Sound, Density, and the Environment: Case Studies from the Bernese Alps, Brazil's Minas Gerais, and Hong Kong's Sai Ying Pun Quarter

Project Description

This project explores different contemporary soundscapes (the Bernese Oberland, the rural Gerais in Central Brazil, and Hong Kong’s Sai Ying Pun quarter) from a global comparative perspective to analyze their sonic dimensions, predominant influence lines, and related impact on human interactions with the surrounding environment. It aims to establish a critical reflection on the actual dichotomies among natural, rural and urban soundscapes. Moreover, it investigates the lines of influence of environmental sounds, technology, human culture, music making, and performance. While based in ethnomusicology, it integrates perspectives and methods from anthropology, soundscape research, urban studies, and architecture, proposing the reintegration of musical material and affect studies into a sonic research perspective. Reanalyzing factors such as density, and reflecting on perceptive processes, such as immersion and transduction, the project "Sound, Density, and the Environment" particularly focuses on the following specific dimensions of intersection:

a) the impact of human-generated sound on a natural environment;
b) the impact of environmental sound on cultural and social life;
c) strategies of reappropriation of an urban context through sound and reflected in sound.

Project Leader

Project Coordinator

Project Assistants

Subprojekt A:
The Violence of Tourism and Interacting Sound Dimensions in a Vertical Landscape (Bernese Oberland)

Prof. Dr. Britta Sweers

The Swiss high Alpine region of the Bernese Oberland has been a hot spot of international tourism since the start of tourism in the 19th century. Accordingly, it is strongly shaped by a tight intersection of natural, rural and modern, strongly tourism-influenced sound clusters. Regarding geological parameters, the region’s soundscape is characterized by extremes. This includes the transmission of sound in the very tight and steep Lauterbrunnental, a trough valley, besides the glaciers of the nearby massif of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, with related sounds like glacial avalanches and waterfalls like the Trümmelbachfälle. The region’s soundscape has been further significantly shaped by international tourist activities. This includes background music, vocallinguistic  layers, as well as technology – the latter being apparent in the sound of helicopters. How far does this situation reflect a further side of what Steve Goodman called the “acoustic violence of vibration”? Focusing on the Lauterbrunnental and the Kleine Scheidegg area, this subproject investigates the predominant natural keynote sounds of that area and their interconnection with human sounds. Furthermore, it also investigates the experience of this sound environment by the local population and tourists, yet also points of conflict and discourses regarding cultural and environmental sustainability.

Project Leader

Subproject B:
Dwellings of Sound: Auditory Knowledge and Sonic Symbolism amongst the Geraizeiros of Central Brazil

M. A. Victor de Souza Soares

My doctoral project consists of an ethnography of sound and listening amongst the geraizeiros, a traditional rural population that dwells the cerrado, a unique central Brazilian ecosystem. Drawing on the concepts of acoustemology, non-human agency, supernature, and space/place, I argue that these countrypersons, besides revealing century-old musical traditions, relate and interact with the non-human world (animal and supernatural) by means of a very particular sound-listening environmental connectivity. Accordingly, my ethnographical account will focus on daily routines of work, leisure and religion, as well as sacred-secular events (e.g. folias, pilgrimages, ritual dances) to investigate the sonic and auditory dimension within human-nonhuman relationships and interactions.

Ph.D. Candidate

Subproject C:
Soundscape of Density: Architecture, Space and Sound in Sai Ying Pun

M. A. Andrin Uetz

In comparing two neighborhoods in Hong Kong this PhD project wants to examine the impact of vertical expansion to the listening experience of citizens. Both, Sai Ying Pun and Mong Kok, have an extremely high number of residents and visitors. The soundscape of density manifests itself through the vast amount of sounds compressed into small alleys between high rise buildings. How are the sounds of these dense and overcrowded places perceived? Can differences in sound quality and volume be heard from varying perspectives? How is the architecture of buildings influencing the hearing experience? What are typical Mong Kok and Sai Ying Pun sounds? Whereas most soundscape studies are connecting sounds to fixed coordinates on maps, this project follows a promenadological (Burckhardt) approach towards an aesthetic of urbanity. It therefore focuses on three ways of locomotion; walking, climbing stairs, and riding elevators. With binaural in-ear microphones a listening experience is simulated. 3D reproduction with headphones give way to virtual sound walks. Recordings are described, analyzed and shared with a community of commenting listeners. Both locals and expats are invited to participate in transect walks in order to find out what residents are hearing in their environment. A comprehensive field diary is trying to close the gap between the multi sensorial experience of listening in place and the virtual sound space of recordings.

Ph.D. Candidate