DEFINING A SONIC ARCHAEOLOGY CAMPAIGN

PREPARED & PRESENTED JUNE 1, 2015 BY DAVEY JAMES


The basic premise behind a sonic archaeology campaign is to discover and identify cultural norms and possible “new” and undiscovered sounds within a foreign environment. This information is collected via audio recordings. Sometimes the discovery of “new” sounds means further explanation of historic cultural elements that are not commonly known, and this “new” information discovered further broadens the understanding of the culture being sonically explored. This process is to ultimately enrich and deepen the future listener’s understanding of the culture within their environment.
Recording key audio elements within an unfamiliar and foreign environment is the process taken to sonically articulate and identify specific aspects of the culture within the their familiar environment. When in the foreign environment or the “field”, the practice of field recording techniques with portable recording technology is the main methodology practiced in a “Sonic Archaeology” exploration. After the audio has been captured and processed, the “post exploration” stage can then be decided and executed.

The delivery of the “post exploration” sonic discoveries will be displayed in a completely different and separate environment from where originally captured. This is for the purpose of intended listeners to experience the culture identities that are associated with their atmosphere. To possible other listeners this experience will bring familiar sounds of that culture’s environment in an attempt to place the listener in a state of past memories and experiences, typically associated with that culture and location. These displayed sounds could only typically be heard in that culture, location and environment.

This sonic identity capturing and playback process is called “Sonic Archaeology”. The reason the use of the term Archaeology verse Anthropology lies within the elements recorded. Within the capturing process the field recordist could stumble upon a sonic identity, cultural reference or oral tradition this has significant historic artifacts and could only be discovered through sound. This accidental recording could possess sonic information that dates back further then the current and mainstream cultural practices. This sonic cultural identification technique is rooted within cultural anthropology and ethnomusicology with the extra-added element of logical “chance” recording. Logical “chance” meaning “research guided choices” that a possible historic cultural sound identification moment is most likely to occur in “this” location. Therefor a field recordist should attempt to record within the “logical chance” area. This “hunting” of cultural sonic moments is not unlike what is experienced in a planned and executed archeology exploration, when searching for cultural roots and historic links to human’s past. What is different about how the term “archaeology” in this approach? It is the unknown element of historic discovery within the “random audio findings” that plays a significant part of the “archaeology” sonic process. Listening for a “golden moment” that could identify a historic cultural artifact is the ultimate goal of a “Sonic Archaeology Campaign”.
           
Somewhere between 40 to 50 hours would be a sufficient amount of raw recorded material to create an 8-hour sonic replication of a location’s cultural identity. The most amount of time spent in a campaign is within the scouting of locations and could take days to find a “logical chance” recording site and hours to set the recording stage to capture a moment that "truly identifies an environment or culture".

One of the most important parts of the sonic identification process is the “point of view” of the experience of the recordist. The “point of view” should be from first hand experience and not recording what the engineering feels is a good theory or idea of what the sonic identity could and should be. Without this first hand experience the recordings will be based not on cultural understanding but cultural theory. The sonic archaeologist is attempting to depict the most honest and accurate sonic identity that she or he can possibly achieve. In this case of cultural identification, the first hand experience is defined as participant observation within living populations of people.
 
1. KEY IDENTIFICATION ELEMENTS: A FEW SUGGESTIONS TO LOOK FOR WHEN CAPTURING AUDIO WITHIN FOREIGN ENVIRONMENTS.
 
The following four categories are designed to aid the field recordist and campaign scout team in sonically capturing culture and cultural location key identification points. The following concepts presented can be applied to the different sections within these categories and exercised as seen fit. The use of mono, stereo or surround sound recording technology should be used with the purpose to further express the sonic identification process captured in the campaign.
 
1a. Cultural identity Moments:
 
  • The main points to studying and articulate cultures and locations are their beliefs, practices, values, ideas, technologies, economies and other domains of social and cognitive organization.
  • The regions or areas that identifies places where individuals eat, drink and socialize.
  • Weddings, funerals, right of passage ceremonies.
  • Becoming aware of the areas within the environment or atmosphere that are not highly looked upon versus the ones that are respected and unconsciously desired.
  • Conducting interviews or recording the local language or languages to further the cultural identification process. Awareness of dialect, slang and tone of the languages and speech pronunciation is a positive and a necessary requirement in order to achieve cultural identity within specific regions and neighborhoods.
  • Night markets, farmer markets, food identification and items to eat with (Cutlery, plates, cups or glasses if any, hands, etc.)
  • Street corner or “spot” that has proven to be a popular location within the region that the locals would know about and relate too.
1b. Transportation Sonic Identification:
 
  • Buses, streetcars, light rails, trains (hand powered, steam, gas, electric, magnet), automobiles, transport vehicles, boats (motor, hand and wind powered), horse, camel, buggy and wagons.
  • Becoming aware of the type of road or ground that people travel on. No matter what their form of transportation is, it will have a specific sonic identity and therefore could be specific to the region you are recording. Simplified to the identification of the dirt and soil that is particular to that region, at the same time this might not have any sonic identity different from anywhere else. Some continents and countries use different concrete and asphalt that are laid and installed in different size blocks and therefore when transportation is driving on them they project a different tone than what is experienced in other environments.
1c. Religious & Social Fellowship:
 
  • Be sure to capture not only the popular forms of the Religious and Social Fellowships but the subculture as well. It is important to represent all walks of life within this identification process and attempt not alienate, because this alienation process could be perceived as judgment and thus not engage the listener in the “post exploration” process. Remember an important part within a sonic archaeologist’s role is to attempt to represent all the possible scenarios and angles within the sonic cultural identification process.
  • Songs or singing that identify the beliefs of the dogma.
  • Activities such as sports and/or athletic events that could take place in a ritual weekly/monthly/yearly event to support a network or community.
1d. Wild Life & Nature:
 
  • Being acutely aware of the animals and local environment wildlife that signifies or stereotypes the identification. For example, the recordist would not want to capture the sounds of people eating or discussing the cooking of meat within an environment that is predominantly vegetarian, such as found in regions of Taiwan.
  • Scout for locations to safely place a recorder to leave for hours at time; sometimes the best results are achieved when removing human presents in order for the animals to restore comfortable natural order.
  • If capturing a common pet of animal remember to identify the environment the animal is in. Sometimes the sound reflections from an enclosed room (large, medium or small) could have a stronger sonic element with the identification of culture or society then the direct recording of an animal in the open space with no reverberation reflection.
  • Wind, trees, fire, ocean, earth, (dry vs. wet; British Columbia vs. Death Valley)

Human’s interaction with the natural elements. Example: Within the region you are recording you find it is popular to chew on a particular root as a relaxing stimulant pastime, then recording the sound of an individual chewing on that root would be a process of cultural identification.
  • If the recordist is within a rather large space, than attempt to capture the smaller sonic elements because the audio volume bleed over form the uncontrollable (waves, wind, rain, fire, etc.) will inevitably get recorded. Unless the recordist’s technology and techniques employed is capable to filtering in real time recording.
 
2. TWO SETS OF QUESTIONS: PRESENTED TO THE SONIC ARCHAEOLOGIST CONDUCTING RECORDINGS IN THE FIELD.
 
     This first set of following questions are a few physiologic concepts for the recordist to become aware of while performing the capturing process and when preparing a recording location in the field. Some of the questions may not apply to all scenarios, but these questions will come up at some point within a sonic campaign. The purpose of these questions and concepts serves as a reminder to remove one’s self and point of view in the location recording and reminder to be of service to the documentary process of the culture.
 
  1. What is my point of view verses the cultures in the situation(s)?
  2. Are my reactions and/or actions appropriate? Or do they get in the way of the identity of the moment?
  3. What is my fantasy and reality of the cultural situation?
  4. Am I understating or am I exaggerating in the choice of recording spot?
  5. Am I adding stress to the situation? Is my stress justified? Am I stressing out the people I am recording and in turn taking away from the purity of the moment?
  6. Does the action of me having/showing the recording equipment affecting the way the culture is interacting with their environment?
  7. Do the people or situation approve of me recording them? Are they showing me signs to stop?
  8. Am I making a problem by being here?
  9. What is the worst thing that can happen and has it happened? Can I fix it?
  10. Am I beating myself up over some choice I, or the situation has made?
  11. Am I taking myself, or the project too seriously? Where is the fun happening within the moment?
  12. Am I putting other people down or their culture down with my actions? If so, how can I amend it?
  13. Am I demanding too much from the location, myself and/or the other people involved?
  14. Is this a need or a want? Is the recording being as true to the culture as possible?
  15. Am I overindulging in recording a specific behavior? Or is a behavior I am recording affecting me to act a certain way to recording a favored point of view?
  16. Do I want to be here or is it time for change? Can I move on from this location? If so how?
  17. Can I ground this cultural identity in their reality?
  18. Am I recording within an action? If so, how can I make my presents as invisible as possible?
  19. Is the culture’s opinion being heard or their natural behavior? If not, am I taking it of people involved with defining the cultural moment?
  20. Do I need a break and return to the location with fresh ears?
  21. What is the sonic solution and how can I achieve it?
 
       This second set of following questions are designed to help start the process into learning how the culture you are studying works through understanding the location and culture’s past and current behaviors, patterns and interactions. Learning their past is an ideal place to start because seeing what the culture/location have done, currently do and think, will help guild and shape the recordist’s actions and behaviors in future field-recording events.
 
  1. What is your relationship with the culture and/or location?
  2. What do you like about the culture/location?
  3. What kind of sounds do you what to record in the culture and location?

  4. What cultures do you have experience with and are there any similarities?
  5. What period of the culture/location affects or inspires you the most? And why?
  6. Do you hear any emotional behavior (fear, happiness, depression, etc.) within the culture/location interaction with each other?
  7. Do you hear physical actives that are unique to the culture/location?
  8. Does the culture/location find the process of recording non-threatening or threatening? One meaning could be: Are there any cultural fears around capturing sound?
  9. Does the sounds in the culture/location relax you or other people? Maybe no affect at all?
  10. Is sound important within the culture/location? If so what are the sounds?
  11. Are there different sounds within a home verses office?
  12. Do the sounds in the culture/location center around an age groups or differ?
  13. Does the culture/location participate back with your interaction?
  14. Is there an active interaction involving something produces sound in the culture/location?
  15. Is there a type of music that comforts culture/location?
  16. Is there a sound or sounds that gives the culture/location an unsettling feeling?
  17. Are there any set sonic patterns that identify the culture/location?
  18. Is there a sound that seems beneficial to culture/location moods?
  19. Is there a sound the culture/location loves and/or craves to hear or experience? If so, what and why?
  20. What sound would best represent the culture/location?
 
3. AUDIO DELIVERY FORMATS: A FEW SUGGESTIONS TO EXPERIENCE THE “POST-EXPLORATION” INFORMATION FROM THE CAMPAIGN.
 
This sections addresses the basics ideals and concepts for placing playback delivery systems in areas where the audio can be displayed and experienced. The audio playback models presented in the section can be divided into four listener experience categories and all four categories can be exercised with each playback model:
 
  1. The Controlled Environment: The listener steps in to an enclosed room designed for the sound controlled audio playback.
  2. The Uncontrolled Environment: The listener is in a space or passing through a space that is designed for general human interaction and the audio playback would be a general offering then a controlled listener specific experience.
  3. The Selectable Environment: The listener is within a space that is designed for general human interaction but could be turned into a single source controlled room for a specific sonic experience. The audio playback would be a general offering and a controlled listener specific experience simultaneously.
  4. The Personal Environment: The listener could place headphones on the head and or steps in to a personal controlled space, possibly within the listener’s car or home for the audio consumption.

The following five audio consumption and playback system examples are but a few of the possibilities explored in this document. Keep in mind that all systems could be designed to produce a mono, stereo or surround sound sonic experience for a single or multiple listeners.
 
3a. Sonic Capsule Delivery:
 
This technique can be used in a variety of different environments. The ideal environment would be a comfortable small closed quarters structure such as found with an old-school telephone booth. This type of space is called a “capsule”. The individual would open the door, sit inside the booth, closed the door to be in a completely sound proof environment free of back ground noise generated from the world’s environment around them. The sound capsule could be designed of a person to lie down or stand as well. Either way the individual would have control of their own atmosphere through a variety of platforms that provide choices of sonic environmental and cultural character identification. For an example: If an individual is home sick and a identifiable aspect of their home was fishing then that person could enjoy the sounds of fishing for an unlimited amount of time. This would not be just a single recording of an individual fishing but all types of fishing and most importantly, fishing from the environment of their choice.

While the individual is within the capsule and enjoying a sonic bath the person could also have the choice to perform a variety of activities that are inter-disciplinary by nature, for example: video interaction, literature interaction, game and/or performance-based platform interaction, 3D and multi-media digital art installations, graphic design and creation platform interactions and audio performance interactions. This capsule could also be treated as a health treatment to rebuild the gray matter within the human brain Grey through mediation[1].

An example of the sonic capsule sound playback system:

A 4.0, 5.1 or 7.1 surround playback system setup with a sub-speaker and a full rotation of mid-side monitors place in directions that cater to the human ear natural experience. Having a push or touch button controller that one could pick the sounds they wish to experience instead of a set sound playback system would be a possibility. One could potentially build a culture sound library around the playback’s selection system that could be linked to a website or app to create easy access for the operator.
 
3b. Hallways & Restrooms Delivery:
 
Keeping in mind that with a directable mono playback source, one could aim the sound from:
  • The floor towards the ceiling.
  • The ceiling towards the floor.
  • Mid-wall left side to right side hallway projection.
  • Sound projected from one end of the hallway towards the other end giving the experience of “depth of field” that one could find in a small village. For example, a southeastern Ghanaian funeral procession. The processions starts on one side of the village’s center and moves through the center and ends on the other side of the village while the listener is stationary, experiencing this passing of sound through their left to right “depth of field” stereo spectrum.
3c. Parking Lots, Parks, Community Centers & Gathering Grounds   Delivery:
 
  • These types of environments could be ideal for stereo playback systems is order to cover as much audible ground given the content of the sonic cultural identity.
  • Playback systems placed where people congregate: Food courts, restaurants, coffee and teashops, bars, pubs Mall and/or shopping areas.
3d. Slo-Play Delivery:
 
  • A selection platform within specific environments to experience a plethora of audio examples of a particular environment or culture is ideal of the Slo-Play delivery concept. Slo-Play is an audio consumption concept that is design to experience over a long period of time. Example: Watching a fire or ocean.
  • An 8-hour (any chosen “time”) audio experience of a selected culture and location audio experience. The audio delivery can be within selected environments such as: break rooms and lounges, nap pods, libraries, vehicles and headphone playback systems. Buses that bring students to and from schools. Trains and subways that are not city owned. Possible long plane flights.
3e. The Listener’s Personal Copy Of Selectable Sonic Merchandise Delivery:
 
  • Audio format mediums: digital wave files, IOS and android application audio delivery models, websites, live streaming and distribution formats and online library public domain examples used in public creation models for clients, customers and individual business and personal endeavors.
  • This concept could be placed within group and community homes, school dorms, hospitals, classrooms and offices. Think of the concept as: Instead of a using a “spa” room within a hotel but a “sonic”.
 
4. CONCLUSION:
 
Sounds come and they go and the majority of the time they are overlooked as far as culture identity is concerned. Sonic Archaeology is an approach to preserving audio aspects of cultural identity and their histories for others to experience in separate environments. This concept is based on the idea that specific sounds and sonic identities can capture an element within a culture and location that no other medium or format can accomplish, because sound is uniquely different and set apart from other mediums based of sight, smell, taste and touch. For example, Sonic Archaeologist’s ask questions such as: 
 
  • What is the weather like in the location or is there any weather at all?
  • How does the culture interact with the weather, is there a since of purpose in the interaction?
  • Can I sonically depict what the weather feels, smells, and looks and tastes like?
  • How best can I best do this from the point of view of the culture while attempting to remove as much of my view as possible?
  • How could I record the articulation of air and sonically explain what humidity or dry sounds like? Or possibly no air, such as in space?
  • What did the weather sound like 5000 years ago and how did that human culture and other cultures interact with it? Can I sonically articulate that?
  • Maybe if I record a rain storm in this 1 million year old cave instead of recording from under this 100 year old tree I could capture something close to what it would have sounded like back then, plus recording in the cave opens my chances to a random historic recording that I could have not planned for or foreseen?
  • What would it sound like placing a Lav Microphone inside an anthill verses a shotgun microphone pointed directly at the hill from above?
  • Would the sounds from the anthill sound different and possibly more accurate with the absence of air and molecule in between the microphone and the hill.
  • Does the weather affect the anthill and the sounds that happen within?
  • What if I interview that elderly woman watching me record the anthill about the weather in her village? She is living behind the one of oldest part of the village and maybe she will have a story to tell that was orally passed on from an ancestor a few generations passed about a great storm that not many are aware of? That storm could have been the direct result to why the village was rebuilt and the people live and work in a specific section of the village now.
 
Processing sound is an action that does not require other human senses, thus a sonically focused approach to addressing, composing questions and developing philosophical concepts is needed in order to achieve a successful and accurate sonic campaign. The previous questions are types of ideas a sonic archaeologist must address and self-assign the tasks for achieving the purest form of sonic cultural identification. Sonic Archaeology is a relatively new technique in the cultural identification research methodologies employed within the field of cultural anthropology and archaeology and can be viewed as an abstract concept to grasp at first. But non-the-less is a growing technique and more and more recordist and researchers are becoming aware and practicing sound capturing philosophies and techniques in their form of cultural identification and articulation. Without the possibility of capturing archaeological historic sonic moments, the sonic campaign falls under the cultural anthropology umbrella or ethnographic research techniques within the field of ethnomusicology. Thus is vital and an important feature to keep the archaeology “point of view” present and placed at the forefront of the recordist mind, and to be continually on guard for the potential of capturing an archaeological sonic moment in their future sonic campaigns.
 
 
 
[1] http://www.feelguide.com/2014/11/19/harvard-unveils-mri-study-proving-meditation-literally-rebuilds-the-brains-gray-matter-in-8-weeks/