Soundscapes as Cultural Heritage

Hello there! Good to see you here.

I am sure you have travelled before, haven’t you? Explored places both near and far from home?

I am sure you carry a lot of memories from these places. A chance meeting with a stranger, a monument that made you gasp, a natural landscape that made you feel weak in your knees, so on and so forth, your repertoire of experiences must be quite intriguing indeed.

However, have you ever consciously closed your eyes and listened to a place? Have you felt the voice of a destination speak to you in its many diverse tongues? Have you heard the language of a space as it tells you about its people, its animals, its emotions, its pace of development, its chaos, its order? Have you felt yourself being absorbed into the silences between the sounds of a place, almost floating in a sonic ocean?

Well, don’t worry. Most people have not experienced such things. After all, the visual spectacles of a location have been specifically developed and designed to grasp your attention. No one has really gone out of their way to develop auditory monuments that people can visit and admire have they?

Soundscape (noun; definition):

The acoustic environment of a location which is a sum total of all the acoustic resources contained within the region surrounding the perceiver of the said environment. This includes both artificial as well as natural acoustic sources coming together to form an immersive aural landscape.

Similar to landscapes, soundscapes are environments and the fact of the matter is that no two soundscapes are the same. Every region has a unique soundscape of its own and hence, forms a fundamental part of its identity as a destination. Even though we might not be paying conscious attention to the sounds of a place, our perception of destination is undeniably shaped by what we hear as well.

Local sounds are an important part of our cultural heritage

Photo by Nishant Aneja from Pexels

 

Cultural Heritage of the Aural Planes

A major part of the soundscape of a region includes culture-bound sounds, such as the call to prayer, calls of street hawkers, and conversations in local languages among others.

These sounds are all crucial parts of what has been recently recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage or ICH. The importance of ICH has been perfectly captured by author Pinar Yelmi in her paper titled “Protecting contemporary cultural soundscapes as intangible cultural heritage: sounds of Istanbul”.

The example that she offers is that of the central importance of tea-drinking in Turkish culture, especially in terms of social events in everyday lives of individuals living here.

Even though the tools used to brew tea have changed over the years in Istanbul, tea continues to be a crucial part of the socio-cultural fabric. However, as the tools have changed over the years, so has the quintessential sounds associated with the process of tea-making.

The sounds that were associated with the older implements of tea-making on the streets of Istanbul can no longer be heard and the preservation of such sounds is becoming more and more necessary as artifacts of local identity.

Conservation of Natural Soundscapes

It is not only urban soundscapes that are being recognized as cultural heritage, natural soundscapes are in dire need of conservation as well. In fact, soundscapes filled with natural sounds as well as silence-filled soundscapes such as those of deserts are being encroached upon by human development and hence, are rare resources in the modern world.

Elisa Giaccardi from the Center for Lifelong Learning & Design at the University of Colorado, conceptualized a method of conserving such natural soundscapes and integrating them as a socio-cultural experience, similar to that of museums and art galleries.

In her paper titled “The Silence of the Lands: Interactive Soundscapes for the Continuous Rebirth of Cultural Heritage”, Giaccardi proposes a design hypothesis for the development of museum-like spaces that individuals can visit to experience the wonders of natural soundscapes.

The natural sounds from the wilderness are recorded both live as well as in advance in order to offer immersive auditory experiences for the visitors. At the same, the spaces are also designed with interactive technologies so as to allow visitors to convert soundscapes into means of communication. In other words, visitors can experiment and learns the ways in which soundscapes and individual natural sounds can be converted into a new medium of conversation.

It is important to connect with nature on a sonic level as well

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

 

The Loss of Auditory Cultural Heritage

The fundamental representative of human development encroaching upon natural spaces as well as the urban/rural culturally rich soundscapes is the vehicular horn. The modern vehicular horn, even though it differs slightly from region to region, is a mechanized and for most part, universal sound that holds no deeper cultural significance.

Even though vehicular horns and their sonic evolution are important for the understanding of a specific part of our cultural heritage, the widespread usage of the same in the modern world are populating otherwise rich cultural soundscapes. This is occurring to such an extent that more subtle sonic cultural artifacts are being lost in a cacophony of monotonous and mundane honks.

I don’t know about you, but I would hate it if I go to a new place and instead of being able to enjoy the rich sonic cultural landscape there, I am subjected to a similar cacophony of horn sounds.

I would classify excessive honking as an act that is conducive with the heinous and pathetic way in which individuals scribble their names onto ancient monuments.

It is high time we reclaim our sonic heritage so that our children are able to enjoy the rich diversity of our soundscapes rather than being subjected to monotonous and repetitive soundscapes with no real diversity.

Let’s save our sonic biodiversity. Let’s stop honking!

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