The desire of YouTube users to search for, find, and listen to Arctic winter recordings represents one of many ways that people engage with this region today. When many users take the time to share their experiences, including when their listening leads to unwanted effects (probably after they have pressed the stop button), it makes the data nuanced and rich.
The online exploration of and written response to videos is an interesting aspect of everyday media use today, offering insights into a situation where geophony, in addition to the traditional use of music, can be browsed, swiped, selected, and “home tested.” The users try to create a new situation when playing back the recorded geophony, attempting to establish a desired “personal sound space,” creating a “safe space,” or “setting the scene” for some personal task (see also Hagood 2019; Flügge 2011; Bijsterveld 2010).
By modifying and shaping their immediate sonic environments with winter winds, the YouTube users attempt to use recorded geophony in a way that reflects the use of recorded music. Our essay thus points to the relevance of adopting insights from related areas within music studies, such as music psychology and music sociology. Going beyond obvious differences between music and recorded geophony (often connected to differences in rhythmical and tonal qualities), there are some interesting similarities to be found within the analysis of users comments regarding their subjective experiences. The “powers” of recorded geophonic sounds involve some of the same “powers” of music or the nature sounds from the physical environment in which the listener is situated.
We found that listening to recorded geophony should not be underestimated when it comes to impact. Even in the case of background listening, experiences often involve significant affects, memories, associations, and imaginings – effects that are more commonly associated with the experience of music listening or physical environments rather than listening to recorded geophony.
Based on the data we used, we explored written comments within three themes: changes in mental states, the evoking of memories, and the effects on health and perceived temperature. The range of reactions was broader than anticipated or intended by the publishers. The comments display diversity rather than uniformity. Many find the experience pleasant and report that they were helped to achieve a desired state of mind when playing back these sounds: pleasant memories were evoked. Some also use the videos to cool off in hot temperatures or as a beneficial “enhancement” of their reading or writing tasks. Others, however, report as to how the videos influence their state of mind in unwanted ways, “creeping them out.” Some people even describe their listening experiences as bone-chilling, revealing how these sounds are associated with unwanted existential thoughts. Many express an in-between-ness in their response.
Additionally, it is interesting, and perhaps surprising, that ecological or political concerns are expressed to such a small degree in the commentaries, given that this region fosters global environmental concern today. Commenters do not focus on the actual location or the time the recording was made, nor do they emphasize the production process or the composition of the sounds and visuals. The comments do not reveal an awareness of the medium being utilized, nor do they reveal much interest in what these original recordings represent geographically; they primarily communicate what the sounds “do” to the user and what such a geophony represents for them individually.
The methodical study of free descriptions based on self-reporting, with informal direct responses, raises challenges when it comes to establishing criteria for interpretation and relevant categorization. Equally challenging is the process of selecting the most informative comments. However, through a listener-centered focus, the selection was narrowed down to the comments that disclose the listeners’ experiences, providing categories that are more nuanced than simply indicating if the experience was pleasant or unpleasant, thus revealing differences and ambivalence among the users. Based on the number and content of comments, it seems that users think of listening as an individual act, that they like to share their thoughts on this, and perhaps also express their individuality in how they respond. The large number of online comments in response to geophony (as also reflected with other sounds and music in general today) makes such material a relevant candidate for future studies of mediated sounds and sonic environments.
What is not disclosed in the comments is whether the users have been listening on headphones or other technical devices. We recognize that this last aspect may also have an impact on the listening experience that is not incorporated here, but would certainly be interesting in a further investigation. As such, these kinds of analyses can present new knowledge on the experience of everyday listening to recorded geophony. The methods (and data) are especially useful in order to explore why online users listen to recorded sounds from nature and how they describe their experience of playing back such sounds. The online comments provide a direct and immediate response from the listeners, and reports on such introspective listening can be interesting to be “listened” to.
Notes on the Material
The videos (numbered 1-7) and the attached comments were all accessed on 29 April 2019. It should be noted that there have been some changes in the titles and descriptions since then. Video 6, published by GlobalSuperStorm, 04.03.2013, is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT4Bq8zYN4E. Video 7, published by Relaxing Soundzzz, 02.04.2016, is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-tOXQLFyNE.