Sunteți pe pagina 1din 29

A critical evaluation of the acoustic ecology

movement using the Indian soundscape as a

starting point for research.
The concept of acoustic ecology (also known as sound or soundscape
ecology) has been around since the late sixties and evolved into a discipline
with a following that spans many participants in both the musical and scientific
worlds. Broadly defined, it deals with how we (as humans, although other
animals are also included) deal with and interpret the sounds in our
environment, both natural and manmade. It frequently expresses concern for
a lack of control over the sound environment, with rising decibels and the
increase of broadband sound being a major worry. However, instead of
taking a purely negative view by simply lobbying for bans and restrictions, the
movement has sought to be positive about sound, by encouraging people to
look at the sounds they enjoy and value in the environment and to find ways
to preserve and promote them.
That it is becoming taken more seriously (and becoming popular) at the
moment can be attributed to many factors: the continuing move into
mainstream politics of environmentalism (with which acoustic ecology has
moved in parallel since its inception) has been hastened by concerns about
climate change and sustainability. Also, the continuing arrival of new sounds
from media and communications technology crowds the acoustic environment
even further becoming a potential source of stress in already pressured urban
centres. Paradoxically, the proliferation of cheap high quality recording
technology now gives access to far more people to actively participate in the
movement as recording sound in the field is an important part of acoustic
ecologys processes.
My own fieldwork focuses on a range of environments in South India where I
digitally captured sounds using a Zoom H4N recorder. These sounds were
later used as the basis for a series of interviews with both local Indians and a
broad spectrum of people back in London to compare and analyse their
reactions to what they heard.
In this essay, to put acoustic ecology into context, I will look into the history of
discourses on noise and silence, from the Futurists reactions to the industrial
revolution through John Cage and early concerns about increasing sound
levels. The wealth of organisations, projects and journals connected with
acoustic ecology that now proliferate around the world emanate mostly from
the work of a pioneer group of musicians (in particular the composer Murray
Schafer) that developed in the 1970s.
In retrospect, the magnitude of the achievements of Schafers first major
written work Soundscape: The Tuning of the World (1977) is astonishing: it
is a remarkably comprehensive in laying out the issues environmental sound
involves and is prescient in anticipating (as well as influencing) the concerns
about sound that have grown since its publication. It is more than just a

touchstone for those interested in the subject; it is the continuing inspiration

for a generation of soundscape artists and researchers. The journal
Soundscape The Journal of Acoustic Ecology is largely an espousal of
Schafers ideas, continually reaffirming them and demonstrating how far and
wide they have travelled: the wealth of contributors over the years provides
evidence of the reach of the movement both geographically and culturally and
documents its move from the margins to the mainstream.
However, the fact that the core ideas of the movement remain little changed
or challenged over the years is to me worrying and something that I wish to
investigate, looking for alternative ideologies where I can find them around the
world, with particular reference to India, where the bulk of my field work was
carried out. India has its own set of specific environmental problems, with
noise being a concern as it is anywhere else. However, as it is culturally very
distinct from the parts of the world that the ideology acoustic ecology
developed in, I wondered how appropriate these ideas were for this region
and seek to question the relevance and applicability of its concepts and

Acoustic Ecology: a background

The key event which shaped the formation of the movement was a research
project founded by Schafer in the late sixties called The World Soundscape
Project. The initial project was an investigation into what were felt to be
negative changes in the local sound environment in Vancouver. It then grew
to include a cross-Canada tour and the five European villages project, from
which data stored in the World Soundscape Library was derived. While work
under the group banner began to dwindle, the projects originators have
followed their own individual courses, with Barry Truax developing
methodology distinct from the group which he published in the book Acoustic
Communication (1984, updated in 2001).
One of Schafers key ideas is that of the healthy sound environment.
Arquette pinpoints the two main conceptual references in this as being the
ecological model present in the natural environment and the musical model.
Schafer (1977) describes the soundscape as a great macro-cultural
composition, of which man and nature are the composer/performers (p.4).
He devised methods such as ear cleaning - various exercises focused on
improving the sonological competence of total societies through listening
(p.181), one of which is the soundwalk (exploring a given soundscape using
a map as a score). His ethos is essentially idealistic in nature, to the point
where Schafer believes that (referring to sonological competence) if such an
aural culture could be achieved, the problem of noise pollution would
disappear (p.181).
Barry Truax, an original member of the World Soundscape Project, went on to
develop his own distinct approach. It aims not at understanding acoustic
phenomena in particular situations or through specifically defined paradigms
(as with acoustical engineering, musicology, noise studies etc.) but rather
attempts to understand the interlocking behaviour of sound, the listener and
the environment as a system of relationships, not as isolated entities (2001,
p.xviii). His analysis reflects a communicational framework with the three main
components of listener, sound and environment interacting via the channels of
what he calls energy transfer and information exchange.
Paquette (ibid., p.4) identifies a third approach in the work of Jean-Franois
Augoyard and Pascal Amphoux, respectively French and Swiss researchers
working at the CRESSON (Research Centre on Sonic Space and the Urban
Environment) in France. Augoyard and Torgue (2005) also offer a critique of
the soundscape movement (and how it has been taken up by urban planners
and architects): This eagerness to approach sound like any other object and
to use a key word, which in fact masks a deficiency in our knowledge about
sound, is largely responsible for the loss of focus and unlikely relevance of a
term endowed with a particular and precise meaning (p.9). To remedy this,
they have devised the concept of the sonic effect (leffet sonore), which they
use as an interdisciplinary tool. Their book Sonic Experience: a Guide to
Everyday Sounds is presented as an alphabetical list of these sonic effects,
covering aspects such as aesthetics, psychology and sociology for each one.
Rather than borrow words from other disciplines and reconfigure their
meanings for sound (as Schafer does by changing landmark to soundmark

for example), they have attempted to stay with terms already used to describe
qualities and of sound such as echo or mask as the start point for defining
their own terms.
Unlike Schafers concepts, their sonic effects are essentially open ended; the
survey of objects that sonic effect refers to can be constantly added to, and
each definition should be flexible, giving some indication of the nature and
status of sound phenomena rather than trying to fix them. I will later refer to
their concept of sharawadji, a sound phenomena borrowed from Chinese
Steve Goodman (2010) describes the result of their work as an interaction
between the physical sound environment, the sound milieu of a social-cultural
community and the internal soundscape of every individual which results in
the revision of the notion of the sonic city as instrument as merely
possessing passive acoustic properties, replacing it with a sonic
instrumentarium of urban environments (p.46).
One of the main struggles within the movement has happened on the
battleground between subjective and objective models of researching the
sound environment and the effect on its inhabitants, with battle lines
constantly being drawn and redrawn: The drastic shift taken by the WSP and
its difficulty to cope with the growing presence of technological systems raises
questions concerning its capacity to deal with complex, urban situations in
which for instance too much subjectivity may present tremendous
methodological, or even legislative problems (Paquette, 2004). Within these
ideological debates, I make no claim to having chosen the right methodology
for the areas I visited: as a novice in the field, my research methods were
largely dictated by what was convenient and easy for me to carry out.
Schafers ideas have not been impervious to criticism, however. David
Paquette notes that the way that the ideal soundscape is defined may result
in a biased, or distorted reading of the sounds around us and their
signification. Sound artist David Dunn has developed his own idiosyncratic
interpretation of the relationship between animals and sound in nature with
much inspiration from bioacoustics. In an article entitled Wilderness As
Reentrant Form: Thoughts on the Future of Electronic Art and Nature (1988),
he presents arguments which reveal him to be highly suspicious of back to
nature trends, both within society and issues relating to sound and sees them
as potentially destructive. He advocates greater interaction with technology
and believes we have reached a state where we are part of dynamic living
processes from which we can never extricate ourselves and to which we owe
our continued survival (p 2).
In another article (1997), though he maintains respect for the World
Soundscape Movement, he is critical of the vogue for recordings of natural
acoustic environments that has sprung up in its wake (p.7).
Several recordists market their recordings as purist audio documentation of
pristine natural environments with particular appeal to the armchair
environmental movement. Personally I find something perverse about many of

these recordings, as if the encoding of a semiotic referent in the form of an

audio description of place could ever be something other than a human
Japanese soundscape designer and musicologist Keiko Torigoe wrote her
thesis on the World Soundscape Project and concluded (1982) that the
biased view of modern technology in the aesthetic, and even moral, sense
might be the reason that prevents the Project from involving itself actively
enough in the actual alteration and creation of soundscape (p.164). I see it
as significant that such a view comes from someone from a different culture
and will explore these ideas with relation to India and Japan. India not Japan
is not the focus of my fieldwork. However, as the country outside the West
where most research and work is done with soundscapes (often with much
original thought relating to unique facets of Japanese culture), Japan has
become an essential part of my subsequent research in attempting to locate
new perspectives outside the West.
Most of the participants in the World Soundscape Project (Schafer, Truax,
Westerkamp and many other composers and acoustic ecologists involved
with the project) are Canadian, or Canadian-based. I wondered how their
ideas may have been affected by the Canadian soundscape, in a region
which, although it contains large urban centres, has a relatively low population
density and abundance of space and natural landscapes Schafer (1977) does
point out that some of the dominant sounds in the Canadian forests are the
mechanical noises of logging, as well as snowmobiles in the northern tundra)
(p 84-85). Perhaps their desire to escape from the cacophony of the lo-fi
environment is reflective of the proximity and access to hi-fi soundscapes that
are increasingly difficult to find in India.
Another of Schafers key concepts (1977) is that of the hi-fi environment, in
which sounds may be heard clearly without crowding or masking. This is in
contrast to the lo-fi environments where signals are overcrowded, resulting
in masking or lack of clarity P.43). The early chapters of Soundscapes are
concerned with the transition in mans history from hi-fi to lo-fi via key events
such as the industrial and technological revolutions. The last chapter of the
book is reserved for the subject of silence, and signifies a desire on Schafers
part to return to silence, which may now be an unrealistic aim, especially for a
country such as India.
Discourses on noise and silence are a dominant theme in acoustic ecology.
As my research will show, noise is a particularly important issue in India,
therefore to discuss what approaches may be necessary in dealing with the
Indian soundscape, it is necessary to investigate the history of these
discourses in detail.

Noise, Silence and Beyond

Debate about noise has long been vocal, particularly since the industrial
revolution brought an array of new inventions with high decibel sound output
into society with unprecedented frequency. The effect of having to cope with
so many new and harsh sounds crowding the soundscape provoked many
adverse reactions, though the most shocking came from those who
appreciated it. The painter and composer Luigi Russolo was the most vocal
representative of the musical wing of the Futurist art movement, which sought
to break with old traditions in all artistic disciplines and embrace modernity.
Instead of fearing and rejecting the new sound world, he invited it in and
published his manifesto The Art of Noises (1913) which views using noise as
the way out of a stagnating Western musical culture. Many of his reactions to
noise paradoxically seem at the same time outdated and contemporary.
Noise, however, reaching us in a confused and irregular way from the
irregular confusion of our life, never entirely reveals itself to us, and keeps
innumerable surprises in reserve. We are therefore certain that by selecting,
coordinating and dominating all noises we will enrich men with a new and
unexpected sensual pleasure (p.86).
Outdated in that by inviting noise in from every corner into every orifice and
edifice of our lives we welcome unbridled sonic chaos, which the acoustic
ecology movement, and now wider sections of society, have sought to
disentangle. Contemporary in that all kinds of noise have now become part of
the musical landscape, from Russolos noise making machine, through the
efforts of Edgar Varse to combine noise with pitched material in his
compositions and constructions of found sound used in musique concrte.
Industrial, punk, metal and rave, among others have helped bring noise music
to the masses and given a voice to the angry and disenfranchised. Russolos
take on noise, though it may be considered anathema or old hat by many, still
rings true for many sections of society. Simon Reynolds (1995) summarizes
one important discourse surrounding noise as a reality effect: There is a
widely held view that beauty and harmony are a lie, presenting a bourgeois
vision of nature and society as fundamentally balanced and ordered. And that
we have an obligation to listen to noise because it shows us the grim truth of
Having experienced the grim truth of reality in India in all its glory at times, it
is tempting to concede that perhaps noise is its ultimate expression.
However, to become entangled in these games, especially as an outsider to
Indian culture where very different socio-economic and socio-political
undercurrents are at play is dangerous territory, where I do not want to tread.

Other research into noise focuses not on whether it is positive or negative to

the human ear or psyche but on how it is simply necessary in identifying
Research in psychoacoustics has discovered the importance of noise
elements in being able to define timbre with components such as attack
transients perceptual cues for aural identification of the instrument.
Russo and Warner (2009) argue that one of Western musics important
discourses is the notion of a structural difference between noise and signal.
Noise here is defined as virtual acoustic noise (non-periodic vibrations of
ambient or concrete sounds). Signals are the tones (the periodic vibrations
of strings, air, vocal chords etc.) of the tempered scale and form the basis of
the Western classical tradition via harmony and the symphony orchestra. The
presence of others within Western music such as rock, folk and world musics
which involve noisier sounds via untempered tunings, distortion and greater
use of percussive instruments shows that noise has long been incorporated
into Western culture, though within music it may have specific roles (pp.4951). Although the psychoacoustic approach breaks down the structural
distinction between the two, perhaps there are fundamental differences in
attitudes to noise that analysis of musical discourses can reveal. It is quite
possible that there is greater tolerance and possibly appreciation of noise
within Indian culture.
Although this essay deals primarily with environmental sound and not with
music, one of the most important developments in music during the twentieth
century was the dissolution of the barriers between noise and music, allowing
musical discourses to arrive in the realm of noise (and noise pollution) and
vice versa.

The other major discourse in acoustic ecology, which is traceable to
Soundscapes and beyond to the work of John Cage, itself inspired by
eastern philosophy, is that of the importance and sanctity of silence or
quietness in the soundscape. Without the sudden arrival of the new noise
makers it is unlikely that in the West we would have developed the
appreciation of silence that exists now one necessitated the other.
Perhaps the key event in Cages career (he is quoted in many articles as
saying he considered it his most important work) was his composition 433.
The origin of the piece was Cages idea for a silent prayer, an uninterrupted
piece of silence to be sold to the Musak company. The eventual flowering of
this idea was a concert piece which, in its instruction for the performer not to
play their instrument during the piece, allowed the audience to hear and
concentrate on sounds coming from and around the environment it is
performed in. 433 is perhaps the major artistic step towards what Schafer
calls ear cleaning (a series of exercices he uses to improve sonological
competence i.e. being able to hear ones environment better: one simple
exercise of his is not to speak for a whole day (1977, p.181).

Schafer (1977) also quotes Cages adventures in the anechoic chamber,

which also have much bearing on the insistence on silence that obsesses
many people involved in acoustic ecology. Inside that anechoic chamber,
insulation is so complete that no sound from the outside can enter and Cage
discovered the presence of two separate tones, which he later discovered
were his nervous system and blood circulation. This led him to the conclusion
that there is no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that is
making a sound (p 256).
The influence of many different strands of Eastern philosophy (often carried
over into religious practice) has had a profound effect on the way we view
sound and silence in the West. Much as the eastern influence has irreversibly
changed the way we approach health and exercise in the West witness the
growth of alternative and holistic medicine sound agendas from acoustic
ecology and beyond simply would not exist without the arrival of these ideas
in the mid-twentieth century.
The practice of meditation is firmly at the centre of Japanese Zen Buddhism,
whose influence first arrived in the New York art circles that Cage circulated
within in the late forties. David Patterson (2002) describes a series of lectures
(which research has failed to confirm whether Cage attended or not, but
assumes that he must have done) by Japanese scholar Daisetz Teitaro
Suzuki which are credited with creating a fad for Buddhism, in particular the
relatively esoteric schools of Zen and Chan, the Chinese school that
Japanese Zen developed from (pp.52-53).
Branching out from this new concern with eastern philosophy, musician
Pauline Oliveiros has been devising her own approach to listening since 1969,
which involves a set of exercises to be practiced regularly with the aim of
developing what she calls Deep Listening (2005). Practice of Deep Listening
revolves around a pot-pourri of exercises drawn largely from various Eastern
philosophies and religions (yoga, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Tai Chi, Chi
Kung and other Taoist disciplines are all cited). The core exercises, however,
are mostly developed from different ways of meditating and she draws
parallels between Deep Listening (noticing my listening or listening to my
listening and discerning the effects on my bodymind continuum) and
meditation, which exists in various forms both religious and secular but is
generally used to calm the mind and promote receptivity or concentration,
Outside Europe and North America, there seems to be most interest in
acoustic ecology and soundscapes in Japan. We could attribute this to the
fact that Japan is a highly developed nation with one of the worlds largest
economies (and therefore resources to devote to what in developing countries
might be seen as a luxury). We could also argue that the high (and still
increasing) population density in a limited space has necessitated paying
attention to this area. More likely is that the appreciation of natural
environments (and we can include landscape and soundscape within this)
long embedded within the arts in Japan made it an ideal recipient for these
ideas. I would go further and suggest that Cages ideas have come full circle

and returned to the region which originally inspired some of the ideas, via
acoustic ecology.
The 100 Soundscapes of Japan project, instigated by the Japanese
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a continuation of the World
Soundscape Project. The soundscapes chosen were largely natural
environments such as wind blowing through pine forests, creaking pack ice
etc.). As Tadahiko Imada notes, a large variety of soundscape activities have
been developed within many fields such as environmental education, social
education, and so on, which most recently also includes music education.
While working closely with Schafer, he recognizes that a critical analysis of
the concept of soundscape, with reference to structuralism and poststructuralism is urgently needed to make a space in music education that
incorporates the notion of sound as a cultural phenomenon, indicating yet
further dissent with Schafers universally applied ideals.
In an article about sound culture in Japan, Imada (1994) states that: The
decision of whether some sounds are regarded as music or not rests with the
cultural background of the listener. In other words, cultures do not share the
same methods of listening; there are as many ways of listening as there are
cultures and ears. (p.16)
To exemplify how radically different these listening approaches can be, he
describes how in the early Showa period (1925-1989) people would gather to
listen to the sound of the bloom of a lotus flower. As the frequency of this
sound is approximately 9-16 Hz and the lower threshold for human hearing is
20Hz, people were actually physically incapable of perceiving the sound but
they loved and wanted to listen to that phantom sound. The experience was a
kind of communal auditory hallucination. He goes on to summarize that it
seems the ancient Japanese people considered various sounds as the total
scenery, and being more imaginative than us, there was no border between
sound and music in the ancient Japanese sound culture. The Japanese
people regarded sound as an abstract image rather than as a pragmatic
acoustic event, (ibid., p.14)
Although my research is primarily about India, not Japan, I believe the
presence of a unique sound culture in Japan, which many Japanese
musicians, soundscape artists and academics are consciously engaging with,
could give inspiration for other countries looking to address issues relating to
sound and the environment, such as India which also has the ability to
investigate its own sound culture. Scholars from Japan have also,
interestingly, been the first to raise concerns of post-colonial misinterpretation
and misrepresentation of other cultures within acoustic ecology. Imada
(2005) asks the question Can we simply abstract a (universal) sound
structure of which Western people may make sense from non-Western sound
cultures? and sees what acoustic ecology supposes is a universal structure
as a European and North American cultural product (p.13).


In an increasingly technological world, the absence of silence has become an

increasing concern for planners of urban environments. Historically, the way
that town planners have approached this is simply to measure decibels, with
the assumption that simple decibel reduction will return the sound
environment to a more healthy state. Schafer (1977) was the first to
recognise the limitations of this approach and that some sounds are of
importance to a society and need to be preserved in spite of their high decibel
count, for example church bells which are not only loud but emit low
frequencies, which range over long distances (p.55). The task of
discriminating between which sounds are valuable and which are simply noise
is a contentious one, which Schafer believes should not be left up to the
experts, although the role of expert is one which many of his followers over
the decades have wholeheartedly, and it could be argued blindly, ascribed to
However, Steve Goodman (2010) argues that we have in some respects gone
beyond the conceptual polarity of noise and silence, which have both been
subject to their own fetishization over the years and that we have arrived in a
situation where agencies of both control and enjoyment, or repressive and
mobilizing forces, reserve the right to zigzag as and when it is pertinent to do
so (p.193).
Schafers idealistic notion that noise pollution will disappear if we learn to
listen properly to our sound environment falls flat on its face when we realize
that there are clearly many agendas for choosing noise in the first place. No
one satisfactory universal ideology about sound can exist if dissent will be
experienced not only within groups and communities of people, but by
individuals wishing to exercise their rights to multiple sound agendas.

My Methods of Investigation
As I already had a trip to India booked, I decided to conduct my own
investigation into the Indian soundscape and to try and combine my own
insight as a foreigner arriving with hopefully fresh ears with the testimonies of
local people, and other tourists. The stages of my research were as follows:
Firstly, I recorded sounds using a Zoom H4n portable digital recorder. These
recordings include short recordings made opportunistically when interesting
sounds presented themselves and longer soundwalks as well as, where it was
possible to record, interviews with local people. For many of my field
interviews (as it was rarely possible to record) I wrote notes, often later on,
and paraphrased reactions.
As detailed in the previous chapter, various methods for research exist. The
main problem encountered by soundscape researchers is that when they are
interviewed people find it difficult to talk about issues that concern their
everyday, contemporary sonic environment (Paquette, 2004). I was aware
that, compounded with this problem, I would be dealing with cultural and
linguistic barriers. Though many Indians are capable of holding a
conversation in English, their ability to express themselves in the complex
language needed to describe sounds and feelings is often very limited.
As both time and the technical resources I would need to carry out detailed
research were limited, I resolved to keep my methods very simple. Peter
Cusacks Your Favourite London Sounds project, which has since been
extended to other cities worldwide involving many researchers, relies on the
simple concept of asking the question what is your favourite sound and why?
to elicit responses with a surprising depth of feeling. This approach was not
suitable for my research, as I was making sound recordings I wanted to play
to people. I was also aware that I would have limited space to present my
findings, so limited my questions to the following:
1) Do you recognize this sound/place? What is it?
2) What does it make you think/feel?
3) Do you like this sound? Why/why not?
My field recordings were as rich as I had hoped for and gave me material with
plenty of contrast to work with between dichotomies of urban and rural, noisy
and quiet, religious and secular etc. Firstly, they provided me with the material
I needed to be able to question other people about their opinions of the
sounds. Secondly, the process of recording made me experience the sounds
of India in a more intimate and intense way, colouring my insights into the
project. On returning home, though the high fidelity of my recordings
remained intact, the removal from their source geographically, culturally and
temporally created a displacement of sound, sometimes referred to as
schizophonia, another term coined by Schafer in his book The New
Soundscape (1969). Here, I saw new opportunities to exploit by playing
sounds first to expatriate Indians to see if there were any dimensions of
memory and nostalgia to explore. I could also then play to those who had

little or no connection to the sounds, (who were also likely not to recognize
their sources) so that I could try and draw some conclusions from the differing
reactions I might encounter.
My travels began in Mumbai, currently the city with the second largest
population in the world and still fast growing. It also has one of the most
pronounced divides between rich and poor sharing urban space in the world
and proved to be rich in urban soundscapes unfamiliar to me. Then, I
travelled southwards into Kerala, by far the most literate state in India. It has
an enticing mix of rural/agricultural landscapes, smaller urban centres with
interesting histories and culture and is now starting to become developed for a
fast growing tourist industry. With Hindus, Muslims and, more uniquely for
India, Christians well represented there was be a diversity of religious sites to

My Findings
Sounds and Responses
Firdaus Kanga (2010) reflects in his recollection of living in Bombay that in
India, sounds are never discrete as there will always be so many things going
on in the street at the same timesomeone performing magic tricks over
here, a mongoose fighting with a snake over there, and always people trying
to sell things. Its the merging itself thats fascinating. And you cant select
where you want to be at any time, unless you are wealthy and just go to the
theatre, which is the only time you will ever experience anything like silence.
However, I have isolated my sounds and grouped them into 4 rough
categories: animal/bird sounds, religious sounds, commercial activity and
vehicle sounds, though other sounds are not so easily grouped. The original
distinction I wanted to make between urban and rural sounds proved to be
somewhat of a blind alley. I soon realised that where there are people, there
is noise, and in India there are huge numbers of people. I am not claiming
that quiet, traditional villages do not exist, but as a tourist, despite a wide
range of travel experiences, I never saw one. Indias national parks, however,
are very accessible for tourists and as they are largely protected from the
incursions of human activity are by far the easiest places to get away from
sounds typical of urban areas, such as traffic and House Crow sounds.
I will use the term keynote sounds throughout this essay to describe such
sounds: it is an appropriation of the musical term keynote by Schafer, in
soundscape theory it acquires the new meaning of ubiquitous sounds which
suggest the possibility of a deep and pervasive influence on our behaviour
and moods, though they may not always be heard consciously. He considers
them particularly important as they help to outline of the character of men
living among them. (Schafer p.9)

Animal/bird sounds
Animals are to be found, and heard, everywhere in India. With far greater
biodiversity than is to be found in modern Europe, the natural soundscape is
richer. Another important contrast between Europe and India is that in urban
environments, whereas Europeans have driven out many wild animals by
persecuting them or removing suitable habitats, in India reverence and
tolerance for both wild and domesticated animals has allowed them to survive
and even flourish. A more uncontrolled approach to the built environment
contributes to this as it often provides opportunities and spaces for animals to
breed. Goats, chickens and cows can be found wandering even the largest
and most modern cities. Black kites, vultures and fruit bats roam the skies.
Cats battle with rats in city streets during daytime.
The most omnipresent keynote, which struck me the minute I first left the
airport, was that of the House Crow (a species similar in look, sound and
behaviour to the European Carrion Crow) (CD Track 1). Present in great
numbers everywhere you go in India, its incessant cawing has a tendency to
permeate almost all daytime recording. When I asked Bombay residents what

they felt about the sound, reactions were generally neither positive nor
negative. Some people described it as simply everywhere, as if I was asking
them to say what they felt about the presence of air. Sorab Shroff, who has
relocated from Bombay and been living in London for 10 years, recalled
hearing an old cassette of conversation from his childhood and being
surprised at how the crow sounds dominated the recording, as if he was
noticing their presence for the first time (Shroff 2010). As the range of this
species doesnt extend far beyond the Subcontinent, perhaps it is the
characteristic keynote sound for the region.
I developed the habit of walking around late at night to allow me to capture
some more unusual urban sounds such as frogs (CD Track 2) and fruit bats
feeding on a fig tree (and urinating under it) in hi-fi sound quality (CD Track 3).
I discovered what felt like a secret sound world: many of these sounds go
unnoticed by many urban dwellers, who are usually in their homes at these
times. Only one highly educated man with an interest in natural history was
able to identify the fruit bats.
Hiking in the national parks such as Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary gave me some
excellent opportunities to record birdsong in the natural arena of the forest
and the variety of species such as Common Hill Myna, White Cheeked barbet
and jungle fowl form a tapestry of sound which is beautiful and very different
to that found in European forests (CD Tracks 4-5). Of the Europeans I played
this to, all enjoyed the sound. The ones who reacted most enthusiastically to
it were those, again, with an interest in natural history that could clearly
perceive the difference between European and Indian birdsong tapestries and
were therefore appreciative of its exotic nature. Of the Indians, several more
educated urban Indians from Mumbai spoke about how lucky they were to
even be able to hear birdsong (other than crows or pigeons) from their
relatively privileged (and traffic noise free) dwellings.
There are many allusions in Schafers writing to the natural world being the
ultimate in healthy sound environments. In many parts of the world, birdsong is rich and varied, without being imperialistically dominating (p.29). The
ecological model is an antidote in his eyes to the destructive forces of
mankind, which have become increasingly out of tune with the natural
Although urban and rural animal sounds can have distinct characteristics (as
different species can be present or absent in both), my interviewees were
often not able to distinguish between the two. Mumbai has a surprisingly rich
biodiversity with almost 400 species of birds recorded. Local birdwatcher
Sunjoy Monga (2009) attributes the high number to the warmth of the urban
world and variety of food sources available from rubbish on the street and in
landfills, as well as the many fruiting and flowering trees that have been
introduced (p.123). The location where I personally saw and heard by far the
most bird species was the Zoological Gardens of Trivandrum, a city with
nearly 1 million inhabitants (CD Track 6).
What are usually heard in recordings of natural environment where man is
largely absent are animals, although there are always other elements present.

The field of bioacoustics is increasingly concerned with between animals and

their acoustic environment including humans and has obvious links with
the soundscape movement. Francisco Lopez, an accomplished sound artist
who often works with the natural sound environment sees the interpretation of
natural environments typical of bioacoustics as reductive (1998): I find
particularly limiting the habitual focus on animals as the main elements of the
sound environment a sound environment is not only the consequence of all
its sound-producing components, but also of all its sound-transmitting and
sound-modifying elements. The birdsong we hear in the forest is as much a
consequence of the bird as of the trees or the forest floor.

Religious sounds
The abundance of temples and religious activity in India means that even if
you never enter a place of worship, a variety of sounds will reach you. The
sound most invasive in the general soundscape is the Muslim call to prayer as
it is amplified (CD Track 7), but Hindu, and also Jain temple bells and
chanting, can be heard if passing (and there are so many temples in India that
this is likely to happen at least once a day). Conversely, although there are a
large number of Christian churches in South India, they almost always remain
silent, where in Europe their sounds would still be central to many
communities. One exception to this are the bells of the chapel of the
University of Mumbai, which are extremely incongruous when heard (CD
Track 8). Entering a Hindu temple is not always possible, as access to many
is restricted for non-Hindus, though in Madurai I captured temple music (CD
Track 9). Questioning people about these sounds is a sensitive issue as
Hindus can hardly be expected to react positively to the call to prayer, and
vice versa for Muslims, so I was careful not to isolate these too much.
However, several sound recordings contain sounds from more than one
religion. One expatriate listener remarked at how remarkable it is that these
sounds can co-exist without religious tension (though Kerala, in particular, is
well known for the peaceable coexistence of Hinduism, Islam and
There is plenty of evidence that religious sounds can, and do, cause offence
however. Compare these testimonials about Islamic and Hindu festival,
respectively (Karmayog website):
It is 11 pm now and the mosques in Bhandup/mulund are blaring away just
now without any let up. Is there not any time limit and loudness limit and
unpleasantness limit? Is raucousness religion?
A procession of about 30 people with 7 large drums, 5 small drums and
metallic clangers. The five small drums were the bigger problem by the way.
Does it bother - Yes it does loud noise at 10.00 p.m. for 15 minutes is not
welcome. And this is only the second visarjan night.
While these may or may not indicate hostility of one religious group towards
another (and possibly reflect preference for one group of sounds over

another), the next testimonial reveals that willingness to tackle the problem of
all religious noises exists:
I do appreciate that all laws are equally applicable to all. With this in mind, I
have recorded noise levels at several religious places including masjids,
temples, gurdwaras etc. and have filed a Notice of Motion in Writ Petition No
2053 of 2003 (in which I am a Petitioner) praying for loudspeaker use at
religious places to be regulated in accordance with law.

Commercial activity
India has an abundance of street hawkers (wallahs) who have developed
unique calls for different products. I expected to get some strong local
reactions to the sounds. Most advertising sounds I encountered were
produced by the voice (CD Track 10) but I also heard whistles, bells and
metal rattles (CD Track 11) being used. Here, reactions to the sounds were
polarized: Indians (depending on the product being sold) often found them
annoying, Europeans tended to enjoy them and non-Europeans from other
cultures which still have many street sellers reacted more neutrally. In
Europe, the ubiquity of street selling is a thing of the past. Plenty of written
reports remain as evidence of how people often regarded street cries as a
nuisance: violently and hideously cacophonous, lacerating the ears and
feelings of ears and feelings of all sensitive spectators are just two such
reports that Schafer (1977) discovers in his research (p.64). He goes on to
speculate that one possible explanation for Southern Europeans having
louder voices and more boisterous street criers than their Northern European
neighbours is that they have to spend more time outdoors, where ambient
noise levels are higher. An important tenet of acoustic ecology is that it is
beneficial to protect certain sounds in the environment to keep them for future
generations. Schafer also finds evidence of how the French were lamenting
the disappearance of street criers in the 1930s, less than 50 years after the
first legislation to try and ban them was introduced. By the same token, is it
possible that we will become nostalgic about traffic noise in the future and try
to preserve some of its sound elements?
Technology has brought the inevitable recorded announcements blared out
through speaker systems, although I found them to be generally less invasive
than in Brazil, for example. A train announcement I recorded in south Kerala
included a short musical prelude before the announcement itself (CD Track
12). Everyone I played this to, both Indian and non-Indian were surprised
about how pleasant it was, and enjoyed the musical aspect, suggesting that
this is not the norm in India and more likely a regional idiosyncrasy.
There will always be disagreement about what is worth preserving and what is
not. Many Indians reacted positively to a recording of the tapping sounds the
shoeshine boys make on their boxes to attract customers in the Victoria
Terminus railway station. They were regarded as characteristic sounds of a
charismatic building and environment, which is held in much affection by
many citizens of Mumbai. However, this testimony from a Bombay local

reveals an extreme aversion to the same sounds which may be shared by

many others:
How such a sound can be termed as attractive, defies my imagination. I,
sometimes, speak to the shoeshine boys telling them about the futility of
making these sounds. I am sure, I tell them, not one customer is attracted to
them because of the sound they make. They don't understand the point I try
to make. However, it seems to nobody's job in the railways to stop this
unacceptable practice (Karmayog website).
This opinion I would say is untypical of people living in Mumbai, as most are
highly aware and accepting of the fact that what one person may deem
unacceptable practice will not change and are beyond control, such is the
chaos in which Indian society finds itself.

Vehicle sounds
Arriving from London, where in my urban soundwalks I had already remarked
on the omnipresence and polluting nature of car noise, I was not prepared for
the sheer volume of car horns in India and how they would disrupt my sound
recordings (CD Track 13).
While I and many other travellers were appalled at the volume and
inescapable presence of traffic sounds, locals were far more tolerant. The
responses of many interviewees could be summed up as its just there. One
response from an Indian expatriate was even positive: as well as an element
of nostalgia for his hometown, he recognised that people need these sounds
to tell them where they are (Shroff, 2010). I will reflect here on my own
perceptions of traffic after doing my first soundwalk through central London.
Hearing the traffic for the first time as I fully appreciated the almost complete
destructive effect it had on the hi-fi soundscape, I realised how adept our
brains really are at filtering it out. One myth challenged by the acoustic
ecology movement is that human beings have a natural ability to get used to
and accept higher levels of sound, and are therefore not being damaged by
them (the habituation syndrome). Truax (2001) argues that this is not
habituation, but desensitization (p.99). How much people are really affected
by the ravages of desensitization may depend on other sociological and
geographical factors, such as the nature of their work, and whether they have
an opportunity to escape from high sound levels.

Quieter Environments
The biggest surprise was when I played a recording of a canoe paddling
through a very quiet backwater in Kerala, with sounds of human activity
coming from the few houses that stood on its banks (CD Track 14). During
this stretch of my backwater journey, there was a complete absence of
technological sounds, the calls of many birds could be heard clearly and
children are heard playing and clearly having fun. Though there are sounds
of people working: women beating washing on rocks and men using a
hammer (heard in the background), these sounds are periodic, rather than

continuous, and have a lazy rhythm, which I personally found most relaxing.
In fact, if I had to choose one soundscape which reflected the most tranquil
environment, it would undoubtedly be this one (I remember musing with many
other tourists about how nice it would be to rent a house for a few months
there to do some writing). The Indians I played this to all smiled and were
most curious about the human activity they could not completely identify in it,
asking me many questions. However, the non-Indian listeners stated that
they would never want to live in such an environment, as it was much too
There are frequent examples of expectations of responses to supposedly
quiet environments being confounded within research in this domain. A
study of the soundscape of Madrid by Isabel Lpez Barrio and Jos Carles
(1995) threw up repeated negative responses to a recorded park sequence as
excessively rowdy and did not fit the normal acoustic image parks
engender (p.3). However, my guess is that if they had actually been present
on the same canoe journey, they would have had similar feelings about it to
me (one of the main reasons people visit backwaters in Kerala is to
experience such tranquility). Listening to a recording of an environment and
being there can be two very different experiences.
Another possible explanation for this comes from Francisco Lopez (2003),
who notes how Quiet sounds are also "extreme". At least that's my finding
with the reactions of a lot of people to very quiet or subtle sonic material.
Since we live in a world overwhelmingly filled with noise and music-as-noise,
subtle things produce more flabbergasted reactions - even aggressive onesthan harsh loud sound (p.3).
Focus on only sounds can be misleading and that recordings can fail to
transmit vital information about other aspects of the environment when visual
(and other) references are omitted. On realizing this, I began to question the
validity of my research approach in playing my recordings to people and
wondered to what extend my findings would actually be able to reveal
anything useful about India at all.
In a more recent article (2009), Lopez outlines the problems with recorded
sound itself, which stem from the fact that microphones we use are not only
our basic interfaces, they are non-neutral interfaces. He advocates further
tampering with microphone recordings to construct our own, necessarily
subjective, realities (as well as using devices such as surround sound
systems), which he calls hyperreality to represent and advocate
soundscapes (p 84). In the case of soundscape recordings with further
listener-based research aims, altering these recordings is clearly a very
dangerous game and it is probably better to accept the limitations of basic
recordings and perhaps calculate these limitations into our findings somehow.

Issues Arising From Sound Responses

My Responses
My initial personal impression of the soundscape on first arrival in Mumbai
was of total cacophony and amongst all the unfamiliar sounds, I longed both
for familiar sounds and less sounds overall. On returning to Mumbai 16 days
later after acclimatising myself to India and observing how people live day to
day, I was able to discern a rhythm amid the cacophony. At points during my
soundwalks through the most chaotic streets I could find in the central bazaar
district, this rhythm even appeared beautiful to me as I followed sound around
the city. The insistence on the hi-fi environment denigrates what can be
richness in lo-fi soundscapes, where sounds that are barely discernible
individually can combine to produce something unique and valuable.
Although natural landscapes are prized by acoustic ecologists for their hi-fi
properties, equally thrilling lo-fi soundscapes can also exist in nature during
extreme weather conditions or in the passage of large flocks of birds. Why
therefore should it not also be possible to appreciate this in our man-made

Selling the Sounds of India

In fact, a casual survey of tourist websites reveals an outsider perspective of
Indian soundscapes where a familiar theme arises. Compare these excerpts:
Every experience, every sound, every smell shouts that youve arrived
somewhere magical (Travel-India); the sights, sounds and smells that greet
you in each new place will overwhelm your senses (Projects Abroad); a
hurricane of sounds, smells and colour where nothing is as it seems (Majestic
India); life in a frenzy of colours, smells and sounds (360travelguide). If an
overwhelming, frenzied cacophony of sounds shouting at you is so
categorically bad, then why is it that websites use such language to entice
people to go to India and experience them? It is one thing to indulge in sound
tourism or, as sound, smell and colour are frequently banded together in
tourist literature perhaps we should refer to this as sense tourism. I myself
was well aware that, exciting as my adventures in the sensual realm in India
were, they were at times overwhelming and it was a comfort to know that they
wouldnt last forever and as soon as I boarded the airplane home the
experience would stop abruptly, like a television being switched off.

Local Responses
However, the local people who have to endure (or enjoy) these sounds on a
daily basis with no escape unless they are fortunate enough to be able to
afford travel. Perhaps they can offer their own insights: I asked friends in
Mumbai whether it was a relief to be travel to Europe and escape the more
extreme noise levels in India:

Well, I suppose so, but there are so many other things that you notice as
being different when you arrive in London like, you know, the people and the
culture and so on. (Bhiwandiwala, 2010)
Another very common sound frequently complained about is broadband noise
coming from air conditioners, cooling systems for mobile phone antennae
and, perhaps the worst of all, generators. I noticed these while walking
around Mumbai, and my recordings reveal their constant presence there.
However, many people I interviewed in Mumbai were surprised at this and
stated that they did not notice this on a daily basis, suggesting that broadband
noise does not affect people in such an obvious way (though this is not to say
that it cannot have negative effects). The majority of European tourists I spoke
to had a distinct aversion to using air-conditioning systems as they dislike cold
temperatures inside and consider the units unhealthy and drying for the skin.
In Mumbai, however, people attach huge importance to them. They are a
basic symbol of status for middle class families, who become distraught if they
break down. Aside from the obvious benefits of temperature control, I would
go as far as suggesting that the drone of air-conditioners and ceiling fans acts
has a very important role in providing white-noise masking in peoples homes,
filtering out the sounds from the outside environment. They may well also
demarcate the limits of personal acoustic space; setting out an important
boundary in a cramped urban environment, where the culture also allows
what in the West would be felt as serious invasion of personal space.
Firdaus Kanga (2010) believes that in India, traditionally personal space is not
nearly as much of a priority in the West as India is a communal culture:
leaving doors open so that friends and neighbours can pass in and out freely
all through the day is very common. However, with many urban Indians being
increasingly influenced by Western culture. Globalisation means that more
Indians are able to both work and travel abroad, just as Westerners can in
India. Those most likely to have such contact (the upper middle classes and
the rich) are also the ones most likely to be able to afford good air
conditioning and the luckiest can spend the day moving from one air
conditioned environment to another (home to car to work to gym to restaurant
etc.). Kangas personal experience is that these people become increasingly
intolerant of life going on outside their air-conditioned soundproofed bubbles,
of which sound is perhaps the most affective element.
Augoyard and Torgue (2005) discuss the complexity of masking sound in the
urban environment where different levels of masking can occur
simultaneously. The urban drone (consisting largely of traffic noise but which
may contain other elements such as construction noise and commercial
activity) is omnipresent and can be undesirable. However, the drone in itself
has the ability to mask other more discrete sounds, which may be more
personal, such as activity from neighbouring properties, and therefore
annoying or distressing. They note that acoustic screens, which may be there
to suppress the traffic mask, can paradoxically remove the cover that the
drone provides and reveal the neighbouring sounds. They draw a distinction
between two types of mask: favourable (where undesirable sounds are
reduced) and parasitic (where pleasant and desired sounds in a quiet or
natural environment are reduced) (p.40-46).

The MP3 player, though it certainly has a presence in India, is not yet nearly
as ubiquitous as it has become in countries with a higher average standard of
living. My experience, even in the most international neighbourhoods of
Mumbai contradicts Truaxs assertion (2001) that the proliferation of
background music internationally means that every soundscape starts to
resemble every other; local cultural influences are subsumed or emasculated
into a bland, universal style (p 211). India has so far largely resisted this
homogenization, which may be partly due to economic factors but may also
be explained by the existence of a strong national culture, exemplified by the
ubiquitous presence of Indian film industry, which perhaps Indians prefer as
the soundtrack to their lives than imported American or European culture
because it is more relevant.

Muzak a Polarized Response

The highly engineered and controlled commercial spaces of the West, with
their attendant soundtrack of muzak are hard to come by in India. I did not
manage to find one in Mumbai, though they are starting to spring up in New
Delhi with increasing frequency. Whether musak is considered unnecessary,
or there is simply the lack of capital to provide the environments it is designed
to soundtrack I do not know. The closest example I found was the Hanging
Gardens in Mumbai (a fairly small urban park popular with families set atop a
hill), which pipes relaxing music around the whole park via a set of
loudspeakers (CD Track 14). The music selected was instrumental western
or westernised Indian music, veering between classical (both Western and
Indian) and pop which might in other contexts be described as easy listening
or chill out. I suspect that the concept has been simply copied from western
environments such as shopping malls with little thought for the effect on
people and whether it needed to be there at all.
The people I spoke to in the park all rated the sounds positively and used the
adjective relaxing to describe them. This is in some contrast to people I have
talked to in the U.K. about musak who are polarized in their opinions, which
range from relaxing to extremely annoying. Interestingly, among the people
I asked in the U.K the majority who found it relaxing were non-nationals from
southern Europe and Latin America, which may suggest that these people
feel less affronted by the dictates of rampant consumerism.

Indian Responses to Noise

The website Karmayog provides many testimonials from Indian citizens
concerned about noise. That these testimonials are personal and much less
likely to be coloured by the ideals of acoustic ecology makes them a
particularly good resource for my research. Themes for the items posted
included concern about firecrackers during Diwali (both sound and chemical).
One claims that in a recent survey 80% of Traffic Police in Pune (a city of
around 4 million inhabitants close to Mumbai) were found to be deaf
(presumably from constant exposure to traffic sound), though it does not give
a definition of what constitutes deaf.
The NGO SOCLEEN (Society for Clean Environment) was formed in Mumbai
in 1969 to address a range of environmental problems, one of which is sound.
It carried out a survey in Mumbai to determine what the main sources for
noise are. They are listed as the follows (karmayog website):
1. Road Traffic
2. Use of loudspeakers
3. Bursting of crackers
4. Industrial activities
5. Railways
6. Aircrafts
7. Radio and Television
Although the traffic noise problem appears to be completely out of control,
there are nominally complaints procedures in place to remedy them.
SOCLEEN recommends the following: Complain to Regional Transport
Commissioner or the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic). Give the
offending vehicles number/s, and the date, time and place of the offense.
I remember commenting to a Indian friend in Mumbai about the absurdity of
having security screening gates at the entrance to the main train terminus that
were neither manned or switched on and that allowed people to walk through
the gap at the side of them to leave and enter. She replied:
It doesnt matter if they actually work or not. It is much more important that
somebody is seen to be doing something. India is a country where symbols
are incredibly important, you know. (Bhiwandiwala, 2010)
I feel it is much the same issue with traffic noise. The reality is that the huge
size of the population, lack of resources and ingrained behaviour of the
masses compound to make the problem almost completely impossible to
tackle. However, as long as the authorities are seen to be doing something
(however futile) then their authority is more difficult to challenge and some
sense of prevailing order is maintained.
In Mumbai, for example, I came across a sign in a few places which read:
Silent city = better city. Sound no horns. I quickly learned that, as well as
relieving frustrations while driving, the horn has an important function: as
there is little concept of lanes in Indian roads, the horn is used to warn
another vehicle that you are behind and will, or want to, overtake. A hierarchy

exists with buses and big trucks at the top, moving down through cars, autorickshaws and bicycles to pedestrians. Anyone in the way is likely to be
mown down and the horn averts what would otherwise be serious accidents.
In fact, smaller vehicles such as the rickshaw commonly have the words
Sound Horn painted on the back as an instruction to encourage horn use.
With Indian driving culture as it is, the horn is clearly not going away and the
Silent City an impossible fantasy though, as I will argue later it is the
presence (and diversity) of sound which makes Indian cities so special and a
silent city is not something actually desirable.
Other examples abound of the futility of the present system. The press has
run stories of the flaunting or regulations put in place to deal with the problem
of violation of the regulations about firecrackers. They are banned near
hospitals and nursing homes, as they have been known to cause patients
intense agony:
The police routinely issue lists of banned types of firecrackers. However
neither the public, the police or the explosives department can state, by
looking at a cracker, that it is illegal (karmayog website).
With the public machinery described as lethargic (a huge understatement if
the opinions of people I spoke to in Mumbai are to believed), complaining via
one of the NGOs which deal with environmental problems and forming antinoise committees are recommended on the karmayog website.
Concern about noise in this site is still largely concerned with traditional
measures for noise reduction: lowering decibels and trying to implement bans
on certain sound producers, indicating that the agendas of the World
Soundscape Project model of acoustic ecology (the positive approach,
emphasizing wanted or important sounds in the soundscape) have yet to have
an impact in India.

A Recent Project in India: Limited Potential

One artist who worked as a research associate with R. Murray Schafer at the
World Soundscape Project is Hildegard Westerkamp, born in Germany but
now naturalized as a Canadian. She is of particular relevance to this essay
as she has travelled extensively in India, recording sound for composition (the
2002 CD release Into India includes several soundscape compositions). She
also instigated the creation of a sound installation Nada, situated in New
Delhi and using sounds from the surrounding area. This was a collaborative
process where Westerkamp played the role of composer/sound designer,
while the overarching concept came from two Indians, Savinder Anand ad
Mona Madan (also quoted in the last chapter), both architecture students.
Westerkamp (1999) states that, having participated in soundscape
workshops, these two decided that some action regarding the state of the
soundscape in India was long overdue. An analysis of her description of the
installation and the reactions to it reveals the heavy influence of Canadian
originated ideology. One clear agenda of the installation is to reflect how the
omnipresence of sounds of multiple religions creates a soundscape perhaps
unique to India, something that chimes with my own experience travelling.
The instigator of these elements was a third collaborator, Veena Sharma,
invited to contribute to the project with her deep knowledge about sound and
the sacred (p.1).
However, the main concern of the installation is to lead participants through a
listening journey from noise to silencefrom acoustic onslaught to acoustic
subtlety, from worldly to sacred sound experiences, setting up what I consider
to be a rather prescriptive sound agenda. Panels mounted on the walls ask
questions to the listener such as why are you so terrified of silence? which
could be seen as provoking necessary challenges to the visitors, or simply
bullying them towards the responses desired (p.2). Westerkamp describes
many visitors responses as confirming her observations that they emerged
more relaxed. The problem I see with this project is that, despite the
involvement of three Indians, it has not been set up as an experiment to
determine what a range of Indians reactions might be to the sounds in their
environment, but an attempt to confirm pre-existing ideas from the acoustic
ecology movement through a somewhat cozy art project geared, I suspect, to
the affluent upper middle classes.
As Brandon Labelle (2008) observes, commenting on Westerkamps outline
for the same project, much acoustic ecology work is concerned with reducing
sound and
paradoxically oversimplifies the sound world by reducing it to such binary
terms, making the journey into sound resolutely quiet, withdrawn, dreamy and
private. Yet, it does so paradoxically by relying on an outside, the
environmental earthly happenings always out there, in the noisy world. (p
Once again the concept of yin and yang rears its head, as noise and silence
become the opposing forces which fit together as a whole to facilitate

discussion about the intrinsic values and virtues of each one, also shaping the
careers of many sound artists. Labelle later goes as far as to argue that the
dislocation inherent in Westerkamps transformations of her recorded sounds
in soundscape compositions inadvertently makes noise of them. Her (and
our) attraction to the distant, the foreign, the strange, the spooky, the
haunting and the mysterious forces the sounds into abstraction (p.214).
I discovered one location in Mumbai where an astonishing variety of sounds
can be heard relatively discretely, the Banganga Tank. It is an area of
temples (both Hindu and Jain) and housing centred around a washing/bathing
pool, which is considered extremely sacred. It lies at the tip of a peninsula
close to downtown Mumbai but the lack of access for cars means that all daily
activity, both religious and otherwise can be heard and recorded discretely. I
have included a long soundwalk I carried out here where sounds of temple
activity, cooking, sports, construction and both wild and captive animals can
be heard clearly, but what is most interesting about the recording is how
unrepresentative it is of the urban Indian soundscape (CD Track 15).
One sound term I find more relevant that the CRESSON team have co-opted
from traditional Chinese aesthetic culture is Sharawadji: an aesthetic effect
that characterizes the feeling of plenitude that is sometimes created by the
contemplation of a sound motif or a complex soundscape of inexplicable
beauty (Augoyard/Torgue 2005). It is the perceptive confusion one
experiences while walking around the urban soundscape in all its disordered
cacophony that best exemplifies sharawadji. Sharawadji is defined as being a
pleasurable feeling, but necessarily dynamic rather than passive (p.118).
I frequently experienced sensations which could perhaps be identified with
this concept in India, particularly when walking around Mumbais bazaar and
metalworking districts (CD Track 16). The act of soundwalking (more focused
and intense when actively recording sound) certainly brought me closer to this
state of mind as my desire to hear and experience all sound brought me into a
transcendent state where I no longer judged sound as good or bad, but simply
experienced it. Whether this is sharawadji as Augoyard and Torgue define it
I am not convinced about, as I feel I went beyond the pleasurable feelings
they associate with it. However, being dynamic experience, accessing
sharawadji is a skill which must be taught within culture and which does not
happen spontaneously in the majority of people. An internal tension
maintains the contradictory poles of this beauty in the consciousness of their
limits and in the surpassing of these limits. And this tension, the sustained
and contained attention to what is presently taking place, to the emerging
sonic form, is mixed with pleasure and animates it. (ibid. p.119)
Sharawadji is not dependent on hearing aesthetically beautiful things, is
without splendour or theatricality and can most often be experienced in
through the embracing of the everyday, the ordinary, though it can occur while
listening to the tumult of nature as well. Though many parameters are set out
defining what sharawadji is and how it is experienced, no mention is made of,
or evidence given for, who is likely to experience it, or where. Though the
concept originates in China, it is not suggested that the Chinese have any
natural cultural tendency to do this. The concept of Sharawadji as it relates to

visual aesthetics was originally imported from China to Europe in the

seventeenth century and Sharawadji as a sonic effect was inspired by a 1979
article by a French writer rather than fresh research in the field in China. I
would not argue that practice of Sharawadji is in any way a solution to noise
problems in India, only that India is an ideal place to visit for those that wish to
practice it.

The Indian Mentality: Towards The Future

Mona Madan is an Indian architecture student who has partaken in a
soundscape workshop in Delhi led by Hildegard Westerkamp. She came
across a translation of an ancient Indian text on town-planning, the Manasara
and discovered the following passage:
While choosing a site for any kind of building activity, along with other
considerations such as soil analysis, the sounds prevalent on the site were
also an important consideration. Land which had the following natural sounds
was considered beneficialhorse, elephant, bamboo, ocean, conch, veena (an
Indian string instrument) and the sounds of all other animals that were
harmonious with human vibrations. Once the site was selected by the
sthapati (architect), it was believed that the space should first be prepared for
human habitation by requesting from the natural lifeforms and energies which
occupy the place to accept their new owners. This process was a very gradual
one: first, the sthapati spoke to the earth accompanied by auspicious music
and chanting; next, the site was cleaned and seeds of various plants and
cereals were planted for one season, after which domesticated animals such
as cows, bulls, calves, etc. were brought to stay on the site. The sound of
these animals was considered beneficial to the environment. It was not until
the earth and its prior inhabitants had become acquainted with these sounds,
that the human being came to inhabit the site!
To me the discovery of this passage reveals many things pertinent to my
discussion. Firstly, that in Indian culture, the relationship between sound and
the environment is important and that considerations about sound have been
around for a long time. Secondly, that there is a unique approach to this
relationship, which may be based on factors such as the unique conditions of
the natural environment and the culture and spirituality of the people that live
there. Thirdly, that some Indians today have a desire to explore this heritage
through research and a vested interest in using it for their own ends, rather
than relying solely on ideas passed down to them from the soundscape
movement. Mona Madan speaks about exploring the role of sound in
architecture not only in the present but also what it was in the Indian past and
what it can be in the future. It is evident that she does not consider the past
model she has found ideal as a template for the future as it clearly represents
a bygone world with little correlation to the modern urban environment.
However, that she wishes to investigate how elements of it may have
relevance for the present and the future and this is something that I find
extremely encouraging.

Ultimately, though I have sought to uncover ways of dealing with the sound
environment that are more uniquely matched to the socio-cultural and socioeconomical conditions in India, all the theories and work on the subject are

(perhaps predictably) restricted to Europe and North America. As can also be

seen in the case of China, an even more rapidly industrializing country with a
fast growing economy, concern for the environment is frequently deprioritized
to safeguard the nations future status within the changing world order. It is
also not surprising that sound/noise pollution (and movements such as
acoustic ecology which grow from such concerns) lags behind other
environmental issues in gaining political and popular support, as this mirrors
what happened in the West.
It is my firm belief that the most effective, and probably only, way of
addressing the soundscape must come from within the culture that has to live
inside it. The resultant perspectives on sound may have the potential to
challenge the way we perceive, and are involved in, the soundscape, in the
same as the acoustic ecology movement has undoubtedly had a big impact
globally. It is to be hoped that in the future, we in the West may be able to
learn much about our soundscapes from research carried out in countries
such as China, Japan or India, or indeed anywhere else in the world, in the
same way that Schafers work has empowered people in these countries with
some of the initial tools to investigate their own soundscapes.