Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Public Lectures and Collaborative Project on National Park Soundscapes

I’m spending some time at East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tennessee, where among other things I’m looking forward to a collaboration with the biologist at the Great Smoky National Park, Scott McFarland, who’s in charge of their natural sounds and night skies project. Most every US National Park is participating in this project, with the twin goals of improving the visitor experience with soundscapes more in keeping with their expectations for a largely wilderness environment, and improving the sonic habitat for wildlife—after all, sound is a principal means of animal communication, and a sound commons is its ideal expression. Minimizing sound (and light) pollution is the aim, and part of the process involves monitoring (i.e., recording) the soundscape to obtain baseline readings over a period of time. Some of the students (and faculty) will be be part of this collaborative effort, and the students will learn about soundscapes in a hands-on way. They’ll also be taking soundwalks and doing projects involving personal and public soundscapes, perhaps in Johnson City, or possibly in favorite places away from there. Reports of these projects will be forthcoming.
    In addition, at ETSU I’ll be offering a series of four public lectures on what I’ve been calling a Sound Ecology. It will be an attempt to answer a question I first put in writing some 20 years ago, in an essay for the book Shadows in the Field, edited by Timothy Cooley and Gregory Barz, about doing fieldwork in ethnomusicology. There, I wrote about sound as a way of being in the world, a way that differed from our usual orientation toward the world as a text subject to interpretation. The question has developed into this: what sorts of communities, economies, and ecologies might result from taking sound experience, rather than the interpretation of texts or experimentation with objects, as the primary means toward understanding ourselves and our worlds? I am interested in proposing what I am calling (with apologies for the puns) sound communities, sound economies, and sound ecologies. I offered preliminary versions of my answers in keynote addresses at various conferences during 2015, but this will offer an opportunity to consider the subject in more detail.