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Introduction to our project

Poster Presentation at the Central States Anthropological Association in Iowa City
Our poster presentation at the Central States
Anthropological Association in Iowa City
Inspired by Steven Feld's notion of acoustemology the study of "local conditions of acoustic sensation, knowledge, and imagination, embodied in culturally particular senses of place" (2005: 179) students of AnSo 395J Anthropology of the Senses (Winter 2011) conducted a soundscape study to explore the interrelationships of sounds and senses of place on the Knox College campus. The project situates this exploration in dialogue with scholarly interests in sensory experiences as cultural practices in fields of social relations (Classen 1997, Howes 2003, Turino 2008); embodiment and the habitus (Bourdieu 1977, Mauss 1979, Noland 2009); phenomenological approaches to place, space, and time (Casey 2009, Feld 2005); and ethnographic approaches to acoustic ecologies (Schafer 1994, Torigoe 2002, Wagstaff 2002). Additionally, we have been very encouraged by the increasing number of sound mapping projects that openly invite community members to reflect upon and document their lived experiences in and of sound (see Open Sound New Orleans, Montreal Sound Map, Berlin Wall of Sound. Check out our Resources tab for other great sites on sounds and the senses).

Our study focused on the keynote sounds that people found most salient in their daily experiences on Knox campus, the various meanings they invest in these sounds, and how sounds, meanings, and memories might contribute to experiences of place. Put simply, we have found that to know Knox is to experience the ubiquity of the rumble and roar of trains, the raucous cawing of '1000' crows, the metallic clang of the bell of Old Main, and shared laughter. The meanings and narratives attributed to these indices are as varied as the individuals who perceive them even as they contribute to collective senses of being-in-place at Knox.

Materials and methods

Our methodology was intended to be an open and organic approach to making sense of the interconnections between sound, place, and sensorial perception. As such, we used a variety of methods, some of which could be considered more conventional, while others could be considered more experimental.

- Surveys: We conducted 92 surveys with members of the Knox and Galesburg communities regarding the sounds they associate with campus.

- Soundwalks: We performed several soundwalks, which consisted of walking routes around campus with a partner while noting and recording the various sounds. This exercise was followed by a reflection and mapping of the sounds experienced.

- Recordings: We collected over 200 recordings of various sound events on and near Knox campus. These recordings (i.e. Jesse's Biaural Bicycle Ride recording) range from ambient sounds to sporting events and conversations. We used a variety of digital recorders, including homemade binaural recording devices and professional field recorders.

- Interviews: Over 40 individuals were informally interviewed about their experiences of sound on campus. Additionally, Knox president Roger Taylor was interviewed on his actions to revive the bell of Old Main.

- Day in Sound: We recorded five minute segments at the same location every hour over the course of 24 hours and then edited the sounds into a 17:15 minute recording to capture a sense of the shifting rhythms of a day at Knox.

- Soundmap: We constructed an online, interactive soundmap of Knox campus featuring many of our recordings and reflections by each team member, which you are now visiting!

Some insights we have gained

Throughout our project, we repeatedly encountered blank stares as initial responses to our questions of what Knox sounds like. It became clear that this was not something everyone had paid much attention to. However, with a little prodding, we found that people often associated certain sounds with specific experiences (e.g. trains drowning out a phone call, or the chaotic cawing and flapping of accidentally waking up hundreds of crows). These narratives frequently resonated with those of others who had experienced similar sound events. The act of discussing one story served as a catalyst for bringing up memories of countless others. Importantly, the recollection of memories seemed to trigger a reflection on the senses, not the other way around. It is as if the senses were the memories in and of themselves.

At first, the group had difficulty attending to sound. We knew, of course, about the bells, crows, trains, and laughter with friends. However, by actively exploring the acoustic world around us, we began to re-conceptualize the interrelations of all of our senses, which became increasingly foregrounded in our daily experiences. What was formerly a passive interaction has become an active engagement with the meanings that we connect with the sounds of Knox. We learned to engage with our environment instead of just passing through it.

Over the course of this soundscape study, we shifted the focus from our own particular associations of sounds to a larger culture of sound at Knox. This insight was facilitated by our methodological approach. The simple technique of carrying a recording device reminded us to consider all of the sensory stimuli around us as socially constructed data. The activities and materials that asked us to attend more closely to our senses, and the techniques that we applied to these activities and materials, taught us that ethnography is as much a matter of the process of what you do and how you do it - and perhaps most importantly the manner in which you interact with others - as it is one of final products.

Some concluding thoughts on the project

Our understanding of what "place" means is distinctly different from the one we began our project with. Following Edward S. Casey, we now perceive place to be much more than merely physical locale; it is more of an event, a 'happening' constituted by its many occupants, where "we are not only in places, but of them" (2009: 327). We believe that through this project we have actively engaged with the often unattended and seemingly insignificant sensory perceptions of everyday experience. In doing so, we have also gained insight and technique in the crafting of an "anthropology in sound," as Stephen Feld has advocated, especially as this relates to the editing and articulation of sound as a "creative and analytic mediation" of ethnographic projects (Feld & Brenneis 2004: 471). These insights and techniques will positively inform future engagements as we situate our work in the larger world of all our interrelated senses and embodied ways of making sense of place.

Equipment

  • Olympus VN-6200PC
  • Zoom H2
  • Marantz PMD660
  • Microphones used in the bi-aural recordings are K-Micro Silver Bullet condenser mics
We would like thank Leighton Pierce for his helpful comments on the website and his reminder of acknowledging the nontransparent nature of recording technology.

Works Cited

  1. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Trans. by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Casey Edward S. 2009. Getting Back into Place. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  3. Classen, Constance. 1997. "Foundations for an Anthropology of the Senses." International Social Science Journal 153: 401-412.
  4. Feld, Steven. 2005. "Places Sensed, Senses Placed: Toward a Sensuous Epistemology of Environments." In Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, 179-191. Ed. David Howes. New York: Berg.
  5. Feld Steven, Brenneis D. 2004. Doing anthropology in sound. Am. Ethnol. 41(4): 46174.
  6. Howes, David. 2003. Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  7. Mauss, Marcel. 1979. "Body Techniques." In Sociology and Psychology Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. London: Routledge.
  8. Noland, Carrie. 2009. Agency and Embodiment: Performing Gestures/ Producing Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  9. Schafer, R. Murray. 1994. The Soundscape: Our Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester: Destiny.
  10. Torigoe, Keiko. 2002. "A City Traced by Soundscape." In Soundscape Studies and Methods. Edited by Helmi Jarviluoma and Gregg Wagstaff. Helsinki: Finnish Society of Ethnomusicology.
  11. Turino, Thomas. 2008. "Habits of the Self, Identity, and Culture." Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation, 93-121. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  12. Wagstaff, Gregg. 2002. "Toward a Social Ecological Soundscape." In Soundscape Studies and Methods. Edited by Helmi Jarviluoma and Gregg Wagstaff. Helsinki: Finnish Society of Ethnomusicology.
  13. Open Sound New Orleans http://www.opensoundneworleans.com/core/
  14. Montreal Sound Map http://www.montrealsoundmap.com/?lang=en
  15. Berlin Wall of Sound http://www.netaudioberlin.de/berlin-wall-of-sound/

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people for their support and assistance throughout this venture: Andrei Papancea for his tireless help in designing the website, Dean of the College Lawrence Breitborde for his logistical support, Mark Rubel at Pogo Studios for inspiring much of our obsession with sound and recording, Max Stein at the Montreal Sound Map for early encouragement and guidance, Vicky Romano for her technical assistance, and Dr. Nancy Eberhardt and the Knox Anthropology and Sociology Department.


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