Soundscapes And Sonic Tapestries: Part 1/2

See: Visualize :: Hear: (?)

Can you believe that there is officially no word in the English language that can encapsulate this? Doesn’t exactly do justice to our ability to invoke our mind’s ear to identify, create, re-create and remix sounds and thereby trigger emotions, memories and associations within us. No wonder, the aural realm remains an under exploited, and in some cases, under appreciated dimension to inform and enrich our perceptual experience. Take two of our most common habitats:

(1) Our Constructed Spaces (Architecture)  

So far the practice and purpose of architecture was anchored by the ‘eye’ and for the ‘eye’. Ears – apparently – were compelled to take a back seat and thereby had limited influence over design decisions (unless we speak about amphitheaters). Result –  offices, schools, homes, malls, restaurants and the list goes on, that are so poorly designed so much so that they actually do us more harm than any possible good! Not entirely convinced? See this TED video by Julian Treasure:

(2) Nature  

There was a time when wild soundscapes were considered just some exotic/charming artifacts of nature. But as it turns out,every habitat is believed to have its own unique sound signature – a sonic tapestry that can potentially convey an incredible amount of information about the present state and the future fate of any given place/habitat.

First a quick dose of general knowledge. A soundscape is made up of three basic sources:

  1. Geophony: these are non-biological sounds that occur in any given habitat, e.g., wind, water, waves etc.
  2. Biophony: these are sounds  generated by organisms in a given habitat at a given time and place.
  3. Anthrophony: these are sounds that we humans generate. e.g., our music, noise from machinery, automobiles etc.

So at any given point in time and place, anything that we hear is composed of these three kinds of sounds, and can be graphically represented in a Spectrogram – a graphic illustration of sound with time represented from left to right and sound frequencies represented from the bottom to the top, lowest to highest.

In an incredibly ‘earopening’ TED talk that is insightful, shocking, profound, inspiring and immensely thought provoking, Bernie Krause – a natural sounds expert –  proves that while a picture may be worth 1,000 words, a soundscape is worth 1,000 pictures. If there is one TED video that you need to see this week, let this one be the one – a must see:

In many ways these two talks could be said to be a call to action for us to resist our ‘natural’ instinct of zoning out most of the sound that reaches our ears and to start appreciating our faculty of hearing for how it can enrich our perceptual experience.

On a related note, let me submit my following hypothesis:

I started off by saying that in the English language we don’t seem to be having a word that can effortlessly fit in the following context

See: Visualize :: Hear: (?)

My guess would be that there might be some language out there (Chinese? Japanese? Korean? etc) that might have just the apt word for it. If so, my hypothesis would be that, such a country/culture must be having sonically richer traditions, must be producing relatively higher number of music prodigies and must be having general public with greater appreciation of sound and our faculty of hearing. And as an extension, I would also risk a bet that people from such a culture would also be adept at living in the now and here and appreciating everything about it.

Does your language have a word for this?

To Be Continued…

(Featured Image, Source)

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