorized vehicles, I would like to ask whether this ostensibly heterogeneous mass of vibrations could form some other signals or meanings together with the location it’s affecting. I approach the question from a transcendental point of view, proposing whether the freeway sound and other peripheral background noises could be experienced as temporal signs or something that Eero Tarasti calls as pre-signs “signs in the process of forming and shaping themselves”. (Tarasti 2000, 9) My experiences relate to Tarastis idea (or the way I interpret it) that the experiencing subject is in constant communication with its surroundings and that the subject can form different kind of signs from perceptions and passing moments. Some of these signs do not hold any fixed meanings in them but are more sort of signs that only form their meaning by the subject’s imaginary transcendental act. (Tarasti 2000) By observing the background noise appearing in different locations and spaces from this perspective I try to contemplate my perceptions of for example the sound of freeway as aesthetical sign or “pre-sign” that affect my experience of the place and by which interpreting I form some kind of internal aesthetic meanings.



Sound of freeway from 1,5km


I walked into the nearby nature reserve with the intention of recording the sounds of the autumn forest. Before I took the Zoom out of my pocket, I decided to walk calmly along the path to perform the so-called "voice walk." When conducting a soundscape study it is customary to start the study with a sound walk, which maps the sound landscape to be studied, or more precisely, the nature of the sound space and the sounds that occur there. In acoustic ecology, the concept of sound landscape refers to people's understanding, experience and interpretation of their own sound environment, which they can also influence through their own actions. (Uimonen, Heikki. Ääntä kohti. Ääniympäristön kuuntelu, muutos ja merkitys. Tampere University Press, 2005.)

After walking about a kilometer dodging puddles and occasional joggers, I realized that the presentiment that I entered the forest with was about to come true, and the Zoom device was allowed to stay in my pocket. By far the most dominant sound in the forest was the highways, well, let’s say the noise that was carried from at that point about two kilometers and sixty-six meters away, behind woodlands, bushes, residential areas, and other roads. I stopped now and then, standing with my eyes closed and trying to observe my hearing to the extreme, to detect other sources of sound, or nuances in the prevailing soundscape. No, I didn't really hear anything else. At times, small gusts of wind managed to get small, barely distinct hisss out of the forest that had grown up on the land deserted by sea. Occasionally there was also a distant echoing, slowly fading rumble that I assumed to come from some larger, perhaps slightly defective vehicle or work machine. Due to the season, the birds also had nothing special to say so I did not hear any evidence of the presence of them or other animals.

For some time I tried to sense and feel out the atmosphere and the soundscape shaped by my prevailing senses and interpretations. It started to feel kind of silly to be in a forest where the prevailing sound is not the “sound of the forest” it felt like I was at the same time somewhere else than in the woods. I began to recall experiences of situations and places where the absence of man-made or machine-generated background noise could be sensed. In the end, there aren’t an awful lot of them. What was remarkable and a little amusing was that I remembered how, when exposed to such an environment, I usually wake up first to a flat, slightly irregularly wavy whispering tinnitus in my ears and especially my left ear. ______

After overcoming the frightened confusion caused by awareness of the intensity of tinnitus, I usually find myself a little embarrassed, surprised. The silence and specifically the absence of background noise makes the place somehow special, somehow private. A place becomes exactly the place it is, with its own sounds, without some distant underlying general noise attaching it to itself, into some other, independent place. Being there made me feel at the same somehow alert but also calmer. As if silence would make me focus on listening and being careful not to break the silence. At the same time, it feels like you are expecting something to happen. Perhaps the perception of silence produces a similar reaction as the dimming of the lights and the silencing of the human speech before the start of a film or theatrical performance; the noise ceases so that we can focus on sensing space and events so that something special can emerge.


Quiet places cause the need to observe the environment more clearly and pay attention to smaller sounds, naturally because they are distinguishable and perhaps also partly because the place feels special, in that particular place and you want to see and hear how that place feels, looks. The constant steady background noise seems to connect all the areas it is exposed to, into some general noise-related place, and then the specificity of the place and space and the associated landscape, and especially the soundscape, somehow dilutes.

When I walk into that forest, I feel especially not being only in that particular forest, but also strongly in the area and region that the background noise of the highway inaugurates in its auditory sphere of influence. In this case, a previously unknown forest or place feels familiar and in a certain way common, because the background noise curves over it, enclosing it in the same space among all other areas affected by the noise.  As Voegelin  states how noise is “..rooting me in the location of my own hearing. …it draws a static horizon around my feet.” (Voegelin 2010, 43) Even if there is no one else in the woods, one’s own feeling in this place doesn’t feel very private, but a steady noisy reminder keeps in mind the presence of others.


So what did I actually come from here in the woods to look for, or listen to?  I knew in advance that highway noise would be the predominant sound in the woods and while I was there I focused on finding this point and somehow cynically I started to think about it and not really focus on what was happening in my instant surroundings.

An intuitive suggestion from freeway sound