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The Acoustic Ecology of the 21st Century Western World: Dissonant uncontrollable noise or indeterminate composition?

By Richard Hemming

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  • Theory Presentation

    1. 1. Richard Hemming University of Wales Newport Student Number: 20078412 Module : Theory MA Creative Music Practice Richard Hemming University of Wales Newport Student Number: 20078412 Module : Theory MA Creative Music Practice T h e A c o u s t i c E c o l o g y o f t h e 2 1 s t C e n t u r y W e s t e r n W o r l d : D i s s o n a n t , u n c o n t r o l l a b l e n o i s e o r i n d e t e r m i n a t e c o m p o s i t i o n ?
    2. 2. This presentation has been adapted from the original slides for WEB purposes. It is a presentation of a theory paper. Therefore, there is considerably more text on these slides in order to communicate the content fully. Essay separately downloadable from http://richardhemming.wordpress.com/ All content on the following pages is displayed under the ownership of  Richard Hemming unless quoted or stated.
    3. 3. urbanization a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y technology We a r e i n a n e r a o f s o c i o l o g i c a l revolution. These revolutions are impacting our lives in areas of urbanization, technology, creativity and philosophy. The term acoustic ecology, the study of sound between a living organism and its surroundings, coined by Canadian composer and theorist R Murray Schafer, has arisen owing to dramatic changes in mans sonic environment. These changes brought a b o u t b y o u r c o n s t a n t l y e v o l v i n g 2 1 st Century living are creating new environments filled with unheard sounds, textures and timbres, new technological developments enhancing philosophy opportunities for creativity. Thus, necessitating existing philosophical models to be expanded upon. creativity
    4. 4. t h e t e r m a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y T h e s t u d y o f s o u n d b e t w e e n a l i v i n g o r g a n i s m a n d i t s s u r r o u n d i n g s , c o i n e d b y C a n a d i a n c o m p o s e r a n d t h e o r i s t R M u r r a y S c h a f e r
    5. 5. a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y “Modern man is inhabiting a world with an acoustic environment radically different f r o m a n y h e h a s h i t h e r t o k n o w n ( S c h a f e r c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 2 9 ) . ”
    6. 6. a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y As urbanization and all of its resultant characteristics develop, more people, more cities, more technology. A sense of a denser world context and environment are emanated. With this trend it is suggestive of more elements and is subject, therefore, to more sound, denser sonic environments. Is it an uncontrollable trend of the 21 st c e n t u r y, a n o i s e m e l e e , o r s o m e t h i n g t h a t i s usable in creative appropriation? A progression from a quieter existence, where less sound was being generated, into a concentrated, thicker, noisier existence. French theorist and economist Attali defines noise as: “A noise is a resonance that interferes with the audition of a message in the process of emission].[It is any disruption of any social process, any source of pain. At the extreme (extreme volume, for instance), it kills (Attali, 1985 pg26).”
    7. 7. O b v i o u s l y a s i g n i f i c a n t s u b j e c t i n t h e 2 1 st c e n t u r y, o w i n g t o the laws attempting to govern noise levels. Politicians discuss this through noise pollution, demonstrating through their use of terminology (pollution) that it is something unwanted, illegal and undesirable, a terrible noise. This conveys imagery of man versus nature, noise versus silence, an element of control over our acoustic ecology. Conjuring up discussion over fundamentals of sound, music, noise and composition and their relations to us in society. U R B A N I Z A T I O N a n o i s e m e l e e a noise melee a c r e a t i v e a p p r o a c h
    8. 8. a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y “Is the soundscape of the world an indeterminate composition over which we have no control or are we its composer or c o n t r o l l e r s ( S c h a f e r c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 3 0 )
    9. 9. a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y Although Schafer coined the term that specifically focuses on our acoustic ecology recently, our sonic environment has been under philosophical investigation for centuries. Pythagorean philosophy demonstrates this through the teachings of “Music of the Spheres” showing early consideration into sonic surroundings, modes of listening, encouraging an appreciation of ones surrounding, as all empyrean bodies are a form of music. Early suggestions that all sound being in our environment is an element of music and an utterance that it is a universal continual composition, noise that should be considered for composition, or, is already a composition of music in itself. “Music of the Spheres”
    10. 10. phenomenology Pythagoras also introduced the theory of “Pythagoras’s curtain”. This is another important realization bringing focus onto sound matter and material, subject and object origination in our environment. Relating to the philosopher Edmund Husserl's area of Phenomenology, discussing ‘acousmatics’ the Larousse dictionary describes as “a noise that one hears without seeing what causes it” adds extra theoretical depth to the field of environmental sounds in composition, to include sounds created without intention, or knowledge of where they have originated, expanding the universal sonic palette.
    11. 11. phenomenology Founder of ‘Musique Concrete’ Pierre Schaeffer, Founder of ‘Musique Concrete’ Pierre Schaeffer, follower of Husserl and Pythagoras, solidifies theories of environmental sonic palettes for sounds or ‘objets sonores’ (as described by Schaeffer) as being part of composition by basing his entire works of on this ideology. Encouraging a creative positive element with this palette describing compositional techniques need to contain ‘Jeu’, the French for ‘Play’ defined in English as ‘to enjoy oneself by interacting in ones surroundings”.
    12. 12. The work of Spanish sound artist and entomologist Francisco Lopez (in his works ‘La Selva’, sound recordings in fieldwork based in South American rainforests) also encourages us to take in our sound environment as a whole, further confirming this environment as a compositional tool. Further confirmation of acoustic ecology, as an element of composition, a tool or referent, is composer and founder of ambient music Brian Eno. He tries to emulate acoustic environments in ambient composition by describing it as “music in a different way – as part of the ambience of our lives- and we wanted it to be continuous, a surrounding (Eno cited in Cox a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 9 4 ) ” . E n o u s e s t h e g e n r e o f ambient music to enhance our acoustic environments and create notions of immersion.
    13. 13. John Cage furthers this discussion of the use of noise and its relation to composition and music. His beliefs were that there is no noise, only sound, and that music is merely organized sound. Discussing the way this affects us in our acoustic ecology by quoting: “I believe that the use of noise, wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it f a s c i n a t i n g ( C a g e c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 pg25).” Jacques Attali also solidifies the notion of sounds and noise and their inclusion in music by advising, “listening to music is listening to all noise (Atalli, 1985 pg7)”. Discussing the theorists and composers above legitimizes the use of all sound in our environments to be considered for creative inclusion in composition. Therefore, all of our acoustic ecology is a potential compositional piece or tool. The discussions from Attali of noise and elements of control move toward acoustic ecology and its affect on society
    14. 14. s o c i o l o g i c a l s h i f t Sociological shift in auditory culture have been noted by M c l u h a n i n t h e 2 0 th C e n t u r y b y stating: “While visual culture has d o m i n a t e d We s t e r n t h o u g h t , perception and imagination since ancient Greece, the l a t e 2 0 th c e n t u r y w i t n e s s e d a rapid shift toward a very different mode of perception that of the acoustic or auditory (Mcluhan cited in Cox and Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 6 7 ) . ” This shift in society confirms further the notion of how our acoustic ecology is being considered more as part of composition, by culture focusing more on aspects of the auditory
    15. 15. s o c i o l o g i c a l s h i f t German composer and philosopher T h e o d o r e W. A d o r n o , r a t h e r t h a n the previous theoretically dominated visual culture of the western world, does not support a shift toward an auditory level. He is negative toward Mcluhan’s observation as he states: “One might say that to react with the ear, which is fundamentally a passive organ in contrast to the swift, actively selective eye, is in a sense not in keeping with the present advanced industrial age and its cultural anthropology (Adorno cited i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 pg74).”
    16. 16. Mcluhan defends his stance on the sociological auditory shift when analyzing the nature of sight itself, undermining Adorno’s misgivings, by looking at the physicality of the eye being the problem itself, linear in sight, everything in sequence, linear logic. It encourages reasoning by e x c l u s i o n ( M c l u h a n c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 pg69-70), something that the multidirectional auditory receiving experience does not. linear multidirectional
    17. 17. s o c i o l o g i c a l s h i f t Mcluhan and Adorno are discussing the distinctions between sight and hearing in a physical and sociological sense, Roman philosopher born in 106BC Marcus Cicero invalidates the separation when discussing “Sensus Communis” a culmination of all senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting, no distinctions in early society.
    18. 18. s o c i o l o g i c a l s h i f t Attali communicates that by observing music and sound in our society it acts as a m irror to the current sociological organi zation. “Music].[It is a mirr or for its organization resembl es the current organization of our society: music is “a repository of].[the social score (Attali 1985 pg9).”
    19. 19. Owing to rise of genres such as Musique Concrete, Schafer coining the term acoustic ecology, and ongoing philosophical debate about sound, noise, and music in society. Attali's theories demonstrate that Mcluhan is right to state we have shifted toward a more auditory existence. Attali, through this theoretical mirror is answering the debate in shift between visual and auditory culture. This is supported by emerging compositions from Pierre Schaeffer, John Cage, and Francisco Lopez (plus many others). The theories coupled with emerging works from discussed composers communicates that we are in new sociological, philosophical and compositional areas.
    20. 20. technological effect 2 1 st c e n t u r y e v o l u t i o n s i n t e c h n o l o g y a r e i m p a c t i n g o n m u s i c , composition and sound. Under Attali’s mirror theory, therefore, affecting society. Barrington Nevitt links acoustic space in society to cultural content. “Acoustic space requires neither proof nor explanation but is made manifest through its cultural context (Nevitt cited in Cox a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 7 1 ) . ” P r o m i n e n t c u l t u r a l c o n t e n t i n 2 1 st c e n t u r y w e s t e r n w o r l d i s t e c h n o l o g y, we are in a revolutionary technological context. When observing acoustic ecology in today’s society technological revolutions have impacted this are of study. The technology of recording has enabled theoretical expansion upon many theories. The technology of recording
    21. 21. technological effect of recording acousmatics & reduced listening A ‘reduced listening’ where the sonorous object has its’ own existence, where you can listen to the objects themselves. R E P E AT E D SOUND LISTENING TO BEFORE REC A C O U S M AT I C S P L AY OBJECT RECORDING ITSELF
    22. 22. technological effect Pierre Schaeffer believed that recording exacerbated Phenemological theory, describing experience without reference to the source or object. With sound and recording in a phenomelogical sense Schaeffer describes that sounds have been turned into sonorous objects, and new modes of listening are engineered. A ‘reduced listening’ where the sonorous object has its’ own existence, where you can listen to the objects themselves. A reduced signal from the source, epitomizing the theory of ‘acousmatics’, these signals and sonorous objects are subject to multiple variations or ‘prise de son’ and recording presents the variations, there are many ways that we can record an object and this affects how we hear or ‘ecoute’ that object. Recording to tape means the sonorous object is not the tape itself it is merely a sonorous support of an acoustic signal (Schaeffer cited in Cox and Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 7 6 - 7 8 ) . S c h a e ff e r a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y, relationship with his sonic surroundings feels as if enhanced owing to the technology of recording.
    23. 23. technological effect Francisco Lopez in La Selva recordings pushes the theory further by discussing that in a rainforest a bird calls and that sound no longer belongs to the bird once produced. If the sound is recorded then this is another step in its transformation from the original signal, different microphones ‘hear’ in different ways and then digital techniques in editing reproduces this, giving a hyper-real or unreal sound version of a natural sound (Lopez cited i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 8 2 - 8 7 ) . A l t h o u g h ironically Lopez is aiming to record natural sounds in his acoustic ecology the technological affect upon his process as he describes have created a need for another level of theoretical understanding. Recording our sonic environment with technological advances has adjusted theory of modes of listening and acoustic ecology. Brian Eno looks at recording technology as a new compositional technique, a method a observing or creating new textures of sound, m u c h l i k e P. S c h a e f f e r ' s o b s e r v a t i o n s o f b e i n g able to ‘listen to the object themselves’, expanding the sonic palette for composition. With that step, Eno felt electronic virtual spaces could be engineered and this in turn aided his task in ambient music of creating music to enhance environment. Recording technology has also changed Eno's relationship with his sonic environment and compositional techniques.
    24. 24. technological effect playback, new modes RECORDING of listening new theoretical/ philosophical study new relationship with sonic environment new compositional techniques
    25. 25. technological effect With recording technology comes the ability to playback the recording resulting in new theoretical depths, but also comes the ability to listen back to recordings somewhere other than it was recorded. Transporting the recording to anywhere else in order to re-listen. In the 1980’s the invention of t h e Wa l k m a n t r a n s f o r m e d t h i s p h e n o m e n a b y allowing the user to listen back to recordings made anytime, anywhere on a personal level. “The walkman has offered a personal soundtrack that, unlike the transistor radio, car stereo and explicitly opposed intention of the bass boosted “ghetto blaster” or “boogie box,” is, above all, an intensely private experience (Chambers cited i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 9 9 ) . ”
    26. 26. technological effect This technological invention has altered philosophical outlook s on listening and affected acoustic ecology. Relationships with our aural surroundings ar e changed, domesticating the external world by imposing your own sou ndscape onto your aur al environment all under the commands of stop, start, rewind and fast forward (Chambers ci t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 pg100). This technological revolution aids creation of our own sonic environment, internally, omitting the actual sonic surroundings, creating your own remix of acoustic ecology, your own composition, a composition your in control of. As Gilles Delueze discusses ‘Logique du sens (1969)’ those other cities that exist within cities ( C h a m b e r s c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 9 9 ) , c r e a t i o n of another realm inside an existing one, where walkman users live in their own composition and have their own personal acoustic ecology. “Micro narrative, customized story and soundtrack, not merely a space but a place ( C h a m b e r s c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 1 0 0 ) . ”
    27. 27. Gilles Delueze discusses ‘Logique du sens (1969)’ those other cities that e x i s t w i t h i n c i t i e s ( C h a m b e r s c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 9 9 )
    28. 28. “Micro narrative, customized story and soundtrack, not merely a space but a place ( C h a m b e r s c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 pg100).”
    29. 29. In Heideggerian terms, technology being an extension of man, an extension of our i n d i v i d u a l b o d i e s , t h e Wa l k m a n c o n t r i b u t e s to the prosthetic extension of mobile bodies. This prosthesis is exacerbated by the physical connection of the technology to the user through the headphones. This part of the invention is the area that creates the new acoustic ecology, not necessarily the functionality of the unit itself but the immersivity and exclusion of one self from ones acoustic surroundings. This almost is indicative of a meditative state a heighten s t a t e a c h i e v e d i n N a d a Yo g a ; “Interiorized sound (vibration) removes the individual from this world and elevates him toward higher spheres of existence (Schafer cited i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 3 5 ) . ” It is as if in headphones you are the sphere, connected to the universe and has utterances of Pythagoras Music of the Spheres. Sounds in headphones are more direct than taking in an aural environment; they create a different sense of acoustic ecology with the auditory information. Schafer describes this difference by quoting: “Sounds emanate from points inside the cranium itself, as if the archetypes of the unconscious are in conversation (Schafer cited in Cox a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 3 5 ) . ”
    30. 30. technological effect Schafer discusses hear how the headphone phenomena creates an unusual ‘headspace’, never experienced before from external auditory environments, and how this has effect on the mind. How the users minds perceive those sounds and environment, a change in their acoustic ecology and expansion on theoretical discussions are needed. The headphone and walkman generation has evolved acoustic ecology, expanded upon existing philosophy, created another level of auditory perception and encouraged an immersive nature inside ones mind, in control of ones own compositions, s h u t t i n g o u t t h e e x i s t i n g 2 1 st c e n t u r y a c o u s t i c environment, perhaps perceived as noise, uncontrollable, controlled through this technology. The headphone phenomena in conjunction with the discussion of acoustic ecology and whether o u r 2 1 st c e n t u r y s o n i c e n v i r o n m e n t i s n o i s e o r a composition itself, have led us to perception, how the listener perceives this environment. Some wear headphones and others don’t creating variations in modes of listening in a physical sense, a theoretical sense and an interpretative sense.
    31. 31. hermeneutics The study of interpretation theory Music theorist Ola Stockfelt discuses this interpretive notion hermeneutics, in conjunction with soundscapes, background music and listening. “Symphony that in the concert hall or on earphones can give an autonomous intramusical experience, tunings ones mood to the highest tension and shutting out the rest of the world, may in the café give the same listeners a mildly pleasant, relaxed separation from the noise on the street].[In this way, the situation one encounters the music conditions the music itself ( S t o c k f e l t c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 8 9 ) . ” Stockfelt discusses the context affecting the interpretation of the music and environmental context affecting acoustic ecology, however, the conditioning of the music itself, irrespective of the environment, must come down to an individual level of perception. That ones mode of listening is linked to ones competence of listening. Listening with intention, to decipher on an individual level whether noise or music, composition or dissonant melee. Lopez considers this to be ‘profound listening’, immersion inside sound matter and states: “Music is an aesthetic, perception, understanding and conception of sound. Its our decision-subjective, intentional, non universal, not necessarily permanent (Lopez cited in Cox a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 8 7 ) ”
    32. 32. hermeneutics This notion of perception and variance of receiving auditory information has utterances of Epistemology from German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, the theory of ‘a priori (knowledge gained from the former) and a posteriori (from the latter). Suggestive that an educated ear in areas of composition, sound, soundscapes acoustic ecology, hermeneutics and philosophy linked to audio culture will perceive an acoustic environment differently to an uneducated, unaware individual. Pierre Schaeffer confirms this theory further by discussing ‘seule l’ecoute d’un auditeur’, only the listening of a listener can determine it. B y this understanding a dog a Martian or a child could not p e r c e i v e w h e t h e r a c o u s t i c e c o l o g y i n t h e 2 1 st century were dissonant noise or an indeterminate composition as the intellectual arsenal to achieve the latter is non existent. Schaeffer further confirms this by stating that: “Therefore, the sonorous object (is not the tape itself, in terms of recording) is contained in our c o n s c i o u s ( S c h a f e r c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 pg35)
    33. 33. A ‘reduced listening’ where the sonorous object has its’ own existence, where you can listen to the objects themselves. Epistemology from German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, the theory of ‘a priori (knowledge gained from the former) and a posteriori (from the latter). HERMENEUTICS Consciousness ‘seule l’ecoute d’un auditeur’ “Therefore, the sonorous object (is not the tape itself, in terms of recording) is contained in our conscious (Schafer c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2004 pg35).”
    34. 34. Conclusion In conclusion one can discuss acoustic ecology through observation of sounds, noise, soundscapes and aural environments, through theorists, philosophers and composers. One can observe these teachings in conjunction with sociological contexts in terms of auditory perception, visual and aural cultural trends in society. Combining this further k n o w l e d g e w i t h t h e t e c h n o l o g i c a l i m p a c t o f 2 1 st century western culture, to determine whether our current acoustic ecology is one of uncontrollable dissonance and noise, or whether, in fact it is an indeterminate constant environmental composition in itself. However, fundamentally this decision of noise or composition is at a level of perception on the individual, hermeneutics and epistemological decision, determined in our consciousness, by our levels of understanding and knowledge of auditory information. Ultimately as Mark Slouka quotes: “One mans music, is another mans noise ( S l o u k a c i t e d i n C o x a n d Wa r n e r, 2 0 0 4 p g 4 0 ) . ”
    35. 35. Thank you for you time.....
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