Sound City

    Human Being as a Measure...

    Our journey into the world of the soundscape has just begun. Yet, we must realize that it is a term given to something we experience everyday, all the time and everywhere, but tend not to take note of consciously.

    Today, despite the spread of noise, specific sounds that define and characterize a country, city or culture (such as language, sounds of local activities or the sounds of the natural environment around), though masked, are still discernible to a keen listener.

    Awareness of our soundscape, provides food for listening and food for thought and action. By increasing our listening capacity, our desire to resist cacophony and to seek a sonically purer environment shall certainly receive a fillip. It is through listening that we are better able to grasp what exists around us and also begin to appreciate the total acoustic environment around us. By listening only can we identify the sounds we should encourage and those which we should discourage.

    For not all sounds are cacophonous.

    Therefore, rather than rejecting the whole as noise pollution, why not salvage some parts?

    After all, it is us, the people of the world, who must make an effort to differentiate between sounds that are cacophonous or outward bound and sounds that are human or inward drawing. In any human environment, it is the human being who must be the basis. Just as a door frame accomodates our frame; the stair our foot, so too, the design of our acoustic environment must consider our ears and voices as its basis.

    When environmental sounds reach such proportions that our voices are regularly masked or overwhelmed. When our ear is forced to listen to sounds which endanger its physical well being, we have created an inhuman environment. It is interesting to consider that while our voice can be raised to quite a loud level (75 db), at no time can it be raised beyond a level where it may endanger our ear (85-90 db).

    God was certainly a first rate acoustic designer.
    We have been inept.

    Ref, R. Murray: The book of noise.

    Acoustic Community…


    Try listening to your day a little carefully.
    Listen to the continuity of sounds and how they occur -
    One after the other - a symphony created as a result of
    your own daily activities.

    And as your everyday activities follow certain rythmical
    and cyclical patterns, so does the symphony.

    Try making a list of sounds that you routinely hear everyday;
    sounds which establish your daily rythm.


    Why do these sounds acquire a special status? The process is certainly not an arbitrary one. Associations that we build over a certain period of time, with these sounds, help assist the process. Similar rhythmical and cyclical patterns exist not only in a day, but in a month, a season, a year and so on.

    Footsteps, the closing of a door, a car starting, even the way a door bell rings, all convey relevant information to us while kindling 'very personal associations'. While sounds of sirens, temple bells, train horns, etc, that occupy a larger 'acoustic space', act at the level of an entire community. These sounds define an 'acoustic community' both due to the shared experience of hearing them as well as through the information they convey.

    However, the same sound might not convey the same meaning to all the members of the community. For example, a factory siren may represent to one - a time to go to work, whereas to another, it may just be a reminder of a dominant institution in the community or simply an indication of the time.
    Often within communities, there is a tendency to categorize sound as good or bad. Simplistic as this categorization may seem, it is based on the subjective experience of listening to the soundscape. Associations and personal experiences with certain sounds, within the context of the community, tend to evoke conditioned responses in the individual. Similarly, in every community, there exist 'patterns of associations' that are based on the prevalent social attitudes. Thus some sounds are generally welcomed in a public forum, while others acquire a 'taboo' status, which may also vary from time to time.

    Finally, 'soundscape' by its very definition, depends on us and our listening habits. Any profound change in a system cannot be affected unless all elements of the system are included. Applied to the 'soundscape' this means that its quality cannot be restored just by isolated actions such as regulating 'worst offenders' through noise legislation or by 'designing' additional sounds into an acoustic environment in order to beautify it, if we simply - do not listen.

    As it is listening that will provide us with the resources
    to improve the orchestration of the world soundscape.
    Once we begin to listen, we move inwards, that is towards
    the cube with nothing (within it) and towards the silence (within us)...

    Language as sound…


    The effect of the original language of humanity was that every word and sound that was expressed not only to conveyed a meaning... but also to conveyed a sensation of a particular feeling or sentiment to the person who heard it. And as the ancient people cultivated this science they began to understand that sound in the form of voice is the main principle in a man's life.

    Hazrat Inayat Khan

    Different potencies of sound impact different energy centers in the body. Recognizing this, Maharishi Panini categorized the sounds of the alphabet in many different ways. Some of them are according to the effort required to produce them and their place of origin. This gives an idea of the nature of a particular sound and its quality. Some sounds are outward flowing, others draw one inward; some are soft, others harsh; some are dense, others transparent; some are clipped, others elongated; some are dark, others light; some are high, others low; some are warm, others cold.

    These sounds, when used in a word, give it a specific emotional and sensual impression.


    Sound Body

    Man is not only formed by vibrations, but he lives and moves in them; they surround him as the fish is surrounded by water and he contains them within him as the tank contains water.

    Hazrat Inayat Khan

    The Kathopanishad refers to the spirit in the body as vipaschit: the consciousness that vibrates. This vibration is not created. It is. The abstract sound that resides in it is called anahata (the unstruck) by the Vedas. Our body is seen as an instrument for resonating it and the myriads of veins, arteries and nerves are the strings that are touched by it. That is why they are called nadis. The word nadi is drawn from the same root as nada, which connotes an expansion through vibration.

    Nada or sound, resides in the heart of individual beings. This nada is not an external, objectified thing to be consumed by an external organ. It is only when this creative force moves to the level of the throat, that it splits and becomes externalized to be heard. Further up, at the level of the tongue, it turns into manifold words connected to multifarious objects and thoughts. It is the sound at this level that mostly engages our attention. Yet, the base of all sounds, nada, does not disappear.

    Even those sounds that are not meaningful words form a direct connection with our emotions. The babble of a child, the drone of an instrument, the buzz of a bee, the note of a raga, all impact our minds. In these, it is not the meaning of any word, but the potency of a given sound and its combination with others, that evokes a certain mood. Sound is the power by which we make a connection between the external world and our inner selves. Just as our mind may be healed by certain sounds, so too, it may be wounded and brazed by others.

    Just as certain sounds are marked by aggression and invasion of our individual space causing irritability and demeaning the quality of human contact, other sounds give rise to feelings of bonding and love.

    Just as certain sounds force us to move further away from our being, other sounds have the power to help us withdraw into ourselves and listen to the sound of our heart, breath, even our nervous system, pulsating, perhaps in consonance with the rhythm of the universe.


    Sound City