Big City Sound and Light - Photo by Francisco Diez (CCBY)
For the final installment of the Late Reflections podcast, I present something in the creation of which I had some involvement. As yet another bow to the Wild the City string, Tess Bunny put together a team of keen young film students to make a short “soundscape film” telling the story of the sound of the city.
The film went through many iterations before assuming its final form (it still isn’t actually finished), but the ideas have remained the same.
In this episode Tess and I will run you through the story, letting you experience the sound yourself. As well as being interesting, think of it as a wee teaser for the film to come.
Following up on the first installment of my Late Reflections podcast series, here is episode 2, fresh off the press.
This time around you’re invited along on a personal tour of Tess Bunny’s Wild The City installation at Wall Street mall in Dunedin. Tess ran the installation in an attempt to raise awareness of her project. For a full working week the mall came alive with greenery and birdsong. This is the next best thing to seeing it for yourself, so have a listen.
Toiling away inside is never a bad idea in Dunedin when it’s drizzly out. Well, the last week in Dunedin has been pretty drizzly out. Luckily there was some work to be done on the Late Reflections podcast series.
So, I toiled. And now I present to you the first of three episodes recorded, compiled, edited and narrated by yours truly.
The series is based around the work of Tess bunny, a talented Masters student who I’ve talked about numerous times in the past. Tess is in her final year of a Masters of Science Communication at the University of Otago. For the creative component of her thesis she undertook a spectacularly large array of activities aimed at raising public awareness about issues dear to her. And she does a pretty good job of convincing everybody else that they should hold these issues dear too.
In a nutshell, her project aims to encourage the re-integration of “wild” green spaces into arid, concrete, urban areas. This, she explains, can be achieved in a number of ways, not limited to the planting of native species and the establishment of communal veggie gardens (one carrot each please – don’t be greedy!).
But Tess also places a huge premium on the quality of the soundscapes we immerse ourselves in on a daily basis. From my perspective, this is where things really get interesting. I won’t give too much more away because I wouldn’t want to ruin the podcast. Have a listen and you might just find yourself converted to Tess’ cause.
An interesting decree has been announced by Indian officials in an effort to deal with excessive night time noise in India’s bustling metropolis’. According to CNN, new laws have been put in place banning certain noise-making activities during the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM, which is now officially considered night time. Activities that have been banned include horns, sound-emitting construction equipment and firecrackers.
The effects of human made noise on wildlife is nigh on impossible to accurately gauge. The range and intensity of responses exhibited by animals to our many cacophonous engagements is too varied to draw any concrete conclusions. Policy makers are paralysed to do anything, the public is unconvinced that its noisy activities can seriously affect wildlife and scientists lose faith in their ability to prove what some already know through intuition.
These are the principle conclusions from Autumn Lyn Radle’s 2007 article, “The Effect of Noise on Wildlife: A Literature Review. And what frustrating conclusions they are, the kind that compel this blogger to consider making this academic article the last he ever reads. But then, it’s not Radle’s fault. Nor is it the fault of the scientists whose largely inconclusive studies constitute the subject matter of Radle’s aggregation of largely inconclusive studies. Least of is it the animals’ fault. They can’t help inhabiting environments where countless factors dictate towards behavioural and physiological traits, making it difficult to ascertain which factor contribute towards which traits, and whether human noise is a significant one.
So we know very little about how man-made sound affects wildlife. But we do know some things. We know that man-made sound has more sources than we might initially think. As well as the obvious – recreational noise from motorboats
Recreational boating is a key noise culprit
or holidaymakers; military noise; and commercial noise from airplane flyovers, mining operations and logging – there is also evidence that scientific research (usually with the intention of assisting wildlife) is in some cases noisy enough to pose a possible threat to some species.
We also know that noise can be hugely detrimental to humans. Look at the case of Cairo, a city where the average noise level between the hours of 7am and 9pm is 85 decibels – just louder than a freight train passing by 5 metres away. Of the city’s 7 million inhabitants, two-thrids are estimated to suffer from some sort of sleeping disorder. Indeed, the city has just opened its first sleep clinic, the first state-sanctioned one in the world.
But regardless of the current state of knowledge, knowledge isn’t necessary for action. Our reluctance to act on this issue due to a lack of concrete evidence is proof in itself of our anthropocentric worldview. If we took a view more sympathetic to the rest of the living biosphere we would, in Radle’s words, “intuitively understand that a cacophony of noise, even if not life threatening, cannot provide for a decent quality of life for any organism”. These words have a certain resonance to them. Since the advent of the Industrial Age our actions have caused sometimes irreversible damage – to our landscapes, waterways and atmosphere. In those cases, much of the damage was done before we had proof that any damage was being done. While the evidence is not concrete, intuition provides a valuable clue here. If we pay heed to it, we may be able to stop the relentless advance of man-made noise before its effects on the biosphere begin to resemble those other horrors.
I’ve just started a new “Resources” section of the blog (that’s it at the top of the page) where I draw your attention to important websites, journals, foundations and projects covering issues related to acoustic ecology.
The first site on the list, save our sounds, is an extremely informative and approachable one set up by the BBC in order to raise awareness of acoustic ecology, soundscapes and the decline thereof. The site features an interactive “sound map” which allows readers all around the world the opportunity to upload their own endangered sounds. After checking that out, I highly recommend you take some time to listen to the save our sounds documentaries – two 25 minute podcasts that serve as a perfect introduction to the world of acoustic ecology. I’ll be taking a few tips from these guys as I put together some podcasts I have planned for the near future.
Over the next few weeks I’ll also be drawing attention to the other sites I’ve deemed worthy of inclusion in my resources section. Stay tuned… or connected… or whatever.
Sound-collage artist Kutiman, creator of the brilliant ThruYou, has just released a new two minute track consisting only of the sounds of construction tools. It’s predictably great and serves to remind one of the vast sonic resources at the disposal of anyone with a microphone.