Soundscape Preservation

The Arb is a vital component to Carleton College and the surrounding community.  It provides habitat for animals, spaces for education and scientific research, and recreational trails.  The Arb’s founders were arguably some of the first restoration ecologists in the United States and preserved the area because of its landscape.  Many conservation projects are initiated to save landscapes.  Although soundscapes are non-tangible, they also have great importance and conservation value because they are the seams of environments – they bind space together.   Thus, similarly to landscapes, soundscapes are deserving of protection.

Data from this study, and disappearance of habitats Krause recorded, demonstrates why it is important to preserve natural soundscapes.  Information ascertained from soundscapes can reveal the organizational structure of locations: the elements within them and their interactions.  Hence, soundscape-derived information facilitates the classification of environmental components and aids understanding relationships between these elements.  This study reveals that macro-level information about organisms’ lives, such as their circadian rhythm, can be gained by studying sound.  Industrialization and land development threatens natural soundscapes by endangering biological acoustic communication.  If biophonic and geophonic sounds are inhibited by anthrophony, the detection about living systems using sound is inhibited.  Krause’s library exemplifies how natural acoustics are threatened, not only because of anthropogenic sound masking, but because habitat loss causes the complete destruction of the natural soundscape.  Therefore, just as landscape preservation is needed to maintain habitat for animals or for historical purposes, soundscape preservation is needed for the same reasons.

In locations where industrialization and modern life threatens the natural acoustic space, the most direct way to counteract anthrophony is by constructing sound barriers to physically keep unwanted sound out.  However, this method is limited to specific areas, visually impacts the landscape, alters the habitat composition, and fails to prevent arial sounds from intruding.  In locations where anthropogenic sounds can be controlled, such as national parks, vehicle regulations can be implemented to eliminate or reduce anthrophony.

An approachable method for soundscape preservation would be to label a valued acoustic location as a “soundscape refuge.”  Positive support for these areas would be gained, awareness generated, and the necessary actions could be taken to protect the soundscape of that location (i.e. closing off or limiting the use of nearby roads;  restricting human access to certain locations; prohibiting the use of machinery; establishing quiet hours; etc.).  When this is done, the soundscape of the area would be protected.  In addition, for visitors, listening would be promoted as opposed to hearing.  Awareness would draw attention to unwanted elements, such as anthrophony that could be tuned-out, in favor of desirable biophonic and geophonic sounds.  By shifting the focus towards achieving an understanding of the soundscape through listening, the environment can be mentally re-structured.  Hence, instead of focusing on negative aspects, such as the nearly continuous vehicle noise in the Arb, perception is directed toward positive elements, such as bird songs.  This would facilitate a greater understanding and appreciation for the location.  Therefore, important environmental locations could contain a soundscape guide, similarly to a wildlife guide, that informs people of key acoustic features to listen for and those to mentally subtract.

By classifying the acoustic signatures of an environment, the rules of the soundscape are derived.  Truax calls knowledge about the structure of an acoustic system soundscape competence (Truax, 57).  Sound does not function independently of how it is listened to, and competence of an acoustic system enhances the ability to understand and appreciate it.  As industrialization and modern life advances and as the dominance of visual entertainment and “eye-culture strengthens,” the simple method of labeling soundscapes as “soundscape refuges,” encourages interactivity.  Perception is powerfully influenced by intention.  Asserting the value of a soundscape by qualifying its importance gives the area purpose and enhances reasoning for the listener to engage with the exchange of information.

By studying the soundscape of the Best Woods, and creating a soundmap of the Arb, the acoustic attributes of this cherished and popular location on the Carleton campus and Northfield community are identified, explained, and presented for appreciation and contemplation by its visitors.  A baseline classification of the acoustic components of Best Woods also has been established for taking actions necessary to create a soundscape refuge, and make Best Woods, and the entire Arb, a sensory experience with not only physical and visual values, but also with an auditory dimension that enhances the human experience of being in the place.

As this study has demonstrated, interactions between the natural environment and humans can be understood through sound.  Acoustics are permeable, never fixed in place or time.  In his book The Great Animal Orchestra Krause states: “[w]ild soundscapes are full of finely detailed information, and while a picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, a natural soundscape is worth a thousand pictures” (71).  Ultimately, to gain soundscape competence, all you have to do is listen.