audio cultures, parallel worlds


As I travel around doing projects and giving workshops I start to notice something when I explain what I do and how it relates to the culture of sound and listening. The inevitable question that always comes up is, how is this information useful? Working as a “sound artist” appears to many people (and actually is) a rather obscure profession, so I give examples of how research and use of sound as a medium appears in other disciplines, some more mainstream than others. But the more I explain this, the more I realize how much these disciplines and professions exist as parallel worlds and how little communication may exist between them. This is a typically post-modern condition when it comes to specialization where certain disciplines may attempt to look more credible than others for business reasons, status or otherwise. But things seem to be changing slowly, at least on the front of sharing information and getting a peek into what it is people actually do in their respective fields.

In using sound as a departure point, we can easily drift into any number of fields, each with its own focus. Even though the medium is the same and concepts and techniques are shared, we end up with an array of different possibilities. With the simple formula of paying attention to sound, recording it, then editing it the result can end up being “art”(sound art, installation, experimental music), “science”(nature sound, acoustic ecology), “engineering”(acoustics, studio recording) or “entertainment”(film sound, sound design, radio) just to name a few. Apart from some random crossovers, it appears to me that each of these fields exists relatively independent from each other. Yet there is one defining link, the use and dependence on technology. There is one problem I’ve encountered during the process of giving sound workshop. Not everyone seems to understand the fundamental significance of sound, listening and our own cognitive process until you give them a microphone and a pair of headphones. How is it that it a technological interface helps so much to spark people’s imagination? I’ve often asked this for myself. If I’m so interested in acoustic perception, what’s the point to record anything at all? Yet I do and I’m quite deeply involved in using technology for recording and reproduction of sound.

Getting back to the various strands of audio cultures, I’ve come across some good “blogs”, particularly in the sound design field, of people who like to share what they record. It is possible that revealing some transparency in the process will help bridge some gaps between different fields. As people can see and hear more what goes on behind the scenes we can take note of some shared interests in the process, regardless of the outcome, particularly when it comes to thinking about awareness of our sound environments. It is also key that we maintain diversity and quality of our practices rather than quantity and authority to keep these respective fields open and dynamic. On a side note… I’ve noticed that the various fields here tend to be male dominated. This is a topic for another post, but when giving workshops I see no evidence that interest and attention and creative ability to to work with sound has anything to do with gender.

Sound Design / Film Sound / Field Recording

Nature Sound / Acoustic Ecology

Misc. Projects and Resources

And to close, here’s a Newsweek article about audio ecologist Gordon Hempton’s work to raise awareness about silence and natural sound environments.

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