(Sunset in the Azores)
This is a brief summary of the symposium, Invisible Places, held in April at the University of the Azores in Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel island in the Azores. Your Audio Penguin, Eric Somers, did a presentation there. The entire conference proceedings will be posted sometime in June and I will put a link to them here on the Audio Penguin blog. Unfortunately, many of the presentations and concerts involved sounds which probably won’t be available in the printed proceedings. I the next couple of weeks I will post here an expanded version of the topics I presented along with sound samples.
The full title of the symposium was Invisible Places: Sound, Urbanism and Sense of Place. The main themes of the conference all dealt with soundscapes, public sound installation, and sound ecology (preservation of sound and silences). Many people are hardly aware of this increasingly important field. I have been involved in acoustic ecology and soundscape composition for over 20 years now so I want to draw attention to it and describe some of the major themes of the symposium.
There were three keynote speakers. The first was Juhani Pallasmaa an architect from Finland who has written books and articles to encourage architects to design buildings which appeal to all senses, sound, touch, and smell as well as visual. He feels that most architecture is treated as visual art (only or mostly) and the other senses ignored. His most famous book about this is The Eyes of the Skin.
He also talked about his most recent work which deals with peripheral unfocused experience. He feels this is important to an immersive experience even though most studies of architecture concentrate on things at a distance to the viewer/auditor. When his full speech is published in the proceedings I highly recommend that readers of this blog read it.
The second keynote speaker was Hildegard Westerkamp, a Canadian soundscape collector and composer who studied years ago with R. Murray Shafer, another Canadian who founded the World Soundscape Project and, essentially, the whole field of acoustic ecology. Hildegard was a early student of Shafer and she had a program about Soundscapes on Canadian radio in Vancouver for many years. Her talk concentrated on the process of listening and its relationship to our thoughts, sensations and emotions. This is another “not to be missed” speech to read in the proceedings.
The third keynote speaker was composer-sound artist Sam Auginer. He talked about a specific, and very novel, sound project done in the city of Bruges after it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He used technology in a very unusual way to allow visitors to interact with the city. It is too detailed to describe briefly here, but, again, his work should be included in the conference proceedings when they are published online in June and makes for a interesting read.
In addition to the three keynote talks there were over 40 papers presented by scholars and sound artists from all over, workshops on various sound topics, soundwalks (where participants are encouraged to walk quietly in certain areas and listen, and sometimes, record the natural sounds), concerts of sound compositions based on natural sounds from the island and elsewhere, and sound installations indoors and outdoors to provide a rich sonic experience. Way too much to cover in any detail here, but I will try to make some summary statements.
Over 40 papers were presented, including my own, but no single person could attend the presentations of all of them since they were presented in two parallel “streams,” in different rooms at the same time.
The paper presenters were mostly made up of a combination of university PhD students, university professors, and independent artists and designers. Since the symposium did not publish any biographical information about the presenters I mostly learned of their backgrounds when they introduced their papers and/or talking with them at coffee breaks.
The papers covered a really large amount of ground related to this field. Some were very theory based such as “Absolute nothingness: the Kyoto school and contemporary sound art practice” or “ The secret of sound in Jacques Derrida and Maurice Blanchot.” Many covered soundscapes and listening related to specific places such as “Auditory exploration of Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia, Turkey,” “Soundly planning: practically listening to (Belfast) sound spaces,” “Sounding the unheard city: an approach to the soundscapes of urban vacant lands in Lisbon.”
I can only cite a few sample papers in this post so I apologize to the many scholars who I don’t mention here and again encourage the reader to go to the published proceedings when they become available.
There was quite an emphasis on using sound to involve people in communities, not just treating soundscapes as documentary “museum pieces.” A few sample in this genre included “How soundwalks engage urban communities in soundscape awareness?” and “The HUSH CITY app. A new mobile app to empower local communities to identify, access and evaluate everyday quiet areas in their neighborhoods” and “Sound-specific: specificities of place and identity revealed through soundwalks.”
Some papers were delightfully focused on a narrow kind of sound. These include “The soundproof box: using phonography to investigate the workplace of the cinema projectionist,” and “The lizard and the cloch: time, place and foghorns in the coastal soundscape.”
There were many papers about various aspects of soundwalk techniques and technologies – really too many to list individually here — and a number of soundwalk opportunities. A few paper topics dealt with technical and perceptual issues such as 3D sound, and others either documented sound installations or proposed ones to be built in the future.
A few sound artists had applied for a short residency prior to the symposium and they then presented their work, either as soundscape compositions in concerts or sound installations in a variety of venues.
I don’t feel I am doing justice to the depth and breadth of this wonderful conference hosted by the University of the Azores.
But now I have to ask a question that has been on my mind. There is a tremendous richness to this field yet I wonder how many undergraduate students are ever exposed to the possibilities of a career related to acoustic ecology? I fear that a great many colleges, in their sound technology and recording programs, focus only on the recording of pop music in a studio. But that is a rant for another day.
I will post links to the Invisible Places proceedings when I know them. Watch too for a series of short posts, with sound examples, covering the topics I presented at the symposium.