Reflections on Sonic Environments

Vincent Meelberg and Marcel Cobussen

The Study

Erratic polyrhythms of heavy showers supplemented by fierce gusts of wind batter the windows of my study while working on this essay. White noise, filled with the rustling of the leaves of the trees in the garden and punctuated by the creaking of a garden door left ajar.

At times it drowns out the regular sounds of the neighborhood: the drone of a nearby highway, the thudding of pile drivers, the irregular sounds of passing cars.

Sounds of my playing kids – speaking, laughing, moving things – enter the present soundscape, which is further formed by the ticking of a clock, the buzz of my PC, the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, and, every now and then, the grating sounds of my trousers touching the chair and my feet scraping the floor. I scratch my unshaven chin while searching for the right words and sentences. The more I listen, the more I hear. What is this irregular banging? Must be from the boys next door, playing football and using our shared wall as their goal. Surrounded by sound. Immersed in sounds. Everyday sounds. Unimportant sounds. Nevertheless they construct, determine my daily soundscape. I’m living in or amidst these sounds.

These sounds influence my thinking. They determine me as a subject; my life is at least partly organized by what I hear and how I listen. Sounds, too, constitute me as the one who I am, as a unique human being, here and now. They co-determine my behavior; they influence my concentration; they infiltrate and take possession of my ideas as they switch from background to figure. Through the cry of my child, I become a father; the sounds of my fingers touching the keyboard of my PC help to constitute me as a writer; the sounds of the ball hitting the wall undo my concentration.

However, as sounds, they also put my subjectivity at stake. They connect me to a community, to my family, to my social and physical environment, thereby making the distance and border between me and the other less absolute. Immersed in sounds, I am no longer the autonomous and independent subject, opposed to the surrounding world, as Western philosophical tradition has claimed for so long. By penetrating into my body and mind, they disclose my porosity. I am not “across from” the world; I am part of it, included in it. Sounds thus construct, destruct, and deconstruct my subjectivity.


                                                                                                                              The Study

                                                        The Shop

            Sirens                                                                                                                                                                  The Gym


                    The Bedroom


                             The Ear and/versus the Eye

                Sound Design    



                                                    Footsteps                                                                                                                                      Rattle and Hum

                                                                       Your Space