TAoN No. 126: Some practical ecoacoustics, a new icebreaker, and more
This week: a couple of ideas related to listening.
First, via The Podcast Browser, I recently heard this Many Minds interview with Karen Bakker about her book The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants. The conversation included some terms and ideas that were new to me, and that made me think about listening — a recurring TAoN topic — in new ways.
Specifically, Bakker introduced me to the term biophony to refer to sounds of living organisms, and geophony to refer to (as I understand it) natural but non-animal sounds, like waves crashing on a beach or wind in the trees. I found a bit more about these terms in this essay by Bernie Krause.
But without going into the weeds, as it were, this suggested to me a fairly simple promopt:
Spend a week (or a month, or a year) tracking examples of geophony and biophony around you — wherever you are and wherever you go.
Bakker also had a lot to say about sounds that are beyond normal human hearing, but that we can now access through technology. She describes this as an extension of “deep listening” that might more traditionally be associated with ecoacoustics (listening to entire landscapes, as a kind of ensemble). You can check out the whole discussion here.
The Krause essay I mention above also cites a third ecoacoustics dimension: anthropophony, “or all of the sounds we humans generate. Some of these sounds are controlled, like music, language, or theater. But most of what humans produce is chaotic or incoherent — sometimes referred to as noise.”
This reminded me of a different interview I’d enjoyed: Benjamen Walker on his Theory of Everything podcast, talking to George Prochnik, author of the 2010 book In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise.
Prochnik characterizes his interest in silence as, perhaps parodoxically, a desire to “see and feel and hear as much as possible.” He suggests:
“Spend some time in the environments where most of your day passes, and try this — close your eyes, wherever you are, and just remain absolutely still for a couple of minutes. Don’t try to meditate. Just become aware of what you’re hearing.”
His point is largely that if we all spent time listening in this way, we would become more aware of the sounds we would prefer to “subtract.” Prochnik seems extremely troubled by many human-made sounds. (As Walker wonders aloud, “Doesn’t New York maybe seem to be the wrong city for a guy like you?”)
Setting aside the judgments and agendas, I think it’s worth going into this exercise open to discovering both sounds you enjoy and sounds you don’t, but most of all sounds you never thought about before.
The whole episode is … worth a listen!
Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Karlie B.:
If you were a potato, how would you be prepared?
Karlie B. offered no elaboration on this question — and what elaboration do we need? I love this kind of query. Thank you Karlie!
Please send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to email@example.com
COMING UP (+ SUBSCRIBER PITCH)
The next paid-subscriber-only edition will have a listening theme as well — but about listening to other people. Also coming: more on everyday poetry; and asking how quickly do we exhaust our sense of awe?, among other subjects.
In recent paid-subscriber-only issues I wrote about mindful materialism, (definitely more coming on that!), two cheers for social media, musical rabbit holes (revisited), unpopular culture, and doing as arguing.
TAoN is a reader-supported publication. For access to past and future subscriber-only posts, discussion threads, and more, support TAoN with a paid subscription.
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IN OTHER NEWS
This ^^ has been around awhile as a meme, but I was thinking fondly about it recently and looked it up again. Here’s a Reddit thread that adds some fun comments, but above is a version that actually credits the artist, P Jean Oliver. Here’s to Oliver’s friend Blue.
Part of the NYT’s “Overlooked” series of belated obituaries: Tove Ditlevsen. Her Copenhagen Trilogy is amazing (and, fair warning, harrowing).
Object of Interest: red tape.
Ham radio’s paper trail: Great-looking book collection of QSL cards, “which are sort of like business cards for individual ham operators.”
From the amusing Twitter account Weird AI Generations: “Nuclear explosion gender reveal party.” (Thanks, Sam!)
New book co-edited by Joshua Glenn and me: LOST OBJECTS: 50 Stories About The Things We Miss And Why They Matter.
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments. —> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032. Send me mail! No one sends mail anymore!
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