eesti helimaastikud / soundscapes of estonia

project proposal for Eesti Rahva Muuseum

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Presentation at Eesti Rahva Muuseum, November 26th 2009

Soundscapes of Estonia is a research project and proposal for the Estonian National Museum as a non-local real-time sound environment. The term soundscape can be defined as the totality of sounds one may hear at any given location. The project attempts to illustrate and help us understand the significance of soundscapes in relation to national heritage as aspects of both ecological and cultural spheres. The event will begin with a talk on sound, human perception and the notion of soundscape as it relates to natural and man-made environments along with an introduction to the project idea. The second part will be a soundscape listening concert composed of archive recordings made by John Grzinich in Estonia and live sound sources transmitted via the internet.

Project Proposal

This project proposal can be considered for a temporary exhibition or as a frame for a permanent exhibition in the future national museum as a non-local, real-time, interactive space.

Purpose: “Soundscapes of Estonia” is a multi-purpose platform for scientific research, artistic intervention and interactive public interface for sound as a primary human perceptual medium particularly as is relates to an understanding of the environment and our relation to it. It turns the question of “What does a country sound like?” into a perceptual process.

We begin with the notion of ‘soundscape’ as an integral component for connecting human sound perception to a greater awareness of our overall natural and man-made landscapes. Any soundscape is the totality of sounds one may hear at any given location (as a phenomenon of our perception of acoustic sounds). Soundscapes can be nearly silent or very polluted with noise depending on the activity of the area. No soundscape is “pure” and is a combination of many sources from natural to industrial that change continually from moment to moment and throughout the year in different seasons. With various technical means to capture the soundscape, sounds can be either isolated, filtered out or left as a whole. With a proper technical setup, users can be exposed to the various elements of our complex non-local soundscapes, and be given the possibility to isolate, filter and mix each location or recombine them to for new fictional environments.

Interface: The platform would encourage public involvement through 2 means; an online ‘virtual’ platform and a physical space in the museum. Both interfaces would involve establishing an infrastructure for recording and transmitting sound signals from a variety of locations or ‘soundscape environments’ around Estonia. The aim is to capture different soundscapes and relay the sources to a central point for the public to experience. Each interface would allow the users to mix the channels transmitted from the source locations to either isolate a particular environment or combine them to form a type of acoustic composition.

The signals could be transmitted live via internet streams to a central server where they could be distributed for public use. Both the online platform and physical exhibition space would function as a mixer (much like a sound mixer/heli mikser) where the sound sources can be combined. The exhibition would require a low light quiet room isolated from other sounds with a set of speakers and a mixing table of volume controlled knobs or sliders with descriptions of the sound sources (if a special room cannot be used then users can wear headphones). An online version could function in a similar way, with a mixer that outputs the sound through a users home computer. Other devices such as gps enabled mobile phones can be integrated as the technology develops (some prototypes are in development).

Soundscape environments (examples of 10 possible locations):

1. Urban (public park or square)
2. Urban (high density traffic zone)
3. Rural inhabited (small village, farm)
4.  Rural Natural (National forest/park)
5. Rural Natural (seaside, lakeside)
6. Aquatic life (underwater sea/lake)
7. Ambient interior (public foyer of the Museum)
8. Kinetic and sculptural (object interacting with natural elements of wind or water such as bridges, old telephone wires or artistic structures)
9. User contributed (via internet website or sound map)
10. Estonian historical media archive (selected museum or radio archive clips)

(anywhere from 5-10 channels can be used depending on the technological capability)

Sound research: Since the soundscape is as active, dynamic and ever-changing as any other aspect of the environment, it offers great potential for research, both scientific and artistic. Researchers such as Fred Jüssi have been studying sounds of animal behavior and messaging for decades, and have built up a significant level of information on sound and the environment as well as a database of recordings. This has had an impact on the fields Biology and Semiotics (see biosemiotics) as well as for artists and the growing general public attitudes towards sound and listening. Therefore the Eesti Helimaastikud project could also serve as a metaphor for mixing interests of these different fields and the public sector by bringing them together on  common experiential level.

kevad/spring 2009

Suur aitäh ERM,
Thanks to Locus Sonus and MOKS for technical support.

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