The sound of a church bell,
a market, a marina, and a
seagull, all woven together.
What do Ecological Civilizations Sound Like?
"Without sound…there would be no music, no legend,
no voice to stir the soul, evoke the memory, or transport the spirit!"
"As much spirit as a place, Wild Sanctuary is an exploration of art, science,
outreach, and performance - with Natural Soundscapes informing each adventure."
-- Katherine Krauss, Wild Sanctuary
Ecological civilizations live in space, time, and sound. And given the fact that all things are interwoven, the people in these civilizations are especially attentive to how sounds affect our ways of living in space and time. This is where open and relational perspective are especially helpful. Influenced by the organic philosophy of Whitehead, they propose that the universe itself is better understood on the analogy of music than that of visual objects sharply separated in space.
This does not mean that all things are pretty. Witness the violence and greed and despair. Witness the loss of life and the absence of love. There is too much unspeakable suffering, and too much missed potential, to say that the world is an ode to joy.
Nevertheless, the world is music-like in that it is a fluid and evolving process composed of events that come into existence and then pass away, like musical notes of varying durations in an ongoing concert. Mountains are events, rivers are events, and people are events. Some events last longer than others but all arise and then perish. And each event is a blending of influences from other sources. In its creativity, the event transcends the strict determinism of the past, displaying what the Chinese call a continuous creativity – a qi – which is always here and now, always spontaneous, and always expressing itself in the sheer as-it-is-ness of whatever is.
The hope of open and relational philosophies is that we might learn to feel the presence of the world in its event-character and then live in accordance with its beauty, creating societies that are creative, compassionate, participatory, and ecologically wise, with no one left behind. These kinds of societies will have soundscapes -- sonic atmospheres -- that enrich life and help people live in these ways. The wild sanctuary project helps us understand what ecological civilizations can sound like. One of the educational functions in ecological civilization is to help us learn to listen to each and every life, as best we can, with generous, grateful ears.
What do Ecological Civilizations sound like?
Natalie (caller into Science Friday on NPR): Yeah, I was in Darjeeling, India a couple of years ago, and I just -you had talked earlier in the show about the soundscapes of human activity and healthy ecosystems, and that just sort of hit me because we were staying on the second floor of a small hotel that was up above sort of a central square, and there were no cars, no mechanical vehicles around that particular area.
And it was a very unique sound that I had really never heard before, and it was very comforting because you were sort of part of this community. You could hear conversations going on. You could hear people selling in their shops. You could hear laughter. But none of it was very - you know, nothing stood out. It was just sort of a background, soft hum of activity.
Response of Brian Pijanowski, Purdue University: You know, the sounds of a church bell, for example, in a very rural area is something that's very pleasing, the sound of a market, the sound of a marina...You know, there are human environments that are actually good. So, you know, one of the things we say in the article is that not all human-produced sounds are bad, and maybe we shouldn't even label them all as noise. They become part of the way in which we associate the human being with the landscape, with nature or the environment.