Soundmapping: A critical history of sonic cartographies

An international cooperation project by the Swiss National Science Fundation.

What would happen if we should revert to sound to map our bodies, our neighbourhoods, our nations, our continents, our very universe? This is no longer a speculative question. For three quarters of a century, physicians, urban planners, acoustic ecologists etc. have been relying on various “soundings” to make sense of territories. If in our daily lives we do not ostensibly organize our travels or tasks according to sound pathways, we carry such maps with us, subtle or unsystematic as they may be, and these acoustic-cognitive maps condition what we do or say wherever we are. As we have not forsaken the act of listening in the process of learning, we may learn even more by laying out what we hear when we listen in each and every direction. Focusing on this innovative pedagogical perspective scientific activities aim at the analysis and the establishment of adequate learning settings for each child during compulsory school time. Working on and with soundscapes in education also allows to interact creatively and resorting to inclusive perspectives with all implicated stakeholders: the international transdisciplinary scientific community; artists; inspectors of schools; directors; teachers; pupils in schools.

The workshop’s purpose is therefore multiple, as is the nature of sound. Although, since the 1970s, when for the first time a theoretical discourse was defined about the concept of “soundscape”, has been introduced the reflection upon new geographical paradigms applied through sound, there still are many fields of study to explore in this area. The changing nature of the soundscape requires constant theoretical and practical updates about the relationships established with the environment through listening. While it is true that there are many studies related to this medium, those are usually realized within the artistic field (where activities related to the soundscape have found a productive space related to the musical and the contemporary art). Therefore, it is increasingly necessary to find new ways of exploration and experimentation which propose different tools for the analysis of the economic, social and cultural factors influencing the understanding of the sound reality of human beings and its close relation with the geographical paradigm.

The above mentioned considerations lead unavoidably to the experimentation with new methods and new meanings of what is known as the soundscape, alternating different perspectives and approaches to the same object of analysis. The sound and the practice of listening attest an intrinsic transversality, which extends the horizon for the study of the surrounding sound reality. Classical cartography, the geographical model par excellence, does not represent such multiplicity of concepts and richness of meanings obtained by a critical re-reading of soundscapes, but serves as a starting point for proposing new analysis situations. The great paradox of what could be defined as a sound culture is that it is not based on a written tradition, but on a constant experience (experimentation), individual and collective, that goes from the most intimate interiority to the most universal exteriority. Although many decades have passed since the development of the first theoretical framework on soundscapes, the field still perceives the absence of new theoretical and practical concepts applicable to expand this initial framework and enrich the knowledge applied to it. This workshop investigates new analysis methods and new tools that can later be applied in other fields such as education, science and social and cultural studies.